With the start of summer just around the corner, Canadians like to pack up the car and hit the road. Canada’s a big place so while you’re not at the wheel, dig into a book and read about the places you will fly by on your Canadian road trip.
This year is Canada’s 150th year since Confederation, aka when we became a sweet freaking country! So 2017 is probably the best year so see this country. From beautiful British Columbia to Canada’s ocean playground in Nova Scotia.
The first stop on your Canadian road trip is the most western province. British Columbia boasts a rugged coastline, valleys and the Rocky Mountains.
BC, as it’s commonly referred to, is known for its vast wilderness, its city centres such as Vancouver and its ski resorts like Whistler.
There are countless things to do in beautiful British Columbia, but there are three things that I want to do on my next trip there:
- Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – This National Park is a 511 square kilometre area along the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. It is divided into three regions: Long Beach (16km of sandy beach between Ucluelet and Tofino), Broken Group Islands (over 100 islands of the Barkley Sound) and West Coast Trail (a 75km backpacking route through the Great Bear Rainforest). Within the park you can take the Long Beach Challenge, a 9.5km timed walk/ run along the beach or try surfing. Just remember to wear a wetsuit, the waters are chilly! Walking the 75km-long West Coast Trail is high on my bucket list. There is only one way in and one way out, so experience is vital. Permits are required.
- MacMillan Provincial Park – This provincial park surrounds Cameron Lake on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. This park is known for its giant ancient Douglas-firs, known collectively as Cathedral Grove.
- Haida Gwaii – This archipelago on the northern coast of British Columbia was chosen as National Geographic’s 20 best trips of 2015. The islands have a cultural richness that makes this place one of a kind. It has a vibrant First Nations culture and history at the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a raw beauty to the landscape.
Heading east on the Canadian road trip, Alberta opens up after passing through the Canadian Rockies. From the towering mountains to the openness of the plains to the heart of the boreal forest to the roughness of the Badlands, Alberta has it all.
When you’re in Alberta, make sure to check out these three places:
- Moraine Lake – I have yet to experience this magical place with adult eyes. I have stopped numerous times in Jasper and Banff national parks, but this gorgeous setting has eluded me. The Lake is nestled high in Banff National Park in a place called the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Two guesses on how that place was named.
- Elk Island National Park is centrally located in Alberta, filled with thick pine trees and herds of bison and, of course, elk. There is an unbelievably large amount of animals who roam this park and many walking trails where you could chance upon them.
- Drumheller, aka dinosaur valley, sits in Alberta’s badlands. Here you can walk among the dinosaurs that once roamed this valley – very Land Before Time. Visit the Royal Tyrell Museum, which hosts the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in Canada. Dinosaur Provincial Park is also situated in the Badlands, which I visited in 2015.
You’re going to want to read 419 by Will Ferguson during the Alberta portion of a Canadian road trip. When a father dies in a car accident in Calgary, Alberta, his daughter looks for answers and finds he was a victim of a scam. She travels Lagos, Nigeria to look for answers.
Many people glaze over Saskatchewan as the worst part of a Canadian road trip. I say like I have said before, no way. Saskatchewan is more than meets the eye.
From the beautiful boreal forests that make up the northern half of the province to the roving grasslands of the south, Saskatchewan is full of surprises – like when you learn to spell it correctly.
Here are three places you do not want to miss on your next trip through Saskatchewan:
- Grasslands National Park – With access to parks free this year, why not take a chance and go to a less popular park – Grasslands. Set on the Canadian-US border, the park covers 907 square kilometres of wide-open prairies. Take the whole day and explore both the west and east blocks of this park and bring hiking boots!
- Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park – This beautiful park spans both sides of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. There are so many trails to hike, bike, ski or explore on horseback. Cypress Hills is also a dark-sky preserve to grab your camping gear and marvel at the night sky.
- Great Sand Hills ecological preserve – have you ever gone tobogganing on a sand dune? Well, why not try it here, the largest active sand dune area in Canada. This place feels so remote and silent, perfect for a summer’s day.
