natural wonders canada

25 epic natural wonders to explore that are close to major cities in Canada

Unfortunately, having the chance to experience the natural beauty of the country firsthand isn't always a reality for the more than 80 per cent of Canadians that live in cities.

But, there are still a number of remote, idyllic spots that make ideal day trips from Canada's major cities — these ones are accessible within just two hours of nearby city centres.

Scarborough Bluffs (Toronto)

With eleven parks along 15 km of lake frontage complete with sandy beaches, endless paths, and cliffs that provide spectacular views (don't get too close to the edge, though), the Scarborough Bluffs are a perfect place to get out of the city without actually having to get out of the city.

Niagara Falls (Toronto)

Niagara Falls is probably the most impressive (not to mention well-known) natural wonder in Ontario, if not Canada. And, they're only a short drive from Toronto.

When you're done watching the falls themselves, hit up one of the countless bars, restaurants, museums, casinos, or other tourist attractions in the area for the perfect Ontario stay-cation.

Mono Cliffs Provincial Park (Toronto)

Located on the 900 km long Bruce Trail — which is the longest and oldest marked trail in the country —  Mono Cliffs Provincial Park can be found just north of Orangeville. The forested zone offers a number of hikes to picnic areas and vantage points that are especially beautiful in the fall.

Webster's Falls (Toronto)

A part of the Spencer Gorge Conservation Area, which also boasts the breathtaking views from Dundas Peak, Webster's Falls is one of the best and most-visited waterfalls in an part of Ontario beloved for its waterfalls. An added perk is that its only a short hike or drive to a number of other wonders in the region, such as Tew's Falls.

Dundas Peak (Toronto)

Dundas Peak offers what are arguably some of the best views in Ontario. The forested hike in is fairly short and easy, and is itself quite gorgeous — but, it's the final result that makes this little trek worth it: standing at the edge of a boulder overlooking southern Ontario..

Cheltenham Badlands (Toronto)

Though these badlands reside just southwest of Caledon, they feel like they're part of another planet. Mounds of red shale rock span to the horizon, in between trails that snake and follow what was once a riverbed.

The feature, owned by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, is a result of erosion from poor farming practices. But, further erosion could also destroy it, so visitors are asked to keep to marked boardwalks and trails to preserve the area's geological integrity.

Polly's Cove (Halifax)

The fact that Polly's Cove isn't the most famous cove near Halifax is probably a good thing for visitors, who can explore the rocky coast and catch a view of the more touristy Peggy's Cove while still enjoying some peace and quiet.

Medford Beach (Halifax)

This unique beach near Halifax is not yet a massive destination, but it should be. Ever-changing red sandstacks, which look like some bizarre feature of bars, make for a pretty magnificent view across the water. And, during low tides, you can actually walk out on the ocean floor to see them up-close.

Montmorency Falls (Quebec City)

These falls — taller than Niagara Falls, at 83 m — are not only undeniably vast and scenic, but are also surrounded by a park that features a suspended bridge, a restaurant and gift shop, a double zipline and a 487-step staircase to the falls' bottom.

Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier (Quebec City)

This remarkable national park full of thick forests, glacial valleys and voracious rivers offers some Canadian wilderness realness, yet is somehow only a 30-minute drive outside of Quebec City.

Hike on its more than 100 km of trails, kayak fiercely or inner tube lazily down the Jacques-Cartier River or toboggan and skate in winter; the options for outdoorsy things to do are endless.

St-Ursule Falls (Montreal)

This waterfall is not in fact one, but seven waterfalls that stem from the Maskinongé River. The locale features tons of hiking, a beach, playgrounds, camps, lodging and more for the ultimate weekend getaway.

Gatineau Park waterfall (Ottawa)

Nestled in a park with nearly 200 km of seasonal trails and attractions, as well as year-round camping, this bridal veil-style waterfall in Gatineau Park is just one of a number of attractions to see in this spot a short drive from Ottawa — only 20 minutes over the Quebec border.

Meech Lake Falls (Ottawa)

Though these falls are nowhere near the largest or strongest in the country, its the history of the site where they're found that makes them one of the most interesting.

