Canada is renowned for its wide-open spaces which offer authentic eco-adventures. Here are 10 of my favourite, fabulous ecotourism destinations.
1-Full-moon rafting in Pontiac region of Outaouais, Quebec
The Ottawa River is a world-class white-water rafting river. While there are many super outfitters, only HorizonX offers full-moon rafting (June through August only) in Canada.
What’s cool? Silvery moonlight. Silhouettes of white pine. Paddling your raft on slick, smooth riverwater, with HorizonX’s Martin Bertrand at the helm. Suddenly, the sound of churning rapids becomes your world!
Expertly, Bertrand steers us to the top of the rapids. Back paddling, he shouts, “Ready? Paddle! Paddle hard!” and we’re off, skimming through moonlit, frothy whitewater. What a rush!
2-Ocean kayaking in Nova Scotia
What’s cool? Paddle among a scatter of islands where seals and osprey (fish hawks) are your companions. I loved the rugged, glacially scoured coastline juxtaposed against sandy beaches. Multi-day trips with kayak-camping are possible.
3-Big 5 Safari = great wildlife watching in Riding Mountain National Park, and Churchill, Manitoba
Join Frontiers North’s Big 5 Safari, where you’ll travel with expert guides to try to glimpse and photograph Canada’s most sought-after wildlife: polar and black bears, belugas, moose and bison!
What’s cool? This two-part trip sees you wildlife watching in Riding Mountain National Park, three hours northwest of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Boasting a rich, varied habitat where Canada’s boreal forest merges with aspen parkland and prairie grassland, this gem of a park offers spectacular wildlife watching, including a herd of bison.
Then, fly to Churchill, in the North Country, where you can kayak among thousands of beluga whales and board a Tundra Buggy to search for polar bears.
Tip? Take binoculars.
Insider’s tip? Be ready to see (and photograph) Aurora Borealis.
4-Recreational Geology Rocks in the Ottawa Valley’s Bonnechere Caves
Return to the Ordovician Era, over 510 million years ago, when Earth was covered by seas. Learn about this ancient period in geological time with a guided tour of Bonnechere Cave, Ontario’s most extensive cave system in the province’s Ontario’s Highlands region.
What’s cool? The cave has many stalactites and stalagmites, as well as fossils such as cephalopods (resembling squid), gastropods (ancient snails), and crinoids (ancestors of modern-day sea urchins).
The cave’s subdued electric light system allows you to see these features as well as your way through the caves, so there’s no need for flashlights.
You may also find year-round residents in the caves, sleeping upside-down, hanging from the ceiling.
Tip: Ontario’s Highlands’ offers many more recreational geology outings including digging for crystals and visiting mineral museums.
5-Exploring First Nations’ bison jump, culture, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatchewan
Bison were central to the political, spiritual and cultural life of First Nations people who lived on the plains. Bison jumps were crucial because using this hunting technique, animals were stampeded over a cliff to their deaths, then processed for the coming year’s food, shelter and clothing. Visit Wanuskewin, see the jump, learn about First Nations spiritual connection to both the land and bison. Here you’ll gain insight to why many nations have gathered here for more than 6,000 years.
What’s cool? Wanuskewin is home to 19 pre-Contact archaeological sites which reveal more about First Nations’ use of, and life in, this part of Saskatchewan’s grasslands.
Tip? Don’t miss guided hikes, view of an archaeological dig (in progress if you’re lucky) plus an exceptional gift store featuring locally made First Nations’ art and crafts.
6-Alberta’s Cowboy Trail
Driving the Cowboy Trail circuit provides insight into Alberta’s “Old West”. You’ll head south of Calgary through grasslands and foothills immediately east of the Rocky Mountains, discovering villages such as Bragg Creek and Black Diamond. However, there’s a triptych of historical destinations to experience:
Bar U Ranch National Historic Site explains the history of ranching. Take a horse-drawn wagon ride to visit different outbuildings and enjoy a “cowboy coffee” (coffee boiled in a pot over a campfire). Listen to cowboy poets recite poems – something ranch hands really did compose and recite while herding cattle over the grasslands, for months on end.