From the TransCanada Highway, it doesn’t seem like much. However, Manitoba offers many activities perfect for a Canadian road trip.
Up north in the remote town of Churchill, you can spot polar bears, belugas and the northern lights. In the south, you can explore the rolling hills and prairies.
Here are three items for a Manitoba bucket list:
- Churchill – the star of northern Manitoba, you won’t be able to reach this town by car. Churchill is the epicentre for polar bears and the northern lights.
- Riding Mountain National Park – Three ecosystems converge in the national park: the boreal forest, grasslands and the deciduous forest. Grab your hiking boots and explore these vast wildlands.
- Winnipeg – Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, is known as the gateway to the west. Here you can visit the many museums including Canadian Museum of Human Rights, aviation, electrical, living prairies, and costumes. If you want the great outdoors, take a walk in Assiniboine Park.
Lawrence Hill’s Some Great Thing will transport you into the heart of Winnipeg as you follow a new journalist covering the French-language debate and other stories in the city. It is the perfect pair to the Manitoba potion of a Canadian road trip.
It may be biased to say that Ontario is a great province chalked full of things to see and do. Ontario is home to the Canadian capital city Ottawa and the most populated city Toronto as well as a plethora of parks and natural highlights.
Ontario is a big place, even when you’re going full speed, it takes two days to pass through. Might as well take your time and explore all that Ontario has to offer for a Canadian road trip, like these three places
- Algonquin Provincial Park – Algonquin is one of the most popular parks in the province and known for its magnificent fall colours, its plethora of lakes, and its beauty that inspired the Group of Seven painters. There is much to see in the park, and you can spend days (in all seasons) exploring. The provincial park is also one of the oldest in Canada.
- Bruce Trail and Bruce Peninsula National Park – about four hours from Toronto, this National Park is one of the most popular. It sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and during the summer it can be hard to even get in the park. However, the stunning forests and views of Georgian Bay are well worth the hassle. Try going in the shoulder seasons!
- Ottawa – Canada’s capital city is a must for any Canadian road trip. In spring tulips bloom, in summer the parks and city come alive, food events are big in fall, and in winter you can skate on the Rideau Canal. Explore the city’s political history on parliament hill or take your taste buds on a tour of all the eateries in the city.
How can you choose just one book for Ontario? Well, since I am making a list, and I was born and raised in good ol’ Ontario here are two books to get lost in during the Ontario portion of a Canadian road trip.
Pick The Bear by Claire Cameron for your next camping adventure. Or if you get freaked out like I do, maybe avoid this one while camping. Told from the perspective of a 6-year-old, this frightening tale has them on the run from a particularly murderous bear.
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson will have you occupied during the long drive through northern Ontario. A drama of family, love and misunderstandings, this book will explore emotions of every shade.
Quebec is a magical place where new world meets old world. Some of the oldest cities in Canada are in Quebec. Take in the French-Canadian culture and explore Quebec’s finest discoveries on a Canadian Road Trip.
I have an unquenchable love for Quebec City. But there is so much more to explore in Canada’s largest province.
Here are three places to get you started:
- Gaspe Peninsula – with roads that cling to the hillsides, Gaspesie is a rounded peninsula that juts out into the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. Explore caves, canyons, waterways, ravines and waterfalls in this region of Quebec. Take the famous Tour de la Gaspesie a seven-day loop around the peninsula to see everything there is to offer.
- Mont-Tremblant – This town set north of Montreal in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec, offers an exciting winter scene. A mecca for skiers, snowboarders and other snow-loving adventurers, this town is a great place to getaway.
- Quebec City – No Quebec bucket list would be complete without the mention of Quebec City. Here, the European influence shines through in one of Canada’s oldest cities. Explore everything the city has to offer and dine on the delicious modern twists of an old dish.
There are French-language books out there that I am sure are a delight to read. For the English speakers like myself, try reading My October by Claire Holden Rothman for the Quebec portion of a Canadian road trip. It is a story about a family, their ties to the French language and the weight of the October crisis.
As you break into the Maritimes on the Canadian road trip, be sure to stop and see Canada’s natural wonders in New Brunswick. This province is made up of everything you can think of: coastlines, mountains, forests, beaches and urban areas.
