The National Parks of Canada, and some of the National Historic Sites of Canada, are managed by Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada. If, when you picture Canada in your mind, you see vast wildernesses and mountain vistas, you are thinking of the national parks, one of the largest systems of protected areas in the world. As well, there are numerous historic sites protected by Parks Canada, some of which are also accessible by the general public.
The national parks cover more than 328,000 km2 (127,000 sq mi), or about 3.3% of the total land area of Canada. Together, Canada's national parks are larger than Norway.
Beginning with Banff National Park in 1885, the federal government of Canada began putting aside scenic pieces of land aside for tourism. To this later were added more remote areas, where conservation rather than recreation are the focus. The parks range in size and amenities from small and highly developed areas on the edge of cities to vast wildlands the size of many European countries, but without any permanent population. Entrance to the parks are controlled by tollgates on the highways leading to them (if any), and one must pay to get in, or in some cases you can transit through a park, but have to pay to leave the highway.
It is not only the federal (central) government that operates parks in Canada. Each province also runs numerous provincial parks, some of which are equally or more famous than their federal cousins, such as Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Dinosaur Provincial Park or Kananaskis Country in Alberta. Confusingly, the provincially-owned parks in the often nationalistic province of Quebec, are also called "national parks"; for example Gaspésie National Park and Miguasha National Park are not federal, but rather provincial parks, despite the name.
There are two notable parks which are administered by other branches of the federal government, not Parks Canada. Both are free to enter, so a Parks Canada pass isn't needed. They are:
- 1 Gatineau Park, a major recreational attraction in the Outaouais region of Quebec near Gatineau and Ottawa), administered by the National Capital Commission
- 2 The Battlefields Park (Parc des Champs-de-Bataille) A major urban park and site of the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham in which the British took Quebec City.
There are 38 federally-operated national parks, nine National Park Reserves, three National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs), one NMCA Reserve and one National Landmark. National Park Reserves are areas subject to indigenous land claims, their exact status and boundaries are therefore not considered permanent, but for a traveller they operate much the same as a full national park. Many of these places are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
National historic sites
Parks Canada also operates more than 170 of Canada's National Historic Sites. A few are located within national parks, such as Banff or Jasper.
This articles lists many of the more important sites. Various smaller sites are listed in their host cities.
2 Fundy in New Brunswick showcases a rugged coastline which rises up to the Canadian Highlands, the highest tides in the world and more than 25 waterfalls. At low tide visitors can explore the ocean floor where a variety of sea creatures cling to life.
3 Gros Morne is a park and UNESCO World Heritage site in Newfoundland. It is an area of impressive natural beauty, rural Newfoundland culture, and unique geological wonders including a number of fjords and the barren Tablelands.
4 Kejimkujik lies in the rugged interior of Nova Scotia. Kejimkujik is a cultural landscape associated with the Mi’kmaq people, and incorporates 38 Indigenous sites, four petroglyph sites, three villages and a cemetery.
8 Prince Edward Island extends over 65 km (40 mi) of shoreline, including beaches, red sandstone cliffs and rolling sand dunes along the island's north shore, fronting the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It includes the farmhouse from Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, a popular site for visitors.
9 Sable Island is a national park reserve in the Atlantic Ocean 300 km offshore from Nova Scotia. The reserves covers the entire island, which is home to over 550 free-roaming Sable Island Ponies. This feral horse population is protected by law from human interference. The island is usually visited by cruise ship or by chartered plane.
