Canada's Top 10 Natural Wonders
6 MIN READ
Many travelers come to Canada for its stunning natural beauty and pristine wilderness. Nearly every landscape on Earth can be found within its borders, from desert to rainforest to high arctic.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Straddling the border between Canada and the United States, Niagara Falls churns 7,500 bathtubs worth of water over its brink every second, making it the world’s second largest waterfall by volume. It’s not as high as Angel Falls nor as wide as Victoria Falls, but, thanks to the Great Lakes that feed it, it’s much wetter. Niagara Falls creates a constant mist, a deafening roar and an eternal rainbow that shifts between the two countries.
The spectacle is mesmerizing, and it’s easy to understand why this wonder of nature has drawn daredevils, honeymooners and tourists for the past 200 years. When you’ve had your fill of water, there are lots of other things to do in Niagara Falls like head to some of the 160 wineries on the Niagara Peninsula, go for a hike in Niagara Glen, or browse the boutiques in charming Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Banff National Park, Alberta
With alpine lakes as blue as Switzerland’s, and mountains to rival the Matterhorn, there’s no need to travel to the Alps when you can have a Rocky Mountain high that makes you want to yodel in Canada. It’s not just the scenery that conjures Switzerland, but Banff National Park’s history, too.
Between 1899 and 1954, the Canadian Pacific Railway recruited Swiss guides to work for its luxurious railway hotels, including the Banff Springs Hotel and the Château Lake Louise. They guided first ascents of nearby peaks, taught climbing techniques to newbie mountaineers, and led tourists on hikes and horse trips into Banff National Park. You can still join guided hikes at Lake Louise, such as the iconic trek up to the Plain of the Six Glaciers and an adorable alpine tea house built by Swiss guides in 1924.
Aurora Borealis, Manitoba
Galileo named the Northern Lights after Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, and Boreas, the wind of the north. They appear as a dream in the middle of the night—a kaleidoscope of phosphorescent green, yellow, pink and magenta that shimmers and dances across the sky in what can only be described as nature’s fireworks display.
Though the Aurora Borealis can be seen in many northern countries, from Iceland to Russia, Churchill in Manitoba is considered one of the best places in the world to see the charged particles of light hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, with best viewing between November and March. In the fall, the area is also known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World.
The Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
Considered one of North America’s most scenic drives, The Cabot Trail winds 298 km around Cape Breton, an island off the coast of Nova Scotia. It rolls over rounded hills, and through lush valleys and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, often hugging the coast with dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean and rugged beaches below.
Every autumn, The Cabot Trail’s fall colours wow when the island’s forests of sugar maples, yellow birch, American beech and tamaracks turn into a quilt of vivid red, purple, orange, yellow and green. Not only are leaf peepers rewarded at every turn with postcard vistas that rival Vermont’s, there are plenty of other things to do in Cape Breton including scenic strolls, sampling craft beer or staying at a cozy inn.
Great Bear Rainforest, B.C.
You won’t find any anacondas creeping through the undergrowth here, but you may stumble across slugs the size of chocolate bars in the Great Bear Rainforest, also called the Amazon of the North. This 21-million-acre protected coastal temperate rainforest in northern B.C. wows with 1,000-year-old Western red cedars, glacier-cut fjords and rare sightings of the cream-coloured Kermode bear or Spirit bear, which is actually a black bear with a recessive gene that turns its coat almost white. You can also spot sea otters and orcas from a kayak, or go with a guide to seek out the grizzly bears that congregate by coastal rivers to feast on Coho during the salmon run every fall. By night, slumber in a remote lodge and listen for the eerie howl of gray wolves.
The Northwest Passage, Nunavut
History and mystique merge along the dramatic waters of The Northwest Passage. For centuries, this fabled route — which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean above Canada — attracted explorers looking for a shortcut to the riches in Eastern Asia. For modern-day voyagers, there’s plenty to discover along this frozen realm, with its glaciers, scenic fjords and inlets, ice caves, rocky spires and drifting icebergs. The ice-strewn waters are home to thick-billed murres, ivory gulls, beluga and bowhead whales. You may even spot a narwhal, the unicorn of the sea.
Columbia Icefields, Alberta
Glacier-capped peaks are strung like pearls along the length of the Icefields Parkway, a 232-km drive between Lake Louise and Jasper that passes through two national parks in the Canadian Rockies. The stars of the drive are, of course, the Columbia Icefields, an enormous glacial ice cap whose frozen blue tongues lick down between the rocky spires and are easily accessible from the road. It’s the world’s largest collection of glaciers—there are more than 100—south of the Arctic Circle (no need to travel to Greenland after all).
Hike up Parker Ridge for a drones-eye view of the Saskatchewan Glacier, the region’s longest, or ride a snowcoach onto the Athabasca Glacier for a guided walk atop the shifting ice. You can also fly over the Columbia Icefields in a helicopter, or get a dizzying view from the Glacier Skywalk.
Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories
From the top of the Ram Plateau, a table of dolomite rock surrounded by the Mackenzie Mountains, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the Grand Canyon. Here in Nahanni National Park Reserve, one of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the earth gives way to a series of plunging canyons hemmed in by eroded buttes and mesas that look eerily like the American Southwest.
This incredible landscape is one reason people travel to the Northwest Territories. The other is to raft the South Nahanni, a Canadian Heritage River with rapids, a riverside hot springs, a waterfall twice the height of Niagara Falls, and the chance to see wildlife such as bears, caribou and dall sheep. Add in the towering, jagged peaks that mark the Cirque of the Unclimables, and you’ll want to add the Nahanni to your bucket list.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
One of Canada’s most iconic views is from the top of Western Brook Pond fjord in Newfoundland. Gazing out you’ll see flat-topped mountains slope into green-robed cliffs that dramatically meet the sea. It looks just like Trolltunga, Norway’s Instagrammable fjord—minus the rock outcrop for dangerous selfies and the grueling 12-hour hike to get there. In Gros Morne, named for the province’s second highest peak, the views are a little more accessible. To get this snap it’s a short walk to the dock, a boat ride to the mouth of the fjord, and a four-hour hike to the top of the gorge—you’ll be back in time for a beer at the pub, and be ready to explore the rest of the park’s incredible landscape the following day.
Canadian Badlands, Alberta
Near Drumheller, flat prairie abruptly gives way to a surreal landscape of erosion-carved valleys called coulees and whimsical, capped rock formations called hoodoos. The region is known as the badlands, so named by French trappers who stumbled across similar geography in South Dakota and found themselves lost in dead-end box canyons—they began referring to that area as “mauvaise terres a traverser,” which translates to “bad lands to cross.” The name stuck.
Hidden beneath the rugged dunes and buttes of the Red Deer River Valley lie the fossilized remains of the dinosaurs that turned Drumheller and nearby Dinosaur Provincial Park into a tourist destination. When you get your fill of the otherworldly scenery in Horseshoe Canyon, one of the top things to do in Drumheller is to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology (a.k.a. “dinosaur museum”) for a dino education.