Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site

Reachable only by boat or plane, this wilderness area features ruins from an ancient Haida village. The Queen Charlotte Islands (or the increasingly popular First Nations name Haida Gwaii) are a magical trip for those who make the effort. Attention has long focused on their many unique flora and fauna to the extent that ‘Canada’s Galapagos’ is a popular moniker. But each year it becomes more apparent that the real soul of the islands is the Haida culture itself. Long one of the most advanced and powerful First Nations, the Haida suffered terribly after Westerners arrived.

Now, however, their culture is resurgent and can be found across the islands in myriad ways beyond their iconic totem polls. Haida reverence for the environment is protecting the last stands of superb old-growth rainforests where the spruce and cedars are some of the world’s largest. Amidst this sparsely populated, wild and rainy place are bald eagles, bear and much more wildlife. Offshore, sea lion and orcas abound. Recently the first pod of blue whales seen in decades summered off the Charlottes.

A visit to the islands rewards those who invest time to get caught up in their allure, their culture and their people – plan on a long stay. The number-one attraction here is remote Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, which makes up the bottom third of the archipelago. Named the top park in North America by National Geographic Traveler for being ‘beautiful and intact, ’ it is a lost world of Haida culture and superb natural beauty.

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