With three ocean coastlines, sweeping prairies, secluded beach spots and the towering Rocky Mountains, Canada is absolutely spoiled when it comes to scenery. The best way to explore it all is by hitting the open road, and taking one of the incredible Canadian road trips the country is famous for. From east to west there’s no shortage of great spots, with routes looping around entire islands, winding through wine country and even all the way up to the Arctic. Here are 10 of the best road trips in Canada.
Vancouver Island road trip- British Columbia
Old-growth forests with soaring cedars, craggy coastlines and ethereal beaches make Vancouver Island one of Canada’s most beloved getaways. Located off the west coast, the island is home to fantastic destinations like the laid-back surf town of Tofino, pretty Parksville and regal Victoria which is the next best thing to being in England.
The three-hour Nanaimo to Tofino drive is one of the most popular routes, and heads down the Pacific Rim Highway through small cities like Port Alberni which is the gateway to outdoor adventures like hiking and canoeing. It’s also known for salmon fishing and black bear sightings, and nearby Della Falls which is one of Canada’s tallest waterfalls.
Be sure to make quick stops at glistening Sproat Lake, Cathedral Ridge which has groves of Douglas fir trees dating back 800 years, and detour over to the picturesque village of Ucluelet for whale watching.
Sea-to-Sky Highway- British Columbia
The two-hour journey along the Sea to Sky Highway is among the most scenic drives in Canada, and one of the best road trips from Vancouver. The roadway links the city with Pemberton, and includes a stop in Whistler which played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and is one of the most idyllic places in Canada thanks to its jaw-dropping mountain backdrop.
The well paved Sea-to-Sky corridor (technically Highway 99) hugs Howe Sound, serving up breathtaking views of sparkling blue water to the west and mountain peaks looking to the east.
Fun stops worth making en route include Shannon Falls, which is the province’s third highest waterfall and made up of a series of cliffs rising 335 metres above the highway. Kids love the Britannia Mine Museum National Historic Site detailing B.C.’s mining history, and the adventure capital of Squamish is a great place for sports like mountain biking.
Don’t miss a ride on the Sea to Sky gondola (or trek up if you’re in the mood for a serious workout!), which leads to a wooden suspension bridge and series of wooden viewing platforms that are 2800 feet high and have stunning panoramic views over Howe Sound. Click to book
Okanagan vineyards- British Columbia
Sun-drenched vineyards, arid hillsides and glistening lakes make up the Okanagan Valley, which is a fun Canada road trip for the wine-loving crowd. There’s no specific route to follow; instead head straight for whichever tasting room is calling your name.
Kelowna is the epicentre of the action, with a party scene centered along the shores of Lake Okanagan and about 40 wineries in and around the city. Some are quite memorable: think goats on the roof, one in a music recording studio, and another that has a life-size replica of an Egyptian pyramid!
Other must-see spots on your Okanagan road trip include neighbouring Vernon, Penticton, and Osoyoos where people love their wine so much they created the Half Corked Marathon that includes stops at more than a dozen vineyards during the run.
Calgary to Vancouver drive- Alberta and British Columbia
If you’re driving across Canada you’ll likely end up on the Trans-Canada Highway at some point, and one of the prettiest stretches of Highway 1 is the Vancouver to Calgary road trip. The route passes through some of the country’s most impressive national parks including Banff, Yoho and Glacier which have a front row seat to the splendour of the Rocky Mountains, and ends at the Pacific Ocean.
This western Canada road trip technically only takes 11 hours, but you’ll want to budget at least a few extra days to go hiking on some of the trails, check out fun mountain towns like Golden and Revelstoke, or soak in the Harrison Hot Springs. You can also make a detour to the Okanagan by taking Highway 97 from the houseboating mecca of Sicamous, or hop on Highway 93 and travel through Kootenay National Park to check out the Radium Hot Springs, Panorama and Invermere.
Icefields Parkway- Alberta
The Icefields Parkway connects two of Canada’s favourite mountain towns, and just might be the most ridiculously scenic drive you ever take. This 200 kilometre Alberta road trip starts in Banff National Park and ends in Jasper, winding through thick forests, over steep valleys, past aqua-marine lakes and even glaciers along the way.
