Let's face it: Canada is the bomb-diggity when it comes to nature.
We've got everything from fjords to rainforests to tundra to the world's largest non-polar ice caps. Our country possesses one big backyard and some of the best hikes in the world.
I have always found hiking to be therapeutic: gravel crunching under your feet, scaling a challenging path, being lost in your own thoughts. If you're lucky, you might have a rare wildlife sighting or explore a site that would be otherwise inaccessible. And, of course, it feels incredible to reach the summit and crack open that celebratory bottle of champagne (shhh ... don't tell the park rangers!).
To get you moving, I've listed some of my favourite hiking trails in Canada, along with a handful that I aspire to trek in the future. Some trails are well-known; others may surprise you. And this is by no means a complete list.
Before you go, remember to wear waterproof hiking shoes (with traction) and loose, comfortable hiking pants (no jeans). Above all, carry at least one litre of water per person. If you really have no idea what you're doing, talk to the park ranger or a guide before setting out. Because rescue operations aren't fun for anyone.
1. East Sooke Park (Vancouver Island)
Take a walk on the wild side -- through rainforest, giant boulders and beaches in East Sooke Regional Park, just a 45-minute drive from Victoria. Although the scenery is captivating, it's the wildlife spotting that steals the show. In just a few hours, I spotted a marten, poison plants, jellyfish, starfish, crabs, eels, seals and a bald eagle. If you go with Rainforest Tours, you'll learn a lot about nature along the way. On my walk, the guide flipped over rocks to show just how much wildlife thrives in the nooks and crannies of the earth. Along the hike, you can also view the ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) in this British Columbia park.
2. Rouge National Urban Park (Ontario)
It's only 20 minutes by car from downtown Toronto to Canada's only national urban park. Hit the lush trails for a free guided hike through farms, meadows, forests and wetlands. Some have special themes, too, such as fitness challenges, learning about animal tracks or wildlife photography, and walks for dog lovers or families. Sure, it's in the GTA, but you can hike year-round and see tons of wildlife. I snapped a picture of a deer sleeping in the snow -- so don't forget your camera.
3. Kluane National Park and Reserve (Yukon Territory)
If there was a Fight Club for hikes, this park would dominate. It's so majestic that it could make anyone believe in a higher power.
Kluane National Park is home to Canada's highest peak, Mount Logan (so big that it has its own weather system), the world's largest non-polar ice caps and is a human free sanctuary to thousands of species of wildlife. Spanning a wild and open 21,980 square kilometres, the park holds the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That's even better than a Canadian Heritage Minute commercial.
If the prospect of grizzlies make you poop your pants, there's a solution: call Brent Liddle, master hiker, wilderness guide and 30-year veteran of Parks Canada to guide you on a spectacular mountain hike. This man is the poster boy for "Bear Aware" and has even (successfully) handled bear encounters.
At the top, incredible views of the park serve as a reward for your bravery and physical efforts. But don't be fooled: this isn't child's play and hikers have disappeared into Kluane's wilderness. Know your limits, pay attention to signage, and, above all, respect nature.
Read More About Kluane National Park and Reserve on Vacay.ca: Yukon may indeed be God's country
4. Greenwich Dunes Trail, Prince Edward Island National Park (Prince Edward Island)
If you crave serene and simple, this trail is for you. Hike the Greenwich Dunes Trail, which involves walking through forest and along a boardwalk floating over a pond. The trail leads to one of the island's most fabulous beaches heaped with sand dunes. This trail is relatively flat and short (45 minutes), so it's a good one for beginners. At the end, kick off your shoes, settle into the sand and enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach.
5. Tombstone Territorial Park (Yukon Territory)
On the Dempster Highway, this remote park is ideal for serious trekkers. Here amongst the black granite peaks and rolling tundra landscapes, you can do a day hike or a multi-day trekking excursion. Plus, there are plenty of Yukon adventure companies that offer the full gamut of wilderness experiences in Tombstone, from hiking and backpacking to photo safaris to cultural tours.
If you're a beginner, it's also worth the two-hour drive from Dawson City just to see 2,200 square kilometres of raw wilderness. The park has an ethereal atmosphere: rugged peaks jut out of the landscape, making the park resemble a grave marker (hence the name). Stop by the Interpretive Centre, where you will be greeted with a mug of Mountain Wild Tea, a crackling fire and a whiteboard listing wildlife sightings ("Five Grizzlies by 10am?!"). In the late summer and early autumn, the entire tundra valley erupts in hues of crimson, orange and gold, offering some gem photographs.
On the trail, don't be surprised if you run into wildlife. I encountered a rather sassy-looking marmot, striking a pose on a rock and just begging to be photographed.
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