For outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs, discovery awaits at Canada’s national parks and national historic sites. From a once-forbidden island in Halifax Harbor to the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, here’s what’s new and notable at four Parks Canada destinations you (probably) haven’t visited yet.
Prince Edward Island National Park may be home to some of Canada’s prettiest beaches, but the focus isn’t just on sand and surf this summer. This park is undergoing an ambitious restoration after severe damage from Hurricane Fiona. For visitors, that means a chance to visit some of the under-the-radar beaches and trails while main sites undergo tree planting and dune restoration projects.
Before you go, check the Parks Canada website for the latest updates on what’s open in PEI National Park, and heed the rules (for example, steer clear of all dune areas, including emerging “baby” dunes, so they can grow). Special programming, like guided sunset walks, campground ceilidhs, and discovering Mi’kmaq culture through song and dance, ensures a memorable visit.
Once the home of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, this national historic site is re-examining Macdonald’s legacy while simultaneously restoring the house’s interior. Interactive guided tours introduce guests to the gorgeous heritage gardens, showcase life in the 1840s, and encourage conversations about Macdonald’s difficult legacy. New exhibits, for example, will address topics such as colonial power and privilege.
“Look beyond the traditional headlines and hear more inclusive and diverse stories on the early history of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, and how decisions made during his time continue to influence Canadians today,” says Valerie Martin, acting historic site manager. Admission to the visitor center and historic grounds is free this year, and the main house will reopen in May 2024.
With fortifications that date to the mid-1700s, Georges Island has long been one of Halifax’s most striking landmarks — and one of its most enigmatic. As Krista Lingley, promotions officer for Parks Canada’s Mainland Nova Scotia field unit, describes, it’s a curiosity hiding in plain sight, a former military stronghold in the harbor that has long been strictly off-limits. Now, it’s accessible for the first time in nearly 300 years.
This Parks Canada — managed destination opened in summer 2020, but you can blame the pandemic for the limited news coverage. With travel restrictions since lifted, you can expect a full slate of activities. “Your first steps off the wharf lead you past several historic structures. Interpretive panels along your journey relay the fascinating history. A sloping walking trail guides you upwards to Fort Charlotte,” says Lingley. “Once inside the parade square, join an interpreter in WWII uniform on a guided tour through the subterranean maze of tunnels located under the fort. Spread a blanket near the lighthouse keeper’s house, or settle into a Parks Canada Red Chair and enjoy the spectacular view.”
If you dream of wide-open spaces, Wood Buffalo National Park will meet your every expectation and then some. Split between Alberta and the Northwest Territories,
and spanning more than 44,800 square kilometers, this is Canada’s largest national park. It’s also home to the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, celebrating each summer at the Dark Sky Festival. Throughout the park, there are ample opportunities for nature experiences, including canoeing and paddleboarding, beachside picnicking, and hiking amid spectacular scenery.
As Calgary-based travel writer and birder Carol Patterson says, “Wood Buffalo National Park was created to protect bison, but it’s also the nesting area for the last natural, wild migratory flock of whooping cranes, and these birds fly 4,000 kilometers twice a year as they migrate between the park and Texas. It’s also a long trip for most tourists wishing to see the park but it’s worth the effort, especially if you come in late summer when the biting bugs are few and the nights are longer to admire the aurora borealis.”
For the latest travel-related updates before you go, visit parks.canada.ca.
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