Photo: CC, Martin Cigler.
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The best way to check out Canada’s most unique natural spots

This summer the Canadian government is offering free national park passes in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. So lace up your boots, pack some sunscreen, and forget your phone, because this summer you can see the Great White North like you never have before.

Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba

Having worked at Riding Mountain National Park for two summers as a visitor service attendant, I can’t recommend this spot enough.

This park is located on an escarpment in northwestern Manitoba that punctuates the prairie landscape. As it encompasses three distinct ecosystems, you can find a large assortment of  Canadian mammals—from moose, to elk, bears, and bison.

While this local animal population can lead to some enchanting sights, you still have to take the proper precautions.  

One summer, I was able to convince my family and my roommate to come with me on a 75 km hike. We only had a weekend, and about 5 km into the trail I realized that my roommate was carrying over a kilo of extra weight in raw meat in bear country. But, as luck would have it, everyone finished the gruelling hike in one piece.

Photo: CC, Norm Andreiw.

Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia

If you find yourself traveling across British Columbia this summer, make sure you check out the great outdoors and not just a vibrant urban centre like Vancouver. One of best sites you can stumble across is Pacific Rim National Park the Island, which consists of three geographically separate units—Long Beach, Broken Group Islands, and West Coast Trail.

The Long Beach unit is an sweet beach spot where you can swim, tan, or explore the nearby areas. Long Beach is also located close to Tofino, a local surfing hotspot. The Broken Group Islands is, you guessed it, a collection of small islands and rocks located only by boat. Finally, the West Coast Trail features a breathtaking 75 km route.

If you can make it the whole way, you’ll get to see some wonderful sites like temperate rainforests, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, caves, sea arches, sea stacks, and beaches.

Photo: CC, Kyla Duhamel.

Ukkusiksalik National Park, Nunavut

Ukkusiksalik National Park is a great destination for those (very few) of us who are actually sad to see the snow melting.

For the rest of us, the chilly temperature is still worth braving to see one of Canada’s northernmost parks. Animal lovers will love this spot, since polar bear, grizzly, arctic wolf, and caribou sightings are common (just make sure to keep your distance). If you love marine life then you can also paddle to an inland sea to meet some beluga whales and seals.

Plus, if you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.

Photo: CC, Paul Gierszewski.

Fathom Five National Marine Park, Ontario

For history buffs, Fathom Five National Park is the place for you.

This park, located on Lake Huron, is home to nearly two dozen shipwrecks. You can learn about the harrowing journeys of the unfortunate sailors who lost their lives on those vessels—and who knows, you might run into one of their ghosts. You can even go scuba diving or take a glass bottom boat tour.

Under the water is also the famed “submerged waterfall,” a structure formed as a result of melting glaciers, increasing water levels, and land formations. The waterfall is now hidden under Georgian Bay, but it is still an important geological location nonetheless.

The park also features 420-million-year old dolomite rock formations, lush forests, and the rare calypso orchid.

Severně od Tobermory leží Fathom Five National Marine Park. Je oblíbený všemi milovníky vody - od kajakářů přes potápěče až po rybáře. Tvoří jej několik ostrovů, z nichž největší je Cove Island.
Photo: CC, Martin Cígler.

While provincial parks are not covered under the free national park passes program, here are a few beautiful parks located closer to Ottawa.

Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Ontario

This park, located northeast of Peterborough, hosts the largest collection of ancient First Nations rock carvings (petroglyphs) in Ontario. This site was lost until 1954, when it was “re-discovered” by prospector Everett Davis.

Today, you can visit this National Historic Site of Canada, and learn about the fascinating mythologies of the Ojibway (Nishnaabe) tribe carved into the rocks. You can also check out the Learning Place Visitor Centre to find out more about the their traditions through the teachings of the medicine wheel.

Nearby is also the stunning McGinnis Lake, a beautiful blue-green body of water which is also one of only a few meromictic lakes in Canada, meaning that the layers of water don’t intermix .

Photo: CC, W-van.

Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario

If you’re looking for clear water and white sandy beaches, Sandbanks is the place for you. You’ll (almost) feel like you’re in the Caribbean if you visit at the height of summer.  

This park, located in Prince Edward County just south of Belleville, boasts the world’s largest baymouth barrier dune formation.
The park also features more traditional amenities such as hiking trails, picnic areas, and campgrounds.

Photo: CC, Lynn Harris.