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Park yourself

Get away from it all in one of Canada's many wilderness retreats

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Take a hike -- literally.

Camping is a great way to take advantage of beautiful scenery, natural surroundings and to just get away for a little while. With camping season approaching, there's no better time than now to plan a trip to one of Canada's many campgrounds, especially when all-inclusive, posh cruises are out of the question. Whether it's your first time camping or you've been camping your whole life, there's something for everyone.

Banff National Park

Where: Banff, Alta., a 30-minute drive west of Calgary, nestled in the heart of the Rockies.

Features: Banff National Park is Canada's first national park and the world's third national park. A host to millions of visitors every year, it's a must if you're in the area. Besides being right in the heart of the Rockies, there are plenty of activities to take part in, such as zip-lining across Kicking Horse River, touring caves, scuba diving and much more. Check out the wildlife and take a tour of the spectacular Lake Louise.

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Kananaskis Country Campgrounds

Where: Bordering south of Banff National Park, just west of Calgary.

Features: If you find Banff National Park to be too crowded, then head over to Kananaskis Country Campgrounds. K-Country provides several parks with campgrounds, hundreds of kilometres of hiking and biking trails, golfing and horseback riding. From the scenic drive, the numerous fishing spots to cave diving, K-Country is not to be overlooked.

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Cypress Hill Interprovincial Park

Where: Spans the borders of the Great Plains of Maple Creek, Sask. and Elkwater, Alta.

Features: Featured on the Discovery Channel's Great Canadian Parks series, the first interprovincial park in Canada offers essential camping adventures such as hiking, fishing, and biking. But what sets this one apart from the other parks is its Dark-Sky preserve ---- an area free from artificial lighting and a view of the natural night skies. Cypress Hill is the first to be fully recognized as a dark-sky preserve in North America, and plans are in the works to build an observatory and a campground dedicated to stargazing.

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Whiteshell Provincial Park

Where: Southeast of Manitoba along the Manitoba-Ontario border, approximately 130 km east of Winnipeg.

Features: Home of one of the deepest lakes in Manitoba, West Hawk Lake is a popular spot for scuba diving and ice diving in the winter. As well, get to the park at the right time, and you might just catch the northern lights glow across the skies.

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Algonquin Provincial Park

Where: Whitney, Ont., between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River in central Ontario.

Features: Made famous by artist Tom Thomson, whose many paintings reflected the beauty of Algonquin Park.

There are three different ways to explore Algonquin Park -- the interior, the parkway corridor and the peripheral campgrounds.

It's not possible to drive through the interior part of the park; you can only explore its incredible beauty via foot or canoe. Maple hills, spruce bogs, lakes, ponds and streams surround this area.

A more relaxed way to see Algonquin Park is through the parkway corridor. Here, visitors can swim, hike, visit on-site museums and camp with modern comforts along the Highway 60 Corridor, which runs through the southwest corner of the park and also features three lodges and children's camps.

For those who prefer to rough it, there are the peripheral campgrounds, featuring four little-known campgrounds far away from the Highway 60 Corridor and located in the park's north, east and south sides.

More info:

Parc National d'Oka/Oka National Park

Where: Less than 45 minutes west of Montreal.

Features: Escape the hectic hustle and bustle of Montreal and enjoy nature that's not too far from the city. Oka features wetlands which are home to fascinating forms of life. To learn more about Oka, take a tour that traces the history of the aboriginal people and the first colonists on the trails leading to the Calvary site. The store of the Sulpicians and the evangelization of the aboriginals are retold in life-size re-enactments, and some aboriginal artifacts found date back to 2,200 to 2,500 B.C.

More info:

Gros Morne National Park

Where: Located on the west coast of Newfoundland, about 2.5 hours north of Corner Brook.

Features: Go whale watching, camp out by the Atlantic Ocean, and go hiking in the wilderness of the unmarked trails of Long Range Mountain at Gros Morne National Park. Internationally recognized as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, Gros Morne is important in helping us to understand the Earth's development and movement.

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Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Where: Northern tip of Cape Breton Island, between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean.

Features: Cape Breton Highlands is known for its spectacular highlands, ocean scenery and world-famous Cabot Trail that runs through the Park. The park is home to some of Nova Scotia's remaining protected wilderness. Visitors can immerse themselves in the Acadian, Irish and Scottish heritage while spotting whales, bald eagles and moose all along stunning valleys and ocean coves. Visitors can choose from six campgrounds and bike or hike along 25 trails.

More info:

Fundy National Park

Where: Near the Village of Alma, N.B., on Provincial Highway 114.

Features: Take part in the Fundy Circuit to see some of this area's hidden treasures. The 45 km of seven linked hiking trails takes you through river valleys, past lakes, along the coast and through beautiful forests. Be prepared to commit three to five days. This camping trip wouldn't be complete without viewing the famous tides of Bay of Fundy rise and fall over five storeys approximately every 12 hours.

More info:

Prince Edward Island National Park

Where: 32 kilometres northwest of Charlottetown.

Features: The park runs along the Gulf of the St. Lawrence for nearly 40 km and features white sand dune beaches surrounded by red sandstone cliffs. The park also hosts Rustico Island, home of the great blue heron and other birds. This extensive park also features a golf course, tennis courts, hiking, lawn bowling, campgrounds and, one of its most popular attractions, Green Gables, the inspiration for the Anne of Green Gables novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The park receives around 800,000 visitors a year, mostly during the summer period.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2009 E4

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