National Parks of Canada

Welcome to my page of information on the Canadian national parks. This information has been gathered in a several trips between 1995 and 2009

My biases -- While I am trying to be objective, I may not like to do the same things you do. So you can accurately evaluate this report, be aware of my personal biases in recreation and filter the report appropriately for your own tastes: I like and seek: Lack of crowds, wildlife, scenerey, strenuous day hiking, tent camping. I like but rarely do: back country trips, canoeing, swimming, biking on roads, sailing. I dislike and seek to avoid: Crowds, RV's, tours, biking on trails, motor boats, night-life, man-made attractions (helicopters, theaters, tourist traps, etc.)

Canada is another country!!

The first thing to note about Canada is that it is a different country, not another state. They have different currency ($1Canadian=$0.85 US in July 2009), but more importantly different customs and laws. Crossing the border is easy and painless for US and Canadian citizens not carrying alcohol, tobacco, or weapons, though you need a passport. Canada is firmly metric, with distances in KM, temparature in Celcius, and gas priced per litre. (Yes, they also spell many words differently, like the British.). Gas is much more expensive, even accounting for all the unit and currency conversions. Food in general is familiar, but the Canadian parks get a high proportion of euoropean and asian visitors, and you are likely to find more continental and Japanese food than simple steaks and burgers. Canada is bi-lingual, though in the western provinces, you will see French only on official signs and food labels (though you will hear a lot more French spoken than anywhere else I visited outside of France). Most road signs are in international icon language, which can sometimes be very confusing (gee what does a picture of a garbage truck running into a giant piece of movie film mean?) Speed limits in KM/hour sound high but they aren't and Canada has speed traps and expensive fines (but not nearly as bad for speeding as for littering!)

Comparison to US Parks:

The Canadian parks have been developed differently. Many include entire towns with substantial private development, in contrast with US parks which generally have limited facilities in the park. The Canadian parks as a result have many more options for in-park lodging, dining, and enterainment, but the park towns are circusses in season (like ski resort towns in march or like Jackson or West Yellowstone Wyoming in the summer). Roads in Canadian parks seem generally in much better shape, and the parks tend to have more and better camping facilities. They have also done considerable trail development. Stream crossings on most trails are bridged, and boardwalks or catwalks bypass wet areas on popular trails. Canadian parks do not in general provide maps and newsletters like the US parks, but instead you can buy guides in visitor centers and gift shops). Admission to the national parks require a pass, and there are many options -- day passes for individual parks, season passes for all parks.  Unlike the US, admission is charged based on the number of people.  Most people visiting for a week or more will want a season pass, good for a whole year. Provincial parks generally do not charge admission.

Getting there and Getting around:

You can drive to western Canada, but if you live east of the Mississippi, you are much better off flying to Calgary, Vancouver, Seattle, or Spokane, and rent a car. Make sure you get unlimited mileage if you can, as distances are huge. (Calgary to Vancouver is about 800 miles.) Our experience has been that Air Canada offers significantly more room per seat and nicer amenities in coach (free movies, better food) than the major US carriers at about the same price. If you visit the coast, you will need to take ferries to reach Vancouver Island, or cross numerous bays. A single agency (BC Ferries) operates all of these ferries. The popular crossings are inexpensive and have frequent schedules (once every 1-2 hours), and do not take reservations. Instead you arrive at the ferry terminal, pay, get in the appropriate line, and can then abandon your vehicle until 10 minutes before scheduled departure. Many ferry terminal towns have restaurants and shops within walking distance of the ferry lines. Ferries from Vancouver are overloaded outgoing on Friday evening and incoming on Sunday afternoon and evening, but otherwise you should have little trouble getting on the first available boat.

Mountain roads are generally very good in Canada, though they have practically no freeways comparable to our interstates, even in cities. As a consequence driving through urban areas can be painfully slow.

