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The salmon-focused excursion through the crystal-clear Bedwell River is one of the headlining experiences offered at Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, on Vancouver Island.Courtesy of Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge

If the pandemic has taught us anything about travel, it’s that you don’t have to go far to find transformational experiences. Amid the old-growth forests, glacier-fed rivers, and coastal parks in our own backyard, uniquely Canadian adventures are changing the way people experience – and help preserve – cherished places close to home.

Indeed, sustainable travel is more nuanced than simply buying a carbon offset for your flight or ditching plastic water bottles. It’s also about protecting cultural heritage and supporting local communities. As travellers plan their late summer and fall getaways, immersive nature escapes are still top of mind. Here are a few, led by a new vanguard of interpretive guides, that could leave lasting impressions.

Learn about the return of bison in Alberta

This summer, Elk Island National Park near Edmonton is offering free Bison Backstage tours on weekends.Robin Laurenson

After being hunted to near-extinction by colonial settlers in the 19th century, free-roaming bison are making a triumphant return to Alberta’s plains, marking an important step in Indigenous reconciliation. This summer, Elk Island National Park near Edmonton is offering free Bison Backstage tours on weekends, which cover the park’s role in conservation. For a deeper dive into the animal’s cultural significance, travellers can look forward to meeting a new herd at the cultural interpretation centre Métis Crossing, located a 35-minute drive north of the park. With bison set to be released across several paddocks in September, the new Vision Hopes and Dreams at Metis Crossing Wildlife Park will host in-depth tours to share the story of how the buffalo hunt shaped the growth of the Métis Nation, and how restoring bison populations is foundational to their future.

“Métis people lived in collaboration with the land. We harvested what the land could provide us. So what we’re trying to do at Métis Crossing is to re-establish that circular economy,” says Juanita Marois, executive director of the cultural centre.

Part of this will be realized through their new 40-room lodge, opening in the fall, which was designed in partnership with Métis architect Tiffany Shaw-Collinge and GenMec ACL. The building includes eco-minded features – including swales to catch rain for dragonfly habitats, and foraging gardens – while guestrooms will feature works from Métis artists and handmade quilts from the New Dawn Métis Women’s Society. The property will be a year-round destination – winter guests can enjoy snowshoeing, Indigenous storytelling through the stars, new cross-country ski trails developed by Olympic skier Beckie Scott’s charitable organization Spirit North, and hearty bowls of Métis stew made with the buffalo raised on-site.

Snorkel with salmon in British Columbia

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge's canyoning experience includes the opportunity to snorkel with salmon.Courtesy of Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge

September is one of the best months to see the salmon run on Vancouver Island. And what better way to appreciate the elusive fish’s epic journey than by canyoning upstream to snorkel with them underwater? The salmon-focused excursion through the crystal-clear Bedwell River is one of the headlining experiences offered at Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, a luxury tented safari resort located within the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region. Contributing to conservation, the 25-tent property has joined the Bedwell River Restoration Project and is working closely with the Ahousaht First Nation community in a bid to preserve the region’s declining wild salmon population.

“As the rains start to return this fall, we’ll see these incredible fish come back to our river and breed, with their young being able to spend their first year of life growing and thriving in these local rivers,” says Sarah Cruse, general manager of Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge. “We believe there’s no better way to inspire change and conservation than by offering a firsthand experience of these projects in action, and a demonstration of the results.”

For those looking to go salmon snorkelling sans guide, dive shops in Victoria, Nanaimo and Campbell River, including Oceanfix.ca Dive Centre, offer gear rentals and maps with entry and exit points.

Go foraging in Newfoundland

It’s no surprise berry-picking and jam-making workshops are among the most popular fall activities at the 29-room Fogo Island Inn. From Sept. 1 to Oct. 31, Newfoundland becomes carpeted in partridgeberries, blueberries, raspberries and marshberries, which are readily harvested by travellers and locals alike.

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of residents rekindling East Coast foraging traditions as a means of food security, says Katherine Flores. She and her partner Brian Boukhout regularly lead foraging workshops with Western Environment Centre of Newfoundland, a non-profit environmental organization in western Newfoundland. Beach peas and fleshy greens such as saltbush and oyster leaf are just a few of the delicacies participants can find along the shores of Bottle Cove in the summer. Later in the fall, the NL Mushroom Foray’s Funghi Series attracts foraging fanatics from around the world.

“Once you realize that all these tasty treats – some of which are nutritious staple foods – grow nearby, you want to keep those lands safe and clean,” Boukhout says.

Central to every session is a focus on foraging responsibly: only picking what you can identify, treading lightly on fragile ecosystems, and never taking more than you need. For today’s nature-loving traveller, that knowledge ­– including a heightened appreciation for our national lands – could be the best souvenir yet.

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