From the stunning west coast of the Pacific Rim National Park, to the vast rocky backdrop of Glacier National Park, British Columbia has some of the oldest and well known parks in Canada. Since the creation of Canada’s first national park in 1885 at Banff, national parks have come to be defined as areas that are set aside as a public heritage or trust to preserve outstanding examples of scenery, wilderness, geology, natural phenomena or native flora and fauna. The parks are dedicated to public use and enjoyment by all citizens. Trekking, beachcombing, kayaking/canoeing, surfing and camping are just some of the activities available when one visits these parks. In addition to outdoor activities, the parks preserve the natural history and cultural heritage of Canada.

Before venturing to some of British Columbia’s most popular national parks, let’s look back at how the first national park came to be. In 1885, the Canadian Pacific Railway fulfilled its goal of linking eastern Canada with the west coast by a transcontinental railway. During the exploration and building of the railway over the Rocky Mountains, the discovery of several mineral hot springs in Banff, prompted applications for private ownership of the springs. The federal government rejected the application and instead created a reserve around the hot springs. In November 1885 the first national park, the Banff National Park was created. Throughout its history, national parks were not always protected, logging, mining and development were still allowed. Between 1960-1985 saw policies for preservation and protection of national parks. In 2001, the Canada National Parks Act passed requiring a cap on commercial development in parks and required the legal designation of wilderness areas in national parks. In 2002, Parliament passed the Canada National Marine Conservation areas Act that further provided protections to marine areas.

Today, there are more than 40 national parks and national park reserves in Canada.

Yoho National Park and The Burgess Shale


Yoho National Park is the second oldest National Park in Canada. It was declared as a National Park in 1886 after a visit by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald who arrived on the Transcontinental Railway. The Group of Seven founder, Lawren Harris’ painting, “Mountain Forms” inspired by the spiralling mountain backdrop of Yoho National Park recently sold for a record $11.21M at auction. Within the park, the Burgess Shale was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. The Burgess Shale is one of the world’s most significant fossil sites preserving soft bodied animals from over half a billion years ago.


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To explore the history and science of the Burgess Shale go to:



Glacier National Park


Glacier National Park lies within the Columbia Mountains between Golden and Revelstoke. It was established in 1886 and drew visitors to take the railroad to view the scenery of steep mountainous terrain, valleys, glaciers and waterfalls. Glacier National Parks has one of Canada’s most extensive cave systems, the Nakimu Caves. This park is closely tied to two historical Canadian transportation routes, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans – Canada Railway. The famous Roger’s Pass, located in the heart of the park, was used as a shortcut for both the Trans – Canada and Canadian Pacific Railways, and is also considered a National Historic Site of Canada.


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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve


Canada’s oldest national park reserve, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, is located on the South west coast of Vancouver Island. It includes Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail. The park was established in 1970 as the first national park reserve. The Pacific Rim National Park has a rich history of First Nations peoples settlement from thousands of years ago. The northern area of Long Beach is the most popular. It is easily accessible by road. Long Beach has 11 kilometres of beach providing an opportunity to explore the different areas of the marine park including the ocean, intertidal, beach and forest. The Broken Group Islands consists of more than 100 islands. This part of the coastline is known as Graveyard of the Pacific because storms, fog and strong currents have sunk many ships. The West Coast Trail is a world-class 75-kilometre hiking trail, which traverses through some of the most pristine west coast old growth forests to the rugged waves of the open Pacific. Access to the trail is through reservation.


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National parks not only preserve natural history but cultural history. The parks such as Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage site also give us a glimpse into the environment and homes of First Nations peoples, their culture and their art. Our nation’s spectacular national parks inspire our young and old to preserve and protect our natural wilderness. It reminds us of the importance of co-existence with our natural environment. Let’s ensure future generations enjoy and protect our nation’s natural heritage.

National parks are such a great place to explore and learn. Now more than ever, you should visit BC’s national parks because through Canada 150, you can get a free pass to visit our National Parks, Historical Sites and Marine Conservation areas all year! So go out and learn about Canada’s natural history!

Get your free pass:




Kraus, J.A. and McNamee, Kevin. The National Parks of Canada. Key Porter Books Limited, 2004.

Lothian, W.F. A Brief History of Canada’s National Parks. Minister of the Environment, 1987.

Maybank, Blake and Mertz, Peter. The National Parks and Other Wild Places of Canada. Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 2001.

Photo Credits

Passenger Train – Yoho National Park Archives.


Burgess Shale – Niddrie, John, Parks Canada.