By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
This is a wonderful time of year to visit Canada’s national parks. For the most part, it’s much cooler in Canada than it is in southern latitudes of the United States. But since Canada is such a huge country, we’ve decided to cover only the national parks in the western provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. If you’d like more information about these or any of the other Canadian parks to help you plan your trip, try the official Parks Canada Web site: www.parkscanada.gc.ca. Another informative Web site to visit is www.canadianparks.com.
1. Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba
Forming part of the Manitoba Escarpment, this “island” rises above a huge sea of agricultural land. Thus, it preserves a wide variety of wildlife and vegetation not found in the prairie below. Along with spectacular scenery, the park provides numerous hiking trails. At Wasagaming, a small town inside the park, you’ll find restaurants and shopping. Since this park is easily accessible by car and bus, you shouldn’t have difficulty with a motorhome.
2. Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
This was the first Canadian national park to preserve mixed prairie grasslands. History buffs will be interested to know that Sitting Bull took refuge here after the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Those interested in the wildlife can observe the high society of a black-tailed prairie dog town; take a guided hike; learn more about the area along its interpretive trails; take in an afternoon of bird watching; or perhaps indulge in some nature photography. Grasslands National Park is located near the Saskatchewan-Montana border and is made up of two separate blocks. The West Block centers on the Frenchman River Valley and the East Block is representative of the Wood Mountain Upland.
3. Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan
This park is a transition zone between the parkland and the northern forest. The park features many natural wonders and cultural treasures, including the only fully protected white pelican nesting colony in Canada; the lakeside cabin of conservationist Grey Owl; and a free-range bison herd. The park is open year-round. Main campgrounds operate from mid-May to the end of September.
4. Banff National Park, Alberta
Canada’s first national park features rugged mountains, glaciers, ice fields, forests, alpine meadows, lakes, mineral hot springs, deep canyons, and an abundance of wildlife such as bears, wolves, and a host of birds. We haven’t been to all of the Canadian national parks, but of those we have visited, this one heads our list of favorites. Banff National Park is open year-round, but the peak season is July and August.
5. Elk Island National Park, Alberta
If you feel the call of the wild, this is one park to visit. Elk Island protects an aspen wilderness, one of the most endangered habitats in Canada. It is far from empty, though; the park’s list of wildlife includes elk, plains bison, wood bison, moose, bears, beavers, coyotes, and more than 250 species of birds. All this and it’s only an hour from Edmonton. The park is open year-round, but many services and facilities are available only during the summer.
6. Jasper National Park, Alberta
Jasper is the largest and most northerly of the four Canadian Rocky Mountain parks (the others are Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho) that comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll enjoy a setting of old spruce and Douglas fir forests, thundering waterfalls, hot springs, glacial lakes, and rugged mountain slopes. Wildlife is plentiful and backcountry trails offer glimpses of glacier-draped summits and green alpine meadows. Jasper is open year-round; the most popular visiting season is between July and August. Camping is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
7. Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Cross the U.S.-Canadian border north of Montana’s Glacier National Park and you enter Waterton Lakes National Park. Both parks were formed separately, but in 1932 the two governments combined them to create the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park “” a world first. On the Canadian side, rugged, windswept mountains rise abruptly out of a gentle prairie grassland. Thus, visitors experience several different ecological zones “” with flora and fauna from the alpine, sub-alpine, montane, and grasslands. The highlight of Waterton’s sparkling lakes is Upper Waterton Lake, the deepest in the Canadian Rockies, which is within view of the awesome Prince of Wales Hotel. The park is open year-round; however, the peak season is July and August.
8. Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta and Northwest Territories
This is Canada’s largest national park and home to one of the world’s largest free-roaming bison herds. The park was established in 1922 to protect a small herd of bison whose population had dropped from an estimated 40 million in 1830 to less than 1,000 by 1900. But now, with more than 17,000 square miles of northern boreal plains to call home, the herd has plenty of room to roam. The park also is the world’s only natural nesting site of the whooping crane. Wood Buffalo National Park is open year-round.
9. Glacier National Park, British Columbia
This mountainous wilderness is named for its more than 400 permanent glaciers. But it also features a rain forest and a rugged mountain landscape, as well as a national historic site. The Rogers Pass National Historic Site marks the importance of the country’s first major national transportation route. The diverse terrain assures that the park has a wide variety of plant and animal life. The Rogers Pass Centre is open year-round except for Christmas Day, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays in November.
10. Kootenay National Park, British Columbia
Like the parks previously mentioned, Kootenay is home to abundant wildlife, many species of birds, and a bevy of beautiful wildflowers. For thousands of years the area that is now Kootenay National Park was part of the traditional lands of the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) and Shuswap tribes. Kootenay was established in 1920 as part of the Banff-Windermere Highway, the first motor road to cross the Canadian Rockies. A strip of land approximately five miles wide on each side of the 56.4-mile-long highway was set aside as a national park, which is why it has such a long, narrow shape. Today the highway is known as the Kootenay Parkway. The park is open year-round, with a peak season in July and August.
11. Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia
Mount Revelstoke National Park is a place of contrasts. If you take a drive along the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, you start out in dense old-growth rain forest of giant cedar and pine, climb up through subalpine forest, and then on to alpine meadows and tundra. Among the excellent hiking trails are the Giant Cedars trail, which leads through a stand of ancient Western red cedars, and the Skunk Cabbage trail, with its jungle-like wetland “” a birder’s paradise. The Meadows in the Sky Parkway is open only during the snow-free season and is not accessible by motorhome.
12. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia
This coastal marine and forest environment features beaches, an island archipelago, a rain forest, and significant archaeological sites. The cool, wet climate produces an abundance of life in the water as well as on land. The park includes lush coastal temperate rain forest and bountiful intertidal and subtidal areas. These natural wonders are interwoven with the long and dynamic history of the Indians and Europeans who settled the area. The park is in operation from mid-March to mid-October.
13. Yoho National Park, British Columbia
This park, established in 1885, represents the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Yoho is a Cree Indian word expressing awe, and it’s easy to see how the park earned its name with its spectacular waterfalls, soaring snowcapped peaks, and roaring rivers. Yoho is home to 28 mountain peaks that tower more than 9,900 feet high and features the third-highest waterfall in Canada, Takakkaw Falls, which drops 833 feet. The park is open year-round, with the peak season occurring during July and August.