Natural selection ... Canada's wilderness
From cherry blossoms in Vancouver to the thundering waterfalls of Quebec, we count the seven wonders of Canada’s wild.
1. Mountie country
Unesco-listed for their outstanding natural beauty, the Canadian Rockies’ quartet of national parks – Alberta’s Banff and Jasper; British Columbia’s (BC) Yoho and Kootenay – encompass an untouched landscape of folding mountains reflected in glacial blue lakes, with slopes and shores carpeted in pine. Its dramatic landscapes are best experienced on foot or during a leisurely road trip. But for a whirlwind tour of exceptional natural splendour, board the Rocky Mountaineer for a train journey of Rocky highlights such as BC’s Mount Robson – the range’s highest peak at 4,000 metres – and glacial Pyramid Falls. To the east, Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains are accessible all-year round and beckon lovers of the great outdoors to explore vast unspoilt tracks of forest, lakes, hills and peaks. One of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, the Laurentians are home to red deer and elk among a wealth of other wildlife.
2. Ice & light
Nicknamed the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill – set on the Hudson Bay in Manitoba – is a prime site for spotting the great white bears, especially in winter as they move onto the winter ice in search of food. At night, the extraordinary aurora borealis can be found crackling across Manitoba’s skies – one of the best places on the planet to see them. To feel the full frosty force of the frozen landscape, head high up into Alberta’s Rockies for an adrenaline rush via the Glacier Discovery Walkway, a 280-metre-high glass walkway – or drive along Highway 93 North: the legendary Icefields Parkway through Alberta’s heart-stoppingly rugged interior. Northwest, Yukon’s Whitehorse acts as gateway to the Northern Lights with sightings virtually-guaranteed in the winter months. Learn about the science behind the magic at the Northern Lights Space & Science Centre on the shores of Yukon’s Watson Lake.
3. Animal attraction
Moose, bears, elk, wolves and deer … seek out Canada’s Big Five deep in the Rocky Mountain’s serenely beautiful national parks. Among the hot springs, glacier lakes and thick pine forests of Banff National Park, spot grizzly and black bears lumbering through the wilderness or see moose swishing on the lakeshores of Jasper. To find the rarest bear of all head to the Great Bear Rainforest on BC’s coast. Home to the white ‘spirit bear’ or Kermode bear, the forest features an untouched landscape, where wolves and black bears are also known to roam. Spirit Bear Lodge offers tours searching for these elusive creatures. For fans of the iconic moose, Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the prime places to spot them, though pack your hiking boots as the area is best explored on foot.
4. Watching the whale go by
Canada’s western and eastern seaboards both offer abundant whale-watching opportunities. The Maritime Provinces are especially rewarding, with Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, Newfoundland and New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy coming up trumps. Cape Breton offers one of the world’s most scenic drives, winding its way around a windswept coastline as whales breach just offshore. The Fundy Coastal Drive is just as spectacular. With a unique geography creating the biggest tidal range in the world, the Bay of Fundy attracts a huge variety of whales: blue, humpback and fin whales all come here to feed. Manitoba’s Hudson Bay is also a wonderful location for whale-spotting with white belugas basking in the comparatively warm summer waters of the Churchill River. In the west, BC’s capital Victoria is the launch-point for voyages in search of orcas, minke and grey whales.
5. Fall from grace
Ontario’s Niagara Falls is rightly famed for its breathtaking trio of waterfalls, straddling the Canadian-America eastern border. But Quebec’s Montmorency Falls actually plunge from an even greater height. Dazzling by day, at night Montmorency literally lights up: flashing and sparkling in a huge, beautifully illuminated cove. However, if you have never witnessed the liquid glory of Niagara, it’s a must-see sight on any trip to Canada. Avoid the crowds by heading out along the Niagara Parkway, described by Winston Churchill as ‘the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world’.
6. Wild west
One of the earth’s last great wildernesses, Canada is still very much given over to nature. Take Vancouver’s Stanley Park in west coast BC: a 1,000-acre urban park featuring forest trails, beaches and lakes. For an unforgettable wilderness adventure, take a seaplane and soar over Vancouver Island’s dramatic Pacific panoramas, before trekking the island’s green valleys and rocky paths along the new North Coast trail. Another of the west’s great natural wonders is Okanagan Valley – Canada’s wine country – a three-hour drive east of Vancouver. Set in a crease of the Cascade Mountains, Okanagan is fruitful as it is beautiful, with peaches, apples and grapes thriving in its hot-house climate. The enormous Okanagan Lake – its 135 kilometre length fringed with over 40 boutique wineries – is the perfect setting for wild walks and scenic cycling (though keep your eyes open for the lake’s own Loch Ness monster).
7. Bloom town
Canada’s autumn canopy of golden and red sugar maples makes it a top leafpeeping spot, but in spring nature puts on another colourful display. The western lowlands of BC are a riot of cherry blossom each April, with the Greater Victoria Flower Count testament to the region’s bounty. Widely regarded as one of the world’s most liveable cities, it’s little wonder that Vancouver revels in this floral profusion with an annual Cherry Blossom Festival and accompanying blossom count that tracks more than 40,000 trees. If you are visiting Ontario and the east of the country, Toronto’s huge 400-acre High Park is another great spot to view spring’s spectacular blooms, with groves of cherry trees lining the pathways.
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