Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site

Top choice national park in Haida Gwaii

Image by David Nunuk Getty Images

This huge Unesco World Heritage site with a name that's a mouthful encompasses Moresby and 137 smaller islands at its southern end. It combines a time-capsule look at abandoned Haida villages with hot springs, amazing natural beauty and some of the continent's best kayaking.

Access to the park is by boat or plane only. A visit demands a decent amount of advance planning and usually requires several days. From May to September, you must obtain a reservation, unless you're with a tour operator.

Archaeological finds have documented more than 500 ancient Haida sites, including villages and burial caves throughout the islands. The most famous village is SGang Gwaay (Ninstints) on Anthony Island, where rows of weathered totem poles stare eerily out to sea. Other major sights include the ancient village of Skedans, on Louise Island, and Hotspring Island, whose natural hot springs are back on after being disrupted by earthquakes in 2012. The sites are protected by Haida Gwaii caretakers, who live on the islands in summer.

In 2013 the magnificent Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole was raised at Windy Bay, the first new pole in the protected area in 130 years.

Contact Parks Canada with questions. The website has links to the essential annual trip planner. Any visitor not on a guided tour must attend a free orientation at the park office. All visitors must register.

The number of daily reservations is limited: plan well in advance. User fees apply (adult/child $20/10 per day). Fees are waived if you have a Parks Canada Season Excursion Pass. A few much-coveted standby spaces are made available daily: call Parks Canada.

The easiest way to get into the park is with a tour company. Parks Canada can provide you with lists of operators; tours last from one day to two weeks. Many can also set you up with rental kayaks (average per day/week $60/300) and gear for independent travel.