Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada (free illustrated PDF guide)

Chapter 30: The best destinations across Canada - The best destinations across Canada

Published: 02-03-2020

Author

Julie

The best destinations across Canada

h4>The best destinations across Canada

The Maritimes

New Brunswick

New Brunswick is the largest of the four provinces on Canada’s Eastern coast, collectively known as “the Maritimes.” Located under Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula with the State of Maine to the West and a southeast corner connected to Nova Scotia, it’s sometimes derogatorily referred to as the “drive-through province” because tourists use it as a highway to Nova Scotia or PEI.

That isn’t fair though, because there’s a lot to do and to see in New Brunswick. Just park somewhere and take the time ease into the local culture. The atmosphere is unique. Sure, unlike the rest of the Maritimes, the terrain is mostly forested uplands but you don’t stick around for the scenery—you fall in love with New Brunswick because of its people, culture, traditions and history.

New Brunswick is intrinsically linked to the history of Acadians, a vibrant minority with a presence in Nova Scotia, Louisiana and northern Maine as well. The Acadians are the descendants of French colonists who came from Île-de-France, Normandy, Brittany, Poitou and Aquitaine and settled in Acadia (now the Maritimes) during the 17th and 18th centuries. When Acadia fell to the British, 12,000 Acadians were expelled, their lands and property confiscated, and in some cases their homes burned. This traumatic page of history is referred to as le Grand Dérangement (i.e. deportation) and it inspired many artists during the subsequent rebirth of Acadian identity.

As direct descendants of French colonists, Acadians have special ties with France and many travel to Europe to find their ancestors. The Acadian flag is the French tricolour with a golden star in the blue field (see above), which symbolizes Saint Mary, Our Lady of the Assumption, patron saint of the Acadians and the “Star of the Sea.”

Today, in Canada’s only bilingual province, an imaginary North-West/South-East line divides the two communities—anglophones to the left, francophones to the right.

Grand Tintamarre of the Acadian festival in Caraquet

In the north-east of the province, the town of Caraquet is renowned as the “capital of Acadia” and as the heart of the loudest festival you’ve ever experienced.

Each year, on August 15th in Caraquet around 20,000 Acadians dressed in blue, white and red take over Main Street with pots, spoons and pretty much anything that makes noise to celebrate National Acadian Day and the Francophonie. This is the “Grand Tintamarre” (“racket” or “din”), a chance to make heartbeat of French-speaking Acadia heard everywhere despite its tragic past. The party starts at 17:55 hours as a tribute to the Great Expulsion of 1755.

Can’t make it to Caraquet on August 15? Don’t worry, National Acadian Day is celebrated everywhere throughout the province and beyond.

The world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy and other coastal activities

Between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia lies the 270-kilometre-long Bay of Fundy, known for its extreme tides. The range can be as much as 12 or even 16 metres (that’s the height of a four-storey building!) between high and low tides. Grab your camera and take the same shot six hours apart!

In Fundy National Park you can take of the 25 hiking trails with boardwalks and viewpoints. And explore the Fundy Isles (Grand Manan, Campobello Island and Deer Island) for a chance to go whale-watching.

Outdoor activities and fall colours in Kouchibouguac National Park

On the east coast of New Brunswick, between Miramichi and Bouctouche, the 26 km² national park includes barrier islands, sand dunes, lagoons, salt marshes and forests. Hike or bike to explore it—really, the hardest part of the park is saying the name out loud, trails are easy and short and the terrain is flat.

Rent a canoe with a group to see the sand banks and watch seals and terns. The lazy option, i.e. sunbathing on the beach, is always available. Lie down and stay after sunset, this is a famous stargazing spot.

In fall, stop by to do some leaf-peeping and enjoy the stunning change of season. The park stays open during winter and you’ll be able to try all kinds of outdoor activities including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Plan your visit in June (to avoid July and August crowds) and late September/early October for the best fall colours. Best of all, peak season entry fee is only $7.80!

