Bunch Guide to Canada’s National Parks
We asked Parks Canada’s Andrew Campbell for the best adventures for families.
Parks Canada is celebrating its centennial anniversary, which is more than enough reason for us to celebrate it too. But with 42 national parks and a ton of national historic sites, how do you decide which ones your family will really, really love?
Starting east in Newfoundland and working his way west and north, Campbell shares his best bests for families with young kids.
Cape Spear, Newfoundland
A great event with kids is watching the sun come up over North America. In the summer, you have to get out there at 5 a.m., but at other times of the year it’s a little more reasonable. It’s a fantastic thing. My kids love watching the sun rise when there’s nothing else out there.
Signal Hill, Newfoundland
Close enough to Cape Spear that you can head straight to Signal Hill National Historic Site after you’ve had your coffee. Kids can re-enact history by putting up flags on ships that send messages to other ships. They can also take part in Explora, a program where kids are given a hand-held GPS and while walking around are given tips on what to look out for.
Gros Morne, Newfoundland
There are more moose per square kilometre here than anywhere else in the country. Your chances of seeing moose around your campsite or while hiking is pretty darn good. Hiking along the Viking Trail is also pretty great. You get to go where the vikings actually were and there’s lots of viking activities.
Kejimkujik, Nova Scotia
Riding an inner-tube down the Mersey River is great.
Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia
One of the things my kids really loved about the Fortress of Louisbourg is the lunch where they just give you a spoon. You have to rip apart your bread and rip apart your chicken and eat the meal with a spoon. You can also do public archaeology and the kids can participate in a dig. There’s just tons of stuff to do there.
Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia
There’s mountain biking and some great stone beaches. Maybe not the best activity for grown-ups, but kids can spend hours just throwing rocks into the ocean.
Anne of Green Gables House and Prince Edward Island Park, PEI
You can walk all around where Lucy Maud Montgomery was and see the inspiration for all the Anne of Green Gables books came from. Then head to Prince Edward Island Park and spend the rest of the day at the beach.
Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
You can see the highest tides in the world. My kids loved walking out onto the huge flat of the Bay of Fundy, and then hours later they’d see the tides up at the sides of the cliffs. Being able to walk on the floor of the ocean is awesome. You can also see whales off in the distance. This is a good place for whale watching.
Forillon National Park, Quebec
The walk back through Gaspé, with the Acadian culture and singing just entralls the kids.
Trent-Severn Waterway, Ontario
For Torontonians, taking advantage of the canal system in the Trent-Severn Waterway is easy. The Big Chute Marine Waterway takes boats out of the water and the boats go in a giant railway and down the side of a cliff and then go back into the water on the other side. It’s an amazing site to see. And there’s swimming close by.
Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
My 8-year-old just loves swimming in the grotto. There’s a cave that’s accessible with a small climb down a rock-face. You swim in a cave where it’s a grotto-type of pool. Kids can jump off the rocks and into the water. It’s just fantastic. Then you can take a glass-bottom boat over to Flower Pot Island where there’s more swimming with jumping off cliffs.
Lower Fort Garry, Manitoba
Just outside Winnipeg, kids can check out what life was like during the fur trade period.
Take the VIA Rail train up to Churchill and you can see lots of polar bears and millions of seals. In the Churchill River, you can even see beluga whales coming in and out of the water.
It’s just a phenomenal trip. The best times to go are May and October.
Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan
When you work for Parks Canada, you’re not supposed to have a favourite, but … this is where Grey Owl’s cabin is. There’s the spectacular boreal forest and for kids, it’s a super dark place with Northern Lights. To be standing in the dark in the middle of a birch forest when they trees sort of come alive with the Northern Lights, it’s just spectacular. It’s stopped my heart more than once.
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
We’ve re-introduced a herd of bison that roam the park. You can take a horseback tour and check out the bison as well as the prairie dogs. Prairie dogs have always been a favourite with my kids.
Banff and Jasper National Parks, Alberta
It’s hard to beat the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains. Plus they each have some great activities: climbing a rock face, hiking up to the Tea House in Lake Louise, in the winter there’s excellent skiing and riding on a dog-sled.
Rogers Pass National Historic Site, British Columbia
This is the height of the Continental Divide. There’s just something about it and you always see families stop there. Kids feel like they’re at the top of the world.
Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia
There’s great surfing to try and a beach that just goes on for miles and miles. You can see lots of sea lions.
Gulf Islands National Park, British Columbia
This is where you have a chance to see orcas and lots of seals. You can take a canoe with the family and canoe around the Sydney Spit, which is a beautiful portion of the park.
Kluane National Park, Yukon
You can walk part of the Chilkoot Trail, which is old all the people got over during the Gold Rush. You can see tons of mountain sheep, the glacier comes almost all the way down to the highway and you end up in Dawson City where you can pan for gold and actually get gold.
Which of Canada’s 42 national parks have you been to?
Andrew Campbell, Parks Canada Director General of Visitor Experience knows a lot about these parks. He’s been taking his three kids ages 8, 15 and 17 to Canada’s national parks and historic sites all their lives.