Of course, the biggest draw is the almost unreal tides of the Bay of Fundy. Make sure to stop at these spots on your Canadian road trip:
- Fundy National Park – The park encompasses a rugged coastline, thick forests, and over 25 waterfalls. At low tide, you can explore the ocean floor, and at high tide take up water sports like canoeing and kayaking. There’s something for everyone at this enormous national park.
- Hopewell Rocks – If there was one thing about New Brunswick that one must see, it is the Hopewell Rocks. The Bay of Fundy boasts the largest tidal range in the world, a tidal range of 16.3 metres. Take a walk on the ocean floor and uncover the Hopewell rock formations.
- Saint John – This port city was the first incorporated city in Canada – back in 1785 – and don’t confuse it with St. John’s in Newfoundland! Here check out the oldest city market in Canada or take in history at the Carleton Martello Tower.
A perfect book pairing for a Canadian road trip through New Brunswick, take along The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason. The story – told from the point of view of a young girl – takes place in the 1960s about a town that will be swallowed up by the waters from a hydro-electric dam.
Nova Scotia’s charming Maritimes roots has people returning to this wonder province. From travelling on the Cabot Trail to taking to the ocean in search of whales, Nova Scotia is a wonderful addition to a Canadian Road Trip.
Check out these three places while you’re there:
- Peggy’s Cove – Peggy’s Cove is more than just the lighthouse. Indeed, this charming coastal town offers many things to see and go while in the area. Of course, Peggy’s point lighthouse is necessary when visiting the area. Just, for the love of all that is good, stay back from the edge!
- Cape Breton Island – North of the mainland of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island is known for its magical ring road: Cabot Trail. Look for whales or get in tune with the local Celtic scene. You can also hike around the island as well, but that may take you a bit longer.
- Lunenburg – One of Canada’s UNESCO world heritage site, the town of Lunenburg sits on the south shore of Nova Scotia ready for all the visitors. This town is home to the famous Bluenose II; its predecessor graces our dime! Discover within the town’s colour buildings, tales of sea faring and rum running.
Take along Our Daily Bread by Lauren Davis for the Nova Scotia portion of a Canadian road trip. The book explores the “us vs. them” mentality in this dark tale of a small town in Nova Scotia.
Prince Edward Island
Separated from the rest of Canada, Prince Edward Island is the smallest of Canada’s provinces, but it packs a punch. From its famous red beaches to the literary world of Anne of Green Gables to the historical and important Charlottetown, PEI has lots to do.
While in PEI as part of a Canadian road trip, grab some local grub like the PEI potato and lobster. Delish!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Charlottetown – Canada’s birth as a nation started here in this capital city. What better opportunity to revel in Canada’s history than right where it all began. Discover the charm of Victoria Row, a street mall, or take in history at the Province House. Don’t forget to check out the Confederation Bridge as you cross over into PEI; it is over 12km long!
- PEI National Park – Situated on PEI’s north shore, this national park encompasses beautiful beaches, trails and sand dunes. Enjoy the red sand and dip your feet into the Atlantic Ocean.
- Green Gables Heritage Place – within the National Park lies Green Gables, a literary gem written by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Not only can you spot the spunky red-head here, but PEI has embraced Anne as a mascot for the province, which means you are likely to run into Anne at least once during your trip.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Last but not least of Canada’s 10 provinces is Newfoundland and Labrador, the most easterly province. Also known as “the rock”, Newfoundland has a culture all of its own. Get lost in the fjords of the western shores or explore the mysterious history of the Vikings.
Check out these three places while visiting Newfoundland and Labrador as part of a Canadian road trip:
- Gros Morne National Park – I think Newfoundland’s tourism website says it perfectly, “there are times when you realize the English language can be woefully inadequate.” Gros Morne National Park doesn’t even look real with its tabletop mountains that stretch into the sky. The park is also a UNESCO world heritage site for its geological history and stunning scenery. Explore by foot or by boat and gape at the astounding beauty that exists here.
