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A Quick Guide to National Park Fees in Canada 2021

From the flat grasslands and plains, to the rugged tundra and boreal forests, to the soaring mountains and glaciers and finally, to the roaring Pacific ocean, Canada’s National Parks showcase outstanding examples of beautiful landscapes.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about visiting National Park fees and Discovery Passes in Canada in 2021. It’s sure to help you plan your next National Park adventure!

Kayak view of paddling on aquamarine Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
National Park fees must be paid to visit famed Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, Canada

What exactly is a National Park in Canada?

Let’s break it down before we go any further. 

Canada’s National Parks

National Parks are protected areas for public enjoyment and appreciation, managed by Parks Canada. Some National Parks are small (22 sq km, Prince Edward Island) while others are much, much larger (44, 807 sq km, Wood Buffalo).

The oldest National Park in Canada is Banff in Alberta, founded in 1885. National Parks typically have viewpoints, camping opportunities, hiking trails, lake access, visitor centres and other facilities. Some of Canada’s National Parks are exceptionally remote and have few visitor services.

Flying over the glaciers of Kluane National Park, Canada
Kluane National Park is a destination definitely worth paying National Park fees to see!

National Park Reserves

National Park Reserves are proposed National Parks. The intention is to have a system of national parks that represent each of Canada’s natural regions; the project is so far about 60% complete.

National Historic Sites

National Historic Sites are places of profound importance to Canada’s history. These commemorate places and events that have shaped the identity of Canada

National Marine Conservation Areas

There are a small number of National Marine Conservation Areas that are managed for sustainable use by Parks Canada.

View of a winding road above ocean in Cape Breton
Driving and hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is an unmissable experience in Nova Scotia

Provincial and Territorial Parks

National Parks are different from Provincial Parks and Territorial Parks. These are also protected areas, but they are administrated by the individual governments of provinces and territories. There are many more Provincial and Territorial Parks than there are National Parks.

British Columbia, for example, has over 600 Provincial Parks. In some provinces, entry to Provincial Parks is free (BC, Nova Scotia). In other provinces, there is a daily fee much like National Parks (Ontario, Manitoba). 

Rock with fossil is being held close to camera, with views of mountainous Yoho National Park terrain and glacier in background, above bright blue glacial lake
Holding ancient fossils in Yoho National Park, BC

Where are Canada’s National Parks and National Historic Sites?

There are currently 38 National Parks and 8 National Park Reserves found across the country, with at least one Park in each province and territory. National Historic Sites are also located all around Canada.

The Parks Canada website lists all of the National Parks and National Park Reserves and National Marine Conservation Areas plus the 140 National Historic Sites that they manage.

Long Beach Tofino in Pacific Rim National Park, Canada
Pacific Rim National Park should not be missed when visiting Vancouver Island, British Columbia

National Park fees in Canada

To visit most of Canada’s National Parks, Reserves, Marine Conservation Areas and National Historic Sites, there is usually an admission (entry) fee.

For the Parks, Reserves and Conservation Areas this is a daily admission fee which means visitors have to pay the admission charge for every day they spend within park boundaries.

Lake view with clouds reflecting in completely still surface of the water
The beautiful lakes of Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia, the perfect place for a multi-day canoe trip

Regular daily admission fees

National Park fees in Canada vary between parks.

For example, the entry fee per day in 2021 for Banff National Park is:
Adult $10
Senior $8.40
Children and Youth aged 17 or under are free
Family/Group $ 20.00 (up to seven people arriving together in a single vehicle)

What other fees are there?

The daily admission fee to Canada’s National Parks does not include:

  • Any kind of camping, whether in the front country (car camping) or backcountry (accessible via foot or boat)
  • Firewood at campgrounds
  • Campsite reservations (mandatory for backcountry adventures)
  • Access to hot springs pools managed by Parks Canada, such as Radium Hot Springs
  • Guided tours and hikes not included in park admission
Canoeists paddling on mountain lake with snow capped peaks behind
Banff National Park is one of the most popular parks in Canada

What is the National Park Discovery Pass?