National historic sites
- 1 Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site – Baddeck, Nova Scotia, where the inventor of the telephone did some of his research and experiments in his summer home
- 2 Cape Spear – easternmost point in Canada, near St. John's, Newfoundland - site of Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site
- 3 Fort Anne and Scots Fort, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia; Two buildings remain of this 1629 fort
- 4 Fort Beauséjour – the partially reconstructed ruins of a French fortress built 1751, near Aulac, New Brunswick
- 5 Fortress of Louisbourg – a reconstruction of the 18th-century fortified French town of Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
- 6 Grand-Pré National Historic Site – former Acadian settlement, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nova Scotia
- 7 Green Gables Heritage Place – author Lucy Maud Montgomery based the location of her best-selling "Anne" series of books on the Green Gables farm near Cavendish, Prince Edward Island (PEI)
- 8 Halifax Citadel and 9 York Redoubt – the citadel, a star fort overlooking Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been restored to its appearance during the Victorian era
- 10 Hopedale Mission, in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, is a group of seven historic buildings built as a Moravian mission to the Inuit which began in 1782
- 11 L'Anse aux Meadows – a reconstruction of a Viking settlement on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula
- 12 Red Bay – historic whaling station and archaeological site near Forteau, Labrador
- 13 Signal Hill – in St. John's, Newfoundland, where the 1897 Cabot Tower overlooks the city's beautiful harbour
11 Forillon at the end of Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula has a beautiful mix of forests, mountains, and shore with many recreational opportunities. 72 km (45 miles) of trails pass through ten distinct ecosystems. On the water, there are whale watching cruises, sea kayaking and paddleboarding excursions.
12 La Mauricie has 150 lakes and many ponds within the Eastern forest-boreal transition ecoregion of Quebec. A drive through the park provides spectacular views, and many opportunities for camping, canoeing, hiking through the forest, and wildlife sighting.
13 Mingan Archipelago is a national park reserve on the North Shore of Quebec comprised of roughly 1,000 islands and coastal inlets. It features a unique set of limestone sculptures, which form the largest group of such monoliths in Canada.
National historic sites
- 14 Forges du Saint-Maurice – an archaeological site of the first site of the steel industry and the first industrial town in Canada in Trois-Rivières]
- 15 Fortifications of Québec – Quebec City is one of two cities in North America with a completely preserved fortification system. It has a length of 4.6 km, four gates, a citadel and three Martello towers and almost entirely surrounds Haute-Ville.
- 16 Grosse Isle – a memorial for people who died at this quarantine station for immigrants fleeing the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s
- 17 Lachine Canal – a beautiful 14.5-km bike path that runs along this historic canal in Montreal South West
14 Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario forms the core of UNESCO's Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. It is one of the largest protected areas in southern Ontario. It connects to the 904-km-long Bruce Trail along the Niagara Escarpment.
15 Georgian Bay Islands is composed of 63 islands in Ontario that are part of the world’s largest freshwater archipelago. Here, the windswept white pines and granite shores of the Canadian Shield turn to dense deciduous woodland.
16 Point Pelee in Ontario is Canada's smallest Park, and includes the southernmost point of mainland Canada. While significant breeding birds call the park home, Point Pelee's greatest importance is to migratory species moving through in spring and fall.
17 Pukaskwa in northern Ontario is known for its vistas of Lake Superior and boreal forests. The park protects part of the longest undeveloped shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes. Its 60-km Coastal Hiking Trail which follows the north shore of Lake Superior.
18 Rouge is the largest urban protected area in North America. It overlaps the cities of Toronto, Markham and Pickering and the Township of Uxbridge in Ontario. It is accessible by city public transit buses.
National historic sites
- 18 Bellevue House – the home of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John Alexander Macdonald from 1848 to 1849 in Kingston
- 19 Fort George, reconstructed British fort which featured prominently in the War of 1812, and 20 Fort Mississauga, which has one remaining building from the same era – Niagara-on-the-Lake
- 21 Fort Wellington, a historical open-air museum in a fortification built during the War of 1812 with restored buildings, and 22 Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site, 60-foot-tall (18 m) stone lighthouse tower that marks the site of a battle fought in 1838, during the Upper Canada Rebellion. – Prescott
- 23 Laurier House – the former residence of two Canadian prime ministers: Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King, Ottawa
- 24 Rideau Canal – a 202-km historical scenic waterway completed in 1832 that connects the towns of Kingston and Ottawa that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 25 Trent-Severn Waterway – a 386-km waterway built between 1833 and 1920 connecting Lake Ontario at Trenton to Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, at Port Severn, and Peterborough Lift Lock
20 Banff in Alberta has stunning mountain scenery tgat makes it one of Canada's most-visited parks. Together with six other national parks, it makes up the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site. 0°0′0″N 0°0′0″E
21 Elk Island in Alberta is home to more than 40 species of free-roaming mammals including plains bison, wood bison, elk, moose, deer, beaver, and muskrat. Over 250 species of birds live here, making it a good place for birdwatching.
