To truly get a feel for Canada - the second biggest in the world, spanning six time zones – you need to hit the road and explore its furthermost corners. Self-drive trips are the best way to do this, allowing connections with people and places always found on roads less travelled. Here are eight trips that showcase the diversity of this epic country.
Celtic vibes, moose, and dramatic coastlines in Cape Breton Island
Accessed by a narrow causeway from the Nova Scotia mainland, you can comfortably drive around the whole of Cape Breton Island in a week. Hit the jaw-dropping Cabot Trail through Cape Breton Highlands National Park to enjoy sweeping vistas over cliffs to the wild Atlantic ocean, sweet independent cafes, secluded beaches and wildlife. Drive on through tiny Acadian fishing villages, historical landmarks, and savour some of the world’s best seafood. In fall, the colours of the changing leaves are incredible, the weather is gorgeous, and you’ll get to mingle with locals in the quieter months for visitors. Visit during October when the Celtic Colours International Festival takes over, with music and dance performances in small halls and venues across the island.
Cabot Trail loop distance 185 miles, suggested driving time three to five days.
Follow the St. Lawrence River through Quebec
Start in historic Quebec City, wander the enchanting cobbled streets of the old town, and enjoy ‘hood Saint-Roch’s’ serious urban cool. Spend time perusing the pristine glacial valleys of Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier by foot or kayak, then head east to the delightful food region of Charlevoix to enjoy local cheeses, breweries, and farm-to-table dining. Catch the ferry over to Rivière-du-Loup from Saint-Siméon, and go out whale-watching on the St Lawrence – you might even see up to 13 species of cretaceans. Drive west through the rolling farmlands and picturesque little towns in Kamouraska for more foodie diversions, before ending your trip in always-fashionable Montreal for eclectic restaurants, bars, and cultural attractions.
Distance 487 miles, suggested driving time five to seven days.
Drive ice roads across the Arctic Circle
The Dempster Highway is Canada’s northernmost road. Driving it between December and April, when the rivers along the route are frozen enough to drive on, the route takes you through snow-covered mountains to the Arctic Ocean, across vast tundra, with plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife along the way. From Dawson City in the Yukon to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, this is the ultimate winter drive. Be prepared with a four-wheel-drive SUV, or book with an experienced operator for an exciting, yet safe, ride of a lifetime.
Distance 459 miles, suggested driving time five days.
Drive through pre-history in the Alberta Badlands
Driving the Dinosaur Trail through the Alberta Badlands to Drumheller is a trip that takes you through vast prairie landscapes that drop-off into rocky canyons as strange and fantastic as the surface of the moon. Stop at the Hoodoos, unique towering rock formations, hike Horsethief and Horseshoe Canyons, before reaching Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum, home to more than 130,000 fossils, including many complete dinosaurs. Climb the world’s tallest dinosaur, visit a tiny church built by convicts, and be sure to stop at the Last Chance Saloon in the tiny town of Wayne – so authentically Old West that parts of the Jackie Chan classic Shanghai Noon were filmed there.
Loop distance 29 miles, suggested driving time two days to take in all the sights.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Start in hip capital St John’s, known for its food and bar scene, and brightly painted houses on Jellybean Row. Add in a foraging experience with Cod Sounds to learn how locals traditionally thrived on this rocky island province. Drive the Avalon Peninsula through fishing villages with curious names like Cupids, Heart’s Delight, and Dildo. Head North to take in awe-inspiring views at Terra Nova National Park, and go out on a converted fishing boat to view majestic humpbacks with hundreds of puffins circling overhead. You can also look out for signs of a kitchen party, where locals sing along to live music and welcome visitors to join in, for a true Newfoundland and Labrador connection.
Distance from St John’s to Terra Nova National Park 236 miles, suggested driving time five to seven days.
Take in Ontario’s Fall Colours along the shores of Lake Superior
Route 105 from Wawa to Vermillion Bay follows the shores of the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior. Not to mention through several lesser-known parks, such as Pukaskwa National Park, that offer superb kayaking and hiking amongst the beauty of the changing autumn leaves. Wend your way though small lakeside towns and the city of Thunder Bay, taking in Indigenous cultural experiences along the way.
Distance from Wawa to Vermillion Bay 530 miles, suggested driving time five to seven days.
Explore both shores of the spectacular Bay of Fundy
Start in the laid-back city of Saint John, New Brunswick, exploring craft breweries and contemporary restaurants – then take time to contemplate at colliding continent-carved Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark. Drive through the dramatic coastal landscape of Fundy National Park to Hopewell Rocks, where you can kayak the world’s highest tides amongst five-story high flowerpot rock formations and other-worldly topography. Crossing the New Brunswick border to Nova Scotia brings beach towns and rich agricultural lands dotted with wineries along the Nova Scotia Bay of Fundy coastline. Stop at quaint historic Annapolis Royal (founded in 1605), before catching the Digby Ferry back across the Bay to Saint John.
Distance round-trip from Saint John 420 miles, suggested driving time five to seven days.
Sample your way along the Okanagan wine route
The bountiful Okanagan Valley offers the perfect conditions for growing many varieties of grape. Fertile soil supports grapes perfectly, but the unique climate of the Okanagan – as hot as 104°F in the daytime but cool at night, which allows grapes to hold their natural acidity – is what helps create the delicious wines that the region is known for. There are more than 120 wineries in the Okanagan to explore, many with fabulous tasting rooms offering incredible views along with their world-class reds and whites. Start in the town of Osoyoos, a desert environment complete with rattlesnakes, then drive winding mountain roads past epic lakes, past abundant fruit stands and wineries at adorable small towns on your way to Kelowna – a small city on the shores of vast Okanagan Lake with great farm-to-table dining, a craft distillery, and sandy lakefront beaches.
Distance from Osoyoos to Kelowna 76 miles, suggested driving time two to five days.
Inspired to hit the road and find your perfect Canadian vacation? There’s so much to explore that you’re guaranteed that one trip will never be enough…!