The world over, Canada has long been recognized as a beautiful country. We are now being recognized for our commitment to the environment. Canada leads the world with five of the Top 10 places in a National Geographic environmental stewardship survey of favorite places to visit.
The National Geographic Society surveyed 200 conservationists, ecologists, geographers, tourism consultants, and tourism professionals and asked them to rate their favorite tourist destinations. Rankings were based on environmental and ecological quality, social and cultural integrity, condition of archaeological, historic, and current heritage structures, aesthetic appeal, the nature of tourism development, and, most importantly, the future outlook for the destination in terms of sustainability.
The result was the creation of the Destination Stewardship Index. Fuelled by the growing concern over the damage caused by tourism, the index is designed to illustrate how tourism managed poorly can ruin tourist treasures. Its goal is to encourage residents and visitors alike to preserve the best things a destination has to offer. Five Canadian tourists destinations were ranked in the Top 10. These destinations represent not only Canada's beauty and remarkable diversity but also our commitment to sustainable tourism.
The Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia
I have traveled around the world. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps, and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.
- Alexander Graham Bell
Coming in at No. 2, Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Highlands are a must see for anyone visiting Canada's East Coast. The Highlands encompass 950 square kilometers and stretch across the northern tip of Cape Breton Island between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. An elevated, flat-topped plateau deeply cut by river canyons dominates the park. The headlands and cliffs of the Cape Breton Highlands are truly amazing, offering dramatic ocean views of quiet coves and inlets.
The Cape Breton Highlands are a hiker's paradise. Whether you want to follow highland trails, coastal boardwalks or sandy beaches, the Park has trails for any hiking ability. Its 25 hiking trails, which range from 20-minute family strolls to panoramic climbs, provide the perfect opportunity to explore the spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and human history that stretches back to the last Ice Age.
The Highlands are also home to the famous Cabot Trail. Named for John Cabot, the famous explorer, this 300 km scenic highway is often described as the most beautiful scenic drive in North America. The Trail winds its way around Cape Breton's northern shore, offering fantastic coastal vistas and the opportunity to explore historical Acadian fishing villages.
Don't let the word highway discourage you from visiting the Cabot Trail. There are plenty of opportunities to get out of your car. Stretch your legs as you gaze upon the Gulf of St. Lawrence at one of the many outlooks. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy one of the many picnic sites along the Trail. Or find your own ideal picnic site on the beach of a secluded inlet. Take a guided sea kayaking tour. Visit Pleasant Bay Whale Interpretive Centre and learn about the whales and other marine life found in the waters around Cape Breton. Learn about Acadian culture in Belle Cote, Terre Noire, and Cap Lemoine. Shop for fine crafts in Cheticamp. Be sure to stay for dinner and sample a true Acadian meal of blood pudding, fish and potato soup, and chicken fricassee. Don't forget to have a piece of butterscotch pie for dessert. It is a Cape Breton favorite.
If you are feeling truly adventurous leave your car behind and explore the Trial on foot or by bicycle. There a numerous companies that arrange walking and cycling tours of Cabot Trail.
Canadian Rocky Mountains
…we could see across the rolling beige ranchland to snowy peaks of the Rockies; they changed colour every hour of the day - sometimes they were a hard glittering white, sometimes a pale rose and even at moments a deep blue like storm clouds.
- Graham Greene
Canada's Rocky Mountain Parks placed fourth on the National Geographic's Destination Stewardship Index scorecard. The Rocky Mountain Parks chain runs along the boarder between British Columbia and Alberta and includes Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes and Yoho National Parks. Together, these parks cover over 20,000 square kilometers of land and represent one of the largest protected areas in the mountains of North America. The biggest park in the chain is Jasper National Park, a majestic area that boasts steep, rugged mountains, thundering waterfalls, crystal clear glacial lakes, towering evergreens, and sprawling alpine meadows.
The Canadian Rockies are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada. Visitors are drawn to the region's spectacular beauty. Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks, together with Kootenay National Park and the provincial parks of Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of their unspoiled beauty and exceptional geological features. The Parks chain is also famous for its easily observable wildlife. You are almost guaranteed to see moose, mule deer, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bear or coyotes. And don't be surprised if you share the golf links with elk.
