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Canada is giving away park passes to Americans: How to get one and where to use it

July 09, 2022
10 min read
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Destination Canada and Parks Canada have teamed up to help U.S. citizens visit the country's National Parks for free. Canada is giving away 4,000 year-long passes that include access to more than 80 destinations.

Related: TPG’s guide to Canada’s provinces and territories

Canada has 171 national historic sites, 47 national parks, five national marine conservation areas and a national urban park. Go to canadarefresh.com through July 31 to enter the contest and learn more about Canada's parks. All you need to do is either submit your name or go into more detail on why you need a change of scenery in Canada's National Parks and what you would do with the pass.

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If you're already dreaming about a visit, here are four Canadian National Parks especially worth a visit, along with what to do at them and how to get there.

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Point Pelee National Park

Winter in Point Pelee National Park. (Photo by Steven_Kriemadis/Getty Images)

This park, located at the southernmost point of Canada's mainland, is a mere one-hour drive from downtown Detroit. While Point Pelee is Canada's second-smallest national park, it is well known as a place for viewing flocks of migratory birds in the spring and colorful Monarch butterflies in the fall. In winter, visitors can walk the park's trails and see natural ice formations. In the summer, you can sunbathe on sandy beaches. Another activity is a visit to the Carolinian forest to enjoy canoeing, hiking, cycling and bird watching.

If you want to stay a few days, book a reservation at Camp Henry and stay at one of 24 unique oTENTiks, a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent, set on a raised wooden floor. The oTENTiks can accommodate six people and include a living area with a table, chairs, overhead light, electrical outlets, heat and a natural gas barbecue grill -- all for CA$128 ($92 American dollars) a night.

There are four accessible and two pet-friendly oTENTiks available. There are also YMCA camps and programming available at the park. For more information, call 519-453-8858 or go to the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario website.

Other attractions in the area include:

Get to Point Pelee National Park by car, by Canada's Via Rail train or bus to the Windsor and Chatham stations. You can also fly into Windsor International Airport (YQG), Detroit Metro Airport (DET) or Toronto-Pearson International Airport (YYZ) and rent a car.

Banff National Park

A view of Banff National Park from Sulphur Mountain. (Photo by Matthew Bailey/VWPics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Banff is Canada’s first national park, founded in 1855 and the flagship of the nation’s park system. It features the Rocky Mountains, clear turquoise glacial lakes, an Instagram-worthy mountain town and village, abundant wildlife and scenic drives. Visitors can go hiking, biking, skiing and camping in the amazing mountain scenery. Banff is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Take a soak in Banff Upper Hot Springs, Canada’s highest elevation operating hot spring, about two miles from downtown Banff. Since parking is extremely limited, take the Route 1 bus to Sulphur Mountain from downtown Banff. Rental towels and swimsuits are available, and there's a cafe and picnic area. Other activities include bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, snowshoeing and ice skating. Ditch your car and use the region's Roam Public Transit to get to Banff activities via four local and four regional buses.

You can choose from 17 camping locations in Banff National Park. For example, the Tunnel Mountain Village II campground, mere minutes from Banff, this campground is perfect for people who want power without full hook-ups. It offers three-season camping in 21 oTENTiks and year-round camping for tents and recreational vehicles, along with mountain views and a year-round bus service to town. Fees range from $CA16.75 (US$12) for the very basic Silverhorn Creek site to CA$128 (US$92) for a fully furnished oTENTik.

While you're in Banff, check out these other attractions:

Banff National Park is located in the province of Alberta in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It is 80 miles west of Calgary, 250 miles southwest of Edmonton and 500 miles northeast of Vancouver. The easiest way is to fly into Calgary International Airport (YYC) and either rent a car or use transportation including Banff Airporter, Brewster Express, Discover Banff Tours and Mountain Park Transportation.

Related: Hidden gem: The Canadian Marriott with a Nordic spa that stands in the shadow of Banff

Jasper National Park

The Icefields Parkway, which connects Jasper with Lake Louise, has been called one of the world's great drives. (Alan Solomon/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)

Extending over 4,000 miles, Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and is also part of UNESCO's Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. If you're an outdoors lover, this park is the place to be. There are amazing backcountry locations, alpine day hikes, mountain biking and great paddling. You can also take scenic drives, have a mountain picnic, and enjoy unique wildlife viewing, along with snowshoeing, skiing, biking and skating.