- East Coast Trail – this trail isn’t for the faint of heart, much like the West Coast Trail in BC. The 540-kilometre trail travels along the Avalon Peninsula, touching many coastal towns along the way.
- L’Anse aux Meadows – discover the history of the Vikings as this archaeological site on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Be transported back in time at this culturally significant place.
Take along River Thieves by Michael Crummy on the Newfoundland portion of the Canadian road trip. The book follows a naval officer in the 1800s in an attempt to establish friendly contact with the Beothuk – a now extinct indigenous people.
Now that you’ve completed all of Canada’s provinces, it is time to take this Canadian road trip to the north. Starting in Yukon, the heart of the Canadian gold rush, you can see the Northern Lights in winter or experience the midnight sun in summer. Yukon is the land of adventure.
Here are three adventures you don’t want to miss:
- Kluane National Park – take in views of the highest mountain in Canada – Mount Logan – named after Logan aka Wolverine. I’m kidding. The park is mostly mountains and glaciers, but you can event see parts of the tundra too.
- Klondike – The Klondike region in the Yukon, including Dawson City, is famous for the gold rush that occurred in the 1800s. Stroll along Pioneer boardwalks and try sieving for gold in the waters surrounding the region.
- Dempster Highway – This famous gravel road connects Inuvik to the Klondike highway. Famous for its unparalleled views of the tundra, the road is a must-do activity for a Canadian road trip.
Experience the wilderness of the Yukon with The Wildfire Season by Andrew Pyper. While a fire that uprooted his life haunts a man, a small spark becomes a raging inferno in the wilderness of the Yukon.
The Northwest Territories is a spectacular place, filled with culture, history and a landscape that awes. Chase the northern lights as they dance across the winter sky or come nose to nose with caribou as they migrate across the land. The Northwest Territories hold adventure for all.
Let these three places take you away:
- Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk – Until last year, the only way to travel from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk was by ice road. The 120-kilometre journey was the final stretch to connect Tuktoyaktuk, which is located on the Arctic Sea coast, to the rest of Northwest Territories by car. Both communities are above the Arctic Circle.
- Great Bear Lake – Great Bear Lake is the largest lake entirely in Canada, bigger than Belgium. The lakes are a paradise for paddlers, fishing folk and chasers of the northern lights. Legend says hockey started on this lake. Stand on its shores and marvel at this truly unique northern experience.
- Nahanni National Park – if there’s ever a place that is truly a testament to nature’s intensity it is Nahanni National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known best for Virginia Falls, a waterfall that is double the height of Niagara Falls.
Take along Above the Falls by John Harris, which tells a tale of a mystery on the Nahanni River. Or if you love Elizabeth Hay, like I do, take Late Nights on Air, which follows the lives of Dido and Harry as they work for a small radio station in Yellowknife.
Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut offers an arctic adventure like no other place in the world. It is massive and sparsely populated and is made up of a sprawling archipelago. There are no roads to Nunavut, do for the Nunavut portion of the Canadian road trip, you’re going to have to get here by plane first.
Here are three places you should visit while you’re here:
- Iqaluit and Trans Canada Trail – the hub of Nunavut operates in Iqaluit. Located on Baffin Island, this community is rich with Inuit culture. It is also the starting point for the Trans-Canada Trail in Nunavut. The 143-kilometre trail cuts through rough terrain and is for experienced hikers.
- Alert – Getting to Alert, the most northern community in the entire world, is difficult. You have to be working for the military to get there, but a girl can dream.
- Auyuittuq National Park – this national park is also located on Baffin Island. Mountains are raised out of the ice and fjords connect them. Hike within the boundaries of this park and feel you are completely lost to the world.
Consumption by Kevin Patterson will be the perfect companion to the Nunavut portion of a Canadian Road Trip. The story follows Victoria, who was sent away from her community to recover from tuberculosis. When she returns, everything is changed.
Canadian Road Trip
Well, there you have it. The perfect companion to a Canadian road trip. Do you have a “must-visit” place in Canada that is not on this list, or how about a book that is set in one of the provinces or territories? Let me know below!
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