Historic reconstruction in the Village historique acadien

Travel back to the 18th, 19th and 20th century in Acadia in Bertrand, near Caraquet. In a 100-acre park, the Village historique acadien is living museum portraying the daily lives of the Acadians from 1770 to 1949. Set aside at least four hours to interact with interpreters in period costumes—they will share stories and bring crafts or customs to life—and explore the various buildings—school, workshops, service station—as well as the fields. This is one of New Brunswick’s biggest attraction with three million visitors every year. The village is open from June to late September from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and entry fee is $20 during the high season.

  • Climb the 817-metre Mount Carleton, the highest peak in New Brunswick and the Maritimes. It’s a 9.9-kilometre moderate-hard hike round trip.
  • Launch your kayak and paddle between the Hopewell Rocks at high tide, then walk the ocean floor and explore the rock formations at low tide.
  • Discover the hidden treasures and tales of Lamèque and Miscou islands in the Acadian Peninsula and count the number of structures showing the Acadian colours—this is what “vibrant community” looks like!
  • Go whale-watching around Grand Manan Island.
  • Test your French language skills chatting with locals in “chiac” and Acadian French—your efforts will surely be appreciated, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to beg for the translation in English, it’s a unique type of French!
  • Check out the Pays de la Sagouine, a reenactment of Acadian culture created by author Antonine Maillet.
  • Attend bluegrass, folk and rock festivals held throughout the province in summer.
  • Visit Fort Beauséjour-Fort Cumberland, a national historic site that brings you back to a time when Britain and France were caught in a tug-of-war for dominance in Acadia, and the starting point for the Acadian deportations.
  • Experience the thrill of a lifetime rappelling down the steep wind-beaten cliffs of Enrage Cape.
  • Defy the laws of physics on puzzling Magnetic Hill, near Moncton.
  • Take the Confederation Bridge connecting New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to keep on exploring the Maritimes.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Canada’s easternmost province is hard to get to, which is half of the fun and explains the unique atmosphere and stunning nature in this part of Canada.

Visit a few of the province’s 14 provincial parks and three national parks to discover the local flora and fauna, including the many birds nesting in summer—you’ll soon understand why the Atlantic puffin is the official provincial bird. Gros Morne National Park, a place unlike any other on earth, is a must see with panorama of beaches, bogs, forests and barren cliffs.

Then take the Viking Trail all the way to L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. You’ll travel back in time to where the Vikings, the first Europeans recorded in the New World, settled around 1,000 years ago. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the only authenticated Norse site in North America.

Want to go further? Take the Trans-Labrador Highway for an epic road trip into unparallelled wilderness—zero traffic guaranteed! However, you won’t quite be able to reach Nunatsiavut, the autonomous area claimed by the Inuit. It’s not yet connected to the highway, you will have to take the ferry or fly.

  • Watch drifting icebergs from the coast (April to June).
  • Take a detour to Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France.
  • Get inspired by St. John’s’ colourful houses (if you need more inspiration, grab a drink at one of the many, many pubs).
  • Enjoy the spectacular wilderness in Torngat Mountains National Park. Caveat: it’s pricey to reach this remote corner of Canada.
  • Hike part of the 500-kilometre-long East Coast Trail
  • Take route 432 along the French Shore where French fishermen started coming in the early 16th century.

Prince Edward Island

Canada’s smallest province offers a nice blend of historic attractions and outdoor activities. And for once, no need to drive for hours between two sites—if you stick around for a few weeks, you’ll probably be able to explore in your guidebook plus several hidden gems.

Summer is the best season to enjoy the 1,000 kilometres of shoreline with picturesque white and red-sand beaches (oxidized iron explains the colour…) and winter offers the opportunity to go snowshoeing along the many trails.

Charlottetown, the provincial capital, can be visited year-round. You’ll love the historic and fun tours available, as well as the many microbreweries.

