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Apr 12, 2017

10 min. read

2017 is the perfect year to explore the great outdoors as Parks Canada is offering free admission for residents and visitors to all national parks and historic sites to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. For an unforgettable outdoor experience, grab your hiking shoes, a camera, and your favourite travelling companion and pick the park that best suits your outdoor needs and region of choice. Here are five diverse parks across Canada to get you started.

Georgian Bay Islands National Park – Ontario.

If lounging on a bright red Muskoka chair overlooking the world’s largest freshwater archipelago is on your bucket list, get ready to cross it off with a visit to Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Your adventurous outdoor cravings will be satisfied from hiking, biking (rentals are available), and boating to your heart’s content. Located about two hours north of Toronto, the park consists of 63 islands and is accessible by boat only. You can reserve your spot on the Day Tripper ferry, take a water taxi out of Honey Harbour, or even kayak over to this Ontario paradise. Rustic accommodations in the park include cozy beach cabins, campsites, and Parks Canada’s original oTENTiks – a cross between a tent and a cabin on a raised wooden floor. During the warmer months, you can go to the beach, enjoy a picnic among the trees and cool off with a swim along the eastern shores of Beausoleil Island.

A sunset over a lake with rocks and trees.

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve – Quebec.

This park is known for it’s enchanting landscapes among 1,000 islands and islets. In fact, artists have painted and photographed the sculpted rocks, sea cliffs, and limestone monoliths for years. Seabirds such as the Atlantic puffin fly overhead for a friendly visit. If you want your own bird’s eye view of the island and want to wake up to fresh ocean air, you can sleep in the heart of an actual lighthouse station. The light keeper’s house is designed in fifties décor and you can learn all about lighthouse history and the foghorn building with a stay at Auberge de l’île aux Perroquets. Mingan Archipelago, located between the Saint-Jean River in the west and the Aguanus River to the east, also has oTENTiks to call home; wilderness camping; island hopping adventures where you may see spraying whales from your boat; or simply choose to hike along the sea and towering cliffs in the great natural outdoors among brilliant coastal inlets.

A lighthouse sits on top of a grassy field.

Gulf Island National Park Reserve – British Columbia.

If you love wildlife, British Columbia is the ideal province to visit, specifically Gulf Island National Park Reserve. Bring your binoculars to the waters of the Southern Gulf Islands because they are packed with wild swimming orcas, seals, otters, and pods of porpoises. Multiple bird species fly overhead and live among the lagoons and protected eco-systems on Sidney Island and Mayne Island, just off the waters of Georgina Point. The protected Salish waters are an ideal place to paddle away your worries and sail along the sea by kayak or your boat of choice.  Or camp right on the beach and explore the rocky shorelines and coves on a leisurely hike. There are 13 designated trails to choose from for all ages and abilities. If you are traveling with children family hiking is ideal at Narvaez Bay on Saturna Island and you can pick up a kids Xplorer Program booklet with nature activities and special souvenirs.

Two people stand up paddle boarding in the water.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Nova Scotia.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park – where majestic mountains meet the rushing sea – is home to wild bear, moose, bald eagles, hawks, seals, and even humpback whales. Trek along the Acadian Trail past 350 year-old sugar maples and walk through canyons with spectacular panoramic views of the Chéticamp River valley. There is ocean and beachfront camping, 26 hiking trails along the coastline and over rugged mountains, and stunning sunsets. This summer, Cape Breton is the place to be for a magical organized night hike called “Seeing in the Dark”. From June to September you can explore Warren Lake Trailhead and learn tips and tricks about the night sky and the adventures you can have when the moon and stars shine brightly. This nocturnal world comes to life at night and owls and loons will let you know they are off in the distance.

A road leading to the ocean with trees and mountains in the background.

Fundy National Park – New Brunswick.

This Maritime province is famous for the world’s highest tides and warmest salt water in the country. Twice daily, up to 12-metres of water flow in and out – the height of a four-floor building! You can also explore the bottom of the sea at low tide. So if you dream of walking along mud flats on the ocean floor and picking up slimy seaweed with your hands, Fundy National Park is for you. This vast terrain of Atlantic Canada includes hiking trails, waterfalls, sea cliffs, sandy beaches, lighthouses, forests and freshwater lakes ideal for kayaking. The park boasts over 100-km of hiking and biking trails through the Acadian forest and 20-km of shoreline. There are plenty of overnight accommodations to choose from including yurts – a traditional circular shaped dwelling dating back to Central Asia nomads. The more modernized yurts at Fundy come with a propane stove, insulated walls and roof, windows and domed ventilation for the summer months. Just make sure you bring a sleeping bag and a sense of adventure.

Two people canoeing down a river near a red covered bridge.

All images © Parks Canada / Ethan Meleg, Éric Lajeunesse, Fritz Mueller,  Jacques Pleau, Dale Wilson

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