Jasper National Park, home to 53 species of mammals, is a great place for wildlife spotting year-round. Grizzly and black bears can be seen in the valley bottoms in the spring and early summer. Other animals to see are elk, moose, two species of deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolves and coyotes. Try your hand at traction kiting, which involves being pulled by a kite over snow, ice, water or land.

There are 14 options for camping, from a one-person tent to a 40-foot motor home. Overflow, at $CA16.75 (US$12) a night, is a basic campground with a mix of campsites ranging from private and well-treed to wide open and sunny. It has dry toilets but no showers. On the other end, spend CA$128 (US$92) for a fully furnished oTENTik.

If you'd rather have a bit more comfort, consider a stay at the historic grounds of the Palisades Centre, which offers six different accommodation types. Go big with a house that sleeps up to eight for CA$585.99 (US$451) a night. A machine shed, perfect for two people, will run you CA$219.75 (US$169). If you have a large group, consider the den, which holds up to 30 guests and has a large common area for gatherings. It costs $CA2,197 (US$1,696) a night.

Other area attractions include:

  • Fort St. James National Historic Site, where you can see a fur warehouse restored to the year 1896 and sleep over in Canada’s only bed and breakfast at a national historic site, the luxury Murray House.
  • Elk Island National Park tells the story of the bison and how it was saved from near extinction thanks to an active conservation program that replenishes herds around the world.

Related: 5 small Canadian cities you can use points and miles to visit

Jasper National Park is 192 miles west of Edmonton, 256 miles northwest of Calgary and 500 miles northeast of Vancouver. Fly into Edmonton International Airport (YEG), rent a car and drive across the Trans-Canada Highway #16 to the park. Via Rail has regular train service from Edmonton and Vancouver to Jasper. SunDog Transportation and Tours offers daily Jasper to Edmonton shuttle service. Brewster Express offers tour buses to and from Jasper via Banff along the Icefields Parkway.

Waterton Lakes National Park

The Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site in Waterton, Alberta. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This park, at the intersection of Alberta's prairies and the Rocky Mountains, boasts crystal-clear lakes, rainbow-colored streams and mountain vistas. It shares borders with Montana and British Columbia. Visitors can go sightseeing on the park's scenic roadways, see 60-plus species of mammals, hike on 120 miles of trails, explore the Red Rock Canyon and view six jaw-dropping mist-cloaked waterfalls. There's camping, boating, hiking, bird watching, skiing, fishing, mountain biking, scuba diving, swimming and golf. You can also do spectacular stargazing and catch some rays at Driftwood Beach in Middle Waterton Lake.

Camp in the Townsite and Belly River campgrounds. Fees at Townsite range between CA$23 (US$17) and CA$38 (US$30), depending on the services you choose. The Belly River Campground is CA$15.70 (US$12) for a single site or CA$4.90 (US$3.78) per person for a group site.

For a more rustic experience, consider one of the 10 backside campsites in Waterton Lakes National Park — nine of the 10 have outhouses, tent pads, food storage bins and picnic tables. You can only reach these sites via the park's hiking trails. Two campgrounds are also accessible by personal watercraft.

You're required to have a backcountry use permit for overnight stays; permits are available from the Waterton Lakes National Park visitor center. There is a nightly fee of CA$10.50 for each adult camper and there's no charge for children 16 and under.

If you need a bit more of civilization, visit the town of Waterton, which offers day hiking and horseback riding, and tour Waterton Lake on a boat, canoe or kayak. You can also book a stay at the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, built in 1927. Rates start at CA$259 ($US200).

Take some time to visit these attractions:

  • Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, where you can ride on a wagon pulled by Percheron horses and discover the life of a ranching cowboy from the late 1800s.
  • Yoho National Park features towering rock walls, spectacular waterfalls, soaring peaks, and plants and animals that continue to evolve.

Waterton Lakes National Park is closest to Calgary International Airport (YYC), a scenic 167 miles away. Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), in Kalispell, Mont., is a 70-mile drive to Waterton, so you could hit a U.S. and Canadian national park.

Bottom line

Information for all of Canada's national parks can be found on the Parks Canada website. Even if you don't win the pass, you should still consider a trip to the country's parks. To make a park reservation, call 1-877-RESERVE (737-3783) or book online. Always check the park's website before your visit to see what attractions are open to the public, what is restricted and what is closed.

Featured image by Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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