2017 is a big year for Canada. Not only are they celebrating the nation’s 150th birthday, but the country’s national parks are also commemorating 100 years. For visitors (both Canadian or otherwise) this means free discovery passes for all the national parks across the country.
The Canadian National Park Pass gives you, and everyone else in your car, free admission to all 171 national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas. Camping fees and ranger programs are not included, but with admission costing around $7 USD per person or $50 for the annual pass, this deal might just make 2017 the best time to visit Canada.
With so many amazing places to choose from, how will you ever decide where to visit first? To make it easier, we’ve gathered ten activities that will help you make the most of that free Canadian National Park Pass – from the Atlantic to the Pacific and all the way to the Arctic Circle.
1. Watch for Whales at Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Often referred to as the place “where the mountains meet the sea,” this park encompasses steep cliffs and deep river canyons that carve into a forested plateau bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Hiking trails are plentiful here, but the most popular way to see the park is on the famed Cabot Trail. This winding road hugs the coast and offers ample viewpoints to pull over and admire the vistas. Views of the rugged coastline offer glimpses of the ocean below. Keep your eyes peeled and you might even see whales breaching in the waves.
2. Have a spot of tea at Banff National Park
Located amidst the stunning Canadian Rockies, Banff is the oldest national park in Canada. With towering snow-capped rocky peaks and crystal clear glacier-fed lakes, it’s no surprise that this park is also one of the most popular. One of the main attractions is Lake Louise. Here the splendid turquoise water and mountain backdrop draw visitors from all over the globe. To get the full experience, take a hike above the lake to one of two European-style tea houses. Stay for lunch or simply grab a cup of tea and piece of pie to go.
3. Gaze at the night sky at Grasslands National Park
Located in the middle of this vast country, Grasslands National Park is one of the world’s largest dark-sky preserves. Here you will find so little light pollution that you can see a blanket of stars every cloudless night.
4. Hike the famous West Coast Trail at Pacific Rim National Park
Located on the outdoor enthusiast mecca of Vancouver Island, the Pacific Rim National Park features three separate geographic areas. There’s the Broken Group Islands unit, an archipelago of 100 islands reachable only by boat, the Long Beach unit featuring 10 miles of sandy beach, and the nearly 50 mile West Coast Trail unit. There’s no need to hike the entire trail, but even a short backpacking trip along the West Coast Trail leads to a natural wonderland of waterfalls, rainforest, sandstone cliffs, and beaches.
5. Discover the fictional home of Anne of Green Gables at Prince Edward Island National Park
This family-friendly Canadian national park features red sandstone cliffs, giant shifting sand dunes, miles of coastal trails and a famous lighthouse. It’s also the home of the Green Gables Heritage Place. It was here that L.M. Montgomery set her fictional tale Anne of Green Gables among the idyllic meadows and wide vistas.
6. Swim in the Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park
Inside Bruce Peninsula National Park, you’ll find the crystal waters of the Grotto, a wide-mouth cave where visitors and locals frolic to in summer months. To reach the turquoise pool filled with intriguing cave structures, park the car and hop on the trail for a 45-minute hike. Along the way, you’ll pass ancient cedar trees, colorful orchids, and wide swaths of deep green ferns. When you reach the Grotto you can walk along a ledge inside the ancient limestone cave, or even take a swim in the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Georgian Bay.
7. Become a Canadian cowboy at Prince Albert National Park
In the heart of Saskatchewan lies a million-acre park where vast prairie meets boreal forest. The rolling hills and vast lakes of this Canadian national park are home to a diverse collection of wildlife including free-roaming bison, timber wolves and nearly 200 species of birds. The park sees its share leaf peppers in the fall months and cross-country skiers in the winter, but summertime is when the park and its wildlife really come to life.
For a completely unique experience, head over to the Sturgeon River Ranch for a 3-day adventure into the wild west side of the park. Spend the night in a tipi, eat out under the stars, and watch the bison, elk and moose all while riding along with genuine Canadian cowboys.
8. Sleep in an igloo at Auyuittuq National Park
Located so far north on Baffin Island that its name means “land that never melts”, Auyuittuq National Park is a landscape filled with glaciers, icy valleys, and polar bear-dotted tundra. Most visitors come during the months of June and July when the sun never sets and daytime melts into night.
A number of guided tours are offered here, allowing visitors to explore the park and experience a taste of what native life is like. If you want to spend the night in the park, consider staying in a traditional Inuit igloo. You can arrange to bunk with an Inuit family in their home while sharing their meals, observing their traditional arts, and discovering the fascinating traditions of their culture.
9. Walk on a glacier at Jasper National Park
As the largest Canadian National Park, Jasper has a wild remote feel despite portions of it being easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway. There are miles and miles (or rather kilometers) of rugged backcountry trails to explore, but for a family friendly experience be sure to check out the famous Athabasca Glacier. While this giant slab of ice has retreated drastically over the past 50 years, it is still possible to walk right from the parking lot to the edge of the glacier. For a more up close and personal experience, take a Guided Icewalk around this incredible slowly moving river of ice.
10. Experience the world’s highest tides at Fundy National Park
The biggest attraction of this far east park is the Bay of Fundy, where many come to see the world’s highest tides and explore the ocean floor at low tide. Beyond the tides, the park is full of thick evergreen forests and waterfalls just begging to be explored.