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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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