The 10 Best National Parks in Canada from Outside Alison Osius

Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Acadia …. We spend a lot of time salivating over the national parks in the U.S., but there’s a brilliant system of goodies just across the border in Canada. Try Banff. But how many can you even name?

Our neighbors to the north have 37 national parks and 10 national-park reserves. The latter are managed in cooperation with Indigenous peoples.

As Outside‘s national parks columnist, I decided that it was high time to single out the best national parks in Canada. For starters, the scenery is mind-blowingly beautiful.

The goal of Canada’s extensive park system is just like ours: to protect lands that represent different ecosystems. There are a couple noticeable differences in how those landscapes are managed, though. For one, Parks Canada has embraced mountain biking and is actively developing purpose-built singletrack in many parks; mountain biking is not allowed on the trails in the majority of U.S. national parks. Also, thriving towns are located within many of the park borders, rather than nearby or adjacent as gateways.

Below, you’ll find nine of the most outstanding national parks in Canada that I can’t wait to visit. (All fees and prices are in U.S. dollars.)

1. Banff National Park

Alberta, Canada

Entrance Fee: $7.50

The robin’s-egg-blue Peyto Lake is a popular stop and classic hike in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. (Photo: Steve Swenson)

Canada’s first national park (established in 1885), Banff is a 4,126-square-mile swath of the Canadian Rockies 80 miles west of Calgary, Alberta, that includes limestone peaks, glaciers, and icy lakes. A lot of icy lakes, which formed as glaciers retreated, leaving powder-blue pools in their wake.

Banff is the most popular of Canada’s national parks, with more than 4 million visitors each year. The park has an array of resort-like amenities, with the bustling towns of Lake Louise and Banff located within its boundaries, and quaint tea houses on popular backcountry hikes. But there’s also much pristine wilderness, as 96 percent of the park is totally undeveloped.

The sublime Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (Sentier de la Plaine-des-Six-Glaciers), Banff National Park (Photo: Courtesy Zoya Lynch/Parks Canada)

The 8.6-mile Plain of Six Glaciers hike offers a great introduction to the landscape, tracing the edge of Lake Louise before climbing to Lake Agnes, where you can grab some tea and cookies at the Lake Agnes Tea House before finishing the loop. You’ll revel in views of the rocky 11,365-foot Mount Victoria, which looks about as wide as it does tall, and the Victoria Glacier, which feeds Lake Louise.

Hike up to Lake Agnes and the Lake Agnes Teahouse for a snack. (Photo: Andrew Penner/Parks Canada)

The turquoise water of Moraine Lake is surrounded by almost a dozen peaks, creating a focal point for some of the best views in all of Banff, especially from the hull of a boat. Moraine Lake Lodge rents canoes from its docks ($102 per canoe for an hour). You can’t drive your own car to the lake, so take a Parks Canada Shuttle.

Where to Stay in Banff

You have your pick of scenic and historic lodges, but for a treat check out Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, dubbed a “castle in the Rockies,” with high-end digs on the edge of the town of Banff (from $595 a night).

Camping on Waterfowl Lake, the Icefield Parkway, Banff (Photo: Courtesy Khali April/Parks Canada)

Campers should head to Waterfowl Lakes Campground, with 116 sites and amenities like sheltered camp kitchens with wood-burning stoves. It’s first-come, first-served ($18 a night).

2. Jasper National Park

Alberta, Canada

Entrance Fee: $8

Road biking along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada (Photo: Courtesy Rogier Gruys/Parks Canada )

Jasper National Park shares a border with Banff, with the 144-mile Icefields Parkway running between the two landscapes. Jasper is the larger of the two, spanning 6,835 square miles of prime Canadian Rockies real estate in the middle of nowhere. This means you have to really want to visit Jasper, which is a four-hour drive west from Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton, or a five-hour drive northwest from Calgary. The trip is well worth it, as the park is loaded with towering cliffs, high peaks, deep canyons, and waterfalls fed by glaciers. The town of Jasper is the hub of activity and perfect basecamp, as roads and trails extend from there into the mountains.