  • Discover the Magdalen Islands, technically part of Quebec but geographically closer to PEI.
  • Feast on local seafood, including lobster, mussels and oysters.
  • Dip your paddle into the world of sea kayaking right off Victoria-by-the-Sea.
  • Discover Acadian culture in Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort-Amherst national historic site and in the Région Évangéline.
  • Walk or bike along the Confederation Trail (optional, find one of the 1600 geocache sites in this geocaching hotspot).
  • Follow in the footsteps of Anne of Green Gables, the red-haired orphan in L.M. Montgomery famous novel, in Cavendish.
  • Check out the 60 lighthouses overlooking the Red Sands Shore.

Nova Scotia

From New Brunswick, drive or take the ferry to Nova Scotia and plan a long-enough stop—there’s a lot to see!

Halifax, the provincial capital, is a cute city known for its maritime history. It’s dominated by the hilltop Citadel, a star-shaped fort completed in the 1850s. Take the time to walk around and don’t forget to check out the waterfront and the many parks. Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 shares the ongoing story of immigration to Canada from coast to coast, past and present, in the country’s last standing ocean immigration terminal. For a glimpse into another chapter of history explore the Halifax-Titanic connection and the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, site of over 100 graves for Titanic victims (singing “My heart will go on”, if you really want to…).

A 45-minute drive west of Halifax will take you to Peggy’s Cove a small rural community and the site of Peggy’s Point Lighthouse. Why this lighthouse? Well, close your eyes and picture a typical Canadian lighthouse—yes, that’s the one used and reused for the iconic Canadian image, photographed by thousands of tourists and now you.

If you keep on driving south, you’ll reach Lunenburg, port town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a walk along the narrow streets to see the historic architecture and colourful houses—it was named “Prettiest Painted Place of Canada”!—and relax by the waterfront to enjoy the scenic shoreline.

Discover Cape Breton Island for an interesting immersion into the Celtic world—you might feel like you’re in Scotland, Brittany or Ireland, especially if you come over during the Celtic Colours music festival. Beyond cultural considerations, its jewel is the 297-kilometre-long Cabot Trail, which twists and turns its way through and around Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Take your time—there are plenty of photo opportunities and yes, that’s a moose crossing the road! On the Cabot Trail and before visiting the national park, you can check out Chéticamp, a fishing town and Francophone enclave.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a worthwhile adventure in itself. Picture 950 km2 of nature nested between the shoreline and mountains with 26 hiking trails. Once you’re there, keep your eyes open for fauna including moose, bald eagles and bears. A few of these trails are short enough to hike several in a day. The Skyline Trail is the most famous one. Rated easy, it takes you to a cliff overlooking the rugged coast—it’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset and maybe whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

There are several places to stop for the night along the Cabot Trail, such as Meat Cove Campground (set up your tent right in front of the ocean!), Bear on the lake HI hostel in Aberdeen, HI-Cabot Trail Hostel in Pleasant Bay and several B&Bs. Note that Cabot Trail runs through the national park, so you will have to pay the entrance fee.

The Fortress of Louisbourg national historic site is a real and surreal time warp back to the 1700s. Chat with the characters interpreting various roles—fishermen, sailors, servants, etc.—and sip some local rum… or the other way around, whatever you choose!

These are just a few highlights of a trip to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, you’ll find many other stops along the way. Just remember there’s no public transportation on Cape Breton Island—if you hitchhike, allow extra time for your stay, it’s not exactly densely populated.

  • Live the experience of a new immigrant arriving in Canada at Pier 21 Museum in Halifax.
  • Visit the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre in Truro and participate in a pow pow with the Mi’kmaq Community (August).
  • Start the Cabot Trail in Baddeck, a cute village on the northern shore of Bras d’Or Lake.
  • Drive the 300-kilometre-long Cabot Trail along the coast of Cape Breton.
  • Wake up in front of the ocean at Meat Cove Campground.
  • Browse the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton to catch your eyes (and stretch your legs!).
  • Take a dip at Ingonish Island beach on the east coast of Cape Breton after hiking Middle Head Trail.

