5 unique national parks in Canada that are off the beaten path

4 de December de 2023

Canada’s national parks offer a wide variety of outdoor experiences that appeal to nature lovers, adventure seekers, history buffs, and those simply seeking a peaceful retreat into the natural world. Whether you’ve always wanted to witness the northern lights (aurora borealis) or come face to face with a bear in the wild, Canada delivers.

While you may be aware of national parks like Banff or Jasper, there are many other off-the-beaten-path parks that allow you to explore Canada’s truly remote untouched wilderness. And while they may take a bit of effort to get to, the experiences they offer are quite memorable due to the fact they are rare to find in today’s world.

And don’t forget to think about looking at a travel insurance policy as it comes in handy for wilderness holidays, whether you are taking on activities such as trekking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, quad biking, kayaking, and more. 

Terra Nova National Park, Newfoundland, and Labrador

While it may be one of Canada’s smaller national parks, Terra Nova still boasts stunning landscapes, rich biodiversity, and a wide range of outdoor recreational activities. Nestled on the eastern coast of Newfoundland, it’s the most easterly national park in the country, conveniently accessible by car via the Trans-Canada Highway leading directly to the park’s entrance.

Renowned for its rugged Atlantic coastline, pristine fjords, and sheltered inlets where glimpses of whales, dolphins and seals are not uncommon, Terra Nova also features boreal forests that provide a habitat for moose, bears, foxes, and caribou.

Given the abundance of marine life in its coastal waters, the park is a popular destination for sea kayaking and snorkelling enthusiasts. On land, Terra Nova offers a network of approximately 80km of hiking trails, including the Coastal Trail and Outport Trail. While the summer months draw visitors for hiking, boating, and backcountry camping, the park transforms into a winter wonderland, offering activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing.

Venture to designated spots like Sandy Pond, Ochre Hill, and Blue Hill within the park, and relish the opportunity to gaze at the night sky free from light pollution. Whether you’re exploring its coastal wonders or immersing yourself in the tranquillity of its winter landscape, Terra Nova promises an unforgettable experience for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

Aulavik National Park, Northwest Territories

Aulavik National Park, situated in the Northwest Territories, is a remote wilderness haven that may take a bit of effort to reach, being recognised as a fly-in park. However, the extraordinary adventure awaiting those who undertake the journey is undoubtedly worth it. The park’s secluded location, coupled with its challenging terrain, makes it an ideal destination for individuals yearning for solitude and an authentic remote wilderness experience in the heart of Canada.

Located on Banks Island in the Arctic Archipelago, Aulavik is home to the Thomsen River, ranking among North America’s most northerly navigable waterways. The surrounding river valley, set in an Arctic wilderness is completely treeless, remains the home to an array of wildlife, including wolves, the endangered Peary caribou, and one of the world’s largest populations of prehistoric-looking muskoxen.

This isolated and remote park, situated well above the Arctic Circle, has no roads leading to it and visitors need to be self-reliant and well-prepared for the harsh Arctic conditions, having arranged a charter plane to get here.

So off-the-beaten-path is this park that there are no marked hiking trails, so you’ll need to blaze your own trail during the short summer hiking window that runs from mid-June to mid-August.  Hikers will find the geology of the park fascinating, with exposed rock formations, glacial features, and permafrost.

Sable Island National Park Reserve, Nova Scotia

Located on a remote sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean, Sable Island is known for its wild horses, shipwrecks, and unique ecosystems. Southeast of Halifax, the remote and isolated island park is accessible only by air or sea with visitors typically arriving by a chartered flight from Halifax or via a boat tour.

The island is ever-changing, its sand constantly shifting due to the prevailing winds and ocean currents. While the landscapes are impressive, the island is perhaps most famous for its population of now wild horses which are descendants of horses that were left on the island during the late 18th century.

For birdwatchers, Sable Island is a true delight, designated as an Important Bird Area due to its significant role as a nesting and migratory stopover site for numerous bird species. Sable Island also has a rich maritime history, with over 350 shipwrecks having fallen victim in the treacherous waters that surrounding the island. In this unique setting, you’re not alone in your island explorations. Joining you are researchers and scientists, drawn to Sable Island’s shores for studies in ecology, meteorology, and oceanography. Consider yourself in the company of the island’s true VIPs – Very Inquisitive Pioneers – as you may have the chance to learn about ongoing research and conservation projects by paying a visit to the Sable Island Research Station.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, British Columbia

Gwaii Haanas combines pristine wilderness, Indigenous culture, and the opportunity to see ancient totem poles. This hidden gem is found in British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii archipelago, once known as the as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Gwaii Haanas holds immense cultural significance for the Haida Nation, an Indigenous people who have inhabited the region generations. The area is home to numerous Indigenous village sites with multi-tiered longhouses, totem poles, and cultural artefacts, earning it the designation of a “living cultural landscape” as it remains actively utilised and celebrated by the Haida people.

At the heart of Gwaii Haanas lie the UNESCO World Heritage-listed SGang Gwaay and the Hotspring Island Haida village sites, offering a captivating glimpse into the rich history and artistic traditions of the Haida people. Complementing this cultural tapestry, Gwaii Haanas also includes a marine conservation area reserve, safeguarding the coastal environments where sea otters, orca whales, and numerous seabirds can be often spotted.

Given its remote location and ecological sensitivity, access to Gwaii Haanas is carefully regulated. Visitors must secure permits and guided tours with on-site guardians known as Watchmen, which not only provide insights into the cultural and natural heritage of the area but also ensure a respectful and educational experience in this unique intersection of pristine wilderness and living Indigenous traditions.

Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories

Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories is a canvas of awe-inspiring landscapes, boasting dramatic canyons, natural hot springs, and the majestic South Nahanni River. Located in the remote Mackenzie Mountains, near the Yukon Territory border, this wilderness haven offers an extraordinary escape to those seeking adventures. Accessible primarily by air or water, visitors typically make their entrance via floatplane or boat, depending on their chosen entry point.

Marvel at Canada’s geological wonders as Nahanni National Park Reserve unfolds its treasures, including four deep canyons and the iconic Virginia Falls, a breathtaking cascade nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls, plunging almost 100 meters into the Nahanni River.

Adding to its allure, the park boasts a unique feature – natural hot springs. Located along the Nahanni River, the Tufa Mounds Hot Springs invite visitors to soak in warm waters surrounded by significant limestone formations, creating an oasis in the heart of the wilderness., allow visitors to soak in the warm waters surrounded by beautiful limestone formations.

For nature lovers, this is a haven, where the subarctic tundra landscape serves as a home to an array of majestic wildlife. Dall’s sheep, moose, caribou, wolves, and grizzly bears inhabit this pristine wilderness. Try trekking the Nahanni River Trail – you might score a chance to spot some of the resident animals undisturbed in their natural habitat.

For adrenaline seekers, the Nahanni River is a playground of white-water rapids, offering Class II and III rapids for an exhilarating experience. If you’re drawn to mountaineering, challenge yourself on the peaks and walls of the Ragged Range, where spots like Cirque of the Unclimbables showcase iconic features such as Lotus Flower Tower, Huey Spire, and Bustle Tower. Nahanni National Park Reserve invites you to embrace the untamed spirit of the North, where every bend in the river and every peak climbed unveils a new chapter in your wilderness adventure.