Ever dreamt of taking a road trip through North America’s picturesque national parks? Whether it’s seeing a remote lake or waterfall or getting the best view from the highest mountain, national parks are national treasures everyone needs to explore at least once—your eyes will never be bored however your legs will definitely be sore from all of the exploring. There is no better feeling than getting back to nature and unplugging—and what better way to accomplish that than by spending some time in some of Mother Nature’s most amazing creations.
They’re a surefire way to get an Instagram picture that’ll have your friends commenting: “Where is THAT?!”. Canada’s lush vegetation and untouched scenery make it one of the best places to find beautiful, spacious national parks, while the USA’s varying landscapes assures a diverse selection of national parks. Whether you are exploring the turquoise coloured lakes and rocky mountains in Banff National Park, or hiking through the fiery desert land of Joshua Tree National Park, you will surely not be disappointed.
There is no question that both countries provide some of the most epic scenery in the world. It’s almost hard to choose just a few to feature, as there are endless amounts of amazing national and provincial parks to explore. As far as which country trumps who? Well, we’ll let you be the judge of that! Here are 10 reasons why Canada has the best national parks versus 10 reasons why the USA does. Get your adventure pants on.
20 Canada - Bruce Peninsula National Park: Mediterranean vibes
A 4-hour drive outside Toronto, Bruce Peninsula can be compared to the shorelines of the Mediterranean with its pristine blue waters and impressive limestone cliffs. According to Parks Canada, the Georgian Bay shoreline looked similar to Australia’s present-day Great Barrier Reef approximately 400 million years ago, which explains the remarkable overhanging cliffs with hidden caves and grottos galore.
Whether it’s swimming on a hot summers day in the crystal clear water (although it is bitterly cold most of the year), bird watching from your campsite, or hiking one of the many trails in the area, Bruce Peninsula has something for everyone. It is a fan favourite of Torontonians, so make sure you plan your trip as far in advance as you can in order to score a campsite.
19 USA - Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest point in North America, as its basin lies well below sea level, and summer heat hits record-breaking temperatures. It is no doubt a land of extremes. However, despite its morbid name, there is a great deal of life present in this park, with fields of wildflowers post-rainfall and species of wildlife that have adapted to the harsh environment. It has some of the most unique landscapes in the U.S, ranging from mountaintops to rolling Badlands.
This park is also one of the best places in North America to stargaze, due to it being designated as the largest Dark Sky National Park in the country, with the dark night offering refuge from the striking heat that the daytime brings.
18 Canada - Jasper National Park: largest in the Rockies
Residing in Canada's province of Alberta, Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, offering amazing hiking opportunities, world-renowned stargazing (the park actively fights light pollution), stunning lakes, and of course a vast amount of wildlife. Whether you want to challenge yourself with climbing one of the many peaks in the area, or want to take a leisurely canoe across one of the famous lakes, you will surely never visit a park as untouched as this.
You may even be lucky (or unlucky) to spot some of the park’s wildlife which includes black bears, grizzly bears, deer, moose, elk, and mountain goats! If you visit during the winter months, you can also ski at the nearby ski hill, Marmot Basin.
17 USA - Yellowstone National Park: the world’s oldest national park
Being the world’s first national park (yes, you heard that right…it dates back 2.1 million years), Yellowstone National Park features dramatic canyons, rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and the famous geyser known as Old Faithful. The park is atop a volcanic hotspot, resulting in the many geysers in the art erupting with water several times a day.
The park is home to hundreds of animal species including bears, elk, wolves, and bison. It is not uncommon to find bison grazing in the fields with the stunning rolling hills in the background. There are a ton of hikes in this park that take you to the most picturesque views of the colourful rock formations.
16 Canada - Fundy National Park: experience both high and low tide
Fundy National Park is located in Atlantic Canada’s province of New Brunswick, impressively boasting the world’s largest tides. During high tide, visitors have the opportunity to explore the ocean floor where they will find a wide array of crabs, barnacles, and seaweed. When the tide lowers, visitors can witness the impressive amount of seabirds that come to feed on the ocean floor.
An amazing activity to consider is grabbing a kayak and experience the changing tides as the kayak will drastically rise with the water. If you are wanting to camp, there are a ton of different camping options including yurts, cabins, glamping tents, and backcountry camping sites. This park is home to an abundance of lakes, biking and hiking trails, and even a golf course!
