World-renowned Banff National Park has long been a mainstay rite of passage for vacationing Canadians and foreigners alike. But with 46 protected areas in 39 different natural regions across Canada, there are many other worthwhile national parks to choose from.
Here are five of Canada’s most underrated national parks—and why you should visit them now.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, British Columbia
The name “Gwaii Haanas” means “islands of beauty,” and it’s easy to see why. Located off the mainland of British Columbia, the archipelago of 138 islands has been a designated Haida Heritage Site since 1985. Already popular with kayakers, the area is only accessible by boat or floatplane, which means that less than 2000 people visit per year. Everyone else is missing out, though—humpback whales feed in the waters surrounding the temperate rainforest islands, and bays, inlets, tidal pools, and beaches are plentiful. Not to be missed is Anthony Island, where the remains of a Haida village, complete with standing totem poles and cedar longhouses, can be found.
Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest Territories
One of the largest protected areas in the world, Wood Buffalo National Park is larger than the nation of Switzerland, yet only around 3000 people explore it every year. As the name implies, it’s known for its free-roaming herds of wild bison. However, there is so much more to discover in the 44,807 square-kilometre park. Here, you’ll find expansive salt plains formed by an ancient sea from 390 millions years ago. Sinkholes litter the park, including at Pine Lake, an aquamarine swimming hole formed by the massive craters. It’s also one of only two nesting sites in the world for endangered whooping cranes, and the home of the largest beaver dam in the world, which is visible from space.
Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario
Ontario’s only national wilderness park is often overshadowed by its provincial cousins, only receiving around 10,000 visitors a year. But that shouldn’t be the case. Located near Thunder Bay, Pukaskwa offers views of Lake Superior and the surrounding boreal forest, where you might catch a glimpse of lynx, moose, grey wolves, and even woodland caribou. Down by the water, the boulder beaches are pitted with mysterious rock structures created by humans, although their original purpose is unknown. Ideal for paddling and hiking, the park also features a suspension bridge that sways 23 metres above Chigamiwinigum Falls.
Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec
The territory known as “Mingan Archipelago” became a national park reserve in 1984, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of how stunningly beautiful the it is. Located along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, limestone islands and thousands of granitic islets and reefs are scattered along the region’s shores. While the park receives far fewer human visitors than other parks in Quebec, there’s no shortage of life—be sure to keep an eye out for sea birds, seals, whales, and dolphins. There’s also an abundance of campsites to choose from in the park, but if you’re not totally into roughing it night-after-night, there’s now the option to spend the evening in the lighthouse station, one of the historic buildings found on Île aux Perroquets.
Sable Island National Park Reserve, Nova Scotia
Sable Island, located about 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax, is notoriously difficult to access. Changing weather conditions, such as heavy fog and rough seas, can delay boat and plane arrivals to the isolated island by days. Visitors must also request permission before they land on the protected area, which was declared a national park in 2013. But those who make the trip (usually by way of the small cruise ships or boat charters that make day trips) are rewarded. Primarily a research station, the sand dune island is home to large bird colonies, seals, rare plants, insects found nowhere else on the planet, and 350 shipwrecks. But its most famous residents are the beautiful Sable Island horses, a pack of about 300 feral horses.