When you think of Canada, one of the first things to come to mind is likely the grand, sweeping landscapes that characterize the country, and there's no better way to get a sense of those landscapes than by visiting one of Canada's national parks. National parks are parks specifically designated for service as a conservation area. Canada boasts more than 40 national parks and national park reserves, and each park has its own distinctive geological personality. Visitors to national parks are encouraged to hike, camp, and explore, and Canada's national parks cannot help but appeal to new and repeat guests alike.

Banff National Park

A discussion about Canada's national parks should always begin with the oldest: Banff National Park. In 1883, three railway construction workers discovered a cave with hot springs nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Two years later, in 1885, Banff National Park was created around the area, and today, it encloses 6,641 square kilometers of Alberta. The landscape of the park ranges from dense forest and sparkling blue lakes to mountains and ice fields. At the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, tourists can learn about the discovery of Banff's cave and the hot springs that form the heart of this gorgeous park. Visitors will also find the town of Banff inside the park, one of only two national park communities in Canada.

Wapusk National Park of Canada

Wapusk National Park, spanning an impressive 11,475 square kilometers, is most famous for its polar bears. The reputation is fitting, since "wapusk" literally means "white bear." Wapusk was created in 1996 and is located on the edge of the Hudson Bay in Manitoba. Contained within the park's boundaries is one of the world's largest polar bear den areas and an expansive arctic tundra. Wapusk is not necessarily the prettiest park that Canada has to offer in terms of mountainous grandeur, but it is the one to visit to see a stunning array of wildlife, including arctic foxes, wolverines, and polar bears, set against a backdrop of glistening snow.

Quttinirpaaq National Park of Canada

Tourists with an adventurous side will delight in Quttinirpaaq National Park. It's hard to go farther north - Quttinirpaaq is located on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, right next to Greenland. The park was originally created in 1988 as the Ellesmere Island National Park Reserve, but the name was changed to Quttinirpaaq, which means "top of the world" in Inuktitut, in 1999. Visitors to Quttinirpaaq will find 37,775 square kilometers of polar desert, punctuated by glaciers, lakes, and fjords.

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park may be one of the smaller ones on our list (only 505 square kilometers), but what it lacks in size it makes up for with rugged, mountainous beauty. Waterton Lakes National Park was created in 1895 and makes up a part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park, comprised of the tall mountains and wide, sweeping prairie of southern Alberta, is home to more than 250 different species of birds and 1,000 different species of plants, including the rare Brewer's monkeyflower. There are plenty of hiking trails through Waterton Lakes National Park, but visitors can also canoe, sailboard, scuba dive (complete with shipwrecks), and fish.

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve

Those looking for an excuse to visit the eastern coast of Canada will find themselves heading toward the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve in northern Quebec. The park, as the name suggests, centers around the Mingan Archipelago and was officially designated a national reserve in 1984. The Mingan Archipelago includes 151 square kilometers of 30 limestone islands, all of which have been shaped into almost otherworldly rock formations by the waves of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Thanks to the unique scenery and the surrounding community of seals, dolphins, and whales, the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve is a must-see for those traveling in eastern Canada.

Prince Edward Island National Park

Hikers with an inclination toward beaches will be delighted with the scenery offered by Prince Edward Island National Park. Located on Prince Edward Island, just off the east coast of Canada, Prince Edward Island National Park was created in 1937 and spans 60 kilometers of beaches, dunes, and wetlands. The most famous resident of the park is the piping plover, a small shorebird that nests on the park's beaches. However, this park includes more than gorgeous red sand beaches and entertaining wildlife. Fans of the Anne of Green Gables series will be pleasantly surprised to discover that Prince Edward Island National Park is home to the original Green Gables, which provided author Lucy Maud Montgomery with inspiration for her novels.

Terra Nova National Park

Once Prince Edward Island National Park has been explored, it's only a short journey northward to Newfoundland and Terra Nova National Park. Terra Nova was founded in 1957 and stretches across 400 square kilometers of Appalachian Mountains, forests, and wetlands. The forested part of Terra Nova National Park is available for camping and hiking, and should visitors desire something more marine-oriented, the Marine Center at Salton's Brook offers information on the various flora and fauna of the park as well as information on boat trips, swimming, diving, and sea kayaking in the area. Winter activities in the park include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter camping, making Terra Nova National Park an ideal place to visit at any time of the year.

Gwaii Haanas National Park

The Gwaii Haanas National Park, created in 1988, is a joint effort between the government of Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation. The park includes archeological proof of human habitation more than 12,500 years old, including the remnants of an original Haida village, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Gwaii Haanas includes 138 islands and stretches out over 1,470 square kilometers of fjords, forests, mountains, and tundra. Gwaii Haanas is also home to six animal species that aren't found anywhere else on earth, including specific subspecies of the pine marten and dusky shrew. Whether a visitor is interested in the rich history of the region, the beauty of the islands, or the wildlife that inhabit them, Gwaii Haanas National Park is one that promises an unforgettable experience.