With its vast expanses of rugged wilderness, breathtaking coastlines, and diverse landscapes, Canada is a road-tripper’s paradise waiting to be explored. From the mountains and glaciers of the Rockies to the rolling hills of the prairies, to the maritime charm of the Atlantic provinces, there are endless opportunities for adventure on the open road. A great Road Trips Across Canada allows you to experience the freedom of the open highway while discovering hidden gems and scenery that you just can’t appreciate flying overhead. Whether you’re looking for scenic drives, challenging hikes, charming coastal villages, or tasty local cuisine, Canada’s roads offer the perfect backdrop.
In this article, we’ll highlight some of the top adventure road trip routes across this grand country. From the spectacular Sea to Sky highway along the British Columbia coast, to the epic Icefields Parkway through the heart of the Rockies, to the quaint coastal routes of the Maritimes, we’ll cover some of the best drives that showcase Canada’s diverse landscapes. Along the way, we’ll discuss must-see attractions, top hiking trails, amazing photo ops, and recommendations for where to stop to sample local flavours. If breathtaking scenery, off-the-beaten-path discoveries, and making unforgettable memories sound appealing, then it’s time to hit the road to experience these incredible Canadian adventures for yourself!
Table of contents
- West Coast Road Trips across Canada
- The Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia
- The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Vancouver Island
- The Icefields Parkway, Alberta
- The Sunshine Coast Highway, British Columbia
- Central Canada Road Trips:
- Eastern Canada Road Trips:
- Road Trip Challenges and How to Overcome Them
- Frequently Asked Questions
West Coast Road Trips across Canada
The Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia
Stretching 120km from Vancouver to Whistler, the stunning Sea to Sky Highway offers one of the most scenic drives in Canada. Hugging the coast of the Howe Sound for much of the route, the road provides gorgeous views of the glassy waters, islands, and steep mountain ridges rising from the rugged Pacific coastline.
Be sure to stop at Shannon Falls Provincial Park just north of Squamish. A quick 10-minute walk brings you to the base of majestic Shannon Falls, which cascades down 335 meters into the valley below. For an even more breathtaking perspective, you can hike to the top of the falls via the Shannon Falls Trail, crossing suspended bridges and climbing staircases along the way.
Further north, take the turnoff for the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park to see the monolithic granite domes rising 700 meters above the valley. If you’re up for a challenge, you can hike to one of the three summits, but even walking a short way up gives you a sense of the immense scale of these imposing granite cliffs.
Just before arriving in Whistler, make time for a quick stop at Brandywine Falls Provincial Park. A short 10-minute walk over wooden boardwalks and bridges brings you to a viewing platform of these powerful 70-metre falls plunging into the valley below.
The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Vancouver Island
Located on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail offers a wilderness escape along 47km of rugged Pacific coast from China Beach to Botanical Beach. Designed as a multi-day backpacking route, day hikers can also explore sections like China Beach, Sombrio Beach, or Botanical Beach for a taste of this scenic trail.
The trailhead at China Beach provides access to a picturesque beach flanked by incredible shoreline cliffs and old-growth cedars. Walk amongst the tidal pools or hike 2km to Mystic Beach, where waterfalls pour right onto the sand.
Sombrio Beach boasts another stunning shoreline, with windswept sand and huge gnarled driftwood logs backed by lush green cliffs. A beautiful waterfall also cascades right onto the beach.
Further west, Botanical Beach awaits with incredible intertidal scenery. Check out the tidal pools to see ancient volcanic rock formations and a diversity of sea creatures. Of all the Juan de Fuca trail sites, this one should not be missed.
The Icefields Parkway, Alberta
Stretching 230km between Banff and Jasper, the Icefields Parkway is one of the most spectacular drives through the Canadian Rockies. The road winds past massive glaciers, ice-blue lakes, rushing waterfalls, and towering mountain peaks.
One major highlight is Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. This glacier has receded a lot in recent years but riding a massive Ice Explorer vehicle onto the glacier surface provides a unique and memorable experience.
Further north, be sure to stop at stunning Peyto Lake, accessed after a short walk to a viewpoint overlooking this brilliant turquoise water. For an even better vantage point, hike up the trail to the higher viewpoint to take in the whole expanse of this picturesque glacier-fed lake.
No trip along the Icefields Parkway is complete without stopping at the Columbia Icefield Centre. Located on the highway, this is the best place to book a Glacier Adventure and venture out onto the Athabasca Glacier. You can also walk the Glacier Skywalk to marvel at the huge glacier extending down Sunwapta Valley.
With so much incredible scenery, hiking, waterfalls and glaciers, the Icefields Parkway offers one of the top road trip experiences in the entire country.
The Sunshine Coast Highway, British Columbia
Looking for a relaxing getaway from Vancouver? Take a Road Trips Across Canada up the stunning Sunshine Coast Highway in British Columbia. This iconic route heads northwest from Horseshoe Bay on the BC mainland, hopping across ferry crossings to reach the charming coastal communities of the Sunshine Coast.