The Miette Hot Springs, Jasper National Park, on a sunny day (Photo: Courtesy Lee Simmons/Parks Canada)

Towards the southern border of the park, the Columbia Icefield covers more than 186 square miles along the Continental Divide. The Athabasca Glacier flows down from this massive icefield, giving day hikers a chance to explore the actively changing landscape. You can hike the 2.4-mile out-and-back Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail to the edge of the ice, but to truly explore the area you can sign up for a guided tour. Rockaboo leads a guided 4.5-hour hike on the Athabasca Glacier with a sustainability focus ($128 per person).

Sulphur Skyline Trail Viewpoint via Sulphur Skyline Trail (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

Jasper is loaded with scenic treks, but the Sulphur Skyline Trail begins and ends at a hot-springs resort. The five-mile out-and-back hike climbs to the summit of Sulphur Ridge, ascending through a spruce fir forest via a series of switchbacks until you crest above the tree line to panoramic views that include the Fiddle River Valley below and Utopia Mountain in the distance. Retrace your steps to soak in Miette Hot Springs, a developed series of pools with temps that reach 104 degrees ($13 per person).

The vast Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta (Photo: Courtesy Ryan Bray/Parks Canada)

Where to Stay Near Jaspers National Park

Whistlers is the closest campground to the town of Jasper, making it an easy base of operations. It’s large, with 781 sites, and recently renovated with improved sites and brand-new bathroom and shower facilities. You can make reservations starting in January of each year (from $22 U.S. per night).

3. Gros Morne National Park


Entrance Fee: $8

Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park on the island of Newfoundland (Photo: Courtesy Éric Le Bel/Parks Canada)

You want fjords? Gros Morne National Park has fjords. On the western edge of the island of Newfoundland, Gros Morne is a blissful mix of soaring fjord walls, towering mountains, and the bizarre Tablelands, where the earth’s mantle is exposed in an expanse of orange rock, the remnant of a tectonic plate shift that pushed the earth’s crust upward. The 1,121-square-mile park rises from the freshwater Gulf of St. Lawrence and is split by Bonne Bay into two sections, northern and southern, with a ferry running between. Rocky Harbour is home to the visitors’ center and launching spot for most adventures.

Sea kayaking at Norris Point, Bonne Bay, Gros Morne National Park (Photo: Courtesy Dale Wilson/Parks Canada)

Western Brook Pond, a landlocked freshwater fjord with 2,000-foot walls and the occasional waterfall, should be the first stop. Hiking the 9.1-mile Green Garden loop, which passes through meadows along the coastal headland, is also a must. Drop down to the shore at Old Man Cove, where the beach is flanked by cliffs and waterfalls, and a sea cave is tucked into the rock walls.

Green Garden Loop (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

Where to Stay Near Gros Morne National Park

Trout River Campground has 38 sites in an evergreen forest, with views of the Tablelands in the south side of the park ($21 per night, advance reservations). The campground has quick access to Trout River Pond, a fjord lake (a body of water separated from the Gulf of St. Lawrence) banked by steep cliffs on one side and a forested plateau on the other.

4. Kluane National Park and Reserve


Entrance Fee: Free

Camping and long-range viewing at Kluane Lake, Kluane National Park, the Yukon (Photo: Courtesy Rich Wheater/Government of Yukon)

In the southwest corner of the Yukon Territory, the 8,499-square-mile Kluane is a peak-bagger’s dream, encompassing 17 of Canada’s 20 highest mountains, including the country’s tallest, the 19,551-foot Mount Logan. Here, too, are the largest non-polar ice fields in the world, forming glaciers that fill the valleys, turning into rivers as they flow east, feeding lakes and sustaining habitat where caribou, wolves, bears, and mountain goats roam on the eastern edge of the park. The Haynes Highway and Alaska Highway traverse the eastern boundary, providing access to the visitors’ center, front-country trailheads, and campgrounds.