The North

Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut

The three territories epitomize several fascinating aspects of Canada—long and harsh winters, remote wildness and a challenging yet stunning environment.

Yukon was for a long time a fascinating terra incognita where it was unlikely you’d ever set foot. Nowadays, it’s probably the easiest of the three territories in this vast northernmost region to explore since it has all-season road access to the rest of Canada’s highway network (now Yellowknife does too as of 2012). With a population density of 0.1 persons per square kilometre, the territory warmly welcomes newcomers and travellers looking for work opportunities or a unique adventure. Yukon is a surprising place that offers the usual clichés—never-experienced-before subzero temperature, complete darkness in winter, the challenges of living in small, remote communities—and a few surprises, like a thriving francophone community in Whitehorse.

You don’t come to the Yukon for the city life but for the natural environment and outdoor activities. Tombstone Territorial Park in Yukon and Wrangell–St. Elias National Park in Alaska (US) are a must see and a drive on Dempster Highway—one of the two highways crossing the Arctic Circle in North America—is nothing like your daily commute in Toronto or Vancouver. And where else would you have the chance to see The Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race or the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, just across the border? A “typical” day up North can also include watching the Northern Lights or witnessing the journey of the Porcupine herd, one of the last migratory caribou herds in North America.

Dempster Highway, which provides access to the town of Inuvik (Northwest Territories), is closed during the time of freeze up and thaw. There’s only air access to most of Nunavut.

Alaska (US)

The legendary Alaska Highway (built by US soldiers during WWII) links Whitehorse to Delta Junction and the Klondike Highway links Dawson City to the Alaskan coastal town of Skagway.

There’s more wilderness for you to explore, for instance in Denali National Park and Preserve, close to where the American who inspired the movie Into the Wild lived and eventually died. You can also take a glacier and wildlife cruise from Anchorage or venture onto Kodiak Island, home of the largest subspecies of brown bears.

The best time to visit the North is from June to September… unless you’re looking for truly challenging winter conditions.

  • Read Call of the Wild in Dawson and picture the crazy years of the Gold Rush.
  • Drive on the 127-kilometre-long Top of the World Highway between Alaska and Yukon (summer only).
  • Sleep on a houseboat on Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife.
  • Explore Wood Buffalo National Park, the largest national park in Canada, located between Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
  • Discover Tombstone National Park and hike the difficult Grizzly Lake Trail.
  • Take the cross-border Chilkoot Trail like prospectors did during the Gold Rush.

Quebec

There’s a reason why this French-speaking part of Canada is nicknamed “La belle Province.” The country’s largest province by area shares borders with Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and the US states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. This is the place where you can have it all—outdoor adventures and sophisticated city life.

Quebec City, the provincial capital, is one the oldest European cities in North America. Once you’re done exploring the lovely cobblestone-paved streets and the ramparts surrounding Vieux-Québec, enjoy the historical borough of Île d’Orléans, head to Montmorency Falls Park just a few minutes from downtown or drive 50 kilometres north to explore Jacques-Cartier National Park.

Montreal is lively, fascinating, cultural, historic and much more. Explore the different neighbourhoods, enjoy ethnic food, spend time in museums and party outdoors during the many summer festivals.

Leave the cities behind and go whale-watching in Tadoussac or in the Gaspe Peninsula (choose your tour operator wisely, pick one who doesn’t think “ecotourism” is a cool buzzword).

Feel like taking a road trip? Consider these two options:

  • Route 138 from Quebec City to Kegaska, a scenic drive following the entire north shore of the Saint Lawrence River.
  • Route 389 then Route 500 all the way to Mary’s Harbour in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is a difficult drive across huge Quebec’s forests with very few cities on the way and large stretches of gravel surface—many rental car agreements prohibit driving on the Trans Labrador Highway!

