Monthly Archives: August 2014

North American National Park #34: Kootenay, British Columbia

Posted by on August 31, 2014

North American National Park #34: Kootenay, British Columbia

North American National Park #34: Kootenay, British Columbia

Kootenay is adjacent to two other national parks: Banff (which borders to the east) and Yoho (which borders to the north). It is also a component of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As with Yoho, there is one primary highway which runs through the park, and everything you’d want to see is accessible from that road. It is larger than Yoho and as such there is more to see. The most notable attraction in the park are the Radium Hot Springs, from which the nearby town of Radium gets its name. Other stops worth taking some time to visit include Marble Canyon (shown above), Kootenay Valley Viewpoint, Numa Falls, and the Paint Pots.

Like Yoho, Kootenay can be visited on a day trip if you are in Banff as most of the attractions are located along Highway 93. If you wish to stay near the park, the closest town would be Radium, BC which is located right at the southern border of the park.

North American National Park #33: Yoho, British Columbia

Posted by on August 30, 2014

North American National Park #33: Yoho, British Columbia

North American National Park #33: Yoho, British Columbia

Yoho is just over the border from Banff National Park and borders Kootenay National Park on the south. It is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I’ve always wondered why the 4 adjoining national parks in the Canadian Rockies weren’t just one big park, or at least 2 parks with one in each province. It is all basically the same area in the same mountain range, the only difference being that 2 are in Alberta and 2 are in British Columbia.

Yoho is the smallest of the four adjoining parks in the Rocky Mountains and everything you can explore in the park without backcountry hiking is located off of TransCanada Highway 1 which goes through the park.

In my opinion, the two highlights of the park are Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls (shown above) which is one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada.

If you are staying in Banff, it is very easy to visit Yoho on a day trip. The highway running through the park is just north of Lake Louise. It is actually easier to access Yoho from Lake Louise than it is from the town of Golden, BC on the other side of the park.

Many people visiting the Canadian Rockies actually forget about Yoho and Kootenay, even though they are adjoining, and just focus on Banff and Jasper. It is worth taking a day to see Yoho as part of any trip to the region.

North American National Park #32: Nahanni, Northwest Territories

Posted by on August 29, 2014

North American National Park #32: Nahanni, Northwest Territories

North American National Park #32: Nahanni, Northwest Territories

Occasionally I visit places which are amazing, yet no one seems to know about. Places like Oman and South Georgia Island. I like to champion those places to get people more aware of them. I have another one to add to the list: Nahanni National Park.

I discussed some of the significance of Nahanni in my world heritage post (of which, Nahanni was one of the first world heritage sites on Earth), so here I’ll talk about the logistics of visiting.

Nahanni is not an easy park to get to. Despite how much it has to offer, it gets fewer than 1,000 visitors per year. This is because of its location in Northwest Territories and also because you cannot drive to the park. The only way into the park is to hike or take a floatplane. Most people will simply take a float plane tour, although many people also spend several days rafting down the Nahanni River. If I return to Nahanni I will definitely take a rafting trip. I flew into the park with Simpson Air.

Most floatplane trips depart from Fort Simpson, NWT and this is also the location of the park’s headquarters. To give you an idea of how remote the park is, even though Fort Simpson is the closest town to the park and the location of the headquarters, it is still over 50 miles away from the park boundary. There are also weekly flights to Nahanni from Muncho Lake, BC, which is a bit easier to drive to.

Nahanni is a very special place that more people should know about. It is truly one of the great national parks in the world. It is difficult to visit, but it only makes the reward of visiting that much greater.

North American National Park #31: Wood Buffalo, Alberta/Northwest Territories

Posted by on August 14, 2014

North American National Park #31: Wood Buffalo, Alberta/Northwest Territories

North American National Park #31: Wood Buffalo, Alberta/Northwest Territories

In addition to being a national park, Wood Buffalo is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At 44,801km2 it is the largest national park by area in North America and one of the largest in the world.

Getting to Wood Buffalo isn’t easy, but it isn’t terribly complicated either. The trick is getting to the park entrance which is located in the far, northeastern corner of the park in Fort Smith, NWT. To get there from the nearest international airport in Edmonton requires a day and a half of travel by car. There are flights to Fort Smith, but given the size of the community, the flights are expensive and not regular.

