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(2020 - Winter/Spring Issue)


Vast, unspoiled acreage thrives on this continent—with or without fun-loving visitors.

Humans are welcome in a national park to mix and mingle on an equal basis with every other organism. We’ve learned to tread lightly but we also have the ability to give much more: our species has both the will and the wisdom to protect any given landscape from damage and development—and indeed, we haven’t done badly so far.

By 2020, the federal government has set a target to protect 17 per cent of the country as parks and protected land areas, and 10 per cent as marine sanctuaries. Government records also indicate protected areas over the past two decades have increased 70 per cent across the country. In the United States, as of 2015, it’s estimated that 14 per cent of the States has a designated protected land area in addition to 787 National Marine Protected Areas.  Canadians and Americans have acted to safeguard where we tread to include woodland habitats, marine life, migratory birds and territorial waters. To achieve this, the two national park systems have joined their provincial and state counterparts to produce thousands of officially protected spaces, from battlefields to waterways to natural phenomena. In the category of national parks alone, Canada gives travellers no fewer than 48 choices and in the United States there are at least 60 possibilities.

Parks Canada is the official information source for safety, enjoyment, and for conservation in the great outdoors. Park access is free for those 17 and under; adults pay around $10 per park or often less with an annual Discovery Pass. Details at pc.gc.ca. In the United States, the National Park Service is the go-to authority for planning at nps.gov. If, for example, winter activities are on your radar, be aware that while many parks are open, others might offer only reduced supervision, and some are closed. For your summertime trips, a checklist might include hiking ideas, water sources, permits, campsites and the lesser-known camping options.

Have you seen the variety of ways to camp in a Canadian national park? Along with tents and recreational vehicles, consider the Ôasis, a compact durable off-the-ground module for a small family; the oTENTik, a tent-cabin sleeping six; the MicrOcube just for two with a roof and floor filled with oversized windows; the Yurt circular dwelling for five people and the traditional Tipi for up to eight. Historic sites, marinas and lodges also give us lots to sleep on.

A Different World

It’s true that forested trails and waterways are not always the allure in a national park. Some landscapes, north and south, are completely different.

A particular favourite, for instance, is the high-desert region of the Southwestern United States, where an astonishing 11 national parks have been designated to preserve some of the most dazzling geology in the world. On a map, let your finger draw a spacious circle around the four corners where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet—and right there, within a one-day drive of the other, 11 individually-protected parks are giving us extra time to see all of the towering, red-rock sculptures left bare by the elements during Earth’s formation.

Topographically, this vast Colorado Plateau region was once covered by ancient seas, delivering now a contrasting mix of coral-coloured soil with the greenery of mountains and rivers. The big attraction is the startling beauty of a clear-blue sky behind bright red spires, domes, arches, bridges, pinnacles, cliff dwellings and stratified canyons, all of which are connected by an easy drive. The best-known national parks here are Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon, but it’s worth noting that all 11 parks are remarkably different in their colour, vegetation and network of recreational trails. As enthusiasts readily proclaim, an exploration of the entire circle is an absolute must for anyone who calls North America home. Planning tips are plentiful at grandcircle.org.

Equally Stirring

Canadian terrain is also tops for fresh air and gives outdoor enthusiasts that unexplained emotion when connecting with so much nature. Here’s a sampling of such escapes year-round from west to east:

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve: On the rainforested Pacific coastline of Vancouver Island, enter an ecosystem that supports both marine and terrestrial mammals such as humpback whales, wolves, and also the nature-loving folk who arrive for hiking, surfing, beachcombing, kayaking, scuba diving and camping.

Kluane National Park and Reserve: This protected wilderness in southwest Yukon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing Mount Logan, Canada’s highest mountain among the icefields, glaciers, forests and rivers. In winter, backcountry snow sports and camping add extra appeal. Summertime fun includes rafting, horse riding, camping and mountain biking.

Banff National Park: Just 90 minutes from Calgary, explore deep canyons and ancient caves alongside Rocky Mountain activities like climbing, fishing, rafting and hot springs’ body treatments. For a posh winter wonderland experience stay at either the Fairmont Château Lake Louise or the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, or in summer, book one of the 2,462 spots in 14 campgrounds.

Riding Mountain National Park: On Clear Lake, Manitoba, you can rent an oTENTik in winter so that after snowshoeing and snowmobiling it’s easy to get cozy in a roofed A-frame cabin with electric heat and a wood-burning stove. Bathroom and showers are located nearby.

Georgian Bay Islands National Park: Near Port Severn, Ontario, no fewer than 63 remote islands are ideal for wildlife spotting and recreation. Open mid-May to mid-October, the nature preserve is only accessible by boat and offers camping on one island only with rustic cabins available for rent. While snow sports occur in winter, be aware that ice conditions on the bay are not officially assessed.

Monts-Valin National Park: Less than three hours north of Québec City in the Saguenay region, this high-elevation park is a hit in summer for fishing, hiking, canoeing and paddleboarding, and in winter for backcountry snow activities. Cabins and huts are available on the trails.

Fundy National Park: Known for the world’s highest tides plus 25 waterfalls, this New Brunswick park is also superb at low tide for exploration of the sea floor. Come for golf, hiking and biking on numerous groomed trails. Winter fun includes snow sports and camping or make it even cozier in a yurt or oTENTik.

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