Nahanni National Park Reserve, Canada

Photo: andrewtsoc via flickr
Photo: andrewtsoc via flickr

Have you gotten your 2017 Parks Canada Discovery Pass yet? You should. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the national park system, Canada is offering free admission to all of its national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas next year. Which destination is first on your list?

Most people will probably make a beeline for Banff, Jasper, or Saguenay-St.Lawrence. The country’s most popular parks are bound to feel overcrowded though. So your sights are set beyond Alberta and Québec. You want to finally visit Nahanni National Park Reserve, one of the least visited—and underappreciated—parks in Canada.

Nahanni National Park Reserve is in the Northwest Territories. The more than 400,000-acre park lies 310 miles west of Yellowknife near the Yukon border in the remote Dehcho Region. Its Mackenzie Mountains were created when the North American and Pacific plates collided and forced rocks upward. The nomadic Dene people lived here for centuries before European fur traders arrived in the 18th century. The area’s mountains, forests, tundra, and hot springs became a national park reserve in 1972 and then one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. The park’s size even increased greatly in 2009 when the Canadian government and the Dehcho First Nations signed a broader protection agreement. The park has still been overlooked.

It shouldn’t be. Most visitors arrive via a floatplane or a helicopter—that’s how underdeveloped the surrounding area is. Most activities—from camping and hiking to fishing and whitewater rafting—happen around the South Nahanni River, a major tributary of the Liard River that flows from the Mackenzie Mountains. While most people want to see Virginia Falls, a waterfall more than two times the height of Niagara Falls, first. The largest tufa mounds in Canada and caves full of ancient Dall sheep skeletons are here, too. Plus grizzly bears, moose, eastern wolves, and woodland caribou call the trembling aspen and white spruce forests home. Your first stop in Canada next year might end up being your favorite.

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