Top 5 Destination To Explore In Canada's Maritime Province
Canada’s easterly provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador are abundant with natural wonders and opportunities to see wildlife. If you love the great outdoors and want to watch whales up close, there’s no better place to do so than Maritime Canada.
Here, travelers can walk in the footsteps of Vikings at Gros Morne National Park, admire the Hitchcockian wonder of Bonaventure Island Bird Sanctuary, picnic next to the monoliths of the Mingan Archipelago, and catch a rare sighting of endangered beluga whales as they cruise between chiseled fjords in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The region’s many National and Marine parks offer opportunities to experience Maritime Canada’s magical, otherworldly beauty, much of which was generated over millions of years of glacial activity. Here’s a look at a few of our favorites…
1) Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland & Labrador)
Situated on the western coast of Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park provides a unique opportunity to walk on what used to be Earth’s mantle around 450 million years ago.
Known as the Tablelands, the area was once located thousands of miles below the planet’s surface. Glacial action has resulted in spectacular scenery comprised of fjords, valleys, pristine lakes, and thunderous waterfalls. But Tablelands also remains starkly different from other national parks in Maritime Canada, with chalky red rocks.
The National Park, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the famed Viking Trail, where you can travel the path of the island’s first explorers. And if you’ve ever wanted to see a moose up close, you’re in the right place: Gros Morne has one of the highest concentrations of moose in the world.
There are also numerous other wildlife species to be found there, including caribou, red fox, and Arctic hare. Humpback, pilot, fin, and minke whales are often seen in the waters just offshore.
2) L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (Newfoundland & Labrador)
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site is located at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland. The park contains the remains of a 11th Century Viking settlement, which represents the earliest evidence of European presence in North America.
This archaeological site, which earned UNESCO World Heritage protection in 1978, consists of eight timber-framed turf structures overlooking a peat bog and a small brook, right near the shore of Epaves Bay in the Strait of Belle Isle.
The structures include three dwellings, one forge, and four workshops, which were built in the same Norse style as those found in Iceland and Greenland from the same time period. Evidence shows that the workshops were used for iron production, woodworking, and ship repair, which was performed by the seafaring Viking warriors.
If you have the chance, take a guided tour of the recreated base camp (replete with original artifacts) with a costumed Viking interpreter.
3) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve (Quebec)
The Mingan Archipelago, which is located east of Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has the largest concentration of erosion monoliths in Canada. The chain of 40 main islands, islets, and primeval limestone monoliths are protected as the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve.
This timeless wonder boasts dramatic cliffs, arches, and grottoes, which are best experienced by boat. The reserve’s nature trails provide opportunities to admire the flora, fauna, and monoliths up close.
Springtime brings birds of prey and marine birds to the islands, with the largest concentration of terns and common eiders in the Gulf. The birds nest along the rocky cliffs, finding safety on the island and feeding on the bountiful food supply in the surrounding waters.
Whales, dolphins, and seals can often be seen foraging in the deep blue waters offshore. Take a sea kayaking excursion or go stand-up paddle boarding if you want to experience these frolicking cetaceans up close.
4) Gaspé Peninsula (Quebec)
Located along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, the Gaspé Peninsula was where French mariner Jacques Cartier landed in 1534, becoming the first European to “discover” Canada. This windswept land is enchanted with pine forests, beaches overshadowed by towering cliffs, lighthouses, and colorful cottages.
The town of Percé is known for the imposing Percé Rock, a limestone sea stack with steep rock faces and a large arch, which is considered one of the world's largest natural arches located in water. You can walk right up to the rock at low tide.
Next to the rock is Bonaventure Island, and together they form Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock National Park. Bonaventure is home to approximately 300 species of birds, including common murres, black-legged kittiwakes, and a large colony of northern gannets.
This area can get bitterly cold during winter. But during the warmer months, the peninsula is ideal for hiking, bird-watching, biking, salmon fishing, and whale watching.
5) Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park (Quebec)
The fjord of Saguenay offers some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll find on the east coast of North America.
You’ll be surrounded by steep cliffs reaching up to 1,000 feet. The deep waters here attract migrating whales between the months of May and October, especially endangered beluga whales.
The Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park (one of only four marine conservation areas in Canada) was created in 1998 to protect the beluga whale’s habitat. Situated where the Saguenay River meets the St. Lawrence River, the park is a haven for marine animals that come to feed and nurse their babies in the nutrient-rich waters.
If you visit, a boat tour of the area is a must. But also keep a lookout for minke, fin, and humpback whales, porpoises, seals, and sea birds when you’re on the shore. –Lavanya Sunkara
BIO: Lavanya Sunkara is a New York based writer, animal lover, and globetrotter. Her passion for nature and adventure has taken her all over the globe. She cherishes sharing her experiences and being a voice for the voiceless. Follow her adventures on her blog, Nature Traveler.
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