Doggin’ Five Great Canadian National Parks

Why are dogs not allowed much past the parking lot in our national parks? We have all heard the common refrains - dogs will bother the people, dogs will scare the wildlife, it is not safe for dogs. Canadian national parks attract just as many visitors - Banff and Jasper count theirs in the millions - and support just as much wildlife as their American counterparts. Yet dogs are allowed nearly everywhere in Canadian national parks. So let’s slip over the border to visit 5 great Canadian parks:

1. Banff National Park Banff, Alberta
In the fall of 1883, three Canadian Pacific Railway construction workers stumbled across a cave containing hot springs on at the foot of Sulphur Mountain, known today as the Cave and Basin. Almost immediately the area was protected as a federal reserve and in 1887 “Rocky Mountains Park” was increased to 673 square kilometers to become Canada’s first national park and the world’s third. A town was built to entice tourists to the area and named Banff after “Banffshire,” a village in Scotland that was the birthplace of two Canadian Pacific Railway officals.

Banff National Park is a hiking wonderland, containing over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of trails, more than any other mountain park. Your dog’s list of favorites will include...

Fairview Mountain Lookout Trail. This healthy climb up a forested trail with a steep descent to the South shore of fabled Lake Louise is a good trail to get away from the crush of people you will find in the parking lot. This wide and soft dirt trail narrows as it jaunts along the lake with excellent water access for your dog.
Johnston Canyon. This popular tourist walk is paved over early sections with boardwalks clinging to canyon walls; it leads to Lower Falls and Upper Falls and can go further up Johnston Creek into woodlands and meadows.
* Moraine Lakeshore. An easy, flat walk along the north shore of Moraine Lake stares into of the Valley of Ten Peaks. The trail stays right on water most of the way. You can also take the dog on the Rockpile with large boulders to scramble on at east end of lake.
* Mistaya Canyon. This short paved descent into a limestone gorge sculpted by rushing meltwaters of Mistaya River is worth having to navigate your dog through the tourists.
* Parker Ridge. This is a steep, open climb through rocky tundra that switches 800 feet up the mountain to a treeless ridge with spectacular views of Saskatchewan Glacier. The rocks scattered along the trail contain fossil corals indicative of an ancient seabed.
*Sunshine Meadows. This is a ski area accessed by shuttle bus. You can walk your dog up the road to the ski lodge and pick up the trails from there. Save this effort for athletic dogs ready for a long, rewarding day on the trail. These trails skip over ridges of the Great Divide, completely above the treeline with flower-filled meadows, eventually leading to Rock Isle Lake and loops around for a trip of several miles.

2. Jasper National Park Jasper, Alberta
Fur trader David Thompson explored the Athabasca Pass in 1811 and helped establish Canada's first transcontinental route. The park began in 1907 as Jasper Forest Park, named for longtime trading post clerk Jasper Hawes. In 1930, with the passage of the National Parks Act, Jasper became an official national park. It is the largest of Canada's four Rocky Mountain national parks - there are 660 miles of trails in more than 400 square miles. Located on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide, the landscape is characterized by plunging valleys, deep forests and broad alpine meadows.

Dogs are allowed throughout this magnificent park - even crowded trails, such as the dirt Maligne Canyon footpath up the limestone gorge carved by the Maligne River. Canine hikers can bypass the multitudes by crossing the gorge on roads at either end and using an unblazed trail on the opposite side.

Mountain climbing dogs will pant over Whistlers Trail, a steep and narrow route that gains 4,000 feet in elevation to unobstructed views of the Miette Valley and Athabasca Valley high above the treeline. Near the town of Jasper is an extensive trail system leading to Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake; a wide climb from the back of the town leads to overlooks from Pyramid Bench, and another convenient canine hike is the Valley of Five Lakes. After walking through a lodgepole pine forest and across a boardwalk through Wabasso Creek wetlands, this trail loops around a series of secluded bluegreen lakes, each a different depth and hue.

South of the park, and on the road to Banff, is Athabasca Glacier, the most accessible glacier in North America. A short, barren walk on the Forefield Trailwill take you and your dog to the toe of the glacier in the Columbia Icefield. The Columbia Icefield is the hydographic apex of the continent where water flows to three different oceans from a single point.

3. Cape Breton Highlands National Park Ignonish Beach, Nova Scotia
Stretching from coast-to-coast across the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, the national park embraces 366 square miles of highland wilderness and dramtaic coastlines. Cape Breton Highlands is known for its scenic kinship with the coastal regions of Scotland. The Cabot Trail, one of the world's great driving roads, tickles the edges of the park from the eastern shore to the western sea and travels along the picturesque Margaree Valley in the south. When the Canadian government decided to establish the first national park in the Atlantic provinces, Cape Breton Highlands was a natural choice.

