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7 of Canada's Lesser Known National Parks Worth Visiting

With the release of Parks Canada’s Discovery Pass, which entitles holders to visit any of the country’s 46 national parks for free in 2017, a record number of visitors are expected to flock to popular parks. Skip the crowds and explore one of these lesser-known spots.

Terra Nova National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador

Photo: Parcs Canada - Dale Wilson

1. Terra Nova National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador

Visitors per year: 33,978

The most easterly of Canada’s national parks, Terra Nova remains one of the least visited. However, at only three hours from St. John’s, it’s easily accessible. Take a guided walk to learn about 5,000 years of indigenous history as well as the lynx, ospreys and caribou that inhabit the area.

Head here if: You’re a beachcomber. With more than 200 kilometres of coastline, you’re never more than five kilometres from the ocean. Sleep seaside after paddling amid icebergs or get hands on with sea life at the Salton’s Brook Visitor Centre’s touch tank.

Good to know: As part of Canada 150 and Parks Day Naturepalooza, Terra Nova will host the Ultimate Canadian Campfire on July 15. Don’t forget the s’more supplies.


Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec

Photo: Parcs Canada - Éric Lajeunesse

2. Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec

Visitors per year: 32,330

The 10-hour drive from Quebec City is probably what keeps most from trekking to the north shores of the St. Lawrence River. However, Mingan Archipelago is far from empty; it’s full of creatures, both real and fantastic: Squint at the limestone rock formations that litter the park – the largest collection of erosion monoliths in Canada – and use your imagination to see crocodiles and rhinos.

Head here if: You’re a birdwatcher. Some of the 30 islands that make up Mingan are nesting colonies for marine birds, including puffins, terns and guillemots.

Good to know: Mingan Archipelago is only accessible by boat. Advance bookings for chartered marine companies, boat tours or float planes are recommended.


Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Photo: Parcs Canada - Kevin Hogarth

3. Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Visitors per year: 11,597

Located in Southern Saskatchewan, Grasslands is what the area looked like before the West was won. Explore the coulees by wagon or horseback, and keep an eye out for one of the 12,000 teepee rings that dot the park. Spot ancient history in the badlands, one of the richest sources of dinosaur bones in Canada.

Head here if: You’re in search of peace and quiet. According to acoustic ecologists, Grasslands is one of the quietest places on earth, owing, in part, to its status as a Dark Sky Preserve.

Good to know: Pack your bug repellent – and your sense of adventure. In addition to black widow spiders, you might also find rattlesnakes and quicksand.


Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario

Photo: Parcs Canada

4. Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario

Visitors per year: 7,271

Imagine the pristine beauty of cottage country but without all the cottages. Pukaskwa, a four-hour drive east of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, is the site of the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline in the Great Lakes. As you explore the park’s boreal forest, the only sign of life you might see are the lynx, peregrine falcons and timber wolves that live here.

Head here if: You love hiking. Pukaskwa’s challenging 60-kilometre Coastal Hiking Trail crosses suspension bridges and rivers. The park's newest trail, Mdaabii Miikna, is recommended for hikers who have experience backpacking over rugged terrain.

Good to know: Pukaskwa National Park has one of the most southern populations of arctic disjuncts plants, including encrested saxifrage and butter wart. Lake Superior's cooling effect helps these plants thrive along the coastline.


Wood Buffalo National Park, NWT/Alberta

Photo: Parcs Canada - J.F. Bergeron

5. Wood Buffalo National Park, NWT/Alberta

Visitors per year: 3,119

Everything about Wood Buffalo National Park is big. With an area larger than Switzerland, it’s not just Canada’s largest protected area; it’s also home to the world’s largest beaver dam and the world’s largest herd of free-roaming bison. Unfortunately, the “big” rule also applies to the park’s mosquitoes.

Head here if: You love camping. At five times the size of Yellowstone, Wood Buffalo provides ample backcountry room to pitch a tent. The Pine Lake Campground, where visitors can swim in the aquamarine waters of karst sinkholes, also has cabin rentals.

Good to know: From August 17 to 19, the park will celebrate its status as the World’s Largest Dark Sky Preserve with the Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival.


Wapusk, Manitoba

Photo: Parcs Canada

6. Wapusk, Manitoba

Visitors per year: 231

Wapusk National Park isn’t technically one of the least-known national parks in Canada; it’s just one of the least visited. Cree for white bear, Wapusk is located just south of Churchill, famous for its polar bear population.

Head here if: You’re a nature photographer. Capture images of newborn polar bear cubs, caribou, wolverines, more than 250 species of birds and massive Arctic hares.

Good to know: Get ready to feel like a celebrity; any time you enter the park, an armed guard will accompany you. The park is only accessible by helicopter or tundra buggy and through a licensed outfitter.


Aulavik, NWT

Photo: Parcs Canada - Susan Kutz

7. Aulavik, NWT

Visitors per year: 0 (2015–2016)

Although Aulavik translates to where people travel, you might have a hard time finding someone to show your Discovery Pass to when you land on northern Banks Island. But you’ll be far from alone in the Arctic tundra. Aulavik has the highest concentration of muskoxen on earth; some 10,000 live in the park. A three-week paddling journey down the Thomsen River, the northernmost navigable river, will reveal the remnants of ancient inhabitants, including millennia-old meat caches.

Head here if: You consider your outdoor skills exceeding those of Survivorman star Les Stroud. Guided excursions by licensed outfitters are also available.

Good to know: The only way to access this park is by chartered aircraft. Visitors must also apply for an aircraft landing permit prior to arrival.

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