Places to visit in Canada
Make the most of your time
To get your head around the places to visit in Canada, look at it regionally. On the east coast you have the littoral loveliness of the Atlantic Provinces, and the west you have British Columbia with that winning combination of Pacific coast and Rocky Mountains. Ontario, in the east, is falling down with lakes (250,000!) and, unlike the rest of Canada, people. Toronto, Canada’s largest city and Ottawa, its capital, are the cosmopolitan hubs here. The North refers to the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon, packed with aboriginal culture and adventures in the wilderness. The Prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are not just open grasslands and magnificent sprawling landscapes, but also home to the Rocky Mountains - well as some of the best polar bear watching territories on earth. And then there’s Quebec where, quite simply, la vie est belle. Si belle.
As well as being home to Banff and Jasper National Parks, Lake Louis and Moraine Lake, Alberta is all encompassing outdoorsiness. It is a winter playground of snowshoeing, ice skating, cross country and dog sledding. And in summer, the walking trails are out of this world. Seeing it all on horseback really allows you to immerse yourself in both this province’s cultural and natural heritage. Calgary and Edmonton are thriving cosmopolitan cities too.
Algonquin Provincial Park
Of course Canada has a protected park dedicated to canoeing. Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park has 1,500 lakes and over 200km of canoe routes. So, you can paddle for days in this most serene of wild places, spotting some of the park’s prolific moose as you go. Paddle with expert naturalists to spot otters, beavers, loons and wolves too. In winter, this becomes husky sledding and snowshoeing paradise.
Banff National Park
In the province of Alberta, Canada’s oldest and most well-known national park, the mountainscapes and glistening waters of the likes of Lake Louise really are not ‘Photoshopped’. Banff is, quite simply, big on beauty. And bears. It’s totally wired for all things winter when the snow comes, the flower filled meadows and alpine trails are ripe for hiking in the spring, and gushing rivers for rafting in the summer.
Known as BC which should actually stand for ‘Bl**dy Cool’. In fact, in terms of landscapes and habitats, it is down well greedy. Rocky Mountains – tick. Whistler ski mecca – tick. Whale watching – tick. Grizzly bear watching – tick. Extraordinary rail journeys – tick. Outdoor adventure in Yoho and Glacier National Parks – mega ticks. And then of course, there is the ever venturous Vancouver, with its eponymous otherworldly island, Canada’s largest Pacific island.
Although they stretch from British Columbia all the way down to New Mexico, Canada’s Rockies are probably the most famous section, with the country’s colonial connections creating a tourism market eons ago. You can easily spend two weeks here living the outdoor dream, hiking and rafting in Yoho National Park, canoeing and cycling in Banff National Park or fawn over the glacial gorgeousness of Whistler and Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Just south of the Arctic Circle, on the western shore of Hudson Bay in the province of Manitoba, this is considered by some to be the polar bear capital of the world. Inaccessible by road, this small port is the land of tundra buggies, or the larger polar rovers, all-terrain vehicles which enable you to view, photograph and study polar bears in safety. Like something out of Star Wars on Ice really.
Fundy National Park
Who doesn’t love a coastal national park, especially when those maritime marvels include the conifer covered Caledonian Highlands that descend down to the Bay of Fundy? If you are already envisaging a hiking in the morning, and kayaking in the afternoon scenario, Fundy is for you. And because Fundy is smack in the middle of the Atlantic migration flyway, birdwatching is superb here in spring and autumn.
Jasper National Park
In addition to Banff National Park, Jasper is in the Alberta Rocky Mountains, in the province of Alberta. It’s the largest of the Canada’s Rocky Mountain parks. It has everything you could want in mountain marvels with glaciers to gawk at, or climb, endless valleys for hiking, peaks to conquer, or alpine meadows just to mellow in. And of course, speedy rivers to raft down.
Newfoundland, the island, was a separate British colony until 1949, when it joined confederation with Canada and is now part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The latter being the adjoining coastal mainland, and both with extraordinary maritime history that ranges from whaling to military base during the Cold War. Today the whales are very much alive, with whale watching for humpbacks a highlight of the summer months here.
Although actually a peninsula, and Canada’s second smallest province, it feels like an island. Cape Breton Island, on its north coast, is actually part of Nova Scotia, as are the other 2,000 dotted around it, making this an island lover’s idyll. The capital, Halifax, is brimming with historic and contemporary maritime culture, but for exquisite, sweeping seascapes, hiking and kayaking in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a must.
Prince Edward Island
This Atlantic island is actually a province in its own right, and Canada’s smallest. Also known as PEI, its red sandstone rock formations scattered along the shore are a photographer’s dream, and endless red sands every beach lover’s dream too. This is a place for families to find the feral within, with cycling and swimming galore. And dig out a copy of Anne of Green Gables. It was set here.
It’s unusual for a province’s capital to be on an island, but this insular idyll is home to Victoria, just one of the island’s ‘capital’ experiences. There is nothing insular about its demographic though with aboriginal, Chinese and British cultures all shining in their own inimitable ways. Vancouver Island also boasts vast wilderness, with mountains, giant fir forests and empty coves. Where out of the blue, a whale appears.
Way up North and way out there on the wilderness scale. Especially in winter when Yukon comes into its own. Husky adventures, or mushing, are a vacation of a lifetime and you get some serious mushers in Yukon, with options for anything from 4-15 day expeditions, staying in lodges or toasty winter tents. In summer, swap sled for saddle to discover mountainous ridges, creeks and valleys at their most verdant, on horseback.
10 day Canadian Rockies family vacation
Vancouver ► Okanagan Valley ► Yoho National Park ► Banff National Park ► Jasper National Park ► Wells Gray Provincial Park ► Whistler ► Vancouver
7 day husky sledding vacation in Yukon
Whitehorse ► Jackson Lake ► MacIntyre Mountain ► Bonneville Lakes ► Fish Lake ► Ptarmigan Flats ► Whitehorse
10 days British Columbia vacation
Vancouver ► Vancouver Island ► Horn Lake Caves Provincial Park ► Pacific rim National Park ► Tofino ► Campbell River ► Orford River ► Quadra Island ► Victoria ► Vancouver
Travel times in Canada
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Canada.
- Banff National Park – Jasper National Park on the scenic Icefields Parkway: 3 hours without stopping. But stopping is a must.
- Vancouver – Toronto : 5 hours by air
- Nova Scotia to Newfoundland: 5-7 hours by ferry
- Vancouver – Vancouver Island: 1 hour 35 minutes by ferry
- Winnipeg – Churchill: 2 hours by air
- Toronto – Vancouver: 4 days & 5 nights by train