As the world’s second-largest country – with the world’s most extensive coastline – Canada is made for road tripping. It’s easy to head away from the tourist trail in this largely uninhabited country, which is what road trips are all about. Here are the best – and most picturesque – road trips you need to enjoy in the Great White North.
The Cabot Trail is undoubtedly one of the most famous road trips in Canada. There are many things to love about this 186-mi (300-km) highway on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. First, it hugs the coastline; therefore, you can expect jaw-dropping sea views at every turn. Second, there are some incredible hikes on the island, including the Skyline Trail. Finally, the Cabot Trail is known for its artisans; Tourism Nova Scotia even places a spotlight on them in their Artisan Road Trip itinerary. With its blend of Celtic and Acadian hospitality, this road trip is a fabulous choice.
The Icefields Parkway stretches for 144mi (232km) through the Canadian Rockies, connecting the towns of Jasper and Banff. People often describe it as one of the world’s most scenic highways, and you can expect to pull over frequently to see “100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls cascading from dramatic rock spires and turquoise lakes set in sweeping valleys.” Travel Alberta recommends stops such as Lake Louise, Crowfoot Glacier, Bow and Peyto Lakes, the Columbia Icefield and Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls.
Less than two hours apart, The Sea to Sky Highway links Vancouver to Whistler, offering those magnificent West Coast views that characterize this region in British Columbia. Popular places to stop include Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver, Shannon Falls (BC’s third-highest waterfall) and The Britannia Mine Museum, which is great for kids. The Sea to Sky Gondola is definitely a must-visit too, with its picturesque views and suspension bridge. Then you can head to Squamish before reaching Whistler.
This long journey (about nine hours) takes road-trippers along the St Lawrence River, from Montreal to Quebec City, and onwards to Gaspé Peninsula. Lonely Planet says there is “nowhere quite like La Gaspésie, a peninsula of pine forests and looming cliffs that pokes into the chilly Gulf of St Lawrence.” Highlights include the famous pierced rock in Percé, boat tours to Bonaventure Island and Parc National de la Gaspésie. This road trip has the perfect combination of urban and rural adventure.
This road trip may not be a traditional one – going from point A to point B – but The Okanagan Valley is a gastronomic hotspot. Circle clockwise around Okanagan Lake from Vernon to Penticton, and then towards Kelowna. The region is known for its farm-to-table restaurants and award-winning wineries. RauDZ Regional Table is Kelowna’s best restaurant (or so its website states), while Davison Orchards is a great place for families. Favorite wineries include Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Mission Hill Winery.
Reader’s Digest says that “though not a household name, this historic and scenic region – comprised of 23 small communities overlooking Lake Erie, Lake St Clair and the Thames River – is gunning hard to become a top motorcycle-touring destination.” From Toronto, Cruise the Coast and follow Lake Erie to Amherstburg near the United States border. Perhaps the best part of this road trip is that there is one very famous stop along the way: Niagara Falls.
Vancouver Island is undoubtedly one of Canada’s most beautiful islands, as its landscape includes rainforests, mountains and rugged coastlines. Two popular places to visit are Victoria and Tofino, which are quite a distance apart. On the way, stop at Cowichan Valley, which is known for its orchards and wineries, and then at Cathedral Grove for a forest photo op. In Tofino, enjoy world-famous surfing at Chesterman Beach, and sunsets from Long Beach. Vancouver Island is also known for its unique hotels, which are a perfect complement to any road trip.
As Canada’s only all-weather road across the Arctic Circle, Travel Yukon calls The Dempster Highway – from Dawson to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories – one of the world’s unique driving routes. It’s extremely isolated, with only one accommodation option along the way in Eagle Plains, but the landscape is unrivaled. Cross the Arctic Circle and visit Tombstone Park, and then take two river ferries into the Northwest Territories. Time your arrival in Inuvik to coincide with the Great Northern Arts Festival, held annually in mid-July.
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The Trans-Canada Highway
The Trans-Canada Highway is the most incredible road trip you can take in Canada. It stretches across the country through all 10 provinces, starting in Victoria and ending in St John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of the (many) highlights awaiting road-trippers include Vancouver and its many attractions, Lake Louise and Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, the Alberta Badlands, the capital in Ottawa, Quebec City, Fundy National Park and Gros Morne National Park.
Located in Ontario, Georgian Bay includes more than 30,000 islands and 1,243mi (2,000km) of shoreline. The Coastal Route, which loops around the Bay from Toronto, features some unique scenery. Some of the best things visitors can do include visiting Bruce Peninsula and its Grotto, Parry Sound (the jewel in the Bay’s crown) and Killarney Provincial Park. And then it’s time to head towards Manitoulin Island and Wasaga Beach, which are the world’s largest freshwater island and the world’s largest freshwater beach, respectively.
Tourism PEI separates the province into three separate and scenic drives: North Cape Coastal Drive, Central Coastal Drive and Points East Coastal Drive. The North Cape is defined by its Mi’kmaq culture and unique stops, including a museum dedicated to potatoes and a college for the highland arts. The Central Coastal Drive includes two distinct regions: the Red Sands Shore and the Green Gables Shore. Points East Coastal Drive is characterized by its parks, trails and lighthouses.
Hugging the coast in Newfoundland and Labrador, start your journey in Deer Lake, stop at the UNESCO World Heritage site, Gros Morne National Park, and then head to Woody Point (a picturesque fishing village) and Rocky Harbour. L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site is, of course, a must-visit attraction along The Viking Trail.