Park owned and maintained by the federal government of Canada
Travel topics > Natural attractions > Canadian National Parks

The National Parks of Canada, and some (but not all) of the National Historic Sites of Canada, are managed by Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada. If, when you picture Canada in your mind, you see vast wildernesses and mountain vistas, you are thinking of the national parks, one of the largest systems of protected areas in the world. As well, there are numerous historic sites protected by Parks Canada, some of which are also accessible by the general public.

UnderstandEdit

 
Map of Canadian National Parks

The national parks cover more than 328,000 km² (126,000 sq mi), or about 3.3% of the total land area of Canada. Together, Canada's national parks are larger than Norway.

Beginning with Banff National Park in 1885, the federal government of Canada began putting aside scenic pieces of land aside for tourism. To this later were added more remote areas, where conservation rather than recreation are the focus. The parks range in size and amenities from small and highly developed areas on the edge of cities to vast wildlands the size of many European countries, but without any permanent population. Entrance to the parks are controlled by tollgates on the highways leading to them (if any), and one must pay to get in, or in some cases you can transit through a park, but have to pay to leave the highway.

It is not only the federal (central) government that operates parks in Canada. Each province also runs numerous provincial parks, some of which are equally or more famous than their federal cousins, such as Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario or Kananaskis Country in Alberta. Confusingly, the provincially-owned parks in the often nationalistic province of Quebec, are also called "national parks"; for example Gaspésie National Park and Miguasha National Park are not federal, but rather provincial parks, despite the name.

There are two notable parks which are administered by other branches of the federal government, not Parks Canada. Both are free to enter, so a Parks Canada pass isn't needed. They are:

National ParksEdit

There are 38 federally-operated National Parks, nine National Park Reserves, three National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs), one NMCA Reserve and one National Landmark. A shaded background indicates the park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage List site. National Park Reserves are areas subject to indigenous land claims, their exact status and boundaries are therefore not considered permanent, but for a traveller they operate much the same as a full national park; on this list they are indicated by "(Reserve)".

Name Photo Location Area Established
1 Aulavik Northwest Territories 12200 km2 1992
2 Auyuittuq   Nunavut 19089 km2 2001
3 Banff   Alberta 6641 km2 1885
4 Bruce Peninsula   Ontario 154 km2 1987
5 Cape Breton Highlands   Nova Scotia 949 km2 1936
6 Elk Island   Alberta 194 km2 1913
7 Forillon   Quebec 244 km2 1970
8 Fundy   New Brunswick 206 km2 1948
9 Georgian Bay Islands   Ontario 14 km2 1929
10 Glacier   British Columbia 1349 km2 1886
11 Grasslands   Saskatchewan 907 km2 1981
12 Gros Morne   Newfoundland and Labrador 1805 km2 1973
13 Gulf Islands
(Reserve)
  British Columbia 36 km2 2003
14 Gwaii Haanas
(Reserve)
  British Columbia 1495 km2 1988
15 Ivvavik

 

Yukon 10168 km2 1984
16 Jasper   Alberta 10878 km2 1907
17 Kejimkujik   Nova Scotia 404 km2 1968
18 Kluane
(two units: a Park and a Reserve)
  Yukon 22013 km2 1976 (Reserve)
1993 (Park)
19 Kootenay   British Columbia 1406 km2 1920
20 Kouchibouguac   New Brunswick 239 km2 1969
21 La Mauricie   Quebec 536 km2 1970
22 Mealy Mountains   Newfoundland and Labrador 10700 km2 2015
23 Mingan Archipelago
(Reserve)
  Quebec 151 km2 1984
24 Mount Revelstoke   British Columbia 260 km2 1914
25 Naats'ihch'oh
(Reserve)
  Northwest Territories 4850 km2 2014
26 Nahanni
(Reserve)
  Northwest Territories 30000 km2 1976
27 Pacific Rim
(Reserve)
  British Columbia 511 km2 1970
28 Point Pelee   Ontario 15 km2 1918
29 Prince Albert   Saskatchewan 3874 km2 1927
30 Prince Edward Island   Prince Edward Island 22 km2 1937
31 Pukaskwa   Ontario 1878 km2 1978
32 Qausuittuq   Nunavut 11000 km2 2015
33 Quttinirpaaq   Nunavut 37775 km2 2001
34 Riding Mountain   Manitoba 2973 km2 1933
35 Rouge   Ontario 19 km2 2015
36 Sable Island     Nova Scotia 34 km2 2013
37 Sirmilik   Nunavut 22200 km2 2001
38 Terra Nova   Newfoundland and Labrador 400 km2 1957
39 Thaidene Nene
(Reserve)
  Northwest Territories Approx. 14000 km2 proposed
40 Thousand Islands National Park   Ontario 24 km2 1904
41 Torngat Mountains   Newfoundland and Labrador 9700 km2 2008
42 Tuktut Nogait   Northwest Territories 16340 km2 1996
43 Ukkusiksalik   Nunavut 20885 km2 2003
44 Vuntut   Yukon 4345 km2 1995
45 Wapusk   Manitoba 11475 km2 1996
46 Waterton Lakes   Alberta 505 km2 1895
47 Wood Buffalo   Alberta
Northwest Territories
44807 km2 1922
48 Yoho   British Columbia 1313 km2 1886

National Historic SitesEdit

Parks Canada also operates some (but not all) of Canada's National Historic Sites. A few are located within national parks, such as Banff or Jasper. Others among the more than 170 sites operated by Parks Canada include:

Various smaller sites are listed in their host cities.