There are a few roads going into the park, but for the most part the park is wilderness area and difficult to reach. The best way to see the park would be to take an aerial tour. From the air you can see the vast expanse of the boreal forest and the countless ponds and lakes which dot the landscape. You also might be lucky and see some of the rare whooping cranes which nest in the park.

The namesake of the park, the wood buffalo (bison), can be found without too much difficulty. There is a large heard of them which can be seen regularly visiting a salt pan and you can often see them on the side of the road grazing.

Wood Buffalo is far out of the way, but is worth visiting. It is a wilderness on a scale that you may never experience in your life.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #276: Nahanni National Park

Posted by on August 12, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #276: Nahanni National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #276: Nahanni National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

Located in the south-west corner of Northwest Territories, along the course of the South Nahanni and Flat rivers, the park lies in a diverse mountainous area comprising mountain ranges, rolling hills, elevated plateaus, deep canyons and huge waterfalls, as well as a unique limestone cave system.

The dissected sandstone, shale and limestone mountains ranges in the east and central areas of the park sharply contrast the Ragged Range of harder igneous rocks in the park’s western extremity. The park encompasses parts of the Hyland Plateau, Selwyn Mountains, Liard Plateau, Mackenzie Plain and Mackenzie Mountains and a major part of the Nahanni River, one of North America’s finest wild rivers.

In the valley below the Ragged Range, tufa mounds known as the Rabbitkettle Hotspring, rise in a succession of terraces to a height of 30 m. Other features of the area include three major canyons; Virginia Falls; extensive karst terrain with a complex underground river system, caves, labyrinths, closed canyons and sinkholes; wind eroded sandstone landforms known as the Sand Blowouts; and large areas that have remained unglaciated for up to 300,000 years.

The park contains transitional and vegetation types of two major biomes: Nearctic boreal forest; and Nearctic alpine tundra. All stages of boreal forest occur, from recent burns to mature spruce forests, and with associated variations on wet, mesic and dry habitats. Densely growing white spruce and poplar dominate valley bottoms. At higher altitudes and on the northern slopes, black spruce is more prominent. An area of spruce-larch/lichen taiga with several orchid species is present near Virginia Falls. Alpine tundra characterized by sedges, lichens, grasses and shrubs occurs on the higher mountains of the Tlogotsho, Headless and Funeral ranges. Wild mint, golden rod, yellow monkey-flower and aster are among the many flowering plants that grow in abundance near mineral springs in the vicinity of Flat River. Almost 600 species of vascular plant and 325 species of bryophyte have been identified in Nahanni.

40 species of mammal, including grey wolf, grizzly bear, black bear, woodland caribou, moose, white-tailed deer, mountain goat, Dall’s sheep and beaver are present. A total of 170 species of bird in 29 families have been observed including peregrine falcon, golden eagle, trumpeter swan and bald eagle. Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout occur in the streams that flow into the Nahanni and Flat rivers.

Nahanni National Park was one of the inaugural 12 world heritage sites listed in 1978. Other sites in that initial group of twelve include the Galapagos Islands, Yellowstone National Park, Goree Island, Cracow’s Historic Centre, the Aachen Cathedral, the City of Quito, the Wieliczka Salt Mine, L’Anse aux Meadows, and Mesa Verde.

Given its status as one of the first dozen world heritage sites I had high expectations for the park. It did not disappoint.

Nahanni should be considered on the same level as other first tier national parks in the world. As one former Nahanni park superintendent said, “it has elements of Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon all in one park.”

The signature image of the park and the main attraction is Virginia Falls (shown above). This waterfall is twice the height of Niagara Falls and it one of the most significant waterfalls in the world. The World Waterfall Database lists it as the #6 waterfall in the world and the highest rated in North America. The average volume of water which comes over the falls in on a par with Victoria Falls in Africa.

If there was nothing in Nahanni but a giant waterfall, it would still probably be enough to warrant its listing as a World Heritag Site. However, the park itself is enormous and has so much more. Wikipedia lists it as the 25th largest protected area in the world.

The mountains are rugged and stunning. There are dozens of deep blue glacial lakes all over the park. The Ram River gorge is on a par with some of the most stunning canyons I’ve seen anywhere.

The reason you haven’t heard more about this park is quite simple: The only way to enter the park is by float plane and it gets fewer than 1,000 visitors per year.

Make no mistake, this is one of the great national parks of North America. If you frequent national parks in the US and Canada, Nahanni has to be on your list.