The Meech River runs next to an old ruin of the Carbide Willson Mill, which was the summer home and laboratory of a local scientist and inventor who conducted his work in the forest of Gatineau Park for fear, it is rumoured, of the prying eyes of his competitors.

Rats Nest Cave (Calgary)

This cave is the longest in Canada, and something straight out of a horror movie for those of us with a fear of the dark and/or small spaces (or anyone who's seen The Descent).

Visitors can book multi-hour-long tours out of nearby Canmore to explore, rappel and learn the history of the cave.

Mountains of Kananaskis (Calgary)

This range in the Canadian Rockies includes more than a dozen mountains named after historical figures and battle ships. The region has nine provincial parks protected in the name of wildlife and ecosystem conservation, as well more than 50 recreational areas and an ecological reserve. Climb, hike or camp 4,200 km² of unspoiled land with sublime mountain views.

Drumheller (Calgary)

Travel back to the Jurassic Period at these prehistoric badlands — and major tourist destination — found 110 km north of Calgary. Visit Canada's largest collection of dinosaur fossils or hop in the mouth of the "world's largest dinosaur" amid scenery that will remind you of the wild wild west (and dinosaurs, too).

Moraine Lake/Banff National Park (Calgary)

At more than 6,500 km², the awe-inspiring Banff National Park can be a lot to take on with all that it offers: mountains, lakes, hotsprings, skiing, hiking, mountain biking and basically every other activity you can imagine. 

Moraine Lake is one of the park's most picturesque lakes, with perfectly turquoise-hued waters sitting between towering mountain ranges.

Abraham Lake (Calgary)

Abraham Lake would be comparable to the rest of the Calgary area's beautiful glacial lakes, save for its one very distinctive feature: the pockets of methane that bubble up from the lake's floor and freeze in unreal patterns on its icy surface in winter.

This phenomenon isn't great for global warming, but definitely makes the lake one of the most photogenic in Canada.

Spirit Sands/Spruce Woods Provincial Park (Winnipeg)

As the only sand dunes in the province of Manitoba, Spirit Sands are an extraordinary geographical feature found in the Spruce Woods Provincial Park, west of Winnipeg.

The sands — which only cover four km² — are straddled between the Assiniboine River and the boreal forest, and receive enough rainfall to have a rich ecosystem of plants not usually found in desert environments.

Caddy Lake Cave (Winnipeg)

Canoeing on a lake is nothing out of the ordinary in Canada, but there aren't many waterway routes that involve trekking through multiple rocky tunnels. For this reason, the aptly-named Caddy Cave Lake definitely makes for a very special paddle and portage.

Elk Island National Park (Edmonton)

One of the best places to catch a clear view of the night sky — and maybe even some Northern Lights — is this small national park just a 35-minute drive from Edmonton. With arresting views of nature that may include a bison sighting, Elk Island is a must-see.

Howe Sound (Vancouver)

This exceptional ocean inlet near West Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast has been a site for the Squamish and Shishalh peoples for generations, and is still used by local Indigenous groups for cultural practices.

The sound itself faces out to Vancouver Island and the many small isles that surround it, all of which make up a region known to be a recreational hub, with sailing, camping, diving and more.

Brandywine Falls (Vancouver)

The namesake of the provincial park in which they're located, Brandywine Falls are a landmark on the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler. There is ample hiking and picnicking near the 70m waterfall; also caves, train tracks, a covered wooden bridge and platform with a view of nearby Daisy Lake to explore.

Chief Overlook Viewing Platform (Vancouver)

For adventurers who have the stomach for heights, this viewing platform hangs out over a steep drop of hundreds of metres above Howe Sound. The vantage point, with its spectacular panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies, is one of three accessed from the Sea-t0-Sky Gondola and its adjoining trails.

Chilliwack Cranberry Fields (Vancouver)

The innovative way that cranberries are harvested outside of Vancouver means that kilometres of lands surrounding the Chilliwack region are flooded — literally — with the bright red fruit.

Local farmers "wet harvest" the berries by pumping water into the fields they grow in and loosening the berries from the vines until they float. The process makes for a sight unlike any other.

Lead photo by

Ferit Onurlu


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