Road trips are special—they may not be for every type of traveller, but being out on the open road almost always guarantees a memorable experience, especially in Canada. Whether you’re on the road for just a day or driving from coast to coast, there’s always a way to create a road trip itinerary that will suit your time and budget. All you really need to take with you are a few essentials: a vehicle, a map or GPS (optional for the brave), a road trip survival kit, some gas money, a loose plan for food and accommodation, and of course, travel insurance.

Naturally, Canada rewards road trippers with unobstructed sights of landscapes that most people only get to see in travel magazines and other media. It’s one of those unique places in the world wherein the journey easily becomes the destination. So if you’ve never step foot in Canada, or have only ever flown around from airport to airport, there’s likely no better introduction to the country’s magnificent scenery and breathtaking expanse than going on a tour while in the driver’s (or passenger’s) seat. Time to hit the road!

From far and wide, O Canada

Like we proudly sing in our national anthem, Canada is a country with vast longitudinal reach. Bordering not one, but three oceans, while spanning a total area of over 9.9 million km2, the second-largest country in the world yields plenty of room for people to explore—whatever it is they’re hoping to find here. Be it metropolitan Canada or backcountry Canada (or something in between), each of the ten provinces and three territories invite explorers with their wealth of culture and natural beauty. 

Tip: With 2017 marking Canada’s 150th anniversary, you can easily fill up your itinerary with many events across the country that celebrate the sesquicentennial. Parks Canada, for one, is giving away free Discovery Passes for admission into national parks all year round.

Moreover, Canada’s geography is analogously as diverse as its people—it’s a harmony of natural landforms that include boreal forests, mountains and cordilleras, valleys and lowlands, prairies and plains, glaciers and ice fields, islands and peninsulas, rivers and lakes, and many others. A drive or walk among these will certainly leave you with a lingering sense of awe. If you’re a visitor, here are some great tips for outdoor lovers to plan around Canada’s landscapes and discover them throughout the seasons.

Canadian outdoors National Park
Enjoying the great outdoors, in spaces such as National Parks, is a big part of Canadian culture

Domestic travel within Canada can prove to be a little bit of a challenge, even for locals. Depending on the time of the year, a direct flight from Vancouver to Halifax, or even Toronto, can cost travellers as much as a long-haul flight overseas. Maybe that’s why it’s surprisingly common to meet Canadians abroad who’ve never even seen other parts of their own country!

Planning your great Canadian road trip

So then there’s the road: a seemingly endless network of routes and possibilities that will take you to your desired destination. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Trans-Canada Highway: running west to east from Victoria, BC to St. John’s, NL, the highway is 7,821km long, making it one of the longest continuous roadways in the world. This raises obvious but valid questions like, where do I even start? But it’s exactly this wide set of choices that makes a road trip across Canada so appealing to many.

Tip: Determining logistics like timeframe, alternative routes, mode of transportation (booking a car rental vs renting an RV can save you money, depending on your travel needs) are all part of the process—just don’t forget about rental car protection insurance!

Planning a road trip in Canada, much like anywhere else that involves some extra mileage, takes a bit of time and effort. But before that, you should first decide on where you want to go and what you’d like to see and experience. Plenty of literal and proverbial roads in Canada will lead you to great things like national and provincial parks, marine conservation areas, national historic landmarks, cultural sites, local attractions and countless hidden gems along the way.

road map road trip planning
Planning the logistics of a road trip has always been part of the fun; these days there are plenty of apps and tools online that can add to your experience

And just like driving back home in your town or city, anything can happen while getting from point A to point B. You might be the most law-abiding defensive driver on the road, but you can’t always account for other road users, unpredictable weather patterns or surprise wildlife encounters (in many parts of Canada, this is a serious concern). So whether you’re a Canadian travelling out of your home province or a visitor to Canada, having travel insurance can certainly pave a smooth road towards your own peace of mind.

Fun road trip ideas in Canada

While scenic coastal drives along the Pacific or alpine tours through the Canadian Rockies may immediately come to mind, you could be missing out on other equally-grand adventures if you don’t explore your options! The 7 road trip ideas below are by no means an exhaustive list, but merely an introduction to what’s in store for the road traveller.

Tip: The best time to go road tripping in Canada is from May to October. That’s a six-month window to plan your trip within—it’s a good way to enjoy summer weather and maybe catch some autumn foliage, but also a smart way to avoid harsh winter driving conditions in many parts of the country.

Gold Rush Trail, BC

gold rush trail bc route
Present-day Barkerville Historic Town & Park has over 107 preserved heritage buildings and spans over 1,130 acres of land, with more than enough campsites to accommodate the 50,000+ travellers that come by annually.

