Getting your hands on a 2017 Parks Canada Discovery Pass is free and easy. Now, what to do with it?
More than six million online orders have already been placed for the 2017 Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which costs nothing (as opposed to the usual $136.40), thanks to Canada 150 celebrations. (If you don't have yours, you can also pick one up at CIBC branches, Mountain Equipment Co-op stores, Parks Canada offices and dozens of other locations across the country.)
The no-charge access to 148 national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites comes in the midst of a five-year, $3-billion spending spree on Parks Canada services and facilities. At the same time, third-party organizations and businesses are unveiling everything from guided crevasse tours and expedition cruises to luxurious cabins and interactive art installations.
So if you're wondering what to do with that little green piece of plastic, read on. (More information can be found at pc.gc.ca unless otherwise noted.)
BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALTA.
The bison are back: The reintroduction of 16 plains bison to the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies made headlines in February, and in May, the first calves are slated to be born to the herd. Starting from the Lake Minnewanka trailhead, the best way for experienced hikers and horseback riders to check out the fenced paddock in the remote Panther Valley is to trek or trot about 25 kilometres north along the Cascade River, and then follow the Panther River northeast for about 15 km. For detailed route and camping information, call the Banff Visitor Centre at 403-762-1550; banfflakelouise.com
Banff Commonwealth Walkway: To (belatedly) celebrate the 90th birthday of the Queen in conjunction with Canada 150, the Office of the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta plans to unveil a 10-km walking trail in and around the Banff townsite in September. Lined with bilingual bronze plaques denoting various points of interest, the walkway is slated to connect downtown Banff with the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and the Fairmont Banff Springs resort.
Banff Gondola: A $27-million renovation of the gondola station atop 2,281-metre Sulphur Mountain has yielded three new dining options, an ecology-themed interactive exhibit, a 40-seat multimedia cinema and a larger rooftop observation deck; brewster.ca.
Elk + Avenue Hotel: The former Banff International Hotel on the town's main drag has been transformed into a boutique lodge with 162 renovated guest rooms, a Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna; brewster.ca.
Bus boost: Free shuttle services from the Lake Louise Overflow parking area to Upper Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are being expanded. From May 19 to Sept. 10 and from Sept. 11 to Oct. 9, respectively, the two routes will run seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Shuttle services from the Banff townsite to Lake Minnewanka are also being extended from the May long weekend to mid-September.
PUKASKWA NATIONAL PARK, ONT.
The new Mdaabii Miikna Trail offers a 24-kilometre alternative to the Coastal Hiking Trail, which follows the wild north shore of Lake Superior and comprises 60 kilometres of the record-setting Trans Canada Trail.
'OUT OF THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE' EXPEDITION CRUISE
From Sept. 7 to 23, Parks Canada is partnering with tour operator Adventure Canada to offer the first-ever interpretive voyage to Nunavut's Wilmot and Crampton Bay, the final resting place of HMS Erebus, part of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845. A second cruise, "Greenland and Wild Labrador," will visit locations such as Torngat Mountains National Park and L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site from Sept. 23 to Oct. 7; adventurecanada.com.
GWAII HAANAS NATIONAL PARK RESERVE, B.C.
Five years after an earthquake stopped or slowed the 26 springs and seeps on Hotspring Island, a new warm-water experience is slated to open this summer. Steaming water will collect in two new pools, with an updated bathhouse allowing visitors to wash before entering.
FORT ANNE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, N.S.
As of June 22, Canada's first national historic site, in Annapolis Royal, N.S., is celebrating its centennial with new interpretive exhibits in the Officers' Quarters museum.
And, starting June 2, it will host live musical entertainment on the first Friday of each summer month.
This series of contemporary-art projects, assembled by a team of Canadian curators, artists and students from 16 universities, will debut in 20 national parks and historic sites on June 10 and run for 15 days. Michael Belmore's Coalescence, for instance, will feature a sculpture spanning four sites in Manitoba and Saskatchewan: the Forks in Winnipeg, the Prince of Wales Fort in Churchill, and Riding Mountain and Grasslands national parks; landmarks2017.ca
MOUNT REVELSTOKE NATIONAL PARK, B.C.
The Nels Knickers: This interactive exhibit along the Meadows in the Sky Parkway overlooking town celebrates Mount Revelstoke's ski-jumping history by letting visitors step into a pair of supportive metal pants and skis similar to those worn by multiple world-record holder Nels Nelsen as they lean out from the top of a long-decommissioned ski jump.
Beaver Lodge Kids Bike Park: Steps from the ski jump, young visitors can learn fun facts about local flora and fauna as they weave through whimsical obstacles.
KOUCHIBOUGUAC NATIONAL PARK, N.B.
Along with $4.2-million in various park upgrades, a new "Biologist for a Day" program will let visitors help protect and conserve endangered piping plovers, softshell clams and estuarine fish alongside the park's resource-conservation team.
JASPER NATIONAL PARK, ALTA.
Glacier Adventure: For the first time, visitors with no ice-climbing or mountaineering experience will be able to explore the crevasses and ice caves of the jaw-dropping Athabasca Glacier with a Rockaboo Mountain Adventures guide; rockaboo.ca.
Stanley Thompson Cabin: Six years after fire destroyed it in 2011, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge has rebuilt this luxurious four-bedroom chalet. It features a soaring stone fireplace, three decks and an open-concept kitchen and living room backing onto the first fairway of the 18-hole golf course designed by the cabin's namesake; fairmont.com/jasper.
PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK RESERVE, B.C.
Trekkers can check out the refurbished Kwisitis Visitor Centre at the tail end of one of Destination Canada's newest "Signature Experiences": A seven-day guided hike along the 76-kilometre West Coast Trail with Ecosummer Expeditions; ecosummer.com.
From April 22 in Banff to late September in Bruce Peninsula National Park, these 24 family-friendly events let participants team up with scientists to find and to catalogue as much wildlife as possible.
LEARN TO CAMP
Don't know your grommets from your guy lines? Parks Canada is expanding its "Learn to Camp" program to 19 parks and historic sites across the country. It features workshops on camping-related skills such as pitching tents and cooking outdoors. Registration starts May 1; pc.gc.ca/learntocamp.
Cocoon tree bed, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, N.S.: An orb-shaped tent suspended in the trees at Ingonish Beach; $70 a night.
Goutte d'Ô, Fundy National Park, N.B.: A tear-shaped hut for a couple or small family. There's a sofa bed on the main level and a hammock loft above; $70 a night from Aug. 1 to Oct. 10.
Double tent, Riding Mountain National Park, Man.: A tent for two, equipped with a bed, small table and chairs, is ensconced in a larger exterior tent that houses lounge chairs and a dining table; $55 a night.
Micro-Cube, Forillon National Park, Que., and Riding Mountain: These 107-square-foot shelters with panoramic windows house double beds and feature patios with chairs; $90 a night.
oTENTiks: Since opening its first tent-cabin hybrid in Jasper in 2012, Parks Canada has rolled out more than 250 oTENTiks across the country, with new sites including Alberta's Elk Island National Park, Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park and the Lachine Canal National Historic Site in Montreal.