7 of Canada’s Lesser Known National Parks Worth Visiting

Skip the crowds and explore one of these quieter spots.

Terra Nova National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador 

 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.
 

  • Visitors per year: 33,978

  • 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.

May 26, 2020
Rock formations in Mingan National Park, Quebec.
Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec.   Photo: Michel Villeneuve/Wikimedia Commons

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec 

 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.
 

  • Visitors per year: 32,330

  • 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.

A buffalo grazing in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.   Photo: Films Oiseau de nuit/Wikimedia Commons

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan 

 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.
 

  • Visitors per year: 11,597

  • 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.

A path through the woods of Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario
A squirrel on a mossy tree trunk in Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario.
A trail in Pukaskwa National Park.   Photo: Mark Harris/Flickr
Local fauna in the park.    Photo: Noddingsheep/Wikimedia Commons

Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario 

 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.
 

  • Visitors per year: 7,271

  • 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.

A field of salt in Wood Buffalo National Park in North West Territories/Alberta.
Salt flats in Wood Buffalo National Park.   Photo: Melinaguene/Wikimedia Commons

Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest Territories and Alberta 

 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.
 

  • Visitors per year: 3,119

  • 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.

An overhead shot of Wapusk National Park showing ice formations.
Ice forming in Wapusk National Park.   Photo: Emma/Flickr

Wapusk National Park, Manitoba 

 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.
 

  • Visitors per year: 231

  • 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.
     
     

The Lower Falls of Mercy River in Aulavik National Park
Purple Saxifrage growing within the Aulavik National Park
Lower Falls of Mercy River.   Photo: Parks Canada/Wayne Lynch
Purple Saxifrage.    Photo: Parks Canada/Wayne Lynch

Aulavik National Park, Northwest Territories 

 Although Aulavik translates to where people travel in Inuvialuktun, you might have a hard time finding another human being when your chartered aircraft lands 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.
 

  • Visitors per year: 18 (in 2018–2019)

  • 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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