Aerial view of Stanley Park

Where to soak up some nature in Canada’s major cities

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When we think about major cities, nature is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind. We picture skyscrapers, busy intersections, and hurried crowds—a world of pavement, steel, and glass. But well-designed major cities are more than just urban landscapes. Green spaces and natural oases can be found all over the map. In fact, some of Canada’s biggest cities offer tons of surprising opportunities to commune with nature. So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed in one of our country’s urban landscapes, don’t forget to visit some of the places below.

Vancouver

stanley_park_totems
Photo by stanleyparkinfo.ca

Out of all the major cities in Canada, Vancouver is perhaps the best recognized for its unique blend of modern infrastructure and green spaces. With more than 220 parks, ten oceanside beaches, a 22-kilometre Seawall, and a freshwater lake, it’s easy to see why. Stanley Park is the largest and the most beloved of Vancouver’s outdoor spaces. Situated at the edge of the downtown area, it’s almost entirely surrounded by the shining waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. There are beaches to relax on, bike and hiking trails to explore, and lots of wildlife to spot. Not to mention a West Coast rainforest and a famous Seawall that runs along the edge of the park and provides breathtaking views of the mountains. Plant enthusiasts visiting Vancouver will also want to stop by the VanDusen Botanical gardens, which features species from diverse ecosystems all over the world, including the Himalayas, the Mediterranean, and the Louisiana Swamps.

Ottawa

Gatineau Park
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Canada’s Capital city has much more than the politics of Parliament Hill to lure visitors. The Rideau Canal, designated as a National Historic Site of Canada and a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a 202 km marvel that travels south to Lake Ontario. It’s lined by beautiful parks and trails, which are ideal for leisurely biking, brisk hiking, and scenic picnicking. During the summer months you can hit the canal to brush up on your canoeing or kayaking skills. In the winter it transforms into the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink. Another Ottawa option for those craving a little danger with their nature is a river-rafting tour down the rapids of the Ottawa River. People who prefer more quiet contemplation should hike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski through the nature reserve in Gatineau Park.

Calgary

Nose Hill
Photo by tripomatic.com

This rough and rowdy stampede city has a softer side filled with 10,000 hectares of parklands and nearly 800km of pathways for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy. It actually boasts the most extensive urban pathway and bikeway network in North America, connecting the myriad of parks and green spaces. Don’t miss the chance to stroll through Nose Hill Park, which is a rare example of what’s left of the grassland ecosystem in the Canadian prairies. Keep an eye out for deer and coyote roaming around and hawks circling overhead. Dog owners will be especially excited by the 150 off-leash park areas in Calgary, measuring nearly 1600 football fields overall. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking full advantage of a beautiful vista when your furry companion is free to do the same.

Toronto

High Park
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

There’s no denying that Metropolitan Toronto is a massive city spread out across a lot of land. Driving from one end to the other is an undertaking in itself. But a side benefit of urban sprawl is the diverse collection of natural spaces stretching all across the city—over 1600 in total. There are popular hangout spots like High Park, which attracts more than a million visitors annually. You’ll definitely want to plan a visit during the spring when the park’s large collection of Japanese cherry trees burst into bloom. There are environmental treasures like Don Valley Brick Works, a former quarry transformed into a sanctuary with wetlands, flower meadows and forest habitats. And there are well kept secrets like Rouge Park, which is located at the eastern edge of the city in Scarborough. It’s Toronto’s largest park, Canada’s first national urban park, and it’s packed full of wetlands, farmlands, fishing areas, and sandy beaches. In a city as large and diverse as Toronto, there’s a little something for every type of nature lover.

Halifax

Halifax Harbour
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

In Halifax everything points towards the stunning shoreline. With such a magnificent backdrop, nature is intertwined with the culture of the city itself. Halifax Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, offering a stunning view out across the ocean and a fascinating opportunity to boat watch in a busy port. There are many opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and cruising through the city, all designed for an interactive experience with the beautiful rocky coastline and mesmerizing ocean view. Just pick your favourite activity and listen to the call of the sea!

Quebec City

Marais du Nord
Photo by fr.academic.ru

This historic city has a natural landscape as intriguing as it’s cultural one. Bird watchers and canoeists should visit Marais Du Nord (“the northern marshes” just north of Lac Saint-Charles, which is home to 160 species of birds and can be explored on unique birch-bark canoes called ‘rabascaws’. Quebec’s largest park, Park Chavreau, is a spectacular steep-banked valley where visitors can hike, ski, snowshoe or just relax. Montmorency Falls, located in a park of the same name, are a jaw dropping attraction measuring 30 meters higher than the celebrated Niagara Falls. The park is equipped with some cool facilities (gondola, panoramic stairway and lookout points) that allow visitors to fully appreciate the majesty.