15 USA - Yosemite National Park: an epic spot for climbers
Yosemite National Park can be summed up in two words: insanely epic. Located in California, the park’s ancient, gigantic trees and iconic granite cliffs truly take you into another world. The park is full of magical waterfalls, deep valleys, meadows that go on for miles, and amazing hiking and climbing opportunities.
For decades, climbers have flocked to this park to improve their skills and test the boundaries that many advanced climbers deem impossible. The camping facilities are also extremely popular and take a lot of planning ahead to score a spot. Stay a while and explore the vast wilderness area that this destination has to offer.
14 Canada - Waterton Lakes National Park: epic water activities
Situated in Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park boasts a combination of both the Rockies and Alberta’s rolling prairies, coming together to produce jaw-dropping landscapes. Whether you want to spend the day boating on the lake or taking a leisurely bike ride on the smooth trails, Waterton Lakes is the place to go.
The water activities on the lake are endless—you can hop on a kayak and observe bears in their natural habitats as you paddle along the river banks, or you can take advantage of the areas strong winds and try windsurfing. You can also scuba dive through the shipwreck in Emerald Bay. If you visit in the summer months, the park also offers free guided hikes throughout the various hiking trails in the area.
13 USA - Zion National Park: red cliffs and deep valleys
Southwest Utah brings some pretty epic scenery, especially with Zion National Park. It is known for its steep red cliffs that meet effortlessly in deep valleys with rivers surrounded by lush forests flowing through them. You can climb up to the top of the peaks to witness some pretty amazing views, or explore the depths of the valleys as you gaze up at the massive cliffs surrounding you.
If you hike far enough along the Virgin River, you will come to the amazing Emerald Pools, which are home to waterfalls and colourful gardens. This park is definitely not one to be missed.
12 Canada - Banff National Park: Unmatched mountain ranges and turquoise lakes
Banff National Park is one of Canada’s most popular (and arguably most beautiful) park—and it’s not hard to see why. From the tourist favourite spot of Lake Louise to the amazing canyons and caves of Johnston Canyon, this park has so much to offer it’s thousands of visitors every year.
The park is home to over 1000 miles of trails in all difficulty levels, from the 1-hour trip of Tunnel Mountain to the monster that is Cascade Mountain. The heart and soul of the park can be found in the quaint town of Banff, which offers amazing cuisine options, rooftop patios overlooking the mountain ranges, and a great deal of shopping opportunities to grab that perfect souvenir.
11 USA - Redwood National Park: the tallest trees on earth
Most people know Redwood National Park as the place that is home to the tallest trees in the world. These trees are truly something you need to see to believe… you won’t believe how humble you will feel beside these rugged giants. However, this park is so much more than just some tall trees, with wild rivers and 40 miles of stunning coastline to explore.
This park is known for its amazing backcountry camping opportunities, with hiking trails that take you to the most secluded spots to spend the night. You can experience the redwoods in just a few minutes with a drive through the park, or you can spend weeks exploring the diversity of this spot (as most do).
10 Canada - Cape Breton Highlands National Park: stunning ocean view trails
This park is probably up there for having some of the most stunning coastal walks in Canada, since ocean-side trails are only present on the two coasts. The rolling hills of the park along the Cabot Trail offer sweeping ocean views as far as the eye can see, with all difficulty levels welcome.
The river canyons, valleys, and forests of the park are home to a vast amount of wildlife such as moose and black bears. There is also a sandy beach which divides the freshwater lake from the Atlantic ocean, getting the best of both worlds with every visit.
9 USA - Mount Rainier National Park
In the heart of Washington state, Mount Rainier National Park is a nature lovers paradise. In the summer months, visitors can hike through wildflower meadows nestled in the mountain ranges. Talk about some serious Sound of Music vibes! The park is a true icon in the Washington landscape, with endless peaks, waterfalls, and ecosystems to discover.
The parks name originates from the active volcano present in the park known as Mount Rainier, ascending a whopping 14,410 feet above sea level. Many mountaineers attempt this peak, however only around 50% of climbers make it to the summit. We won’t judge you if you pass on this one.
8 Canada - Prince Edward Island National Park: good times in the Maritimes
This list of national parks in Canada just wouldn’t be complete without including the Maritime province of Prince Edward Island. This national park holds several sandy beaches, sand dunes, and freshwater wetlands. If you are an avid bird watcher, this is the place for you, with the park being designated as an ‘Important Bird Area’.