Canine hikers accustomed to the restrictive policies of American national parks will encounter a dog-friendly paradise at Cape Breton Highlands. Of the 26 marked and named hiking trails in the park only one, the Skyline Trail, is off-limits to dogs. (This trail, restricted due to heavy concentration of moose, is a flat two-mile walk to exposed headland cliffs and well-worth giving the dog a rest in the car in the normally cool weather). Some of the highlights include:

L'Acadien Trail. The marquee trail of the park's west side, the 6-mile loop climbs steadily beside the Robert Brook to an elevation over 1,000 feet and a windswept landscape of stunted trees and panoramic views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence coast to the west and the highlands to the east.
Bog Trail. A chance to stop and experience the interior plateau of the park, this trail is a half-mile boardwalk around a nutrient-starved alpine bog where specialized plants, including several carniverous ones, have adapted to a hostile life.
Lone Shieling. This is a quiet half-mile descent into a 300-year old hardwood forest where more than 90% of the trees are vibrant sugar maples. Highlights include a replica of a Scottish sheep-crofter's hut and a rushing stream that makes an excellent doggie whirlpool.
Coastal. A short wooded hike leads to a generally deserted sandy beach for good Atlantic Ocean dog swimming (dogs are not allowed at the main swimming beach in Cape Breton Highlands National Park) and then heads along the coast for three miles. A good place to turn around on this linear trek is a large beach covered with smooth, egg-shaped cobbles.
Jack Pine. This 1.7-mile loop travels through a forest of pioneering jack pinesthat grow tenaciously on the hard rocky surface and pops out onto the rocky Atlantic coast with several dramatic blowholes.
Franey. One of the star trails on Cape Breton, the Franey trail climbs 366 meters (almost 1200 feet) in 3 kilometers, ending on rocky summits with the best overlooks of the Atlantic Ocean, Middle Head and Ignonish Beach. The descnet is totally on an old access road and uninspiring in comparison.
Middle Head. An easy-walking 2.5-mile loop leads out into the Atlantic Ocean where spruce woodlands give way to grassy headlands. You'll get surf and mountain views on both sides of the loop. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is home to the Highland Links, a masterpiece by legendary course designer Stanley Thompson. He called this 1939 creation his "mountains and ocean course" and is currently ranked the top golf course in Canada and the 69th top course in the world. Since it is in the national park, the same rules apply for the golf course as the hiking trails and your dog is welcome to join your foursome as you play.

4. Fundy National Park Moncton, New Brunswick
Fundy National Park was created to protect an 80-square mile swath of the Maritime Acadian Highlands. This is an area where the deep green forests of the Caledonia Highlands sweep across a rolling plateau to reach the highest tides in the world at the Bay of Fundy. You can watch the water level change as much as 40 feet between low and high tides.

Fundy National Park features 25 dog-friendly trails, most of which are quite sporty. The trails are broken out for canine hikers by the natural features they highlight: coastal trails, waterfall trails, river valleys, forest trails and lake trails. Only a handful are loop trails, although there are many combinations to be formed to create ambitious loops. The Fundy Circuit links seven hiking trails and covers 30 miles, including four campsites.

While the big attraction of Fundy is its great tides, most of the trails offer only sporadic views of the famous bay. Some of the best come on the Matthews Head Trail, a 4.5-kilometer loop that begins and ends in open meadow and in between dips into thick red spruce forests. Nearby is the eerie Devil's Half Acreloop. Its dark mossy crevasses, nooks and crannies are the park's best testament to the region's ultra-moist climate.

Away from the coast, fast-flowing streams have been busy cutting valleys and canyons through the plateau. Look for hardy climbs through hardwood and spruce forests here. Wooden steps have been added on several trails to help out. One, the Dickson Falls Loop, is completely built on boardwalk from the top of the falls into a valley cooled by cascading water.

Several beaches are accessible from the trails to experience the phenomenal tides of the Bay of Fundy. The Point Wolfe Beach Trail is a short descent to a long beach (at low tide) where your dog can frolic in the receding (or oncoming) waves.

5. Forillon National Park Gaspe, Quebec
Jacques Cartier sailed along the snakehead-shaped Gaspé Peninsula in 1534 to claim the territory for France. Named for the Mi’kmaq Indian word meaning “land’s end,” the Appalachian Mountains tumble into the sea in Forillon National Park on the peninsula’s northeast tip.

Dogs are welcome on all nine trails across Forillon’s 95 square miles. The marquee trail is Les Graves Trail, a linear route that can be accessed by car at several points along its 8.9 kilometers. It bounds along Gaspe Bay through light forests and meadows; drops onto sandy beach coves for canine swimming; and passes through Grande-Grove National Historic Site where the homestead of generations of fisherman-farmers is preserved. The trail also tracks through two historic cemeteries.

Les Graves Trail then climbs into the thick forest and finishes up on the last steps of the International Appalachian Trail that ends (or begins) its 4,555-kilometer journey at the very tip of Cap-Gaspé after beginning in Georgia. At the very end of Les Graves Trail another trail leads downhill for a kilometer to a small observation deck where you can see the very end of the Appalachian Mountains as the world’s oldest mountain range cascades beneath the sea. In the waters off-shore you and your dog can watch some of the seven species of whales that haunt the region and maybe spy a harbor seal on the rocks.

The Mont-Saint Alban Trail visits both sides of the peninsula in its 8.5-kilometer loop (“boucle” in French) and passes an 80-foot high observation tower. The tower, whose wide steps can be climbed by a dog, overlooks the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a 360-degree view. Although named for the waterfall traversed top and bottom by the trail boardwalk, La Chute Trail is actually worth a visit more for its maple forest than the tumbling waters.