22 Grasslands in Saskatchewan includes 907 km2 (350 sq mi) of the Prairie Grasslands natural region, protecting one of Canada's few remaining areas of undisturbed dry mixed-grass/shortgrass prairie grassland.
24 Prince Albert in Saskatchewan represent the transition from the prairies (open grasslands) through aspen parklands (popular and other deciduous trees with open spaces between clumps) and boreal forest (coniferous trees, lakes, beaches).
25 Riding Mountain in Manitoba protects three ecosystems that converge in the area: grasslands, upland boreal and eastern deciduous forests. It offers over 400 km (250 mi) of trails for hiking, horse riding, and cross-country skiing.
26 Wapusk in northern Manitoba is the best location in the world to view and photograph wild polar bears. It is one of the world's largest known polar bear maternity denning areas. It is accessible by helicopter or Tundra Buggy tour from Churchill.
27 Waterton Lakes is a park and UNESCO World Heritage site in Alberta. The Canadian portion of Waterton Glacier International Peace Park protects the southernmost portion of the Canadian Rockies. It is known for its hiking and sight-seeing.
National historic sites
- 26 Bar U Ranch – a ranch in Longview, Alberta, that is preserved as life was during the time period 1882-1950, allowing the visitor to experience and understand life on the historical ranch
- 27 Batoche – former village and the site of an historic battle during the North-West Rebellion of 1885 near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
- 28 Fort Battleford – five original North-West Mounted Police buildings ftom 1876 in Battleford, Saskatchewan
- 29 Lower Fort Garry – a restored 19th-century fort and fur trading post where costumed staff recreate the 1850s in Selkirk, Manitoba
- 30 Riel House, which commemorates the life of the Métis politician and activist Louis Riel and the daily life of Métis families in the Red River Settlement, and 31 The Forks, a park and public space for the arts, events, food and shopping in Winnipeg, Manitoba
- 32 Rocky Mountain House – an archaeological site that contains the remains of several early 19th-century Hudson's Bay Company fur trade forts in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
- 33 York Factory – a former Hudson's Bay Company post 120 km SE of Churchill, Manitoba
28 Glacier encompasses a portion of the Columbia Mountains, and the Rogers Pass National Historic Site in British Columbia. Accessible by highway, many visitors come to see its high peaks, large, active glaciers, and one of Canada's largest cave systems.
29 Gulf Islands is a national park reserve in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia. It includes many islets and reef areas and offers incredible opportunities for boating, kayaking, hiking, camping and wildlife viewing.
30 Gwaii Haanas is a national park reserve in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. The SG̱ang Gwaay Llnaagay site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and since 2004, the entire park has been on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage.
32 Mount Revelstoke is adjacent to the city of Revelstoke in the Kootenays of British Columbia. It protects a small herd of the threatened woodland caribou, and provides habitats for cougars, grizzly bears, lynxes, black bears, red foxes, moose, martens, coyotes, a variety of bats, wolf packs, several species of shrews, voles, mice, wolverines, and mountain goat.
33 Pacific Rim is a national park reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It is composed of three parts: the beautiful Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands (over 100 small islands and islets in Barkley Sound), and the West Coast Trail (a challenging 75-km trail along the west coast of Vancouver Island).
34 Yoho is a park and UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks in British Columbia bordering Banff in Alberta. It can be said to be British Columbia's equivalent of Banff or Jasper national parks.
National historic sites
- 34 Chilkoot Trail – a 33-mile, 54-km hike from the coast of north of Skagway, Alaska to Lake Bennett
- 35 Fort Langley National Historic Site – helps to tell the story of local fur trade and agricultural pursuits, the colonization story, and the ongoing history of the Langley area
- 36 Gulf of Georgia Cannery – learn about the West Coast fishing industry at this historic cannery in Steveston area of Richmond
- 37 Stanley Park – one of North America's largest urban parks, it is an oasis of wilderness in the middle of Vancouver, surrounded by a 9-km-paved path along the seashore
35 Aulavik at the northern end of Banks Island in the Northwest Territories is a remote park that protects Arctic Lowlands. It is a treeless Arctic desert with high winds, that is home to muskoxen, caribou, Arctic foxes, Arctic hares and wolves, and polar bears. It is accessed by boat arranged by local outfitters.