National LandmarkEdit

Park entry feesEdit

Most Canadian national parks collect an entry fee; Canadian residents and international visitors pay the same price regardless of citizenship or place of residence. A few national parks are close to other parks (such as Banff National Park or Yoho National Park, mountain parks on the Alberta-BC border); it is possible to visit several parks in the same day and only pay once as the paid entry fee is valid until 4PM the following day.

Visitor fees are used to enhance and maintain the parks and visitor services; they do not go to general government revenues.

Youth and children up to the age of 17 are allowed free admission to all national parks.

If visiting Canadian national parks for a week or more, or visiting more than a half-dozen national parks and national historic sites in a calendar year, it may be less expensive to purchase an annual Discovery Pass.

Parks Canada Passes

The Discovery Pass provides unlimited admission for a full year at over 80 Parks Canada places that charge a daily entrance fee. It provides faster entry and is valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Prices for 2020 (taxes included):

  • Family/group (up to 7 people in a vehicle): $136.40
  • Children and youth (0-17): free
  • Adult (18-64): $67.70
  • Senior (65+): $57.90

The Cultural Access Pass: people who have received their Canadian citizenship in the past year can qualify for free entry to some sites.

A Discovery Pass includes admission to national historic sites operated by Parks Canada, such as the Banff Park Museum, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Bar U Ranch, Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site and Fort Langley National Historic Site.

Parks Canada does not operate all of Canada's national historic sites. To add confusion, Québec uses "parc national" for both federal and provincial (SÉPAQ) parks, which are two separate systems with non-interchangeable system passes. Due to its international, divided status the Thousand Islands has both a Canadian national park and an American state park, part of separate systems.

ReservationsEdit

Campgrounds may be reserved in advance. Reservations open in January for the next Apr 1-March 31 period. Reservations are available from www.reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca or +1-877-RESERVE (+1-877-737-3783, 8AM-6PM local time); Parks Canada general information is provided at +1-888-773-8888.

RespectEdit

In short: Leave-no-trace camping is always advised in National Parks.

Disturbing wildlife is illegal in a national park. Leave rocks, plants, bones and antlers as you found them. A few parks contain archaeological sites or are in ecologically-sensitive locations such as the high Arctic. You may need to pack out any rubbish with you when you leave; if there are no latrines in a sensitive location, excrement should be packed out or buried. Anything left behind in the far north may take a very long time to decay, if it's biodegradable at all.

Some parts of the parks are restricted to protect wildlife; for instance, if a beachfront nesting habitat for endangered birds is not accessible to the public, it is left undisturbed with no roads into the protected segments.

Many parks are in remote or forested locations with essentially no local firefighting capability. A cook stove is preferable to an open camp fire, due to risk of wildfires. Keep any fires small enough to burn to ash before you leave. Never build a fire on moss or Arctic tundra where it can spread underground.

Do not leave markers, messages or other manmade indicators behind; leave the parkland in its natural, untouched state for the next voyager. In some wilderness locations without marked permanent camp sites, leave-no-trace camping is advised.

A few parks in remote far northern locations like Ellesmere Island or the Torngat Mountains require visitors register on entry and notify the park office on departure. Failure to deregister (or leave a message indicating your party successfully completed its trip) risks the launch of a very expensive and awkward search if authorities mistakenly believe you are still stranded in the park.

Stay safeEdit

Help is not always close at hand. Parks Canada sites vary from beaten-path (such as the Rideau Canal in Ottawa or the Anne of Green Gables site in Prince Edward Island National Park) to almost next-to-impossible destinations (such as Nunavut and the high Arctic). In some places, a satellite phone may be the only communication in an emergency and GPS the only waypoint or location marker. A national 24-hour emergency dispatcher may be reached in Jasper, Alberta at +1 780-852-3100 (freephone: +1-877-852-3100) if attempts to contact a local park office fail, but it may take days for help to arrive in adverse conditions in a truly remote location accessible only by aircraft.

As adverse weather may delay your departure from a remote location; it's best to carry a few extra days worth of provisions.

If heading far from the beaten path, leave an itinerary with intended route locations, activities and date of expected return, names of all visitors and guides in the group (with emergency contact info for each) and description of major identifiable equipment (like tents or watercraft).

Dangerous animals are a hazard; you are on their turf, so be bear aware. Foodstuffs may need to be packaged in bear-resistant containers. Significant restrictions dictate who may carry firearms in national parks. By necessity, Parks Canada allows specially-licensed guides, natives or researchers to carry firearms for protection from polar bears in nine of the parks: Ivvavik and Vuntut (northern Yukon), Aulavik and Tuktut Nogait (Northwest Territories), Quttinirpaaq (Ellesmere Island, Nunavut), Sirmilik and Auyuittuq (Baffin Island, Nunavut), Torngat Mountains National Park (Labrador) and Wapusk National Park (north of Churchill, Manitoba). The bears are a protected species at risk but, if warning shots, flares, air horns or pepper spray fail to scare bears away from humans, the armed native bear guards are empowered to use lethal force to protect human life.

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