The year 2017 marks Canada’s 150th year of confederation. Our way of celebrating this milestone was to visit all 10 Canadian provinces, driving from the East Coast to Vancouver Island on the West Coast. While doing so we took the Parks Canada challenge: Find the Red Chairs in National Parks in every province.
We left Nova Scotia for British Columbia on August 24th, 2017, but visited Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island before we left. We found red chairs in all the provinces along our way – except one…
So what are the Red Chairs all about anyway?
The Red Chair program started out at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and spread to National Parks and National Historic Sites across Canada.
Parks Canada explains: “The Red Chair Experience is all about connecting Canadians with nature in our country’s most unique and treasured places. Whether it’s a quiet place to enjoy an awe-inspiring view or an “I made it!” marker at the end of a rugged hike, a Red Chair offers you a place to relax and truly discover the best that Parks Canada has to offer. For more information on the locations of Red Chairs elsewhere in Canada, visit the Parks Canada website.”
We started our Red Chair Experience at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland on Canada’s east coast. After visiting the Discovery Centre in Woody Point, we hiked up the Lookout Hills Trail in search of our 1st red chair.
The trail begins in the parking lot of the Discovery Centre and is a 5-km return trip. We climbed steadily uphill and we finally “made it” to a plateau and found the red chairs. While relaxing there we enjoyed the spectacular views of Bonne Bay, Gros Morne Mountain, the Tablelands, and the Lookout Hills.
We also drove scenic Route 431 between Woody Point and Trout River, stopping along the way after spotting red chairs by a viewpoint at the Tablelands. You can actually see the earth’s mantle at the Tablelands.
Prince Edward Island
We drove to Prince Edward Island National Park after a short ferry ride across the Northumberland Strait from Nova Scotia. We stopped at Brackley Beach and then continued on to Robinson Island. Here we hiked around the island (which is not really an island but more of a peninsula), finding two sets of red chairs. The white sandy beach, warm water and fantastic scenery made our trip to PEI very memorable.
Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site is actually one park divided into two areas. The main park is located in Maitland Bridge in central western Nova Scotia. The other section, Keji Seaside, is located approximately 100 km southeast of the main park on the Atlantic coast near Port Joli.
We found red chairs in both areas. We enjoyed listening to the river flow sitting on the banks of the Mersey River in the main park and watched seals basking on the rocks during our hike along the Harbour Rocks Trail at Keji Seaside.
During our visit to New Brunswick, we camped at Kouchibouguac National Park on the Acadian Coastal Drive. One beautiful morning we hiked a trail from the south Kouchibouguac campground and found ourselves at Kelly’s beach. We walked along the boardwalk over a salt march to the barrier island sand dunes where we spotted the red chairs.
From these chairs on the beach, we had views of the warm waters of the Northumberland Strait, and we could see Prince Edward Island in the distance.
Forillon National Park is located on the Gaspé Peninsula on the east coast of Québec. Of the many hiking trails we walked in this park, our favourite was the Mont-St-Alban Trail. The high point of the trail is a 15-metre tower built on top of one of Forillon’s highest mountains, offering an amazing 360-degree view. There weren’t any red chairs up there, but we found some on our descent.
Les Graves Trail, leading to the Cap-Gaspé lighthouse, is another popular hike in Forillon Park. We discovered a couple of red chairs close to the lighthouse and relaxed for a while before hiking down to “lands end”, where the International Appalachian Trail ends, beginning in Georgia, USA. From the look off here, we saw many humpback whales, seals and seabirds.
After we left the Forillon campground to continue our drive around the Gaspé Peninsula, we went on a short hike to “La Chute” waterfalls where just one red chair faced a small, peaceful waterfall.
Next stop – Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior in Ontario. We hiked the Southern Headland Trail, Boardwalk Beach Trail, Manito Miikana, and took the Beach Trail back to our campsite. What a great hike with fantastic views, a great beach, lots of driftwood and, of course, red chairs!
We were totally amazed by Lake Superior – it’s huge. If we didn’t know the difference, we’d have thought we were by the ocean.
We found the red chairs at Riding Mountain National Park at the Park Visitors Centre in Wasagaming, Manitoba. Wasagaming is the main townsite in the park. We hiked to the townsite from the campground along a trail that follows the shores of Clear Lake.
The next morning, we visited the Lake Audy Bison Enclosure. We drove down a narrow dirt road, turned a corner, and there they were – a small herd right in the middle of the road.
After watching them for a short time, we thought we’d better leave them alone – the main bison was looking kind of mean. Having no place to turn around, and scared to drive through the herd, we backed up all the way to the main road – just another memory of an unforgettable trip.
When we arrived at the East Block of Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, my first thought was “where the h, e, double hockey sticks are we”?!! Ha! I thought we were at the end of the world. When we first arrived it seems like we were in the middle of nowhere but, you know, the place grows on you.
Grasslands National Park is in the badlands of Saskatchewan and is a really fantastic place. We experienced the solitude of the wide-open plains, viewed hoodoos, and star gazed in the total blackness of the night sky. Many dinosaur bones have been discovered here, and you can sleep in a tipi if you so choose.
We walked a trail to one of the badlands viewpoints and found the red chairs, perched on the edge of a cliff with a spectacular view of the Valley of 1,000 Devils! We also spotted deer, antelope and coyotes here. I’ll never forget the place and would definitely return.
Banff National Park was the next park we visited. After staying with friends in Medicine Hat, we planned on going to Waterton National Park but because of the wildfires in the area, we had to change plans.
We spent a night in Johnston Canyon campground and then drove on to Lake Louise. We planned to find red chairs in the Lake Louise area but there are no red chairs there. All the red chairs in Banff were south of us and we didn’t want to backtrack so, unfortunately, we did not find any in Alberta! We were disappointed but we did find a red gondola at the Visitors Centre in Lake Louise – does that count?
We were not disappointed with our visit to Banff National Park, to the townsite of Banff, the hike up Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. We totally enjoyed the beautiful views of the mountains and the emerald green lakes.
After over a month on the road, Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, close to Victoria on Vancouver Island, was our 10th National Park. It is a coastal artillery fort built in the late 1890’s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base. The Fisgard lighthouse is also part of the historic site.
Perched on the rocks, near one of the gun batteries, we found the red chairs and soaked up the view of the Pacific Ocean. We watched sailboats, cargo ships, and navy boats doing maneuvers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountains in neighbouring Washington State making a scenic backdrop.
We have a deeper appreciation of Canada now, and the importance of preserving lands such as the National Parks and Historic Sites. The size and diversity of our country are amazing – everyone should take the time to travel from coast to coast.
We hope we have the opportunity to explore our northern territories someday and visit more of our National Parks and maybe find some red chairs there as well…
Happy 150th Canada!