Back in l885 our government showed unusual foresight when it created Canada's first national park, to conserve its natural wonders "for enjoyment by present and future generations." Well now we're those future generations, and according to statistics we definitely enjoy these natural preserves strung from coast to coast. Every Canadian province and territory has at least one, and with the exception of a very few in the far north, they are easily reached via major highways. In addition, each province and territory has developed its own chain of parks which are very similar to the national system.

The national park chain's first link was forged when squabbles arose over ownership of newly discovered sulphur springs in the Rockies. Two years earlier three railway workers found the springs, and soon entrepreneurs arrived on the scene to open small spa hotels and sell bottled water to the sick and elderly who flocked to sample the springs' curative powers. To preserve both the hot springs and a square mile around them, the federal government created Rocky Mountain Park. As more scenic wonders were uncovered the park expanded to take them in. Now called Banff National Park it embraces a whopping 2,590 square miles (6,700kmē) .

Most national parks are open all year, with reduced facilities between October and May. Their modern visitor centres present slide shows about park terrain and wildlife. Interpretive staff give out information, maps, descriptive brochures on self-guided tours and programmes for escorted walks and campground entertainment. Sadly some of the loveliest parks have become over-developed in and around their townsite hubs, causing summer crowds to detract from the region's natural beauty. Even so, it is usually no more than a brief drive to trails and lakes leading to wilderness areas, beaches, lakes, quiet coves and mountain hideaways, and the unique environment that caused the park to be so designated in the first place.

A very attractive aspect of our national parks is that you don't have to be gung-ho about roughing it in the bush to enjoy them. Most have affordable visitor accommodation in lodges and cottages, and full hook-ups at campgrounds. Recreational pursuits within their boundaries may include golf and tennis, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, whale watching, skiing and heli-hiking. Most have trails designed for every level of ability.


BANFF National Park, Alberta

ALGONQUIN Provincial Park, Ontario, a fine example of provincial parks

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND National Park, for shores of relaxation

PRINCE ALBERT National Park, Saskatchewan, land of Grey Owl

WOOD BUFFALO National Park, Northwest Territories/Alberta, a northern exposure

ALSO AVAILABLE: (Selected for accessibility to families and range of activities, in alphabetical order.)

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alta/Sask
Fundy National Park, NB
Manning Provincial Park, BC
Pacific Rim National Park, BC
Terra Nova National Park, Nfld
Riding Mountain National Park, Man
Gros Morne National Park, Nfld
Kootenay National Park, BC
Kouchibouguac National Park, NB
St Lawrence Islands National Park, Ont
Waterton Lakes National Park