The Discovery Pass is a pass that provides free entry to all National Parks/Reserves, Marine Conservation Areas and Parks Canada-run National Historic Sites. It pays for itself in as little as seven days of national park visitation (compared to daily admission fees).

Another bonus of Discovery Passes is faster entry into national parks. At road entrances into Banff National Park, for example, there is no need to stop at the Parks Canada gatehouse if you have a valid Discovery Pass displayed.

Gemma standing on wooden boardwalk in temperate rainforest, looking at huge fallen tree
Discovering huge trees in the temperate rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park (more info about this hike here)

Regular Discovery Pass prices

The price of a Parks Canada Discovery Pass in 2021 is:
Adult $ 69.19
Senior $ 59.17
Family/Group $ 139.40

Discovery Passes are valid for 12 full months from the date of purchase.

If you’re planning to visit Canada’s Rocky Mountain National Parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay) for a week or more, I’d definitely recommend getting a Discovery Pass.

Gemma hiking up a trail with alpine meadows and mountain panoramas behind
Hiking in Banff National Park is magnificent

How to buy a Discovery Pass

It is possible to buy Discovery Passes online or in person. You can purchase a pass in person at various Parks Canada locations (list available here) or at participating MEC retail locations across Canada. For the latter, you’ll need to be a MEC member ($5).

If you buy the pass online, allow plenty of time for it to arrive before your intended trip.

Mountain views in Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada
Wilderness of Kluane National Park

Other National Park pass options

Another option is to get a single location pass. These allows unlimited entry to a single national park. This is a great idea if you live near a national park/historic site OR have a trip planned that involves extensive travel in one park only.

Though not available for all of Canada’s national parks and historic sites, there are single location passes for many of the most popular destinations. Examples include Pacific Rim on Vancouver Island, Waterton Lakes in Alberta and Fundy National Park in New Brunswick.

Some of the passes can be purchased online, but most are obtainable in person only.

Check out these amazing Parks Canada destinations next:

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Burgess Shale, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Eva Lake, Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia

Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia

Mount Logan, Kluane National Park, Yukon

Mount Norquay Via Ferrata, Banff National Park, Alberta

Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake Canoe Guide, Banff and Yoho National Parks

Click here to learn everything you need to know about National Park fees and Discovery Passes in Canada. It's sure to help you plan your trip to some of the most beautiful places in Canada! offtracktravel.ca
Planning to explore Canada's amazing National Parks this year? Get prepared for your trip and learn what you need to know about the National Park fee system and Discovery Passes! offtracktravel.ca

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Jackie Rogers

Thursday 18th of February 2021

Can US citizens purchase the Discovery Pass or is it just available to Canadian citizens?

Gemma

Friday 19th of February 2021

Hi Jackie,

That's a good question! Anyone can buy a Discovery Pass, no matter your nationality.

Thom Jekabson

Friday 7th of August 2020

Hi I am a senior and I bough a day pass for Elk Island National Park, I was told that if I were to need another pass for an extended period of time, within 30 Days that the cost of the Elk Island pass would be deducted from the cost of a new pass. Is this true and do I have to do it on line or at the gate of a National Park?

Gemma

Sunday 9th of August 2020

Hi Thom! Yes, that is true - all the info is here. It states that you have to visit a participating location.

Steffi Palin

Tuesday 30th of July 2019

Thank you for your blog

You just mentioned that the discovery pass does not cover hikes. Just wondering if that was guided or all hikes.

We are looking at camping next year and doing some day hikes and hoping the discovery pass includes access to day hikes

Thanks Stef

Gemma

Sunday 4th of August 2019

Hi Steffi,

The Discovery Pass does not cover guided hikes specifically as these often have an extra charge.

Sally Weigand

Wednesday 3rd of April 2019

I have been told that you must make reservations a year in advance to camp in Canada parks. We planned a 2 month RV trip through eastern Canada from mid-August to mid-Oct. but have not made any reservations. Is this really necessary or highly recommended vs. taking our chances?

Gemma

Thursday 4th of April 2019

Campsites in Canada's National Parks are in high demand, especially in summer. For your trip, I would make reservations in advance for the mid August to mid September portion for sure. It is not possible to book a year in advance though, the reservation system generally opens every January for the following summer season.