This park is also home to Green Gables House, the inspiration behind the famous childhood book of Anne of Green Gables, which is now open to the public as an overnight inn. Come live out your childhood dreams and spend a night in this dreamy Victorian mansion!
7 USA - Grand Canyon National Park: overwhelmingly beautiful
One of the most well-known parks in the world, Grand Canyon National Park is home to layers upon layers of red and orange rock formations, revealing millions of years of erosion history. There are various different lookout points and hikes throughout the park, where you can witness the canyon from every angle, making sure to explore every nook and cranny.
Head to Lipan Point for both the sunrise and sunset, as you will have the chance to witness the sun hitting the colourful rocks, allowing for a spectacular glow. The Grand Canyon is so insanely big that visitors often find it both breathtaking and taken aback. It’s definitely a place you must visit in your lifetime.
6 Canada - Glacier National Park: home to 131 glaciers
Whether it’s glacier photography, snowshoeing or grounding summer camping, Glacier National Park is a must-see. Located in British Columbia, the park boasts a wide variety of climates, flora and fauna, and varying geographical locations due to its widespread altitudes. This makes it a great option to visit at any time of the year. The area is also home to 131 glaciers, which are best explored in the winter months, however a fair amount are still intact in the warmer months.
The park also is home to one of the longest cave systems in Canada, Nakimu Caves, which runs for 6 kilometres underneath the park. This area can be explored with a guide for safety reasons.
5 USA - Glacier National Park: Rocky Mountain High
Yes…Glacier National Park is not only a spot in Canada, but also an epic park located in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. It is actually located right on the edge of the US/Canada border, very close to Waterton Lakes National Park, which explains its similarities to the Rockies up north. With glacier-carved peaks and photo-ops around every corner along the 700 miles of trails, it is the perfect spot for the avid-hiker.
The park is home to an abundance of mountain goats if you climb high enough, as well as grizzly bears throughout the lush forest (be careful!). Be sure to drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a picturesque alpine road that will have you stopping every few minutes for photos.
4 Canada - Kluane National Park: remote beauty and winter-sport enthusiasts
Travelling to the northern territory of Yukon on the border of Alaska, Kluane National Park is home to Canada’s highest peaks, thus makes it the perfect park for those wanting a challenging climb. Since this park is so remote, you actually need a permit to hike some of the more difficult trails. If you do make it that far, you will be rewarded with some of the most impressive mountain views melting into crystal clear lakes.
If you visit in the winter months, activities such as dog sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing are epic options. You can even explore the park via the skies with a helicopter tour, or spend a night camping directly on the icefields. Make sure you pack a lot of layers!
3 USA - Joshua Tree National Park: stepping into the desert
Another park located in California, Joshua Tree National Park will have you feeling like you are stepping right into the desert… because well, you are. It’s named after the region’s twisted, uniquely shaped Joshua trees that are spread out throughout the dry landscapes that connect both the Mojave and Colorado deserts
There are several hiking trails that weave through the boulders and variety of vegetation in Hidden Valley, providing you with a truly unique trekking experience. You definitely won’t need your winter jacket for this one, although you may need a few dozen water bottles and a protective hat to handle the heat.
2 Canada - Gulf Island National Park: ideal for spotting aquatic life
If the cold isn’t agreeing with you, consider visiting Gulf Island National Park, located on British Columbia’s Victoria Island. The island exhibits warmer temperatures all year round, making it one of the best places to spot aquatic ocean life that is otherwise rare within Canada. It’s not uncommon to spot orcas, seals, and sea lions lounging on the ocean shores.
It’s the perfect place to grab a kayak or to take a scenic boat ride, where you can visit the various number of islands in the park. At night time, the ocean lights up with bioluminescent light as the plankton come to the surface, which is one of those things you have to see to believe.
1 USA - Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
As the name suggests, this Hawaiian national park is home to two active volcanoes, including the one of the world’s most active volcano known as Kilauea. This destination is home to dramatic volcanic landscapes that frequently spew molten rock which harden to create unique terrain and caves.
Visiting this park will no doubt be an experience like no other, with many viewpoints to stop at in order to witness these volcanoes from a safe distance, in all their glory. The Crater Rim Drive stretched 19-miles, where there will be many photo ops to not only catch the volcanoes, but also the lush jungle, rainbows, and desert-like landscapes.