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. Waterfalls, mountains, prairies, boreal forest, glacial lakes — Canada has it all.
One of the best ways to see the natural wonders of Canada is by taking a train vacation across the country. Since 1996, the travel experts at Canadian Train Vacations have been helping guests to Canada plan their perfect trip. Each itinerary is personalized to your needs and interests — you can choose your train experiences, hotel accommodations, activities, and tours. Visits to many Canadian natural wonders, like Niagara Falls and Banff National Park, are included in our itineraries.
Unique Characteristics of Canadian Landscapes
Canada’s natural landscapes, stretching across nearly 10 million square kilometres, offer a breathtaking display of geographic diversity. From the soaring peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the west, reaching heights of over 3,000 metres, the serene lakes of the ancient Canadian Shield in the east, and the picturesque coasts of the Maritimes, each region has its own allure.
The country boasts a network of over 40 national parks and reserves, including UNESCO-listed sites like Nahanni National Park Reserve and other Canadian wonders. These protected areas safeguard the country’s rich ecosystems. In the northern parts of Canada, the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) grace the skies over 200 days annually.
While there are many natural attractions in Canada, some are more famous than others. Niagara Falls, the Rockies, the Cabot Trail, Nahanni National Park Reserve, the Northern Lights, and the Bay of Fundy are among the top 7 natural wonders of Canada. Landscapes in Canada are varied, so it’s worth visiting different provinces and regions.
1. Niagara Falls, Ontario
Niagara Falls is one of the most well-known natural landmarks in Canada. 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. Get close to the falls on a thrilling Hornblower cruise or take the Journey Behind the Falls tour, which leads you to two outdoor observation decks. 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.
[ Read: How to Plan a Trip to Niagra Falls ]
- Niagara Falls is three waterfalls: American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls
- During peak season, 168,000 cubic metres of water (6 million cubic feet) go over Horseshoe Falls every minute
#1 Travel tip: New Niagara Falls attraction
Get a whole new view of the falls at the Niagara Parks Power Station, where you can explore a 2,200-foot long historic tunnel to an observation deck at the river's edge.
2. Banff National Park, Alberta
Some of the best nature in Canada can be found in the four Canadian Rockies national parks, including Banff National Park.
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. Other popular activities in Banff in the summer include canoeing, wildlife viewing, and horseback riding. During the winter season, you can go skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and more.
[Read: Best time to go to Banff ]
- Banff is Canada’s first National Park and was established in 1885
- There are more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails in Banff National Park
- Banff National Park covers 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles)
3. Aurora Borealis, Manitoba
You can see many natural wonders in Canada, including the Northern Lights. 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.
[ Explore: Best Places to See Northern Lights in Canada ]
- Aurora activity occurs around 300 nights per year in Churchill
- You are more likely to see the Northern Lights when there are clear, dark skies
- Other top Canadian destinations for Northern Lights viewing include Yellowknife (Northwest Territories) and Whitehorse (Yukon)
4. 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.
- The Cabot Trail covers 298 kilometres (185 miles) on Cape Breton Island
- It takes about five hours (without stops) to drive the length of the Cabot Trail
5. 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 Great Bear Rainforest stretches across 21 million acres (6.4 million hectares)
- It stretches for 402 kilometres (250 miles) along the coast of British Columbia
- It is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world
- The region receives substantial rainfall, with some areas receiving over 2-4 metres (6-13 feet) of rain annually
6. 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.
- The Northwest Passage is a historic and navigable sea route through the Arctic Ocean. It extends about 1,450 kilometres (900 miles)
- In 1906, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to navigate the entire Northwest Passage, a journey that took him three years
7. Columbia Icefields, Alberta
One of the amazing natural attractions in Canada is the Columbia Icefields.
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 Columbia Icefield Skywalk.
- The Columbia Icefields covers an area of approximately 325 square kilometres (125 square miles) and straddles the border between Alberta and British Columbia
- In some areas, the ice in the Columbia Icefields is estimated to be as deep as 365 metres (1,200 feet)
- The icefield is the primary source of several major glaciers and rivers in the region, including the Athabasca River, which flows eastward through Jasper National Park
#2 Travel tip: Drive the Icefields Parkway
The best way to transfer between Banff and Jasper is on a small guided tour through the Icefields Parkway. Stops include the Athabasca Glacier, the Skywalk and various waterfalls.
8. 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.
- One of the park’s most famous features is Virginia Falls. Virginia Falls plunges down approximately 96 metres (315 feet), making it one of the highest waterfalls in Canada
- The park is home to some of the deepest canyons in North America, with depths reaching up to 1,000 metres (3,280 feet)
9. 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.
- Gros Morne National Park was established in 1973, making it over 50 years old. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987
- The park covers approximately 1,805 square kilometres (697 square miles). The vast expanse of wilderness includes fjords, mountains, forests, and unique geological features
- The park’s namesake, Gros Morne Mountain, stands at an elevation of 806 metres (2,644 feet) above sea level
10. 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.
- The Canadian Badlands are renowned for their unique geological formations. These formations, including hoodoos (tall, thin rock spires), canyons, and sedimentary layers, date back as far as 70 million years
- The Canadian Badlands span 7,700 square kilometres (3,000 square miles) in southeastern Alberta
- It’s estimated that some dinosaur fossils found in this area are 75-77 million years old
11. Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick/Nova Scotia
The Bay of Fundy, situated between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is renowned for having the highest tides on earth, with tidal ranges rising to 16 metres (54 feet). The tides, a result of the bay’s funnel-like shape, create a dynamic ecosystem.
You can witness the mesmerizing phenomenon of the reversing falls in Saint John, where the river flow changes direction with the tides. In St. Martins, sea kayaking adventures take you past the dramatic red rock cliffs to sandstone sea caves. At low tide, you walk along the sea floor to further explore these sea caves. Other activities in the Bay of Fundy region include whale-watching tours, bird watching, hiking along scenic coastal trails, and discovering charming fishing villages.
- The Bay of Fundy is famous for having the highest tides in the world
- The Bay of Fundy is not only known for its tides but also for its rich marine biodiversity. It serves as a critical feeding and breeding ground for various species of whales, including humpback, minke, and the endangered North Atlantic right whale
12. Red Coast, Prince Edward Island
With its striking red sandstone cliffs, the Red Sands Shore region of Prince Edward Island is a captivating destination that showcases the island’s distinctive charm. The rich red soil, a resort of iron oxide deposits, provides a stunning contrast to the vivid blue waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The area is steeped in history, with picturesque lighthouses guiding ships along its rugged coastline. It’s one of the most beautiful natural places in Canada.
Book lovers will not want to miss a visit to the historic Green Gables Heritage Place, an inspiration for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved novel. You can delve deeper into the island’s cultural heritage at museums like the Acadian Museum in Miscouche.
- Some of the cliffs on the Red Coast of Prince Edward Island rise to an impressive height of 20 metres (65 feet)
The natural features of Canada are nothing short of awe-inspiring. From the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies and the expansive boreal forests to the rugged coastlines of the Atlantic and Pacific, Canada’s natural beauty is truly remarkable. In this article, we have covered a small selection of Canada’s natural wonders, some of which can be seen by train travel. Contact the experts at Canadian Train Vacations for more information on train trips in Canada.
About the author: Lisa Kadane is a travel journalist based in Kelowna. Her writing has been published in BBC Travel, CNN Travel, enRoute Magazine, and more. Highlights of her adventures in Canada include joining a polar bear safari in Churchill, heli-hiking in the Bugaboos,... Read more
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