Fall colours at La Mauricie National Park

This is where you should go if you’re in Eastern Canada in September or October. Fall, arguably Canada’s most enjoyable season, is a visual treat and the park is awash in colour. Fall foliage is a complex phenomenon and it’s impossible to predict what shade of yellow or red trees will be but you won’t be disappointed no matter what considering the stunning location. To mix it up with an outdoor experience, try renting a canoe and admiring the wondrous colours on the northern portion of Wapizagonke Lake.

A mini New England with a French accent in the Eastern Townships

You’re still in Quebec but the Eastern Townships’ strong American, British, Irish and Scottish roots are showing. This part of the French province emulates the culture of New England, from the name of the towns to the architecture of the houses. Case in point, 7% of the population speaks English, which is seven times more than in the National Capital Region. The region is a mix of cute towns, summer colonies and ski resort. Sherbrooke, the economic centre of Estrie, is worth a stop before or after exploring Frontenac Provincial Park and Mont-Mégantic National Park.

The best season to visit the province is from June to October (i.e. summer to late summer). You can also come during the winter to enjoy seasonal activities like dog sledding, snowshoeing and skiing (Mont-Mégantic is a good place for that).

  • Discover the many cultural attractions Montreal has to offer, from a Cirque du Soleil show to the International Jazz Festival.
  • Drive along the Saint Lawrence River and stop in every national and provincial park on the way.
  • Hop from one microbrewery to another (do NOT mix with a road trip…) and rank all the local beers (Instagramming optional).
  • Go off the beaten path and explore the Magdalen Islands, Abitibi-Témiscamingue and the Côte-Nord region.
  • Hike in the national park, then watch the stars at the Mount Megantic Observatory.
  • Venture into northern Quebec in winter for a dog sled tour and maybe northern lights.
  • Try your luck at ice fishing, ride a snowmobile (invented by a Québécois!) and spend the night in a shelter deep in the wood.
  • Enjoy a maple-themed meal in a sugar shack and try local delicacies like pea soup, meat pies, oreilles de crises (pork rinds), bacon, sausages, sugar pie and more.
  • Take the Omega Park wildlife safari or go to the Zoo Sauvage de St-Félicien.
  • Bike the 200-kilometre-long P’tit train du Nord trail built over an old railway line that runs through the Laurentians north of Montreal—lazier option, take the Charlevoix tourist train.

Dog sledding? Helicopter flight? Whale watching? Grab the promo code AFPVT and get a 5% discount on activities booked with Ceetiz. Check out the full list here.

Ontario

You must have heard of Niagara Falls, right? This is where you’ll find them! If you’re in Toronto, it’s probably the first world-renowned attraction you’ll visit in Canada—they are just a 90-minute drive away. Don’t forget to check out both the Canadian and American side and consider taking the trip in different seasons, for instance in summer with all the tourists and during the colder months when the falls turn into an icy winter wonderland. Spend the rest of the day wandering around the town, a surprisingly corny “Canadian Vegas.”

Many of Ontario’s most populous cities—Toronto, Hamilton, etc.—are on Lake Ontario’s northern or western shore. For an “into the wild” experience, head to one of the many provincial parks, like Algonquin Provincial Park.

You may not have heard of the Thousand Islands Region of the Saint Lawrence River but it’s a very popular destination for both Canadians and Americans. For once, the name of the site is fairly literal—there are actually 1,000 islands, or more exactly an archipelago of 1,864 islands that straddles the Canada–US border in the Saint Lawrence River and stretch for 80 kilometres downstream from Kingston, Ontario. Some of the islands are tiny with just a single house, many are private islands and some are bare. Take a tour to experience and watch the lifestyle of the rich and frivolous (like, really, who buys an island?!). The Thousand Islands National Park offers activities like kayak tours as well as the opportunity to stay in a secluded riverside tent-cabin.