Driving the highway, you’ll pass clifftop lookouts, beaches, provincial parks, and coastal rainforests. Stop to wander sandy stretches like Haywire Bay and Iris Griffith Centennial Park. Further north, visit the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden or the unique clay cliffs of Skookumchuck Narrows during low tide. Don’t miss exploring the lively creativity and cafes of Sechelt and Gibson, or the trails of Porpoise Bay Provincial Park. With plenty of opportunities to kayak, whale watch, or relax oceanside, the Sunshine Coast Highway serves up some of BC’s most idyllic vistas.
Central Canada Road Trips:
The Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
Located on the beautiful Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, the Cabot Trail is a famous 298 km scenic highway loop around the northern tip of the island. Driving the full loop takes you through the stunning Cape Breton Highlands National Park, with plenty of lookouts and hikes offering breathtaking ocean vistas.
Be sure to stop at the Lookoff near North Mountain, where you can take in panoramic views of the coastline carved out by glaciers millions of years ago. Further along, hike the Skyline Trail loop to be immersed among lush forests, soothing brooks, and more clifftop vistas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
For a chance to spot whales, take a boat tour from Pleasant Bay. And when you need a break from the road, stop in the quaint seaside villages like Ingonish or Neil’s Harbour to sample fresh seafood catches of the day. From start to end, the Cabot Trail is filled with diverse landscapes, Acadian and Celtic culture, and boundless natural beauty.
The Thousand Islands, Ontario
Located on the Saint Lawrence River between Ontario and New York State, the Thousand Islands region is a charming destination perfect for a summer road trip. Hop aboard one of the many boat tours operating from Gananoque or Rockport to weave between the tiny islands and get the real flavour of the region. Many tours will bring you close to Boldt Castle, the gigantic stone mansion on Heart Island, but don’t miss stopping in Alexandria Bay too.
On land, drive portions of the Thousand Islands Parkway connecting Gananoque with Brockville. Stop at scenic parks along the drive or rent a kayak to paddle through these waterways on your own. When it’s time to relax, order some poutine and take in a sunset over the water in Gananoque. You’ll soon discover why the Thousand Islands are such a popular summer retreat.
The Lake Superior Circle Tour, Ontario/Minnesota
For an epic road trip around the world’s largest lake, drive the 1,300-mile Lake Superior Circle Tour. This route follows the shorelines of Lake Superior through Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Driving the entire loop can take 1-2 weeks, but be sure not to rush this trip. There are many worthwhile stops between Thunder Bay and the Minnesota North Shore.
Must-see sites include the towering cliffs and waterfalls of Pukaskwa National Park, the wild beaches and lighthouses on Lake Superior Provincial Park, and the epic vistas along Superior National Forest’s Gunflint Trail in Minnesota. Stop to hike stretches like the Sleeping Giant trail or kayak out to the Apostle Islands sea caves. And sample local fare like smoked whitefish and wild rice soup in cities like Duluth and Thunder Bay. With its incredible scenery, activities, and small-town charm, the Lake Superior Circle Tour highlights the diversity of North America’s heartland.
On the Ontario portion, additional highlights include the Agua Vista hiking trail, LAKE SUPERIOR PROVINCIAL PARK’s rocky beaches and backcountry campsites, and SAULT STE. MARIE’s canal locks. In Minnesota, don’t miss the scenic drive up the NORTH SHORE including GOOSBERRY FALLS and SPLIT ROCK LIGHTHOUSE.
Whether you have a week or a couple of days, the Lake Superior Circle Tour offers the perfect blend of nature, small-town charm, and Great Lakes beauty.
Eastern Canada Road Trips:
The Viking Trail, Newfoundland
Winding along the northern peninsula of Newfoundland, the Viking Trail (Route 430) offers spectacular views of icebergs, whales, puffins, and more as it connects Gros Morne National Park to L’Anse aux Meadows.
Be sure to stop in Gros Morne to hike trails including the Tablelands Mountains, with exposed mantle rock from deep beneath the earth’s crust. Take a boat tour out of Woody Point to see whales and icebergs floating down the coast.
Further north, you’ll find more quaint coastal villages like St. Anthony, offering world-class iceberg viewing. Don’t miss the ancient Viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows at the very top of the trail, showcasing Norse artifacts and recreated sod homes. With its diversity of natural beauty and culture, the Viking Trail is an epic Road Trips through Newfoundland’s top sights.
The Acadian Coastal Drive, New Brunswick
Stretching along the eastern coastline of New Brunswick, the Acadian Coastal Drive provides a scenic loop to immerse yourself in maritime nature and Acadian culture. As you drive along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, stop to hike through Fundy National Park, home to the highest tides in the world. The coastal forest and seaside vistas are breathtaking.
Further up the coast, you’ll find Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park, where you can walk on the ocean floor during low tide around the massive flowerpot rock formations. Other highlights include covered bridges, the fishing village of Bouctouche, and the magnetic hill where cars seem to roll uphill on their own at Moncton. Don’t miss getting fresh lobster and digging for clams along the Acadian Coastal Drive.