Hiking King’s Throne, Kluane National Park and Reserve, Canada (Photo: Courtesy Fritz Mueller/Parks Canada)

Hike the six-mile out-and-back King’s Throne Trail, which follows the edge of Kathleen Lake before climbing up on switchbacks to the saddle of a cirque overlooking the lake.

Where to Stay Near Kluane National Park and Reserve

Campers should head to Kathleen Lake Campground, which has 38 sites within walking distance of the lake of the same name. Campground availability is a mix of first-come, first-served sites and others you can reserve in advance ($20 per night).

5. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

British Columbia

Fee: $8

The Long Beach Unit in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is packed with sandy beaches and surfing. Here Louise Perrault heads out. (Photo: Courtesy Andy Herridge/Wick’d Surf Camps)

Covering 126,500 acres of the west coast of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is really three parks in one, with distinct units. The Long Beach Unit is accessible by car and is loaded with sandy beaches and surfing, while the Broken Group Islands Unit encompasses more than 100 islands within the Barkley Sound, only reachable by boat.

A woman visiting the Broken Group Islands, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, finds a quiet cove and a crazy sea stack. (Photo: Courtesy Scott Munn/Parks Canada)

The third unit, the West Coast Trail, features the 47-mile footpath of the same name. Most visitors stick to the Long Beach Unit, but wherever you end up, you can expect dense rainforest full of Sitka spruce and hemlock and mountains rising to the east, while the tumultuous Pacific dominates the west. Bring a rain jacket; summers are warm but wet.

Bonilla Falls, Bonilla Creek, on the West Coast Trail, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (Photo: Courtesy Scott Munn/Parks Canada)

In the Long Beach Unit, hike the 1.1-mile Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail to sample this section’s terrain, as the path moves through dense forest to cliffs to a sandy beach. The surf is gentle in the summer, well-suited for beginner and intermediate surfers. The beach at Incinerator Rock has been a surf destination since the ‘60s and has the most beginner-friendly waves in the park. Wick’d Surf runs lessons and rentals out of the town of Ucluelet (group lessons from $95 a person, rentals from $33 a day).

Where to Stay Near Pacific Rim National Park and Reserve

Snag a spot at the park’s only front-country campground, Green Point, which has a mix of drive-in and walk-in sites among the spruce (from $22 a night).

6. Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Nova Scotia

Fee: $7

Cabot Trail at French Mountain, Gulf of St. Lawrence (Photo: Courtesy Chris Reardon/Parks Canada)

The mountains tumble straight down to the sea in Cape Breton Highlands, on the northern tip of Nova Scotia. The park covers an elevated plateau full of forested river canyons and isolated beaches, stretching between the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the west. Inside Cape Breton Highlands you’ll find a particularly scenic portion of the 186-mile Cabot Trail, a paved two-lane road circumnavigating the park on its way around Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, offering a variety of overlooks with views of the rocky cliffs of La Bloc and the Fishing Cove, an inlet at the base of MacKenzie Mountain.

Shag Roost Loop via Skyline Trail (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

Make time to hike Skyline Trail, a 5.1-mile loop along a headland cliff that ends at an overlook above the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where you can occasionally spot whales. The 4.6-mile Franey loop is a slightly shorter but tougher outing, climbing more than 1,000 feet to views of a forested canyon and the Atlantic coastline. Watch out for moose on this trail; they cause more injuries in Canadian national parks than bears. Keep your distance (for long-range photo advice, see this Outside guide).

Where to Stay in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

There are eight campgrounds inside the park, but Corney Brook Campground will put you within walking distance of a beach where you can swim. The campground is small, with just 22 sites (from $14.50 per night).