Canadian highways go by both numbers and names in the west. They have special signs for each indicative of the name. The major ones you are likely to encounter are:


Unpredictable is the only word. Generally colder and wetter than in the US parks. We encountered bright sun, heat, cold, rain, and snow all on the same day. Always be prepared to get wet on your hikes.


Elk, Rocky Mountain Sheep, mountain goats, and Bears are common. Bison and Moose are also supposed to be there but we never saw any. "tame" elk are common enough in Banff and Jasper that flower beds need to be encased in chicken wire to protect them. Sheep will stick their heads in your car if you encourage them at all in several locations. Bears are less friendly, but bear sightings are not uncommon. Bear encounters on trails are also fairly common, so be alert and aware of what to do.

Getting to attractions

The most popular attractions are VERY busy in peak season, and parking is always a problem.  Canada doesn't seem to enforce parking rules in these spots so expect to find people parked all over the roads around these places.  Best advice with any popular attractions (and the maps they give you on entry will point out which ones they are) is get there early. 


Days are very long in northern lattitudes in mid summer, so you can cram a lot into a day.  Sunrise will happen before 5AM and Sunset not until 9PM or later quite often.  It seems though that fewer people get up and going early here than in the US, and people tend to eat and stay out later.  You can go with that or take advantage of the opportunity to go early in the morning, see more wildlife, and have lower crowds, but don't expect the folks around you in the hotel to go to bed early.

Comments on specific Parks

Banff park (Alberta) (1995,2007)

-- This is the most visited park and one of the largest. It is also traversed by a major highway and thus very accessible. Most lodging is in the town of Banff, which as noted above is a circus. It does have the most options and most things are in walking distance. There are many smaller lodges at other areas, but note that the lodges in popular tourist areas (like Lake Louise) will get thousands of tourbus visitors. Here are some areas we visited:

Yoho Park

In British Columbia, adjoining Banff and Jasper. Similar scenery to Banff, but less developed and less crowded. Few lodging options in the park. The eastern edge adjoining the continental divide is glaciers and high mountains. Some highlights include:

Kootenay Park

In British Columbia, adjoining Yoho and Banff. This is probably the least visited and crowded and has few facilities in the park. The town of Radium adjoins the west end of the park and has extensive facilities and access to the park's hot springs.

Glacier Park

In British Columbia, west of Yoho. Canada's Glacier park is not connected with or near the US Glacier park. It is a smallish park enclosing a high mountain group with glaciers and waterfalls. Again it is mostly hiking territory with not that much to see from the roads.  There is a museum there on Rogers Pass and the history of putting the railroad through it.

Mount Revelstoke

In British Columbia, West of Glacier park along route 1 you come to Revelstoke.  This is mostly a wildnerness preserve but has some interesting accessible features.

Jasper Park -- In Alberta, north of Banff.

The second most visited park, and destination of many tours. Other than spectacular hiking, the unique features here are easy access to Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield, and boat tours of Maligne Lake, a very long and narrow alpine lake. The town of Jasper is where most lodging and food are, and like Banff is busy. Jasper is more residential and less resorty than Banff. There are also more lodges near Jasper but not in it, either on the river or on the small lakes in the area. We found these delightful. Here are some places we visited:

Waterton Park

(Alberta, adjacent to the US border and Glacier park). Waterton and the US Glacier Park are together an international peace park, though they are separately developed and administered. Wateron is developed like other Canadian parks, with a town at the head of Waterton lake with lots of facilities. Many backcountry trails cross the border between the parks, and the boat trips on Waterton lake access some of the more remote country in Glacier park. Scenery and wildlife are similar to Glacier park in the US. In addition to the town of Waterton, roads access a high glacial lake beyond (with limited boat rentals for the hearty paddler), and a deep canyon cut through the mountains. The road between Glacier and Watertown is good but long, and the border crossing has more limited hours than some, so be sure you allow enough time if visiting one of the parks as a day trip from the other.

Warren Montgomery