13 Canadian bucket list sights for the nature lover
Published Wednesday, May 20, 2015 6:30AM EDT
Mountains. Forests. Deserts. Glaciers. Beaches.
It would take several lifetimes to see all the natural wonders on our planet, but if you're looking for a bucket list of some of the best sights Mother Nature has to offer, look no further than your own backyard.
Here are some of Canada's most breathtaking natural sights to see before you kick the bucket.
Visit Ontario's stunningly beautiful Algonquin Park, which inspired the likes of Tom Thomson and others to paint some of the greatest artwork in Canadian history.
This massive provincial park is larger than all of Prince Edward Island and home to some of the most scenic canoe, hiking and mountain-biking routes in the country. It's also a popular campground and fishing site for outdoor adventurers.
Algonquin Park is a rugged landscape on the exposed rock of the Canadian Shield, west of Ottawa. The region is popular for cottagers because of its many lakes, cliffs and forested regions. The park is also home to several animal species, including moose, deer, beaver and black bears.
Pitch a tent at the park and go for a hike, follow a portage route or just relax by a lake and watch the wildlife.
Little Manitou Lake
Canada has its own version of the famous Dead Sea tucked away in the heart of Saskatchewan.
Named for the "Great Spirit" of the Assiniboine First Nation people, Little Manitou Lake is known for its mineral-rich waters that allow bathers to float with ease. The salty lake is not connected to any other body of water and has a mineral content about half that of the Dead Sea.
Paddle around in the spa-like waters or just lie on your back and enjoy a relaxing soak.
The small tourist towns of Watrous and Manitou Beach offer resort and camping amenities to visitors.
The words "big tree" have a whole different meaning for residents of British Columbia. The giant redwood, sequoia and Douglas fir trees in B.C. are unlike anything else in Canada, towering up to 100 metres high and dwarfing the tallest trees you'll find in the rest of the country.
One of the oldest forests in the region is in Cathedral Grove, where the Douglas fir trees are over 800 years old. There are few buildings in North America that old, making these trees some of the most impressive ancient holdovers on the continent.
Visit these ancient giants and put your hand against the trunk of a centuries-old giant, then stare up at the towering forest all around you.
Cathedral Grove is a gorgeous and easily accessible forest off the highway near Nanaimo, B.C., on Vancouver Island.
You've probably seen spectacular photos of the Northern Lights, but have you ever seen them in person?
There are several places in the country where you can witness this spectacular light show, which is caused by radiation from the sun interacting with the Earth's magnetic field.
Here's a little tip: head north, get away from light sources and watch the sky on a clear night. Provincial parks in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. are prime destinations for this, but the very best viewing spots are in Canada's territories. Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories, is considered one of top destinations in the world to watch the lights.
Red Sand Beaches
Get some rust-red sand between your toes on the scenic shores of Prince Edward Island, where the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean meet the coppery shores of Canada's smallest province.
The beaches get their red hue from the sandstone cliffs at the edge of the island, which have been eroded by waves over millions of years.
But don't spend all your time on the beach. PEI is rich in natural beauty, with breathtaking ocean views and some equally spectacular pastoral scenes. Take a stroll through the fields that inspired Anne of Green Gables, and grab a handful of the iron-rich red soil that nurtures PEI's famous potatoes.
The Okanagan Desert in B.C. is a rarity in Canada. The arid, sandy region looks like it belongs in the American Southwest, yet it's only a brief drive south of B.C.'s scenic Okanagan Valley wine country.
The must-see part of the desert is definitely the Spotted Lake, a mineral-rich body of water that looks like oil or gas spilled in a puddle. The lake is rich in salt, magnesium and other minerals that separate out from the water and float in pools on the surface.
Spotted Lake is on First Nations land and off-limits to visitors, but it's a spectacular sight from the highway leading into nearby Osoyoos.
Spotted Lake. Near the city of Osoyoos in British Columbia and Canada... pic.twitter.com/YQxeoikgiv— Zeynep (@AcarZeyno) May 14, 2015
Spotted Lake, Okanagan-Similkameen A, BC, Canada pic.twitter.com/hGhGnRVbNk— Jorge Redmond (@rfkjfk69) May 15, 2015
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
The name says it all. First Nations tribes used to hunt by driving the once-numerous buffalo over this sharp cliff in Alberta, sending the beasts tumbling to certain death below. The precipice outside Fort Macleod, Alta., looks like something taken right out of an old Western film.