Whether you are looking for excitement or serenity, there is something to do in the Rocky Mountains. Explore one of the many hiking trails or wander the streets of Banff or Jasper village in search of that perfect souvenir. Take a river kayaking or whitewater rafting adventure or find the perfect spot on the Bow River for a picnic and an afternoon nap. Take a turn water skiing on Switzer Lake or relax in the soothing pools at Miette or Banff Upper Hot Springs. Sleep under the stars at one of the many beautiful provincial and national campsites or check yourself into one of the many fine hotels in the region. There is truly something for everyone.
Your fun is not limited to the summer months. Canada's Rocky Mountain Parks are open year round, offering a wide variety of winter activities. Take advantage of Canada's premiere ski country. There are six ski hills within the parks chain as well as hundreds of cross-country trials. Or go snowshoeing, learn to ice skate, or try your hand at ice fishing. You will never be board no matter when you visit the Canadian Rockies.
Many a time I have looked up at the buildings on top of the bluff at Quebec, and thought what a wonderful location it would be for the story of a mythical kingdom.
- Allan Dwan
Quebec was awarded with two Top 10 rankings. These rankings illustrate the remarkable diversity of this amazing province and its people.
The Quebec City Historic Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage site, came in at No. 6. National Geographic panelists described this area as "awesome," "culturally vibrant," and "excellent." One panelist even noted that Quebec City's outlook in terms of sustainability is very positive.
In 2008 the Quebec City Historic Centre will celebrate its 400th birthday. The only fortified city in North America, Quebec City provides a glimpse into Canada's past. It was the birthplace of French civilization in North America and a fort for early fur traders and explorers who eventually helped to map Canada and settle the West. Today, Quebec City is Quebec's provincial capital, offering visitors the best of both the old and the modern world.
The Laurentien Highlands of Quebec tied for seventh place with the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and Heidelberg, Germany. The Highlands stretch from the Gatineau and Ottawa rivers in the west to the Saguenay River in the east. The Laurentien Highlands are the jewel in Quebec's recreation crown. Whether you are looking for boutiques, bars, and bistros, or scenery, sports, and smiles, there is something for everyone in every season. Travel back in time as you visit a sugar shack. Savor homemade maple taffy as you learn how farmers make maple syrup. Learn to ski at Quebec's premier ski resort, Mont-Tremblant. Discover the regions wilderness on a snowmobile. Take part in a river rafting or kayaking adventure. Or simply tour the region to learn more about Quebec's people, history and culture. But what ever you do, don't miss the bird and whale watching near historic Tadoussac near the mouth of the Saguenay River. It is spectacular.
The Inside Passage of British Columbia
The lushness and size of everything we saw seemed preposterously exaggerated. Our spirits lifted with the beauty of the place and its lush vegetation, huge waterfalls, deep black fjords and massive dark green pine forests.
- Bob Geldof
The Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia tied for ninth place. The Inside Passage is a series of ocean channels, passes, and reaches that stretch from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia, through the protected waters of British Columbia's central and northern coastline, and up the Alaskan Panhandle to Ketchikan, Juneau and Glacier Bay National Park. The coastal scenery is simply breathtaking as ice peaked mountains plunge into the narrow maze of channels.
The coastline is mostly inhabited and much of the region is inaccessible by land. Yet, it is this isolation that makes this area of the world so majestic. It has not been spoiled by development. Instead, whales, dolphins, salmon, bald eagles, sea birds, and sea lions frolic in the tides and white-coated Kermode bears, better known as Spirit Bears, roam Princess Royal Island's shore looking for food.
A hydroplane tour can provide some stunning views but the only way to truly experience the Inside Passage is by boat. If you are looking for luxury try a weeklong Alaskan cruise. If you want the freedom to experience this majestic region in your own way and at your own pace, book passage on a BC Ferry. BC Ferries offers a variety of ferry travel packages including day trips or weeklong combination cruise, bus, and rail tours. You will never forget the beauty and solitude of this region no matter how you decide to experience it.
The National Geographic Society, the world's most respected natural resource and geographic knowledge society, has recognized Canada's contribution to preserving our tourist destinations and saving the geographic character of this rich country. The five Canadian destinations described above have survived and continue to thrive despite development pressures, environmental problems, and cultural erosion. These places represent Canada's commitment to sustainable tourism and are a must see for anyone visiting Canada.