Canada has a wealth of stunningly awesome natural sights. Incredibly only 12 of them are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites – but that’s no matter because the ones that are listed are amazing and pretty huge too. Here’s a selection of them.
Located in the Red Deer River Valley in the heart of Alberta's Badlands, the Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of the most amazing UNESCO sites in Canada. Famous for having one of the world's richest dinosaur fossil deposits, already 40 dino species have been excavated here, together with over 500 specimen of fossilized species of other life forms that are now being exhibited in museums across the world. Today the park greets visitors with a barren, almost lunar-like landscape in which bizarre and twisted rock formations and peaks stand out as the most interesting "life forms". However, 75 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed this part of the Alberta Badlands, this was a lush and green subtropical idyll. The fantastically rich variety of fossils and natural wonders of the park can be explored at the Dinosaur Provincial Park Visitor Center, which boasts a video theater, gift shop and fossil prep lab area and explains the natural history and geology of the park. Join a hugely enjoyable and informative bus tour through the park and be sure to join in the guided activities offered along the way. The park offers five self-guided tours and a real fossil safari.
Wood Buffalo National Park is home to North America's largest population of bison and the preferred nesting destination for whooping cranes. The park's mostly deserted and unspoiled sedge and grass meadows are ideal grazing grounds for Wood Buffalo and the boreal forests are protected areas that give shelter to a wide variety of species, including the endangered whooping crane. Look also out for bats, night hawks and a variety of owls. This enormous park borders northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories and boasts many fine trails, such as the Salt River Trails, which takes hikers along a saline creek to sinkholes. The park is also the world's largest dark-sky preserve and a fabulous place to observe the Northern Lights and star constellations.
Gros Morne National Park on the west coast of Newfoundland is not just one of the most unusual UNESCO sites in Canada, it is also the second largest national park in Atlantic Canada, only surpassed by Torngat Mountains National Park. Gros Morne National Park demonstrates nicely how Earth's plate tectonics work. A blend of sheer cliffs, perched lakes, freshwater fjords and boulder strewn landscapes, the park show how Earth's deep ocean crust and the rocky mantle of our planet lie exposed for all to see. Going hiking in the wild and uninhabited mountains or taking a boat tour under the sheer cliffs that were formed by glaciers and now soar high above the tourist boats is truly an unforgettable experience. The park is frequently visited by harbor seals, finback and minke whales and inhabited by arctic hare and herds of caribou. The human population is friendly, showing off a colorful collection of cozy homes and impressive knowledge about their stunning surroundings.
For paleontologists, Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia is one of the most desirable UNESCO sites in Canada. Stretching for nearly 15 km or 689 ha along the lovely Bay of Fundy's shores, the cliffs hold one of the world's richest deposits of Carboniferous fossils, which date back 300 million years. Nicknamed the "Coal Age Galápagos", the park holds the planet's most comprehensive collection of fossils, showing us the finest specimen of terrestrial life from that period. This part of Nova Scotia was once a lush tropical forest terrain brimming with insects and reptiles that used giant seed fern trees for shelter. Today the landscape is totally different, dominated by low bluffs, sea cliffs and beach and strange rock formations withered through millennia of erosion. Although visitors are encouraged to walk along the coast and go fossil spotting, they are naturally not permitted to take home fossil souvenirs. Everything must be left as found, because potentially every rock or pebble could be a historical find that holds more clues to how life on Earth evolved. You can book a guided tour for the cliffs at a fabulous visitor center which boasts great interactive exhibits.
Created in 1985, Miguasha National Park in the southeast of Quebec is not merely one of the most important UNESCO sites in Canada, it is one of the most important in the world for it is the very spot where sea creatures decided to step onto terra firma and transform themselves into what eventually turned into us. Thousands of beautifully preserved fossils have so far been discovered in the Escuminac cliffs, demonstrating nicely how life on Earth evolved from lobe-finned fish species that lived in the Devonian age to all other land-based life forms. These fish species eventually evolved into the first four-legged air-breathing terrestrial vertebrate. Take your hat off to to these little guys for they are our illustrious ancestors. Be sure to visit the Natural History Museum which offers guided tours and provides a wealth of information on this important event in Earth's history. The "Evolution of Life" trail is an incredibly informative and fun hike along the fossil cliffs. The hike will provide you with stunning coastal views and great photo opportunities and a better understanding of where some of the Natural History Museum's 9,000-strong collection of specimens of fossil plants and fish came from.
Two beautiful river systems, the Alsek and the Tatshenshini Rivers, run through Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, affording visitors ample opportunity to explore this beautiful landscape on foot, by bike or kayak and canoe. Regarded as one of the magnificent river systems in the world, the park contains nearly one million hectares of wild rivers, rare plant communities, and grizzly bear territory, all set against the stunning background of glaciers and snow-topped peaks. It is one of the great UNESCO sites in Canada and lies in the north-westerly part of British Columbia, between the Kluane National Park and Reserves in the Yukon and the Glacier Bay & Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks and Preserves in Alaska. In combination, these parks stretch for roughly 8.5 million hectares, the largest protected area on the planet. Go rafting or mountaineering, if you're brave enough, or explore this pristine wilderness on foot or by mountain bike. The park boasts an astonishing variety of landscapes, from alpine meadows to glaciers.
Situated in the spectacular wilderness of the Dehcho Region in the Northwest Territories, Nahanni National Park protects a part of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region and is one of the UNESCO sites in Canada that have an important river system at their core. Here the South Nahanni River, Virginia Falls as well as four canyons reaching 1,000 m in depth provide visitors with awe-inspiring views of Nature at its most impressive. It's not the easiest of terrains to explore or to get to - you'll be sharing the sights with only 1,000 other visitors per year, but the park has natural hot springs, unusual limestone cave systems and unspoiled mountain ranges that are so beautiful, you won't mind the difficulty of getting around. It is one of Canada's least visited parks, but if you've always wanted to try white-water river rafting, this is the place to come.
You might tall that by the way I wax lyrical about these amazing sites that they hold an immense fascination for me. I definitely need to think about visiting at least one of these places so crucial to our own evolution. How about you?