Canada’s Most Awe-Inspiring Natural Wonders
Canada has some truly wonderful man-made attractions, but nothing can match the raw beauty of our country's natural wonders. These sights will take your breath away—and stay with you for the rest of your life.
The Northern Lights
Like an ever-changing oil painting, with broad strokes of green coalescing with splotches of gold and pulses of red, it’s impossible not to be mystified by the northern lights. These natural wonders, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are a phenomena in which electrically charged particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere causing them to glow. And they’re just as spectacular as they sounds. This otherworldly light show can be seen anywhere in the aurora oval: a region centred over each magnetic pole where the lights occur with the greatest intensity. In Canada, the northern lights are best seen in the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Looking for a big cuddly tree to hug? This old growth forest on Vancouver Island might be the place for you. Just don’t expect to get your arms all the way around the trunk of an ancient Douglas fir tree. Some trees in Cathedral Grove, a cluster of the giant variety of trees in MacMillan Provincial Park, are as old as 800 years and measure as much as nine metres in circumference. How’s that for a cuddle partner?
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Dinosaur Provincial Park
Whether you’re a natural history buff or just a Jurassic Park fan, you’re bound to be thrilled by a walk through Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, also known as one of the world’s biggest dinosaur graveyards. Seventy-five million years ago, southern Alberta was a thriving hub of pre-historic life which included fish, amphibians, reptiles, primitive mammals and dinosaurs. When many of these animals died in river channels and mud flats, their bones were buried in layers of sand and mud and eventually fossilized. In addition to nearly 500 species of animal life, Dinosaur Provincial Park’s fossil assemblage includes an astounding 40 species of dinosaurs, not to mention more than 500 dinosaur specimens.
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The Canadian Rockies
Turquoise water, vast expanses of unblemished wilderness, snow-capped mountains: there are few places more iconically Canadian than the Rockies. Whether you’re visiting one of its four national parks, skiing or snowboarding at world-renowned resorts or simply passing through on an unforgettable train ride, the beauty of this region is impossible to ignore. It’s no surprise most of the Canadian Rockies are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draw millions of visitors every year. However, just like Niagara Falls, we share this natural wonder with the U.S.
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If you haven’t seen North America’s most powerful waterfall with your own eyes, it’s almost impossible to imagine it. First, picture 84-million 2-litre bottles of water. Now, imagine all that water—168,000 cubic metres—flowing over the crest of the falls every minute. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? It’s no wonder Niagara Falls, which consists of three waterfalls called the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls, is one of the most famous natural wonders in the world. The only downside? We have to share this wonder with our neighbours to the south—one third of Niagara falls is on the American side of the border.
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Not much of a swimmer? Why not explore the bottom of the ocean without the need for a scuba mask and oxygen tank? Every day, 100 billion tonnes of water empty out of the Bay of Fundy, allowing visitors the chance to walk along the ocean floor at New Brunswick’s Hopewell Rocks and admire bizarre rock formations like sculptures in a gallery. At high tide, the Atlantic’s water level rises by about 16 metres almost completely submerging everything again, save for the tips of some of the rocks.
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The Cabot Trail
Winding roads that hug the coastline, soaring cliffs, deep valleys, lush forests—the Cabot Trail really has it all. The best part? You don’t even have to get out of your car to enjoy it. The roadway takes drivers on a scenic loop around the northern tip of Cape Breton and through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park—298 kilometres in total. While this distance could easily be travelled in a short road trip, travellers often spend days on the winding route taking in the natural wonders and exploring hiking trails.
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Algonquin Provincial Park
With the sun poking up over a panorama of treetops, seemingly setting the skyline on fire with broad strokes of orange, and waves gently lapping against the bow of your canoe, it’s not hard to imagine why Canada’s oldest provincial park is also one of the most inspiring natural wonders in the country. It’s the place where the Group of Seven, Canada’s most famous painters, did most of their work. It’s also an escape for millions of campers, hikers and paddlers each year, trading the bustle of city-life for utter solitude in the untouched Ontario park.
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Photo: Ron Garnett/AirScapes.ca
Athabasca Sand Dunes
If it feels like you’re standing in another era at the Athabasca Sand Dunes, you’d be right. The dunes—some towering as high as 30 metres— make up the largest active sand surface in Canada, extending approximately 100 kilometres along the south shore of Lake Athabasca. The unique and fragile ecosystem is also home to rare plants, and geological features like eskers and beach ridges. Since the park is only accessible by float plane with no on-site services, it’s recommended that visitors should have wilderness travel experience. For those lucky few, be prepared for a sight like no other. —Erica Ngao
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With an average yearly temperature of about -20 C, it’s hard to imagine Ellesmere Island being anything but cold. Really, really cold. But remarkably, about 55 million years ago, this island in Canada’s high Arctic was once home to a wetland forest with palm trees, down redwoods, bald cypress and cycads, not to mention warm temperatures. The stumps of many of these trees have been preserved in a remarkable fossil forest, helping scientist study what life was like in the Arctic just before the beginning of the Ice Age.
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