36 Auyuittuq is a park in Nunavut. Its name means "the land that never melts" in Inuktitut. It protects many terrains of Arctic wilderness, such as fjords, glaciers, and ice fields. Mount Thor, the largest uninterrupted cliff face in the world, is a popular destination for rock climbers
38 Kluane park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Yukon known for the spectacular glacier and icefield landscapes as well as for the importance of grizzly bears, caribou and Dall sheep habitat. The park’s interior is generally accessible only via a flightseeing tour or on a serious mountaineering or ski touring expedition.
39 Naats'ihch'oh is a national park reserve in the Northwest Territories that is accessible by float plane. It encompasses parts of the South Nahanni River watershed, and is home to grizzly bear, Dall’s sheep, mountain goats, and woodland caribou.
40 Nahanni national park reserve in the and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Northwest Territories. It protects a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region. The centrepiece of the park is the South Nahanni River (Naha Dehé), and four canyons reaching 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in depth.
42 Quttinirpaaq is a remote park in Nunavut that is larger than Taiwan. It is a polar desert with very little annual precipitation. Much of the highlands of the park are covered in ice caps. It is accessible by chartered plane.
43 Sirmilik is a remote park in Nunavut that protects Northern Eastern Arctic Lowlands Natural Region and parts of the Lancaster Sound Marine Region. The park can be visited by boat or snowmachine arranged through local outfitters.
44 Thaidene Nene is a proposed national park reserve at the eastern end of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. This area is the size of Belgium, and is characterized by a striking archipelago of islands, peninsulas, landscape formations shaped by ancient ice sheets, dramatic red granite cliffs, a variety of climates, soils and ecosystem processes.
45 Tuktut Nogait lies far north of the Arctic Circle in the northeast corner of mainland Northwest Territories. The park is home to the calving grounds of the Bluenose-West caribou herd, and is a major breeding and nesting ground for a wide variety of migratory birds. It is accessible by chartered plane.
46 Ukkusiksalik is a park on the mainland of Nunavut. Inuit people lived here from the 11th century to the 1960s. There are more than 400 documented archaeological sites within park boundaries. It is accessible by plane charter year-round. Outfitters offer boat excursions in July and August, and snowmobile excursions in spring.
47 Vuntut is a park in Yukon that is extremely remote and difficult to access, and has no developed facilities or trails. The northern two thirds of the park is made up of the rolling hills and peaks of the British Mountains, while the southern part is a vast wetland complex of shallow lakes and small streams
48 Wood Buffalo is a park and UNESCO World Heritage site that is larger than Switzerland and spans parts of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Canada's largest national park protects the largest bison population in North America and the largest inland delta.
- 49 Pingo National Landmark – a thousand domes of earth-covered ice found only in the high Arctic, 5 km west of Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories.
National historic sites
- 38 Dredge No. 4 – a wooden-hulled bucketline sluice dredge that mined placer gold on the Yukon River at Bonanza Creek, near Dawson City, Yukon
- 39 Dawson Historical Complex and 40 SS Keno – preserved frontier buildings and boardwalks, saloons, and a vintage sternwheeler recall the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush days in Dawson City, Yukon
- 41 SS Klondike – in Whitehorse, Yukon, ran freight along the Yukon River from 1937 to 1950
Park entry fees
Most Canadian national parks collect an entry fee, which varies by park. Canadian residents and international visitors pay the same price regardless of citizenship or place of residence. A few national parks are close to other parks (such as Banff National Park or Yoho National Park, mountain parks on the Alberta-BC border); it is possible to visit several parks in the same day and only pay once as the paid entry fee is valid until 4PM the following day.
Youth and children up to the age of 17 are allowed free admission to all national parks.
If visiting Canadian national parks for a week or more, or visiting more than a half-dozen national parks and national historic sites in a calendar year, it may be less expensive to purchase an annual Discovery Pass. A Discovery Pass includes admission to national historic sites operated by Parks Canada, such as the Banff Park Museum, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Bar U Ranch, Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site and Fort Langley National Historic Site.
