The East Coast
The only problem here is which one to choose. The Bay of Fundy National Park in New Brunswick boasts 120 km of hiking trails, world-class sea kayaking and the highest tides on Earth.
Farther a field, in Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park is a land of extremes, with wild land and barren lands, mountains and lowlands, smooth beach and that legendary rocky shore – it's stunning, and teeming with wildlife from Arctic hare to caribou.
In Nova Scotia, the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is also a sure pick, encompassing the fabled Cabot Trail in all its green-sea-crashing-into-craggy-cliffs glory.
Then there's the wealth of provincial parks that offer front- and back-country camping (Mount Carlton Provincial Park in N.B.), smooth sand (Basin Head or Cabot Beach provincial parks in P.E.I.), and charming picnic spots (Mactaquac Provincial Park in N.B.).
Check out www.novascotiaparks.ca, www.nbparks.ca, www.tourismpei.com/pei-provincial-parks, and www.env.gov.nl.ca/parks for more info.
Looking to escape to another world? Killarney and Lake Superior Provincial Parks in northern Ontario don't disappoint. Both inspired the Group of Seven.
The famed Algonquin Provincial Park is a dream for canoers and hikers alike (the nightly wolf howls are a great draw for kids). A stone's throw from the cities of Southern Ontario, the Bruce Peninsula National Park is loaded with hiking, climbing, and camping opportunities, ideal for family getaways.
In Quebec, two hours from Montreal in the picturesque Laurentians, Mont-Trembant Provincial Park overflows with 300 lakes, six rivers and waterfalls galore. Meanwhile, the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park (one of three national marine conservation areas) abounds a rich diversity of marine life – the abundant krill in the deep waters are feasted upon by indigenous beluga whales, along with minke, finback and blue whales. The lesser-known Jacques-Cartier Provincial Park is notably one of the most stunning parks in the region.
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Where the boreal forest meets the tundra lies Manitoba's Wapusk National Park. It protects one the largest polar bear denning grounds in the world. Consider a guided tour for safe viewing of these majestic creatures.
Moose, lynx and wolves inhabit the Duck Mountain Provincial Park, where you can take a challenging hike or a leisurely walk in the vast meadows. For family fun near Winnipeg, Grand Beach ranks among the best beaches in North America.
In Saskatchewan, Grasslands National Park in the south and Prince Albert National Park in the north are snaked through with hiking trails that let you explore deep into the land.
Visit www.ontarioparks.com, www.sepaq.com/pq/en, www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/parks and www.tpcs.gov.sk.ca/parks to find out more.
Alberta and British Columbia
In many ways, B.C. and Alberta are symbols of Canada's park system. In Alberta, the world-renowned Banff and Jasper National Parks are spectacular odes to both beauty and wildlife (bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the higher altitudes; grizzlies, elk, even wolverines in the low-lying areas). Peter Lougheed and Don Getty Provincial Parks flaunt the same scenery with a fraction of the crowds.
Nearby is B.C.'s Mount Robson Provincial Park, a world heritage site, which woos veteran hikers and mountain climbers, though the diverse landscape also lends itself to leisurely walks and camping.
On Vancouver Island, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve burgeons with whales and seals, while the bears, cougars and wolves roam the adjacent temperate rain forest. Then there's Yoho National Park in the north – it rolls the best of B.C. into one vast park of pure wilderness.
Find out more at www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks and www.albertaparks.ca.
The Far North
The Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut don't just provide a wilderness experience, they are the wilderness. These areas are becoming increasingly accessible by plane. Kluane National Park and Reserve exemplifies this region's parks, where icefields and treeless expanses smash into untamed woods. Not for novices, here veteran paddlers battle gushing rivers, brave backpackers take on imposing mountains and intrepid artists find their true inspiration.
For more information, visit www.nunavutparks.com, www.iti.gov.nt.ca/tourismparks,
• A camping primer
• Camping cuisine: How to pack light and eat well
• How to start hiking
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