10 Canadian Road Trips You Need to Take at Least Once
Roll down your windows, cue up the playlists and hit the highway on one of these great Canadian road trips. Whether you’ve got days or just a few hours to spare, these unforgettable treks offer breathtaking scenery, iconic landmarks and thrilling stops along the way.
Great Canadian Road Trips: Vancouver to Tofino, British Columbia
Even if you're living on the opposite coast, this Canadian road trip is worth travelling across our great country to experience. (You can always fly into the Vancouver airport and rent a car!)
Head to Horseshoe Bay for the ferry to Nanaimo, then hit the Pacific Rim Highway (BC Highway 4) for a gorgeous, windy drive through ancient temperate rainforests boasting views of mountains, lakes the coastline. Blink and you might miss the sight of a mama bear and her cubs frolicking in a stream.
Essential stops along the way include the Old Country Market for locally made souvenirs, and a view of their famed Goats on the Roof; and a stroll through Cathedral Grove, a forest of majestic Douglas fir trees—some of them 800 years old!
Before Tofino, Canada's surfing capital, you'll hit Ucluelet, which also boasts big waves and a laid-back vibe—at a slightly lower price point than its sister down the road. Spend a couple days here and then continue along the coast to Tofino's Relais & Chateaux-accredited Wickaninnish Inn, your HQ for surfing world-famous Chesterman Beach. Other attractions include whale-watching tours, winter storm-watching, fishing and hiking. Want to take it easy? Sit back and take in the region's great locavore cuisine, or unwind at The Wick's famed Ancient Cedars Spa.
Find out why Tofino also made our list of the 10 places in Canada every Canadian should visit.
Great Canadian Road Trips: Calgary to Lake Louise, Alberta
Book off four days to do the trek from Calgary to Lake Louise, suggests Debbie Monahan, Montreal-based regional director with Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
Day one: "Begin with a city tour of Calgary that includes a visit to the famous Calgary Stampede and also a visit to the site of the 1988 Olympic games," says Monahan. (Before you go, brush up on this fascinating Calgary Stampede trivia.)
Day two: "Rent a vehicle, pack a lunch, and depart early the next morning for Lake Louise, stopping at the Columbia Icefield for a quick snowmobile tour on the way. You should arrive at Lake Louise in the mid-to late afternoon, which is a perfect time to take a stroll around the beautiful lake filled with crystal-blue water. I recommend staying at a hotel with a lake view so you can enjoy the breathtaking sunsets and sunrises," says Monahan.
Day Three: "Plan for an early rise to allow for time to roam around Lake Louise before heading off to Sulphur Mountain, Banff Springs. You must take the gondola all the way up the mountain and bring your bathing suit, as you'll want to spend some time in the hot springs! The Fairmont Banff Springs offers an evening treat, complete with interesting ghost stories if you opt for tour," says Monahan. (Check out more of the best things to do in Banff.)
Day Four: "Do some additional touring around Banff Springs, before returning to Calgary," says Monahan. Once you make it back, this list of the best things to do in Calgary can serve as your guide!
Great Canadian Road Trips: The Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
If your idea of a dream road trip is one where your golf clubs are stowed in your car trunk and always at the ready, try the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton island—recently ranked #1 among US and Canadian island destinations by Travel + Leisure magazine.
Picture "wow" curves and coastal views, spectacular cliffs and stunning beaches—plus the region's renowned Maritime hospitality. Stop and swim, hike, horseback ride, fish, kayak, scuba dive, or simply compare lighthouses. (Don't miss this roundup of the best beaches in Canada.)
Then head for the greens at one of the island's six top-notch golf courses, making sure to book reservations at the Cabot Links, Canada's first true "links" golf course.
Check out 10 more essential east coast experiences.
Great Canadian Road Trips: Eastern Townships, Quebec
Take a scenic drive to North Hatley, 75-minutes east of Montreal, for the Relais & Chateaux-listed Manoir Hovey, suggests Montreal-based Patricia Gajo, author of guidebook Frommer's Montreal & Quebec City, 22nd Edition, who made the pilgrimage with her boyfriend.
"Manoir Hovey is hands-down the most luxurious getaway for couples in the Eastern Townships: jacuzzi, water view, Champagne, gourmet resto—you name it," says Gajo. (Check out 10 more great Canadian hotels.) "Along the way, we saw all these little stands where you could buy local produce direct from farmers, like corn, raspberries, apples, and so on. I also bought some maple syrup," says Gajo, who notes that many find the region's rolling fields and orchards reminiscent of Tuscany.
One must-visit is Abbey of St-Benoît-du-Lac, a Benedictine monastery. "I'd like to go back in fall because I heard you can apple pick in their orchard. They also make cheese; I bought a brick of their famous bleu. You can also go at certain times to hear their daily Gregorian chants," says Gajo.
Get to know the best apple picking spots across Canada.
Great Canadian Road Trips: Stratford, Ontario
A short, scenic drive from Toronto or London, Ontario, Stratford makes for a great day trip or weekend getaway, complete with charming small town, historic inns, a scenic river perfect for strolling or picnicking alongside—and, of course, its famed theatre festival. (Here are more great day trips from Toronto on one tank of gas.)
"The Stratford Festival is a must for theatre enthusiasts, but beyond that, this quaint 19th century town offers many additional treasures to explore," says London-based, Claudia Viani, Director of Leisure and Local Business, at Carlson Wagonlit Travel. "The annual Stratford Summer Music Festival features everything from classical to jazz, showcasing some free concerts that can be enjoyed outdoors. If music isn't your thing, there are many unique boutiques that offer great shopping. My favourite is Watson's Chelsea Bazaar, where you can find china, glassware and other treasures imported from around the world."
