While Canada’s National Parks often get all the glory (did you know that Banff National Park is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Canada?) our equally beautiful—and often less crowded—provincial parks may be the true national treasure.
Here are eight provincial parks that you need to visit before summer is out:
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta and Saskatchewan
Subalpine flora, cougars, moose, and an elevation of 1,500 metres: It’d be easy to assume that we’re referring to Banff, but you’ll actually find this provincial park straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. The Cypress Hills are an oasis in the prairies, their unique ecosystem the result of being one of the only un-glaciated places during the last ice age. Canada’s only interprovincial park is also a Dark Sky Preserve, complete with a small observatory.
60th Parallel Territorial Park, Northwest Territories
When you stop to take a picture at the famous “60th Parallel” sign, make sure to get your official “northern explorer” certificate from the on-site interpretative centre. If you aren’t in a hurry, the small campground at this park is also the perfect resting spot before you head up the Waterfall Highway—Alexandra, Louise, and Lady Evelyn Falls are all a short drive away.
Ruckle Provincial Park, British Columbia
Founded on the site of a historic homestead, an active farm still operates within the boundaries of this Salt Spring Island park. But the real draw here is the ability to camp by the beach, with access to seven kilometres of pristine coastline. From your campground, you may see sea lions, killer whales, mink, and river otters at play. Ruckle Park is also a popular scuba diving destination, known for its underwater caves and giant Pacific octopus.
Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Ontario
Provincial parks in Ontario are often overshadowed by the massively popular Algonquin, but Petroglyphs is just as worthy of the hype. An ancient sacred site, this is where you can see the largest collection of First Nations petroglyphs in Ontario, most of which were carved over 1,000 years ago.
Amherst Shore Provincial Park, Nova Scotia
Amherst Shore is undeniably pretty, with woodland paths and red sandstone cliffs towering 12 metres above the water. The scenery is the ideal backdrop for one of the best ocean swimming spots in Canada; the water is the warmest saltwater north of the Carolinas. The nearby bird sanctuary is also a regular waterfowl breeding spot, where more than 200 species have been observed.
Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Manitoba
Manitoba might not be where you expect to encounter giant sand dunes, but this park has a four kilometre-squared tract worth of them, some measuring 30 metres tall. Along with the unique snakes, lizards, and cacti that can be found in Spruce Woods, you’ll also find lush white spruce and deciduous forests, blue-green ponds, and the mighty Assiniboine River.
Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon
Located about a 1.5-hour drive north of Dawson City, this 2,200 square-kilometre park is considered to be the Patagonia of Canada. Prepare yourself for rugged mountains, breathtaking vantage points, unusual flora, and unlimited backcountry camping.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ontario
Located near Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant gives visitors a sense of the immense untouched wilderness that Northwest Ontario has to offer. The park has over 80 kilometres of hiking trails, which will take you through the boreal forest, alongside the shores of Lake Superior and to amazing lookout points, including to the top of the giant, some 250 metres above the lake.