The further away you are from big cities, the less likely you are to experience crowds in the many national parks. Pukaskwa National Park, for instance, borders the immense Lake Superior, and it feels like you’re standing in front of an ocean. It’s also a chance to discover another side of Canada—the culture of the Anishinaabe First Nations.

If you want to travel around the province, aim for summer. There are also plenty of winter activities to enjoy during the colder months.

  • Skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa or enjoy one of the many festivals in the national capital—the Canadian Tulip Festival draws crowds in May.
  • Experience Niagara Falls in spring, summer, fall or winter.
  • Enjoy a culinary experience in one of Toronto’s many markets.
  • Relax on Lake Huron’s beautiful beaches (try those around Tobermory).
  • Tour the wineries around Niagara-on-the-Lake and try ice wine.
  • Spend a day or more hiking in Algonquin Provincial Park’s snowy forests.

The Prairies

Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Don’t listen to anyone who claims the Prairies are dull—it’s a different experience but a very rewarding one. Seriously, there’s nothing “boring” about endless skies, welcoming locals, stunning nature, interesting fauna right in your backyard, multiculturalism, pioneers and indigenous heritage or farming in general.

Few visitors bother to venture to Central Canada—apparently, Manitoba is too cold and Saskatchewan too hard to spell. Their loss because they both live up to their respective motto, “The land of the living skies” and “Friendly Manitoba.”

One thing is true, though—the Prairies are flat. If you take the Trans-Canada Highway, expect never-ending fields (or never-ending white land in winter). From east to west, you may want to stop at the following places:

  • The Whiteshell Provincial Park and on the shores of Falcon Lake.
  • Longitudinal Centre of Canada in Lorette, Manitoba.Winnipeg, Manitoba’s provincial capital.
  • Regina, Saskatchewan’s provincial capital.
  • Moose Jaw, a town Al Capone apparently enjoyed in his bootlegging days.

Need a break from wheat fields? Check out the sand dunes in Spruce Woods Provincial Park (Manitoba) and at Great Sandhills (Saskatchewan), feel like you’re in Ireland along the Appelle Valley’s wide river (Saskatchewan) or imagine yourself in Utah in Big Muddy Badlands (Saskatchewan).

  • Splurge on a flight to Churchill, the beluga and polar bear capital of the world.
  • Meet bison at Riding Mountain National Park (Manitoba), admire the boreal forest at Prince Albert National Park (Saskatchewan), and discover wild West scenery at Grasslands National Park (Saskatchewan).
  • Get over your fear of snakes at Narcisse Snake Dens (Manitoba).
  • Immerse yourself in First Nations and Métis culture at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan and visit the Riel House national historic site in Winnipeg.
  • Learn more about the Prairies’ rich history, fur trade and agriculture, visit the Mennonite Heritage Village (Manitoba), the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site (Manitoba) and the Fort La Reine Museum (Saskatchewan).

If you want to take a dip or fish in the many lakes, summer is best, but most parks and historic sites are open year-round.

Alberta

You must have seen pictures of snow-capped mountains, impossibly blue lakes and moose crossings, right? You’ll find all that and more in Alberta, a province with landscapes encompassing mountains, prairies, desert badlands and vast coniferous forests.

Technically, most of the province is prairie, but the Rocky Mountains, shared with British Columbia, are hard to miss along the southwestern border. They offer very different scenery and experiences depending on the season. The province is also home to amazing fauna, such as the grizzly and black bear, coyote, wolves, cougars, buffalo, moose… be sure to know what to do if you come face to face with something bigger than a groundhog, bears are only friendly in cartoons!

Banff National Park, the flagship of the national park system, and Jasper National Park, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, are best explored from the two eponymous cities. Stargazing fans should plan a few nights in Jasper National Park, a dark sky preserve—if you’re around in October, don’t miss the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.

