The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes World Heritage Sites that are of great cultural or natural value. The designations are meant to help drum up an international commitment to preserve the sites. There are currently 981 sites on the list, and 17 of them are in Canada, including two that straddle the border with the United States.
1. L'Anse aux Meadows
This 11th century Viking settlement is the earliest evidence of Europeans living in the Americas. It was inhabited until about 1500. It's on the island of Newfoundland, at the end of the Great Northern Peninsula.
2. Nahanni National Park
This park spans about 1800 square miles' worth of wilderness in the Northwest Territories. In addition to the super gorgeous Nahanni River, the park contains waterfalls, limestone caves, and forests.
3. Dinosaur Provincial Park
Located in the province of Alberta, Dinosaur Provincial Park is now stark rocky badlands. But back in the Cretaceous period, the area was subtropical and home to around 35 species of dinosaur. Excavation began in the late 19th century, and since then paleontologists have pulled 300-plus dinosaur skeletons from the park.
4. Kluane/Wrangell-St Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek
This group of parks straddles the border between the Yukon and Alaska and represents the largest non-polar icefield in the world.
5. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
With easily the best name on the list, this site in Alberta has an amazing number of bison bones below a rocky ridge where wily aboriginal hunters used to chase bison off a precipice for an easy kill.
6. Sgang Gwaay
This 19th century village, also known as Ninstints, is on an island off the coast of British Columbia north of Vancouver Island. The carved wooden poles on the island were made by the Haida people to remember the dead. The village also includes ruins of cedar long houses.
7. Wood Buffalo National Park
The grasslands and sedge meadows in this park are home to wood bison and whooping cranes. The park is in the north-central region of Canada.
8. Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks
This cluster of seven parks includes the national parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, along with the provincial parks of Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber. The alpine region has dramatic landscape—mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, canyons, and boreal forest. The Burgess Shale marine fossil site is also here.
9. Historic District of Old Quebec
Courtesy of World Heritage
Quebec City dates to the early 17th century, and still retains parts of its old defensive structures, including ramparts, gates, and garrisons. There are also a number of well-preserved 17th and 18th century houses.
10. Gros Morne National Park
Newfoundland is a geologist's paradise—especially this park on the west coast, which is apparently a good place to observe the effects of continental drift. The area is noted for coastal lowlands, alpine plateaus, and fjords. Fjords!
11. Old Town Lunenburg
Courtesy of Open Travel
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is a well-preserved British colonial town dating to 1753. Many of the buildings in this fishing town are original brightly-painted wooden structures more than 200 years old.
12. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
This park straddling the border between the United States and Canada, and is comprised of the Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park and the American Glacier National Park. The biodiverse region has a number of endangered species, including great horned owls, wolverines, and red deer.
13. Miguasha National Park
This park in Quebec is a significant site for fish fossils from the Devonian period, dating from 370 million years ago. The park is especially noted for the lobe-finned fish that are considered to be ancestors of the first terrestrial vertebrates.
14. Rideau Canal
This canal connects the city of Ottawa with Lake Ontario, and was of great strategic importance in the early 19th century when the British and the United States were duking it out for control of Canada.
15. Joggins Fossil Cliffs
This site in Nova Scotia is famous for its fossils from the Carboniferous period, also known as the "coal age," which spanned from about 359 million to 299 million years ago. There are a lot of fossilized critters in this site, and some fossilized trees are still upright, embedded in the cliffs.
16. Landscape of Grand Pré
This marshy area of Nova Scotia contains archaeological evidence of 18th-century agricultural methods, including the aboiteau farming system that allowed the Acadian settlers in the area to farm in spite of the boggy conditions.
17. Red Bay Basque Whaling Station
Courtesy of UNESCO
This seasonal European whaling settlement was founded in 1530 by Basque mariners in current-day Labrador. Here, whales were butchered and the fat was rendered into lamp oil. Archaeologists have found equipment and living quarters used by the whalers. Off shore there are sunken vessels and deposits of whale bones.