Canadian National Parks are among the most affordable travel bargains on the market. The unspoiled splendor you'll find in places such as Banff National Park will add value to any budget trip. Admission charges are modest in comparison to the value offered.
At an average of about $7 per person, it is hard to imagine much more value. And as of January 2018, visitors under 17 are admitted for free.
The collection of parks along the border between British Columbia and Alberta receives the most attention, and there's strong justification for that popularity. Some of the world's most beautiful scenery exists in Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Glacier, and Kootenay national parks. Budget travel to that area is highly recommended. Banff is a 9-10 hour drive from Seattle.
But the Discovery Pass is good in all 147 national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas from coast to coast.
Within a Day's Drive of Boston: Fundy National Park
Fundy National Park claims to host the world's highest tides. Named for the famous Bay of Fundy, this park in New Brunswick is about an eight-hour drive from Boston (just less than 500 miles). Many consider it a must-see on any tour of Canada's Maritime Provinces. The drive from New York is about 12 hours.
The tidal conditions afford visitors a rare opportunity to explore sea life at low tide and then witness the covering of that sea bottom with about 50 feet of salt water at high tide. In addition, the 80-square-mile park is home to 25 waterfalls and the same number of hiking trails.
Fishing, golfing, tennis, and even lawn bowling are available activities at the park, which also hosts six mountain bike trails.
At the camp headquarters, you can rent a yurt with a bay view for $115 CAN/night. These tend to sell out quickly, so reserve well in advance when possible. Bring your own sheets, sleeping bags, and blankets. Other overnight park options range from about $16 CAN/night for a primitive campsite to $25 CAN/night for sites with adjacent water and toilet facilities.
The nearest town with accommodations is Alma, just beyond the eastern entrance to the park.
Within a Day's Drive of New York: La Mauricie National Park
In addition to the park's features, there are 13 historic sites within a short distance of La Mauricie, situated in the scenic Laurentian Mountains of Quebec.
Canoeing and camping are popular activities in summer, and snowshoeing on the Solitaire Lake Trail is a big draw in winter. Those in outstanding physical condition tackle the 17-kilometer Deux-Criques, which is probably the park's most challenging trail. Cross-country skiing is also popular here, with several trails that include both flat and downhill terrains.
Another outdoor adventure here is the Waber Falls expedition, which involves an entire day of canoeing, portaging, and hiking. Leave early in the morning and pack a lunch!
You can canoe to primitive campsites, or choose a site serviced with electricity and toilet facilities. Shawinigan, a city of 50,000 people, provides a selection of accommodations and dining. The city center is located just a few miles south of the park's Saint-Jean-des-Piles entrance.
Within a Short Drive of Detroit: Point Pelee National Park
Point Pelee is the southernmost place on the Canadian mainland, and it is only 40 miles from downtown Detroit. You can make the drive in about an hour.
This is a place where birdwatchers can log a host of sightings in the marsh areas, either from a rented canoe or kayak or from the park's marsh boardwalk. There is a fully equipped visitor center for orientation.
Guided marsh tours by canoe are conducted in summer, and walking tours focused on birding or wildflowers also are available at various times. Check on the tour schedule that will be available at the time of your visit.
Camping facilities are not available in the park. Leamington accommodations can be found a few miles from the park's northern boundary. Leamington also hosts a ferry service connecting with Pelee Island and Sandusky, Ohio.
Within a Short Drive of Seattle: Gulf Islands National Park
Gulf Islands National Park covers about 14 square miles, but that area is spread across 15 islands in British Columbia.
BC Ferries serves three of the largest islands (Mayne, Pender, and Saturna). Getting around is usually the biggest expense at this park, since many come for camping and hiking that otherwise involves few fees. Note that in addition to the ferries, there are charter boat services in the area.
Travel time from Seattle is about five hours, but the actual distance is only 164 miles. Delays at the border crossing account for some of that time.
Georgina Point, on Mayne Island, is a great place to watch for wildlife, including Orca whales and seals. On nearby Vancouver Island, visitors find the park's largest campground, and the charming town of Sidney, which is large enough to host accommodations.
During the summer months, some of the larger islands host interpretive programs that will introduce you to the ecosystem of the area.