Need some freshwater in your life? Try Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake, Pyramid Lake or Medicine Lake and their long and stunning trails through flatlands or mountains. If you feel sore after that, relax your muscles in one of the many local hot springs.

One of the best road trips is the Icefields Parkway, a scenic mountain drive that stretches 232 kilometres between Lake Louise and Jasper. Plan many stops along the way for a quick picture or to check out one of the many points of interest or activities.

Alberta is also cowboy country. Live the Stampede Festival experience in Calgary, a rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July.

The high season in Alberta is in July and August—Calgary is especially busy around the Stampede Festival. In fall, you’ll get to see fall foliage in national parks and nothing beats a sunny summer day at the lake. To spot fauna, “bear season” is between mid-April and mid-June and the mating season for wapiti is in fall.

  • Enjoy one of the most scenic drives in Canada.
  • Admire lakes with stunning blue and turquoise water.
  • Observe Canadian wildlife in its natural habitat.
  • Hike the Valley of the Five Lakes trail in Jasper National Park.
  • Have a hand-shaped treat at Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper.

British Columbia

The licence plates aren’t lying—it’s truly “Beautiful British Columbia.” The Pacific Ocean shoreline, dozens of islands, mountains, lakes, forests, whales, orcas, bears, wapitis… grab extra memory cards for your camera, you’re gonna need them.

It’s a big place, so feel free to use the helpful HelloBC website to plan your trip and get travel ideas.

Vancouver

Famous for hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics and known as “Hollywood North” for its billion-dollar film and TV industry, Vancouver is also appreciated for its lovely setting, outdoor recreational activities, professional sports team, trendsetting, activism… oh, and warmer winters.

Don’t spend too long downtown, there’s a lot more to see. Grab a coffee at Vancouver Lookout for a spectacular 360-degree view of the city, enjoy the shoreline, eat cheap and delicious sushi watching sunset on English Bay beach, wander around Gastown, Kitsilano and West End and take a break in Stanley Park or Lynn Canyon Park. If you’re lucky, you could even stumble upon a movie star or the shooting of your favourite series!

Hikers will love the opportunity to hike the many trails around the city. Check out Vancouver Trails for maps, a list of all the trails and safety tips.

One of the most scenic drives in Canada is the 160-kilometre-long Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler. Start by the ocean and end up in the mountain, but don’t forget to plan a few stops along the way, including Shannon Falls Provincial Park, Squamish (billed as the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” and Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Vancouver Island

It’s only 34,000 km2 but it can keep you busy for weeks! Victoria, the provincial capital, is a charming little town with a very British feel. It’s the perfect weekend getaway or a nice starting point for your trip. Check out the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the float homes at the eastern end of Fisherman’s Wharf, the parks and the second-oldest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco’s.

Vancouver Island is a good base for whale watching and wildlife tours (make sure to choose an ethical organization). For another dose of nature, visit Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino and Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

Hikers rejoice! There are plenty of opportunities to get moving, for example on Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and on the West Coast Trail.

Tired? Relax on the beach and enjoy a fish-and-chips meal on the sand. You’ll find your favourite spot oceanside soon enough but expect a surfer vibe and wild beaches. If you find Tofino is too much of a hipster paradise, try Ucluelet (“Ukee”), a lovely fishing town.

Save some time for the Comox Valley, Campbell River and hidden gems like Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy, both North of the island. There are also dozens of smaller islands around—Quadra Island, Cormorant Island, Broken Group Islands, etc.

The Sunshine Coast

Northwest of Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast Regional District is an area that stretches 180 kilometres along the Salish Sea from Howe Sound to Desolation Sound. Only accessible by boat or plane, it’s a hidden gem where you can hike, bike, swim (in the Pacific Ocean or in freshwater lakes) and discover the culture of three First Nations communities. You can spend the night or much longer in Gibsons, Sechelt or Powell River—these communities have several accommodation options, including campgrounds and hotels.