The cliff is now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a tourism centre nearby where visitors can learn about the long-defunct buffalo hunt and the First Nations people who practised it.
Gros Morne National Park
This mountainous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Newfoundland is breathtaking to behold and fascinating to learn about. The region was once an ancient ocean bed, but continental drift long ago thrust the area up above sea level, creating the unique geography of the park.
Hike through the hills, explore the fjords, take a boat out on the water or pick through the rare rock formations at this natural wonder. And if you're feeling really adventurous, try hiking up the trail to the lonely peak of Gros Morne Mountain.
"Sunset over ten miles pond" - Victor Liu, Gros Morne pic.twitter.com/3rmRL98Wdm— Amazing Earth (@AmazinggEarth) April 18, 2015
There's a stand of aspen trees northwest of Saskatoon that look like they're right out of a horror film. The place is called the Crooked Bush, and the mutated trees that grow there are warped and twisted like they belong in a Salvador Dali painting. They hook, curl and wrap around themselves and each other in bizarre ways, like nothing you'll ever see any other place in Canada.
The creepy-looking trees have inspired plenty of ghost stories in local folklore, but scientists say it's not spirits or the strong Saskatchewan wind that warp the trees. It's simply science, and a unique genetic mutation that causes the aspens to twist as they grow.
Visitors can follow a wooden walkway through the twisted forest to experience it in all its mind-bending magnificence.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Head to the Alberta Badlands and take a shot at making history. Dinosaur Provincial Park is Canada's hotspot for archaeological discoveries, with thousands of dinosaur fossils buried under the rugged terrain. Book a hike, sign up for a dig or just camp in the wilderness and look up at the stars. If you're at all interested in dinosaurs, this is a must-visit.
You may even find a genuine dinosaur fossil. The area has been a popular dig site for decades, but that doesn't mean it's been picked over completely. Paleontologists continue to find rare and never-before-seen specimens in this area.
The parched landscape of Dinosaur Provincial Park is also a photographer's dream, with stark sedimentary rock slopes and peaks that sharply contrast against the beautiful Alberta sky.
Thunderstorm over Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta pic.twitter.com/gk5Uu8h8Wz— Ralph Mills (@archaeologyman) March 19, 2015
Dinosaur Prov Park hike today, paradise in Southern Alberta. pic.twitter.com/KKEVr3tdmB— Jami Rommelaere (@jamilaigh) April 4, 2015
Bay of Fundy
Walk on the bottom of the ocean, explore a sea cave and snap photos of some stunning rock formations at the Bay of Fundy off the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The tide drains out of the Bay of Fundy twice a day, revealing a vast expanse of ocean floor and opening up otherwise inaccessible caves and rock formations. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tidal range in the world, with the water level dropping by as much as 16 metres at low tide.
It's a truly awesome sight to see billions of tonnes of water drain out of the bay, then creep back in over the course of a few hours.
Visit during a full moon to see the tide at its highest.
The Canadian North remains largely frozen in the summer, but that doesn't mean it's a wasteland. May and June are the best months to go on an Arctic safari in Nunavut, since the birds, beasts and whales are at their most active during this time. Set out on the water and go whale-watching for narwhals, belugas and bowhead whales, or keep your eye on the shore and look out for polar bears, walruses and seals.
The Arctic is also a great destination for canoeing or kayaking, and one of the best places in Canada to paddle alongside a massive iceberg.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park is the one of those places you see in postcards, computer backgrounds and beer commercials. With steep, cloud-ringed mountains, crystal-clear lakes and lush forests, this park on the Rocky Mountains is one of the prettiest places in the country and a must-see on any bucket list.
And it's got something for everyone. Hike the trails, climb the hills, scale the mountains, ski down the slopes or paddle your way across the lakes. Banff is a go-to destination for outdoor enthusiasts on the West Coast, and its natural beauty is truly unparalleled.