7. Riding Mountain National Park


Entrance Fee: $7

An inviting boardwalk in the rich grasslands of Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba (Photo: Courtesy Travel Manitoba)

Manitoba is like Canada’s version of our Midwest, full of rolling plains and farmland. It’s a more subtle type of beauty—no massive cliffs or towering peaks—but there is elegance in those shimmering plains. Riding Mountain National Park encapsulates the best of that landscape, with 1,864 square miles of grasslands, lakes, wetlands, and forests choked with spruce, birch, and poplar. The fertile fields and oasis-like lakes attract an astounding array of wildlife. Parks Canada estimates there are roughly 1,000 black bears and three times as many moose; there are also cougars, lynx, and wolves.

Reeve’s Ravine Trail (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

Clear Lake is the epicenter of action, with the resort-like town of Wasagaming dominating the southern shore. Most visitors start and stop right there. But more than 1,900 lakes and 250 miles of hiking trails are spread throughout the park. For a quick jaunt, cruise through the one-mile Ominik Marsh Trail, a floating boardwalk through wetlands with a healthy population of beavers. For the big picture, hike Reeve’s Ravine Trail, a 6.9-mile out-and-back including a .4-mile side hike up to the top of Bald Hill, a knob of loose, tan rock with the best view in the park, overlooking the hardwood spruce mixed forest at your feet and plains rolling to the horizon.

Visitors paddle on the quiet surface of Clear Lake, Riding Mountain National Park. (Photo: Courtesy Scott Munn/Parks Canada)

Want to see some wildlife? You have a good chance of seeing bear and moose all over the park, but for bison, head to Lake Audy, where a 40-strong herd lives in a 500-hectare enclosure. They’re descendants of a group that was introduced to the park from Elk Island National Park in the 1940s. The Lake Audy area, where the herd of bison live, has been closed since October 2023 because of roadwork, but according to Parks Canada, that closure should be lifted this month.

Where to Stay in Riding Mountain National Park

Pitch a tent at Whirlpool Lake Campground, where 14 walk-in tent sites have views of Whirlpool Lake (from $13 per night, reserve in advance), a grassy-edged body of water tucked into a spruce forest that’s a known hot spot for wildlife.

8. Auyuittuq National Park


Entrance Fee: $12

On Akshayuk Trail, Auyuittuq National Park (Photo: Courtesy Travel Manitoba)

What sort of terrain will you find inside Auyuittuq National Park? Here’s a clue: The name is Inuktitut for “the land that never melts.” Auyuittuq is located on the southern end of Baffin Island, protecting a small slice of the Arctic Circle. It’s a frozen tundra throughout winter, but come July and August, the ice and snow melt, revealing a park full of towering granite peaks, glaciers, and river valleys, while the edges of the island are marked with deep fjords.

It’s not an easy park to access. There are no roads or even designated trails inside the park, but Canadian North provides scheduled flights from Montreal, Ottawa, and Yellowknife to the gateway town of Pangnirtung. From there, you can take a 45-minute boat ride to the park proper.

Patricia Qiyuaqjuk, Interpretation Officer, stands in front of an Ulu Emergency Shelter, Auyuittuq National Park. (Photo: Courtesy Jesse Delgrosse/Parks Canada)

Pangnirtung will be your home base for exploration. The small outpost is home to the park visitor center, as well as local outfitters that offer trips into the park. Most people stick to the Akshayuk Pass area, a 60-mile corridor between mountains and glaciers, which takes up to two weeks to trek in full. There are no marked trails, but nine emergency shelters are spread a day apart each, and most people use landmarks like lakes and peaks to guide themselves through the area. The southern portion of the Akshayuk, from Overlord Peak to Summit Lake, is a popular five-day trek. Peter’s Expediting and Outfitting Services, in Pangnirtung, can help with shuttles, trip planning, or guiding.

If you show up in the spring before temperatures rise, you can also take a guided snowmobile excursion from Pangnirtung into the Arctic Circle proper.The full-day adventure has Parks Canada staff interpreting the landscape and Inuit culture for you ($225 per person, minimum four people).

Where to Say Near Auyuittuq National Park

The park has no developed campgrounds, but there are a couple of hotels in Pangnirtung. The Pangnirtung Fjordview Bed and Breakfast is small, with just three rooms and views of the fjord ($182 a night).