This will take you back in time to an era marked by gold fever, the most celebrated of which was the Cariboo Gold Rush in the 1860s. Starting in New Westminster, you can stop at over a dozen heritage towns as you make your way up north to the town of Barkerville, which was once the epicentre of the BC gold rush and nowadays preserved as a National Historic Site.

Icefields Parkway, AB

Often regarded as one of the top scenic drives in the world, this high-altitude, 232km-long drive meanders through the natural majesty of both Banff and Jasper National Parks, while Columbia Icefield—one of the most accessible for its size in North America—borders the two popular parks.

rockies road trip icefields parkway
A bird’s eye view of the Columbia Icefields Centre and Athabasca Glacier, one of the Canadian Rockies’ biggest attractions. The tounge of the Athabasca Glacier drops down from the Colubmia Icefield, situated over the continental divide.

Although typically busy in the wintertime, the beauty of the Banff-Jasper region can also be captured during fall foliage season (from late September to October), when the leaves dramatically change from one vivid colour to the next.

Magdalen Islands (Îles de la Madeleine), QC

Although the province is known for its historic districts and townships, this remote gem (it is closer to the Maritime provinces than mainland Quebec, after all) is worth the visit. A five-hour ferry ride from Souris, PEI will take you to this pristine peninsula, where you’ll find its distinct rust-red sandstone cliffs formed over millions of years. You can take a leisurely drive on the 85km-long road that connects the six largest islands of the archipelago.

iles de la madeleine east coast road trip
A light mist travels inland from the Magdalen Islands’ distinct red sandstone shores.

However, if you’re only planning to pass through the Quebec mainland, be sure to check out these four season-specific attractions in Quebec City, a place proudly filled with culture and character.

Fundy Coastal Drive, NB

: Travellers visit the famous Hopewell Rocks during low tide, on the shores of the Bay of Fundy near Moncton, NB.
: Travellers visit the famous Hopewell Rocks during low tide, on the shores of the Bay of Fundy near Moncton, NB.

This route mixes heritage with coastal scenery, the highlight of which takes you along the Bay of Fundy, which is famous for having the largest tidal range in the world. This means the difference between high and low tides can exceed 50ft (15m) within the span of half a day! It’s also a place to discover pre-historic fossils, gems and minerals hidden among caves and rock formations.

Cabot Trail, NS

Named after the explorer John Cabot, who landed in Atlantic Canada more than 500 years ago, this ever-popular drive takes you on a 300km loop around most of Cape Breton Island. The most breathtaking views can be enjoyed at the northern portion of the loop, as you find yourself winding through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. And like Icefields Parkway, a visit during the fall months will prove to be a colourful feast for the eyes.

road trip cape breton national park
The Skyline Trail on the western edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park gives hikers elevated views of the Atlantic horizon.

You should take a few days to fully soak in Nova Scotia’s go-to destination, but if you’re really pressed for time, see how you can explore Cape Breton Island in a single day!

Gros Morne National Park, NL

Renowned for its geological wonders like dramatic fjords, barren plateaus, steep highlands and glacial lakes, the park is an outdoor adventurist’s playground. But a simple road tour through this UNESCO World Heritage Site can also be a rewarding treat, even if you’re not planning to camp or hike through it.

gros morne road trip
The Pissing Mare Falls stand at 350 metres high and empty out into Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park.

After Gros Morne, pay a visit to a Viking site at L’Anse aux Meadows or celebrate Christmas in July or engage in other things to do in Newfoundland.

Dempster Highway, YK & NWT

As the only all-season highway to cross the Arctic Circle, this road connects Yukon and the Northwest Territories. On the Yukon end you’ll find Dawson City, once the epicentre of the world-famous Klondike Gold Rush, and on the other, you’ll find the town of Inuvik. And in between? About 740km of rugged gravel road (which helps to protect the permafrost) and open-air views of unspoiled northern beauty!

dempster highway road trip
The gravel roads of the Dempster Highway are designed to withstand the intense physical conditions the weather and other natural and manmade elements bring forth.

Yukon has a lot to offer in terms of adventure and even a bit of relaxation—you just have to know where to look. Find things to do in Canada’s Wild North.

Tip: To date, there are 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada, some of which are entire parks that span millions of acres while others are man-made, culturally-significant establishments. With the country’s infrastructure being one of the best in the world, many of these are easily accessible to travellers.

The ‘great Canadian road trip’, though not as often referenced in popular culture as its American counterpart, can be as epic as you want it to be. Travelling in Canada by car offers you perks that commercial air or rail travel simply can’t, namely, the freedom to decide your route and your pace, at your own whim. The perks of navigating the twists and turns of your journey cannot be overstated, either—after all, the power to make an unplanned detour and be met with pleasant, unexpected discoveries while on the road fittingly rests in the traveller’s hands (usually in the form of a steering wheel).

Have you been on a Canadian road trip? What was your experience like? Share your stories and recommendations below!

Enjoy the road ahead,

Justin

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