Throughout 2017, Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in a big way, by giving a present to the world. Visitors and locals alike can visit all of the country’s historic sites and national parks free of charge. That means, you can experience some of its most breathtaking wonders for free – if you go before the calendar flips over to 2018.
Cathedral Grove, MacMillan Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
At Cathedral Grove, you can take a walk back through ancient times. A rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem on Vancouver Island, the largest trees here are around 800 years old and measure 250 feet in height and nearly 30 feet in circumference. They are the survivors of a forest fire that ravaged the area some 350 years ago, and the even more devastating invasion by Europeans in the mid-19th-century. The First Nations people preserved this treasure for centuries, and today, you can wander through the awe-inspiring trails, gazing up at these tall, mighty giants.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Niagara Falls is one of the world’s greatest wonders. If you still haven’t experienced feeling its mist and hearing its thundering echoes, it’s time for a visit so you can witness for yourself the more than 44 million gallons of water plunging down every minute. View it in multiple ways, by taking a boat tour on the iconic Maid of Mist or even flying over it in a helicopter. Another option is the Journey Behind the Falls, where participants trek through tunnels behind the cascades that lead to an observation deck where you can feel the roaring sensation that’s just steps away.
Northern Lights in Jasper National Park
The aurora borealis is a spectacular natural display that occurs when solar particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and on impact emits burning gases that produce various colored lights. The light show can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days, and while there are many places in Canada where you might spot them, the province of Alberta is ideal, with its dark night’s sky bursting into a blaze of color from September through April, particularly in remote areas like Jasper National Park. On a clear night you’re practically guaranteed to enjoy stellar stargazing no matter where you are, which also means you’ll have a front row seat for some of the best Northern Lights watching in the world.
The Bay of Fundy: Fundy National Park
The Bay of Fundy boasts miles and miles of unspoiled beaches that are ideal for splashing in the waves, soaking up the sun, discovering driftwood and shells, and enjoy peaceful strolls. The area is also famous for its tides, which can be explored by visiting the Hopewell Rocks of Shepody Bay. These unique rock formations were formed through the erosion of sandstone along the shore by the massive tides. The wearing away of the shoreline left these vast pillars of stone with trees on top that tower above the low tide mark. Head here at low tide to admire them, but don’t stick around too long as some 100 billion tons of water rises and falls here twice every day. At low tide, you can walk the ocean floor around the famous “flowerpot rocks” and watch them slowly disappear before you leave.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
It took Mother Nature 485 million years to mold what’s known as Gros Morne National Park today. This geological wonder in western Newfoundland is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans nearly 700 square miles as part of the magnificent Long Range Mountains. This area is not only home to charming seaside communities, freshwater fjords, rugged beaches, dense forest and dramatic cliffs, but it’s renowned for its complex geology. In fact, it was right here that the theory of plate tectonics was proven. Tablelands, a mountain of flat-topped rock, a type of which is usually found only deep in the earth’s mantle, is truly an awe-inspiring sight.
Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon
The Yukon Territory boasts vast areas that are completely undeveloped, offering the opportunity to experience one of the world’s last true wilderness areas. You know you’re going to be in for a wild time when the local government recommends leaving your hiking plan with police before venturing into a park – and, that’s just what you’ll want to do before experiencing Tombstone Territorial Park. This ruggedly beautiful 849-square-mile area is filled with soaring peaks, permafrost landorms and an abundance of wildlife, like black and grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, moose and Dall sheep. Here you can enjoy all sorts of adventure, including hiking, horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking and much more. Plus, this is another fabulous place to catch then northern lights between late August and early April.
Manicouagan Crater, Quebec
The Manicouagan Crater is one of the largest and most well-preserved impact craters on the planet. It’s also one of the oldest, as expert believe it was created some 214 million years ago during the Triassic Period, and it may even have played a role in the mass extinction of species that occurred about the same time. NASA calls it the easiest to spot from space – when observing it from there, astronauts have said it looks like a ring lake. In satellite images, you can see the piercing sapphire blue waters that contrast against the green, surrounding land.
The crater spans an area of over 1,240 miles, making it so massive that it’s appreciable mainly by air, but the geography of the landscape makes it well worth visiting. The raised center of the ring, caused by the nature of the impact and its aftermath, forms an island in the center of the lake that comprises a greater surface area than the lake itself.
Quttinirpaaq Park, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut
Ellesmere Island is the most Northerly Artic Island in the world, and one of the most remote places on Earth. Dominated by mountainous areas, most of which are covered in ice caps. This is literally the “top of the world,” and Quttinirpaaq Park is located at its northern tip in the High Arctic, just 447 miles from the North Pole. Here you can enjoy backpacking or hiking along with wildlife encounters, including Arctic wolves, Arctic hares, caribou and muskoxen.