9. Bruce Peninsula National Park


Entrance Fee: $7

Overhanging Point is located along the Bruce Trail on Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula National Park (Photo: Courtesy Cobi Sharpe/Parks Canada)

Covering the northern tip of a strip of land that separates the Georgian Bay from greater Lake Huron, Bruce Peninsula National Park protects 96 square miles of the Niagara Escarpment. Here water meets rock, full of limestone cliffs, rocky beaches, caves, rivers, and some of the oldest trees in Canada: white cedar trees living atop the cliffs believed to be more than 1,300 years old.

Head to the Lake Huron side of the peninsula to explore Singing Sands Beach, where dunes flank a sandy shore ideal for swimming. The Grotto, a limestone cave that opens up to the turquoise water of the Georgian Bay, is the most popular destination in the park. Indian Head Cove, also on the Georgian Bay side of the park, has  access to cliffs and beach as well. From April 30 to October 31 you’ll need a parking reservation (parking is $15, with reservations an additional $11.50). The beach at Halfway Log Dump has a collection of boulders now managed as a designated bouldering area, where you can climb with the aqua-blue waters of Georgian Bay in the background.

Liu Yong (known as Daliu) boulders at Bruce Peninsula National Park. (Photo: John McCall)

Where to Stay Near Bruce Peninsula National Park  

Book a spot at Cyprus Lake Campground, and you can bypass the parking reservation system for the Grotto by hiking to it from your campsite. The campground has 232 sites with access to Cyprus Lake, which has multiple canoe launches. It’s a popular campground, so make reservations early ($48 a night). 

10. Fundy National Park

New Brunswick

Entrance Fee: $7

St. Martins Sea Caves in the Bay of Fundy are reachable by foot at low tide. (Photo: Courtesy New Brunswick Tourism)

Fundy National Park isn’t large—it covers just 50,900 acres on New Brunswick’s east coast—but it packs in a lot of highlights. At the heart of the park is the Bay of Fundy, famous for the greatest tidal-shift differential in the world, where you can walk the mudflats of the ocean floor during low tide, while that same spot will later fill with 50 feet of water during high tide.

At Hopewell Rocks Park, just outside the national park, a series of sea stacks on the ocean floor are exposed during low tide and then almost fully submerged again. The Bay of Fundy might earn top billing (it’s considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of North America), but there is much more to this park. Miles of rugged coast hem in a dense forest of spruce, fir, maples, and birch trees, not to mention 25 waterfalls, and bogs that hold carnivorous plants.

The paths among the formations at Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, are covered at high tide. (Photo: Courtesy New Brunswick Tourism)

Experience the tidal shift first hand at Alma Beach, in the Bay of Fundy, where you can wade through the mud searching for crustaceans, but for another perspective on the park’s grandeur, hike the 12-mile out-and-back Coastal Trail, which traces the Fundy cliff line, traveling through spruce forest between many overlooks. The trail also drops down to Herring Cove, where you can explore a beach and sea caves.

Where to Stay Near Fundy National Park

Pitch your tent at Point Wolfe Campground, which has 155 sites you can reserve in advance (from $21 per night), and hike from there to the Point Wolfe Beach for a swim.

A note: Wildfires are a concern during the summer in Canada, as they are in the Western U.S. Stay updated on potential impacts to a park you’re hoping to visit and on any open-fire bans. None of the parks on this list are currently under serious threat.

Graham Averill is Outside magazine’s national-parks columnist. He’s been steadily ticking off parks in his home country, and is now expanding north.

The author in the saddle (Photo: Andy Cochrane)
For more by Graham Averill, see:

The Ultimate Guide to Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway

Boating Turns Me Green. But I Couldn’t Miss a Chance to See the Channel Islands.

Put These Beautiful National Monuments on Your Must-See List

The 5 Best National Park Road Trips in the U.S.


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