In this article, we discuss 15 best national parks in Canada. If you want to see the top 5 Canadian national parks, check out 5 Best National Parks in Canada.
Parks remain a preferred outdoor setting for recreational activities and relaxation, for kids and adults alike. Canada has a total of 37 national parks and 10 national park reserves that cover approximately 336,343 square kilometers of land and represent 31 of Canada's 39 terrestrial natural regions. These protected areas are situated across all provinces and territories and feature diverse landscapes, including mountains, plains, boreal forests, tundra, lakes, glaciers, and more. Parks Canada is responsible for preserving these natural wonders and managing them in a way that allows visitors to appreciate and enjoy them without causing harm to their ecological integrity. As part of the National Parks System Plan, the government is striving to create a system that includes every distinct natural region in Canada.
According to statistics, 2020 saw a decline of 28% in park goers as compared to 2019, with the number of visitors amounting to 11.8 million. Similarly, historic sites had only 5.3 million visitors in 2020, down by 39% when compared to the previous year. This situation was not only observed in Canada but the United States as well, where the national parks had 237 million visitors, down by 28% as compared to 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic hit all industries and sectors, including tourism at national parks. Since the governments imposed a lockdown and strict travel restrictions, national parks in Canada received almost no international visitors. However, outdoor spaces were open to the public for meditation, relaxation, exercise, and recreational activities during the lockdowns.
Bilingual surveys were conducted by Park People in June 2020 to gain insights into the experiences of Canadians and municipalities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Park People conducted a public survey which gathered responses from over 1600 Canadian city residents regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their use and perceptions of parks. The survey results revealed that around 70% of Canadians reported a heightened appreciation for parks and green spaces during the pandemic. Additionally, 82% of Canadians agreed that parks have become more crucial for their mental well-being during COVID-19. The study also found that parks have had a significant impact on Canadians' social well-being, especially for those living alone. While 38% of those living with others believed that parks have become more important to their sense of social connection, the number rose to 47% for individuals living alone. These findings indicate that parks play a crucial role in promoting social connectedness and mental well-being among Canadians during the pandemic.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, these parks were devastated financially due to comparatively lower visitors and declining international tourism, and many others sectors experienced a financial downfall right alongside them. For example, tourists opted for accommodations via Airbnb, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABNB), flights through airlines like Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV), and tourism companies such as Expedia Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:EXPE), all of whom suffered equally due to restrictions on international travel and tourism.
However, according to the Fall Tourism Outlook released by Destination Canada in November 2022, Canada's tourism industry is on a path to recovery despite ongoing challenges. The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and a resilient travel demand have contributed to a strengthening recovery trajectory. The outlook predicts that leisure travel will recover to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, which is one year earlier than the previous projection of spring 2022, and is considered an impressive achievement. The recovery of the domestic tourism market is leading the sector's resurgence, and strong spending is expected to facilitate a swift return to 2019 levels. The spending in the domestic travel market is predicted to reach 92% of 2019 levels by the end of 2022 and completely recover in 2023. The US market, which is Canada's biggest opportunity, is expected to see a boost in 2023, with spending reaching 91% of 2019 levels, following the lifting of border restrictions and a strong US dollar. The spending by US travellers in Canada is projected to reach 112% of 2019 levels in 2024. The increased tourist footfall in the country bodes well for national parks and historic sites in Canada as well.
Admittedly, Canada has an abundance of beautiful and statuesque national parks, each featuring unique natural elements that make it special. Each park deserved a spot on this list, and to rank them we scoured through tourism websites, Reddit threads, Canadian blogs, and travel guides to Canada.
We curated a list of the best national parks in Canada based on annual visitors in 2020, tourist reviews, the things to do in each park, and the area they cover for an accurate ranking.
Best National Parks in Canada
15. Fundy National Park
Annual Visitors: 296,947
Fundy National Park, situated near the village of Alma, New Brunswick, is a Canadian national park that opened on July 29, 1950. The park features a rugged coastline that ascends to the Canadian Highlands, over 25 waterfalls, and the world's highest tides. One of the main attractions of Fundy National Park is its famous Bay of Fundy, which is known for having the highest tides in the world. Visitors can witness the dramatic rise and fall of the tides and explore the unique rock formations and tidal pools that are revealed at low tide. It ranks 15th on our list of the best national parks, with annual visitors amounting to 296,947 in 2020.
International tourism recovery will not only boost annual visitors in national parks, but business will also pick up for travel and tourism companies like Airbnb, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABNB), Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV), and Expedia Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:EXPE).
14. Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Annual Visitors: 300,906
Ranking 14th on our list of the best national parks in Canada is Cape Breton Highlands National Park, located in Nova Scotia, covering an area of 949 square kilometers. The park has 26 scenic trails for amateur and expert hikers, ranging from easy forested walks to steep coastal slopes. This national park has picturesque picnic spots, fishing villages, beaches, and freshwater swimming for parkgoers. The annual visitors to Cape Breton Highlands National Park in 2020 were 300,906. Tourists especially partake in cycling, ocean kayaking, camping, fishing, and golfing. Whale sighting is also a common attraction at Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
13. Riding Mountain National Park
Annual Visitors: 332,218
The 13th entry on our list of the best national parks in Canada is Riding Mountain National Park, situated in Manitoba, spread out over 2969 square kilometers. This national park offers over 400 kilometers of hiking trails, both grassy and graveled. Some trails are covered by foot, others by cycles and horses. In winters, the trails are utilized for cross-country skiing. The park has 4 lakes that are suitable for swimming, including Clear Lake, Lake Katherine, Lake Audy, and Moon Lake. In addition to that, the park has a full-service campground, 15 picnic sites, and a golf course. The annual visitors to Riding Mountain National Park in 2020 were 352,218.
12. Elk Island National Park
Annual Visitors: 391,977
Based in Alberta, the Elk Island National Park is spread out over 194 square kilometers and is one of the smaller parks in Canada. The park houses bison, elk, and more than 250 bird species in its ecosystem. It is a big attraction for tourists, day picnickers, and overnight campers alike. The range of activities offered by Elk Island National Park includes hiking, golfing, camping, animal & bird watching, cross country skiing, ice skating, kayaking, windsurfing, beaches, and stargazing. With the plethora of activities and the natural wildlife running through the Elk Island National Park, the annual visitors in 2020 were 391,977, thus earning its well-deserved spot on our extensive list.
11. Point Pelee National Park
Annual Visitors: 396,168
Point Pelee National Park is the smallest national park in Canada, based in Ontario, and spread out over only 15 square kilometers. The park boasts one of the most extensive bird-watching experiences in the country, with more than 360 different species sighted during different seasons. Visitors can also enjoy canoeing, picnics on the beach, and be dazzled by dragonflies and blue jays amidst a snowy landscape. Point Pelee National Park had 396,168 visitors in 2020 since it has something to offer during every season of the year – making it the 11th entry on our list of the 15 best national parks in Canada.
10. Waterton Lakes National Park
Annual Visitors: 457,356
Located in Alberta and spread out over 505 square kilometers, the Waterton Lakes National Park is the 10th best national Canadian park on our comprehensive list. With annual visitors in 2020 amounting to 457,356, Waterton Lakes National Park offers a range of activities that makes it a hotspot for tourists and locals alike. The park’s scenic roads, abundant wildlife, canyons, waterfalls, and a range of water activities keep visitors busy. Waterton Lakes National Park also offers scuba diving, a theatre and cafes, mountain climbing, and more.
9. Bruce Peninsula National Park
Annual Visitors: 490,388
Spanning out over 154 square kilometers in Ontario, the Bruce Peninsula National Park has lakeshores and vibrant woods that attract visitors of all age groups. Excited explorers go on to surf and cliff diving on the Georgian Bay coastline. During summer, people visit the Singing Sands Beach for picnics and family relaxation time. In the fall, yurt camping is a preferred way for many visitors to unwind. There is also abundant opportunity to explore wildlife in the Bruce Peninsula National Park. The park had 490,388 visitors in 2020, making it stand 9th on our list of the best national parks in Canada.
8. Kootenay National Park
Annual Visitors: 529,666
Spread out over 1406 square kilometers, Kootenay National Park in British Columbia is the 9th best national park in Canada according to annual visitors in 2020 and prevalent tourist reviews. The park has many activities to keep its visitors busy and entertained. Ranging from mountain biking, scenic drives, fishing, fossil hikes, and wildlife watching, Kootenay National Park has much to offer. However, its natural attractions are what mainly attracted 529,666 visitors in 2020. These include the Radium Hot Springs, the Paint Pots – which are acidic cold-water springs with living species, Sinclair Canyon, Marble Canyon, and Olive Lake. The Kootenay National Park rightfully earned its spot on our list of the 15 best national parks in Canada.
7. Yoho National Park
Annual Visitors: 694,842
Covering over 1313 square kilometers of British Columbia is Yoho National Park, ranking 7th on our list of the best national Canadian parks. Whether you’re looking to relax and set camp on one of the four camping grounds, hike towards a half-billion-year-old fossil bed, enjoy historic sites and scenes from the rich Canadian heritage, or lounge near huge waterfalls and lakes, Yoho National Park has it all. The annual visitors in 2020 were 694,842.
6. Prince Edward Island National Park
Annual Visitors: 753,243
Prince Edward Island National Park is one of the smaller Canadian national parks, measuring at only 60 square kilometers. The park has a range of sandy beaches that are great for surfing and water activities. There are widespread walking trails, boardwalks, and 20 kilometers of trails for cycling. The coastal terrain is exotic and provides a beautiful experience of Atlantic Canada. In 2020, with annual visitors of 753,243, Prince Edward Island National Park ranks 6th on our list of the 15 best national parks in Canada.
Recovery in national park footfall throughout Canada will also boost business for travel firms such as Airbnb, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABNB), Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV), and Expedia Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:EXPE).
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Disclosure: None. 15 Best National Parks in Canada is originally published on Insider Monkey.