Road Trip Challenges and How to Overcome Them
Long Distances and Remote Areas:
- Vast landscapes and remote areas can lead to extended driving times.
- Plan rest stops and overnight stays to avoid fatigue.
- Break your trip into manageable segments.
- Keep your vehicle well-maintained to minimize breakdown risks.
Diverse Weather Conditions:
- Canada experiences a wide range of weather conditions, from snow and ice to extreme heat.
- Regularly check weather forecasts.
- Pack appropriate clothing for varying conditions.
- Ensure your vehicle is equipped for the specific weather, such as snow tires in winter.
Finding Accommodations and Campgrounds
- Accommodation availability can vary, especially in tourist areas.
- Make advance reservations, particularly during peak seasons.
- Utilize camping apps or online resources to locate suitable campgrounds.
- Consider a mix of accommodation types for flexibility, including hotels, motels, and campgrounds.
Staying Safe on the Road
- Road safety is paramount, particularly on unfamiliar routes.
- Regularly follow traffic regulations and take scheduled breaks to combat fatigue.
- Keep your vehicle in top condition.
- Carry essential emergency equipment, such as a first-aid kit and spare tire.
- Share your travel itinerary with someone at home for added safety.
- Unexpected issues, such as vehicle breakdowns or health emergencies, can occur.
- Obtain roadside assistance and travel insurance for peace of mind.
- Pack an emergency kit with essential supplies.
- Familiarize yourself with emergency contact information in Canada.
- Ensure you have a reliable phone and charger for communication.
Limited Cell Coverage
- Some remote areas may lack cell phone coverage.
- Invest in a satellite phone or a GPS device with satellite communication capabilities.
- Download offline maps and navigation apps for use without an internet connection.
- Inform someone about your intended route and expected check-in times.
- Getting lost or navigating complex routes can be frustrating.
- Use GPS navigation systems with real-time traffic updates.
- Plan your route in advance and carry physical maps as backups.
- Familiarize yourself with road signs and prominent landmarks for better navigation.
- Canada is bilingual, with English and French as official languages.
- Learn basic French phrases if you’re traveling to French-speaking areas.
- Carry a translation app or phrasebook to aid communication.
Border Crossing Delays
- Crossing the U.S.-Canada border can result in delays and customs procedures.
- Check online resources for border wait times before your trip.
- Ensure that all travel documents, including passports and visas, are up to date.
- Declare any items or goods at customs to avoid complications.
By addressing these road trip challenges with preparation and adaptability, you can enhance your journey’s safety and overall enjoyment as you explore Canada’s diverse landscapes and attractions.
From the wild shores of Vancouver Island to the seafood shacks of Nova Scotia, Canada offers endless epic road trips for adventure-seekers. As outlined in this article, some of the top routes across the country include British Columbia’s Sea to Sky Highway, the Icefields Parkway through the Rockies’ glaciers, Ontario’s scenic Thousand Islands, and the Cabot Trail encircling beautiful Cape Breton.
Whether you want to hike to thunderous waterfalls in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, walk on Athabasca Glacier’s icy expanse, or sample Maritime lobster fresh from the Atlantic, Canada provides no shortage of diverse landscapes, cultures, and flavors to discover on a classic road trip adventure. With so many options for breathtaking vistas, outdoor activities, historical sites, and local culinary experiences, one could spend a lifetime exploring Canada’s gems by car.
From the miles of wilderness in the far north, to the cosmopolitan cities like Vancouver and Toronto, Canada rewards those eager to embrace the open road. So pack up the car, roll down the windows, cue the road trip playlist, and get ready for the Canadian adventure of a lifetime.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time of year to do a Canadian road trip?
The summer months of June through early September are ideal for road tripping in most parts of Canada. The weather is warmer and you can take advantage of the long daylight hours. Shoulder seasons like May/June and September/October also have their perks with fewer crowds.
How long does it take to drive across Canada?
Driving straight across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax takes approximately 4 days and covers around 4000 miles/6500 km. Most Adventure Road Trips won’t tackle the whole country but rather focus on certain regions. Budget 2-3 weeks to do a comprehensive cross-Canada road trip.
Do I need any special paperwork at the border as a foreign tourist?
Visitors should carry valid passports, travel insurance documentation, and have permits if bringing in firearms. Some foreign nationals may require Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to enter Canada by air.
Where can I sleep on a Canadian road trip?
Options include hotels, motels, B&Bs, hostels, campgrounds, and recreational vehicle parks across the country. Canada has many scenic parks with campsites and also allows random camping in some unpopulated crown land regions.
What road trip snacks or food should I try in Canada?
Some classic Canadian road trip snacks include maple syrup products, butter tarts, poutine, ketchup chips, smoked salmon jerky, pemmican, Timbits, and Nanaimo bars. Make sure to also try local specialties in different provinces like east coast lobster, Montreal bagels, and west coast spot prawns.