Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park in Alberta. For 8 days, I hiked through expanses of mountains, peered over ravines, and walked through the most impressive and welcoming tourist towns.
Averaging nearly 30,000 steps a day, I had plenty of time to see one of the many corners of our country worth exploring. Everywhere I turned I couldn’t help but exclaim “and this is in Canada!” It made me wonder what else there is to experience in this beautiful country of ours.
Did you know, the Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt - located right here in Quebec – has been determined by geologists to be the oldest rocks on earth? (About 4.28 billion years.)
And right next door to us in Ontario, you can find the world’s oldest pool of water in Kid Creek Mine. Experts revealed in a journal entry that the body of water is roughly 2 million years old. The water from this ancient sea is eight times saltier than today’s ocean water.
Canada’s landscape is incredibly diverse. For the explorers, wanderers, hikers, campers, and adventurers of the world, Canada has so much to offer. Here are 10 places you won't believe are in Canada.
1. The Athabasca Sand Dunes, Saskatchewan
These mountainous dunes cover roughly 100km and are estimated to be around 8000 years old.
Found along the south shore of Lake Athabasca, the dunes are the largest active sand surface in the country and the most northern set of major dune fields on the globe. (SOURCE)
The dunes are home to an incredibly unique and somewhat puzzling ecosystem. Throughout the mountains of sand, it is not uncommon to find endemic plant species such as hair grass, chickweed, and some rare species of willow.
That said, the greenery of the dunes is everchanging, particularly during periods of harsh winds. Under the right conditions, it is possible to see the skeletons of former forests from decades ago.
2. Carcross Desert, Yukon
This desert is a clear-cut example of the sheer variety of geographical landscapes Canada has to offer. Flat, sandy desert lands, lakes, and giant boulders are overcome by an expanse of looming mountains.
Corbin Fraser from I Backpack Canada says “it’s one of the strangest scenes to see mountains meet sand. It’s as if the Earth’s crust clawed its way through the sand just to blow your mind.”
Interestingly, the Carcross desert covers only one square mile, making it officially the world’s smallest desert.
It makes the perfect destination for hikers and sand boarders who enjoy a picturesque mountain view.
3. Old Quebec City
The narrow, cobblestone streets of Old Quebec transport you to Europe. Just a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the West Island, you can be transported into what feels like Paris or Florence.
Quebec City gets its distinct European flavor due to its former French occupancy.
Shuttered windows and cracked stone buildings each contribute to a timeless yet rustic feel. Walk along the main street and head into merchant and souvenir shops, French and Italian restaurants, or enjoy a cocktail on a patio.
According to Sofie from the blog Wonderful Wanderings “if you visit Quebec City in winter, the Hotel de Glace, or Ice Hotel, is a must. Every year it looks different as ice sculptors from all over the world create the most intricate designs as well as ice furniture, an ice bar, and an ice reception. The best thing is that you don’t even need to stay there to see it all (but you can if you’re feeling brave).”
4. Little Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan
Did you know that Canada is home to more lakes than all other countries combined? Saskatchewan alone is home to more than 100,000 lakes.
Little Manitou Lake is exceptionally fascinating because of its remarkably high sodium, magnesium, and potassium contents. Only the dead sea has a higher salt content.
This high concentration of salt of course means that swimmers can float effortlessly and weightlessly.
Little Manitou Lake has been re-named by the Cree tribe as “Healing Waters” for its antigravity properties.
5. Pingualuit Crater, Northern Quebec
Travel experts compare this peculiar sight to space travel.
“Formed by a meteorite hitting the earth almost 1.4 million years ago, the crater encloses a lake created only by precipitation, which spends nine months of the year frozen.” (SOURCE.)
According to National Geographic, the Pingualuit Crater was once mistakenly believed to be a kimberlite pipe where miners and explorers hoped to harvest diamonds due to the crater’s perfectly round shape.
Instead, those who venture to this extraterrestrial attraction will instead find the crater transformed into a lake due to precipitation over the span of 1.4 million years.
6. Mount Thor, Baffin Island
Baffin Island, located in the territory of Nunavut is not impressive for its scale. With a summit reaching only 1675 meters of elevation, this climb is very doable for new hikers.
What is most spectacular about this peak, located in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island is its entirely vertical drop. At the peak, it drops off into a straight mountainous wall and drops off for 1250 meters with an average angle of 105 degrees.
Some more advanced climbers opt to repel down the granite wall. Others choose to camp in surrounding areas and venture down more scenic (flat) trails.
7. Flowerpot Island, Ontario
The mountains or sand piles of Flowerpot Island have baffled scientists and geologists for decades. Their unique shape makes them incredibly difficult to piece together. This landmark is so miraculous that experts often wonder if it is a manmade sight or a natural one.
In Fathom Five National Marine Park, Georgian Bay, towering over Lake Huron, two monstrous rock and sand pillars climb away from the coast in the most unique of shapes that oddly resemble that of a flower pot. Upon closer look, you may even notice trees and foliage growing on top.
According to Atlas Obscura, “an old indigenous legend states that these rocks were created when two young lovers fell in love from the warring tribes of the Ottawa and Chippewa. After concealing their love for some time, they eventually attempted to escape from the shores, paddling toward Flowerpot Island. However, they are said to have been hotly pursued by tribespeople, and ultimately petrified on the beach in the form of these two rocks.” (SOURCE)
8. Abraham Lake, Banff
I actually got to witness Abraham Lake firsthand on my recent trip to Alberta. Expanding over kilometers, this monstrous lake is the purest of teal blues you’ve ever seen with the most still of waters.
However, this lake becomes even more spectacular in the winter. Due to Abraham Lake’s high CO2 content, the air gets trapped as the water freezes, creating the most magical of sights as you peer through the ice. On a really quiet day, you can hear the bubbles pop and move within the ice, sometimes from miles away.
The ice is open to skaters in the winter and makes a perfect eerie adventure.
9. Tofino, BC
Although Tofino is located on the West Coast of Vancouver, you may easily mistake it for a tropical island. Fine, powder white sand, bright green foliage, and surfers dotting the water make it easy to assume you’ve found yourself somewhere along the pacific.
Tofino is also famous for bird and whale watching, The water offers an incredible surf for novices and experts alike.
10. Maligne Canyon, Jasper
This one comes as a personal recommendation. Although less famously known, I had the chance to trek this 7 km hike during my stay in Alberta, and I can truly attest to the fact that it is a hidden gem.
Parking can fill up later in the morning, so I suggest hitting the trail between 7 and 8 in the morning. The trail leads hikers through a series of bridges (7 total) each peering over different waterfalls, canyons, and flowing rivers.
It’s completely downhill throughout the first half, so prepare yourself for a bit of a climb on the way back. It’s manageable though because there is so much to stop and look at. Wildlife is commonly seen on the trail as well so be sure you know how to behave if you come face to face with a bear.
The fact of the matter is, Canada has so much to offer. There is so much to explore right in our own backyard. Rolling deserts, looming mountains, vast wildlife, and expansive mountains all exist in our beautiful country.
I'm committing myself to see more of it, and if you can do so safely, I encourage you to do the same.