Stops to include on your Icefields Parkway itinerary are Bow Lake, Peyto Lake which is famous for its vibrant turquoise hue, the Columbia Icefield and Glacier Skywalk which juts out a heart-pounding 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley. Near Jasper, make a pit stop at Athabasca Falls which thunders through a narrow gorge and has either gem-toned water or is frozen over with ice crystals depending on the time of year.
While it technically only takes four hours to drive the length of the Icefields Parkway, chances are you’ll want to pull over every single viewpoint to admire the scenery so be sure to budget a full day for this trip.
Dempster Highway- Yukon and Northwest Territories
If you’re up for an unforgettable adventure, this Yukon road trip won’t disappoint. The Dempster Highway stretches from Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, passing by stunning spots like Tombstone Territorial Park and up to the Arctic Circle.
The desolate terrain on this dirt road makes the drive rather tricky, especially since there are very few services or accommodations along the 700-kilometre highway. It’s critical to be prepared with things like a full tank of gas and extra food, and forget about getting much cell reception this far north! Eventually the road links to the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk-Highway, which you can take all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
Georgian Bay Coastal Route- Ontario
One of the best road trips from Toronto is the Georgian Bay Coastal Route, which is also a popular motorcycle route in Ontario thanks to the scenic, winding roads. Idyllic Georgian Bay is a favourite weekend getaway for city slickers, and is made up of more than 30-thousand islands surrounded by clear blue water. In fact, the bay is so large it’s earned the nickname of the ‘sixth Great Lake.’
The 1300 kilometre loop winds through some of the most impressive spots around Georgian Bay, including Manitoulin Island which is the world’s largest freshwater island, Wasaga Beach, Parry Sound and the Bruce Peninsula where the water is so cerulean you’d think you were in the Caribbean. Windswept pines, towering cliffs, endless beaches and plenty of outdoor activities make this jaunt through cottage country one of the best Canada road trips during summer.
Southern New Brunswick
A highlight of this multi-day jaunt along the coast are the Hopewell Rocks, which were shortlisted as one of the new wonders of the world. This area along the Bay of Fundy sees some of the world’s highest tides, reaching astounding heights of 14 metres twice a day, with each tidal flow containing 100 billion tonnes of water.
Picturesque villages line New Brunswick’s south coast, like St. Martin’s which has a whitewashed lighthouse and colourful waterfront, and Alma which is a great place for foodies. If you’re in the mood for a nature walk, head to the scenic Fundy Trail Parkway overlooking the water, or stop at Fundy National Park which boasts waterfalls, serene Acadian forests and babbling brooks.
Cabot Trail- Nova Scotia
With waterfalls, dramatic, rocky coastlines, vibrant bays and beaches, the Cabot Trail is hands-down the best Nova Scotia road trip, and regularly makes the list of world’s top drives.
The 300 kilometre loop around Cape Breton traces the island’s north shore, and its vantage points reveal panoramic views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the beaches throughout Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The area’s Scottish roots are also on display during stops like Ingonish which is home to the Keltic Lodge and an acclaimed golf course, and Lone Shieling which has a stone shepherd’s similar to the ones built in the Scottish Highlands.
Budget at least two days for the drive, and keep an eye out for the likes of whales or eagles during this east coast Canada road trip. It’s well worth stopping at the Skyline Trail near Pleasant Bay, where the pathway hugs the coastline around the Gulf of St. Lawrence and has spellbinding views of the Cabot Trail.
PEI road trip
With more than 1,100 kilometres of coastline, you’re never too far from the beach when driving around charming Prince Edward Island, which is another great eastern Canada road trip. And as Canada’s tiniest province, it’s not too hard to see most of the highlights in a single visit!
If you have a week to spend on the island you can drive around the whole thing; otherwise, focus on the north shore and spend a few days visiting the most popular ones like the crescent-shaped Greenwich Dunes, the golden sands of Brackley Beach, and Cavendish Beach which Anne of Green Gables fans will love, since it’s near the Green Gables Heritage Place.
Check out these other must-dos during a Prince Edward Island road trip, including hikes around the famous red sand cliffs and eating fresh lobster.
Don’t have your own wheels? No problem! Book one of these multi-day tours that include a couple of the best Canadian road trips:
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