Bring your appetite. "Stratford is home to a number of world-class restaurants, wine and coffee bars, chocolate emporiums and ice cream parlours," says Viani.
Check out the 10 most iconic Canadian dishes—and the best places in the country to find them!
Great Canadian Road Trips: The Sea to Sky Highway, Squamish to Whistler, British Columbia
"I've been driving the Sea to Sky Highway daily for the past 12 years and it still takes my breath away," enthuses Mary Zinck, media relations coordinator for Tourism Whistler.
"From downtown Vancouver to Whistler it's approximately a two-hour drive along the winding Sea to Sky Highway (BC Highway 99) with a continuous view of the Coast Mountains and Howe Sound. This stretch of road is regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in North America. In 2010, the highway was designated "The Cultural Journey" to celebrate the area's First Nations history. As you wind your way north between mountains and ocean, stopping at the various pullouts is a must. Breathtaking vistas provide backdrop to information kiosks placed at areas of cultural significance along the route," says Zinck.
En route, stop at: scenic Shannon Falls, dine at The Watershed Grill, which boasts a large patio overlooking the Squamish River, and stretch your legs while taking in the views at the Tantalus Range Lookout.
Check out 20 more things to do in Whistler—even when it's not snowing!
Great Canadian Road Trips: A Foodie Tour Through Kelowna, British Columbia
Set in the orchard and winery-strewn Okanagan Valley, ski destination Kelowna has, in more recent years, built a reputation as a gastronomic hot spot.
Want a day of exquisite shopping and locavore eating? "Our self-guided Farm to Table Tour highlights Kelowna's farm-gate gems, many of which are tucked away and a little off-the-beaten track. People love to meet interesting, creative locals who are dedicated to farming," says Tourism Kelowna's Tour Guru, Catherine Frechette.
We suggest focusing on South East Kelowna: sample Tantalus Vineyards' renowned Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; tour Arlo's Honey Farm; load up on lavender jelly and bath oil at the Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm, plus meet the goats and choose from 20 types of handmade goat cheese at Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan farm/fromagerie/boutique.
"You could do this whole tour in about four to six hours. Stop for lunch in this area at the Wild Apple Restaurant, Cabana Grille, or, closer to the goat cheese farm at Sunset Organic Bistro (The Summerhill Pyramid Winery's restaurant), and you'll be eating ingredients from Kelowna's farm-to-table program," says Frechette.
Make sure you've stocked up on these Canadian road trip essentials before you pull out of your driveway.
Great Canadian Road Trips: Pelee Island, Ontario
Canada's southernmost inhabited tip is a great day or weekend getaway for birders and nature lovers, says Laura Mousseau, media relations manager of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
"Pelee Island is a beautiful oasis in Lake Erie with friendly folks and scenic views along its coast, and stunning forests, wetlands and prairies in its interior," says Mousseau. "Accessible by car ferry throughout spring, summer and fall, visitors can drive onto the ferry at Leamington or Kingsville, depending on the time of year, and drive off at Pelee Island where they can visit rare habitats and great cultural sights."
Be sure to check out the following en route:
• The Nature Conservancy of Canada's Florian Diamante Nature Reserve
• Provincial nature reserves Lighthouse Point and Fish Point
• And, finally: Pelee Island Bird Observatory
"Pelee Island is a key stopover point for a variety migrating birds in spring and fall—butterflies as well," enthuses Mousseau.
Don't miss these other awe-inspiring natural wonders across Canada.
Great Canadian Road Trips: Edmonton via Jasper or Calgary via Banff
These stretches of Alberta are so rich in attractions, we're offering two takes on it!
Author Jamie Friesen, author of Zombie Night in Canada, offers his flexible approach to the region. "You can start in either major city—Edmonton or Calgary—then drive to the nearest mountain park: Jasper National Park from Edmonton, or National Park from Calgary.
Take in the first of these UNESCO World Heritage parks, each filled with amazing vistas and wildlife, and then take the Icefields Parkway, one of Canada's best road trips (shown here at Bow Lake), to the other Rocky Mountain park to see more incredible nature sights like waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife, picturesque lakes, and so on. Then just drive on to the next major city, after an additional few hours driving across a scenic prairie landscape, says Friesen. (These are the most beautiful waterfalls in Canada.)
"This trip can be done in two to seven days, depending on how long you wish to stay and enjoy the sights along the way," he says.
Afterwards, consider adding these great day trips from Calgary to your itinerary.
Great Canadian Road Trips: Cruise the Chatham-Kent Corridor, Ontario
Yes, Chatham-Kent! 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, says local travel writer Nicole Keck, of Vacay.com.
Ride your hog along the postcard-pretty Highway 3 "Cruise the Coast" motorcycle route, which starts in iconic beach town Port Dover (home to thousands-strong biker rallies every Friday the 13th). Along the way, you can trace the path taken along the Thames River by British and First Nations loyalists as they were chased by American forces during the War of 1812. Visit some of the stops along the historic Underground Railroad, which ex-slaves braved on their path to freedom. The Chatham-Kent region was home to one of the largest and most successful black settlements in Canada. With Rondeau and Wheatley provincial parks along the ride, picnic and hiking opps abound also.
Looking for more road trip inspiration? Check out 10 great Canadian attractions that are worth the drive!