Continue to Waterton Lakes National Park where you can overnight in a teepee (and hear storytelling with First Nation Elders), pitch a tent, or stay in the 1926-27 Prince of Wales Hotel, a National Historic Site.
Hike, mountain bike, canoe or horseback ride (with Alpine Stables), to experience flora and fauna of pine and aspen forests, alpine meadows and marshland habitats.
What’s cool? Next is Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Such jumps were used by ancient peoples who stampeded herds of plains bison over cliffs, so they could then process the animals into food, clothing and tools.
Archaeological research indicates people were here 6,000 years ago, meaning this is one of the oldest jumps in the world.
All in all, the Cowboy Trail connects us to ancient peoples, the environment, and European settlement: making a fascinating tour!
7-Haida Gwaii: First Nations discoveries, British Columbia
I love the paintings of Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most renowned painters who lived among First Nations and painted their villages, totem poles and way of life in the early 1900s.
Like her, I am intrigued with how First Nations lived – and still live – in rugged conditions such as British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii (aka Queen Charlotte Islands).
I combined both interests by exploring the islands and touring a site Carr knew, called Skedans, with Moresby Explorers.
With them, I took a day’s boat trip to Louise Island, and marvelled at seeing some of the exact totem poles she depicted. What’s even more intriguing is that Haida Watchmen guard all the sacred sites, and interpret them to visitors.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site operated by Parks Canada is part of Haida Gwaii. Just getting there is an adventure: go by air from Victoria or Vancouver, or hop on a BC Ferry from Prince Rupert.
As you approach, Pacific Ocean mists may swirl about Haida Gwaii or you may be dazzled by a blue-sky ocean day’s sheer glory.
What’s cool? Camp or stay in cabins to explore marine life in ocean pools, go beachcombing, and more.
8-Exploring Northern British Columbia’s Muskwa-Kechika on horseback
Authentic wilderness backcountry that’s accessible (albeit challenging to get to) is hard to come by, even in Canada. Enter Northern BC’s Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, a 6.4 million hectare tract of land that’s about the size of Ireland.
This is an extremely special region in Canada, where resource extraction is highly monitored, with environmental protection being paramount.
How to best explore its sweeps of mountain ranges, broad valleys, and wild rivers? How best to photograph wildlife you may discover, such as grizzly or black bears, moose, elk, wolverine, wolves, Stone’s sheep and more?
He’s been leading trips throughout the summer for years, so knows the territory inside out. What’s key is participants must be fit and able to help catch and saddle their horses, through to pitching their tents and helping to cook at least one campfire dinner.
Sound like fun? It is. Sawchuk leads exhilarating rides that are somewhat demanding but spectacularly rewarding.
What’s cool? As you travel, he explains the geology, flora, fauna and First Nations culture. What’s not to love?
9-Exploring “The Rock” in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park
Hiking Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park is to walk amid elemental nature. Think glacier-scoured rocks, deep-water fjords with plunging cliff sides and breathtaking ocean views. All these and more await.
The “more” includes spectacular geological features which reveal the Precambrian era of 1,200 million years ago.
With park interpreters, learn about plate tectonics, and find geological formations such as diabase dykes (such as at Western Brook Pond’s cliffs).
What’s cool? While hiking and camping here, you are exposed to the elements, just as my husband Eric and I were when we ventured to Gros Morne.
We were almost “swept away” by drenching rain and winds, however, another day shone brightly, and so just “wait five minutes” as the locals say, for a change in the maritime weather.
10-Highest Tides in the world at Fundy National Park and Biosphere Reserve, New Brunswick
Imagine ocean kayaking a shoreline of red sandstone cliffs and then, in low tide, walking on the exposed ocean floor. This is simply “situation normal” at New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world.
How do the tides work? According to Parks Canada’s website, visit a few days in a row and you’ll notice the water is at its highest and lowest about an hour later each day.
The tides work on a ‘lunar’ or moon day, which is 24 hours and 52 minutes long. As the earth turns on its axis, the moon orbits in the same direction around the earth.
It takes one day and 52 minutes for a point on the earth to reappear directly beneath the moon.
Katharine Fletcher is a Canadian writer who loves the outdoors.