When people think of Canada, many often picture its amazing natural scenery. The best way to experience our beautiful landscapes is by visiting one of our national parks. However, Canada is so big, and visitors won’t have time to see the whole country, so you’ll have to choose what national parks to visit.
Canada has 48 national parks, the largest of which are in the northern territories and aren’t easily accessible. For most visitors to Canada’s national parks, you’ll need to decide between visiting our national parks in western or eastern Canada. For this article, we will look at how the national parks in western Canada differ from those in eastern Canada and why they tend to get more visitors.
There are 12 national parks in Canada’s two western provinces, with Jasper National Park being the largest and the second most visited behind nearby Banff National Park. These parks make up two of the seven national ‘mountain parks’ that enticed over nine million visitors in 2018/2019 out of 16 million people who visited all national parks in Canada. That means that over 50% of visitors to Canada’s 48 national parks came from just these seven! To say that the parks in western Canada are popular would be an understatement!
After Banff and Jasper National Parks, there are Waterton Lakes, Wood Buffalo, Elk Island, Glacier, Kootenay, Mt. Revelstoke, Yoho, Pacific Rim, Gulf Islands and Gwaii Haanas National Parks. These parks genuinely offer something for everyone! To learn more about what makes these western national parks so unique within Canada, read on!
Header Photo Credit: Lisanne Smeele
How Western Canada's National Parks differ from Eastern Canada's
Nowhere else in Canada can you see the giant mountains that make up the Canadian Rocky Mountains. With their stunning landscapes featuring glaciers and turquoise-coloured lakes, they are a treat for the senses. Those looking to experience Canada’s natural scenery at its most stunning should visit one or more of the ‘mountain’ national parks, such as Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Waterton Lakes, Glacier, Kootenay and Mt. Revelstoke.
Also unique to western Canada’s national parks, you’ll be mesmerized by the glaciers that you can not only see but walk upon! One of the most well-known and most easily accessible is the Columbia Icefield. This glacier is the largest in the Rocky Mountains and just a short drive from the mountain town of Banff. Go for a hike, have lunch and even take a drive on the glacier on a special tundra vehicle!
Dreaming of swimming in the turquoise waters of glacier-fed lakes? Look no further than the national parks of western Canada. Here you can visit such world-famous, Instagram-worthy lakes, such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, among several others. Due to the number of glaciers in the Rocky Mountains, there is no shortage of lakes to dip your toes (or more) in.
Fancy yourself a bit of a rail fanatic? Look no further than the national parks of western Canada. One of the most exciting points of interest is the spiral tunnels in Yoho National Park. At the viewpoint, if you are lucky, you’ll see a train heading out of the tunnel at a different elevation and direction than the same train as it enters the tunnel from another direction, an engineering marvel! Also, just outside Mt Revelstoke National Park, you’ll find Craigellachie, where the last spike was struck to complete the rail line that connected the entire country of Canada.
Nature All by Itself
Want to get away from it all? The 12 national parks of western Canada combine to a land area of around 68,000 square kilometres, about the same size as Ireland! All the towns within the parks are quite small as well, so once you get away from some of the popular tourist towns, like Banff, you will be lucky, or unlucky depending on your point of view, if you ever run into another human!
Bears and Other Wildlife
There are four types of bears in Canada: Brown, Black, Grizzly and Kermode (Spirit Bear). The Black bear can be found in eastern Canada but are more common in the west, and the other three types can only be found in western Canada! So be sure to pack your binoculars and camera in the hopes of spotting some of Canada’s most famous wildlife. You’ll also have the opportunity to spot moose, mountain goats, eagles and much more.
I bet surfing wasn’t the first activity you thought of when thinking of things to do in a national park, but Long Beach, near the town of Tofino, is Canada’s #1 destination for surfing. Tofino is the main town within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island, and the beaches and waves are second to none!
Head north to the island chain of Haida Gwaii off the coast of BC to immerse yourself in one of the oldest cultures on earth. With their history dating back over 10,000 years, the Haida people on Haida Gwaii have both a spectacular history and stunning landscapes to show you. Take a boat tour into the marine reserve or visit the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay near Skidegate to learn more about this unique culture. There are also numerous indigenous cultures in Western Canada, and no trip here is complete without acknowledging and learning more about their history and culture. Whether you venture up to Haida Gwaii or more accessible villages in the Rocky Mountains, you’ll be amazed by their history and cultural attractions.
So, these are what we think are the reasons why Western Canada National Parks are so popular and why we think you should book that trip our west that you’ve always been wanting to do! The attractions in western Canada’s national parks are second to none, and you can spend weeks in them without getting bored. Are you ready to take a trip to one of Western Canada’s national parks? What do you want to see and do when you visit?