The Okanagan Valley

Tired of the coast? Inland British Columbia is well worth a visit too. Stay in Kelowna, Penticton and Osoyoos and explore the area—thanks to its hot, sunny and dry climate, the area is one of Canada’s largest producers of fruit and wine. Tour the wineries, try the local tasty cheese and enjoy locally grown fruits.

Don’t miss Spotted Lake and its mystical coloured polka dots northwest of Osoyoos. In town, check out the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre to learn about the culture of the Okanagan people.

This region is best enjoyed in spring and fall for sunny days, lovely colours and great wine.

The Kootenay Rockies

Home to four of the seven national parks in British Columbia—Yoho National Park, Mount Revelstoke National Park, Glacier National Park and Kootenay National Park—the Kootenay Rockies are at least as stunning as the Alberta Rockies.

Visit Yoho National Park for Emerald Lake, the Kicking Horse River and the Wapta Falls and marvel at the towering mountain peaks (including 28 peaks over 3,000 metres tall). At Mount Revelstoke National Park, drive the Meadows in the Sky Parkway winding 26 kilometres uphill through forests of cedar and hemlock, spruce and fir to the subalpine wildflower meadows.

Each of these parks offer plenty of hiking trails suitable to all fitness levels.

Vancouver is a rainy city, especially in fall and spring, but summer is a lovely (relatively dry!) season. British Columbia is huge, around 945,000 km2, so weather conditions vary greatly. The sunny season is usually from May to September and winter activities are best enjoy in December and January.

  • Surf on beaches around Tofino on Vancouver Island.
  • Hit the trails to enjoy the gorgeous scenery of British Columbia.
  • Take the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler.
  • Ski in one of the 2010 Winter Olympics venues.
  • Wander around streets and neighbourhoods you remember from movies and TV series.
  • Take a wine tour in the Okanagan Valley.

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The USA

Tempted to cross the border and say “hi” to the Southern neighbours?

New York City is usually the top destination for those in Eastern Canada. Accommodation is pricey but it can still be an affordable trip if you score a cheap plane or bus ticket. Wander and shop around Manhattan, see a live show in Brooklyn, climb the Empire State Building or Top of the Rocks to watch the skyline and see Central Park from above, take the free ferry to Staten Island to visit the Statue of Liberty… You won’t run out of places to visit and things to do in NYC—remember, it’s “The City That Never Sleeps”! Plan to stay at least two or three nights to see the main sights.

Boston is also close to Quebec and Ontario and it can be a great introduction to the US East Coast culture. Wander around Harvard campuses—no need to pay tuition fees for that!—, visit historic sites and landmarks, enjoy cheap lobster and maybe venture along one of the long stretches of beach on Cape Cod. It’s also a chance to visit rural Massachusetts and Salem City (famous for the 1692 witch trials) and several neighbouring states like the Maine Coast Region or the beautiful mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.

The West Coast is close to those based in Vancouver, with cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast is one of the ultimate American road trips from dramatic coastline to giant redwoods.

Dreaming of canyons, geysers and Old West scenery? Head to Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming or Colorado for amazing national parks. One caveat—for this region, you’ll need a car, there’s almost no bus service to the park except to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and to Yosemite National Park.

To avoid the summer heat, plan to visit in April-May or between September and mid-November. In the Northern states, don’t go after November unless you’re looking for winter activities.

  • Discover all the amazing American national parks. If you skip Los Angeles and add a week to your trip, you can even take a detour to Yellowstone National Park.
  • Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and the mild weather in San Francisco, bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and buy vinyl records at Amoeba, the world’s largest independent record store.
  • Take the scenic Utah State Route 12 and enjoy the many viewpoints.
  • Enjoy an ice cream watching skaters at Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
  • Discover the Yosemite National Park and its countless waterfalls.
  • Camp under the starry sky at the Grand Canyon or Arches National Park.
Chapter 30 of 34

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