Parks Canada does not operate all of Canada's national historic sites. To add confusion, Québec uses "parc national" for both federal and provincial (SÉPAQ) parks, which are two separate systems with non-interchangeable system passes. Due to its international, divided status the Thousand Islands has both a Canadian national park and an American state park, part of separate systems.
Visitor fees are used to enhance and maintain the parks and visitor services; they do not go to general government revenues.
Parks Canada Passes
The Discovery Pass provides unlimited admission for a full year at over 80 Parks Canada places that charge a daily entrance fee. It provides faster entry and is valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Prices for 2022 (taxes included):
- Family/group (up to 7 people in a vehicle): $145.25
- Children and youth (0-17): free
- Adult (18-64): $72.25
- Senior (65+): $61.75
The Cultural Access Pass: people who have received their Canadian citizenship in the past year can qualify for free entry to some sites.
Campgrounds may be reserved in advance. Reservations open in January for the next Apr 1 to March 31 period. Reservations are available from https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/ or +1-877-RESERVE (☏ , 8AM–6PM local time); Parks Canada general information is provided at ☏ .
In short: Leave-no-trace camping is always advised in national parks.
Disturbing wildlife is illegal in a national park. Leave rocks, plants, bones and antlers as you found them. A few parks contain archaeological sites or are in ecologically-sensitive locations such as the high Arctic. You may need to pack out any rubbish with you when you leave; if there are no latrines in a sensitive location, excrement should be packed out or buried. Anything left behind in the far north may take a very long time to decay, if it's biodegradable at all.
Some parts of the parks are restricted to protect wildlife; for instance, if a beachfront nesting habitat for endangered birds is not accessible to the public, it is left undisturbed with no roads into the protected segments.
Many parks are in remote or forested locations with essentially no local firefighting capability. A cook stove is preferable to an open camp fire, due to risk of wildfires. Keep any fires small enough to burn to ash before you leave. Never build a fire on moss or Arctic tundra where it can spread underground.
Do not leave markers, messages or other manmade indicators behind; leave the parkland in its natural, untouched state for the next voyager. In some wilderness locations without marked permanent camp sites, leave-no-trace camping is advised.
A few parks in remote far northern locations like Ellesmere Island or the Torngat Mountains require visitors register on entry and notify the park office on departure. Failure to deregister (or leave a message indicating your party successfully completed its trip) risks the launch of a very expensive and awkward search if authorities mistakenly believe you are still stranded in the park.
Help is not always close at hand. Parks Canada sites vary from beaten-path (such as the Rideau Canal in Ottawa or the Anne of Green Gables site in Prince Edward Island National Park) to almost next-to-impossible destinations (such as Nunavut and the high Arctic). In some places, a satellite phone may be the only communication in an emergency and GPS the only waypoint or location marker. A national 24-hour emergency dispatcher may be reached in Jasper, Alberta at ☏ (freephone: ☏ ) if attempts to contact a local park office fail, but it may take days for help to arrive in adverse conditions in a truly remote location accessible only by aircraft.
As adverse weather may delay your departure from a remote location; it's best to carry a few extra days worth of provisions.
If heading far from the beaten path, leave an itinerary with intended route locations, activities and date of expected return, names of all visitors and guides in the group (with emergency contact info for each) and description of major identifiable equipment (like tents or watercraft).
Dangerous animals are a hazard; you are on their turf, so be bear aware. Foodstuffs may need to be packaged in bear-resistant containers. Significant restrictions dictate who may carry firearms in national parks. By necessity, Parks Canada allows specially-licensed guides, natives or researchers to carry firearms for protection from polar bears in nine of the parks: Ivvavik and Vuntut (northern Yukon), Aulavik and Tuktut Nogait (Northwest Territories), Quttinirpaaq (Ellesmere Island, Nunavut), Sirmilik and Auyuittuq (Baffin Island, Nunavut), Torngat Mountains National Park (Labrador) and Wapusk National Park (north of Churchill, Manitoba). The bears are a protected species at risk but, if warning shots, flares, air horns or pepper spray fail to scare bears away from humans, the armed native bear guards are empowered to use lethal force to protect human life.