National Park season is about to kick off, and with gas prices low across the country, a road trip to your closest wilderness area is certainly in order. But don’t forget about our neighbors to the north, who also boast a wild range of national park adventures, from mingling with polar bears in Manitoba to island hopping in Ontario. Here, four Canadian parks many know and love -- and four of the country's more underrated, best-kept secrets.Classic Canadian Favorites
Banff National Park
Size: 2,564 square miles
Nearest City: Calgary
It’s appropriate to lead the list with Canada’s first national park. Located less than two hours from Calgary, Banff shows off the incredible jagged, dramatic nature of the glacier-carved Canadian Rockies. Turquoise alpine lakes, glaciers, pine forests, a charming town by the same name, and two iconic “castle” hotels, the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise, show why Banff still stands as the shining star of the whole bunch.
Galacier National Park
Location: British Colombia
Size: 521 square miles
Nearest City: Revelstoke
The name tells you a lot about what you can expect. Over 130 glaciers cover about 50-square miles of the park and are the main attraction in the summer months when hiking and climbing conditions are most favorable. Keep your eye out for “watermelon snow,” a red tint caused by snow algae. Definitely make time to see the glaciers, but don’t miss out on the lesser-known attributes: The park has one of Canada’s longest cave systems, the Deutchmann Caves, which spans 3.7 miles in length.
Jasper National Park
Size: 4,200 square miles
Nearest City: Edmonton/Calgary
Jasper is the largest and most northerly park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It also contains the region’s largest icefield, the Columbia Icefield. And the wildlife in the rest of the park is impressive, including black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, beavers, grey wolves, bighorn sheep, elk, caribou, moose, mountain goats, mountain lions, wolverines, and white-tailed deer. Almost twice the size of Banff, its wilderness is a backcountry camper's dream.
Ukkusiksalik National Park
Size: 7,900 square miles
Nearest City: Chesterfield Inlet
Positioned south of the Arctic Circle, this former Inuit land contains over 500 archaeological sites, including trading posts, tent rings, and animal traps. A trip on which you gain perspective, you'll want to read up on Inuit history and lifestyle beforehand to appreciate the courage and survival skills of these hearty arctic people. The park is only accessible for a few weeks during the late summer -- there’s too much ice otherwise -- and most come to see the polar bears. But be sure to do some trekking along the Silva River to take in the low tundra environment, and spend the night to consider what it would take to survive this far north during the dead of winter.
Underrated Parks We Love
Thousand Islands National Park
Size: 9 square miles
Nearest City: Brockville
One of the best kept secrets of Upstate New York, this park butts up against the border of the U.S. and Canada along the 1000 Islands Seaway in the St. Lawrence River. Between the two countries, there are 1,864 islands in the river, ranging in size from 40 square miles to a few square feet. Getting out on the water and cruising down the river through the island chain is an absolute must. Boldt and Singer Castles are two of the main draws and accessible to the public, but our favorite part was seeing the different houses built on the smaller private islands. You can access the region from the States’ side through salty-dog towns such as Alexandria Bay. But if you want to stay true to the boundaries of the Canadian National Park -- which is only 9 square miles -- start your journey across the river in Mallorytown.
Sable Island National Park Reserve
Location: Nova Scotia
Size: 13 square miles
Nearest City: Halifax
Sable Island is located 109 miles southeast off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is a new park, established back in July of 2013, and is protected by the Canada Shipping Act, which prohibits drilling of any kind. As a result, permission and permits from the Canadian Coast Guard is required to visit. And getting there is no easy task: It’s either a 16-hour, one-way boat ride, or an expensive charter flight with a landing on a “makeshift” runway, both of which are often delayed by fog, wind, and waves. But those who make the journey are rewarded by the chance to interact with the island’s 400 free-roaming feral ponies, known as the Sable Island Ponies, and the satisfaction of reaching one of the country’s most isolated destinations.
Kluane National Park and Reserve
Size: 8,499 square miles
Nearest City: Haines Junction
Mountains and glaciers are the main attraction at Kluane, covering more than three-quarters of its 8,500-square miles. The jewel of the bunch is Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan, which tops out at 19,551 feet. This paves the way for excellent hiking and mountaineering. Softer adventures include bird watching, as over 100 species of birds are present in the park to go along with grizzly bears, caribou, and sheep. Be sure to read up on the history of the Kluane First Nation, an aboriginal population that calls the park home.
Wapusk National Park
Size: 4,430 square miles
Nearest City: Churchill
Wapusk National Park is one of the world’s largest polar bear dens, and this is indeed the main attraction and the place to be if seeing one is on your bucket list. With nearly 1,000 in the park, chances are very good that you’ll get multiple opportunities to observe them as the ice melts and they come ashore in late July and August. Be sure to research or take a tour to learn about the life cycles of polar bears in the region. They mostly live on the ice fields and hunt seals and fish, but pregnant females will remain on land for up to eight months to give birth and raise their young.