With the main route across Canada spanning an imposing 4,860 miles, a car journey opens the country up one small-town at a time. Along the way are hundreds, if not thousands of areas worthy of exploration, teeming with breathtaking scenery, spirited wildlife, diverse cultures, and the all-too-rare character that defines the Great North.
No matter which final itinerary is settled upon, the cities visited will host travelers graciously and warmly every day of the year. Such a vast country does not place limits on the destinations available, but here are 10 worth rolling into on your life-changing road trip from coast to coast.
10 St John’s
Capital of the mysterious Newfoundland, St John’s was settled in the 1600s and is well worth the long car journey to experience its unique vibe and endless charm.
Walk amongst the eclectically-colored houses that line hilly streets and try to soak up some of the inspiration emanating from the many resident artists, musicians and small-town heroes that call St John’s home. A road trip is the perfect way to experience the area thanks to the access a car will grant you to the nearby Cape Spear, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, Ferryland, and more.
Bursting with French culture, architecture, and cuisine, Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Canada. It is a good idea to brush up on the language of love before arriving as it is the primary tongue here and knowledge of the basics will endear you to the locals.
Step back in time on the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal lined with 17th Century buildings, an atmosphere of romance and some of the finest food available anywhere. Mount Royal near the downtown core offers panoramic views of this gorgeous city and is the perfect way to spend an afternoon before jumping back in the car and continuing the adventure.
8 Sault Ste. Marie
Enjoy a drive along the sprawling coast of Lake Huron and through the rugged forest as you wind slowly towards one of the oldest Canadian communities, Sault Ste. Marie. A riverside community sharing a border with Michigan, this is small-town Canada and will have you feeling part of the fabric immediately.
The journey will also take you through Lake Superior Provincial Park, sure to be a highlight of any country-wide road trip. Sheer cliffs, soft sand beaches, and calming waters combine to form one of the great experiences this diverse country boasts. Sault Ste. Marie is also easily discovered on foot once the car has been parked, so pack your walking shoes and create your own adventure.
7 Thunder Bay
Driving through Ontario can be lengthy thanks to the Great Lakes that dominate the area and put a stop to any thoughts of driving a direct route from point to point. This is a blessing in disguise however and especially makes the travel leg to Thunder Bay a joy all on its own.
Stop at the lookouts along the way to witness some truly remarkable landscapes such as the ‘Sleeping Giant,’ a huge formation beside the water that resembles a giant taking a well-earned nap. Thunder Bay also houses cascading waterfalls, an intriguing city center bursting with history, and a vibrant art scene just waiting to astonish you.
Perhaps surprisingly captivating, Winnipeg is so much more than a place to stop on a cross-country Canadian cruise. It’s elite-level museums, dynamic cuisine scene, historic neighborhoods, and theatre culture all combine to make this an extremely desirable destination for every traveler.
Make the most of the wide-open green spaces dotted throughout the city including FortWhyte that encourages canoeing and sailing on its many lakes. Here you can also see bison and migrating birds in their natural surrounds while sipping a locally crafted beer.
Covered in pristine snow for two-thirds of the year, Edmonton is an iconically Canadian experience not to be missed. Visit in the summer months to make the most of ‘patio season,’ when locals take to the sidewalks and parks for a celebration of warmth returning to the hardy city.
A drive here is quite likely to feature a moose or bison sighting, constant stops to view the vast expanse of natural wonder and a cruise through prairies the region is famous for. Once in Edmonton, soak up the history of a proud city through its art galleries, farmer’s markets, and incredible restaurants.
One of the lesser-known cities in Canada, Regina sits roughly halfway between the eastern and western coasts and welcomes visitors with a friendly smile to its beautiful borders.
Circle the wonderful Wascana Lake to stretch the legs once out of the car before plotting a course for the Warehouse District where a delicious feed and refreshing drink in a watering-hole well over 100-years-old awaits. For a less raucous experience, try the Cathedral District for a relaxing coffee while perusing second-hand bookshops and chatting with the laid-back locals.
Depending on if you are heading west or east on your road trip, a visit to Banff simply has to either begin or end with a drive along the Icefields Parkway. Traversing a total of 144 miles, it will take at the very least a full day to enjoy due to the numerous opportunities to get out and explore the surrounding terrain.
As well as the Parkway, Banff itself presents sensational opportunities to see the wildlife that Canada proudly contains. Brown and black bears, white-tailed deer, coyotes, big-horned sheep and so much more all inhabit this area and often aren’t shy about saying hello. Keep the car on hand to venture out to the trailheads of several stunning nearby hikes and do your best to see as much as you can.
A city resting in British Columbia at the meeting point of two arms of the Thompson River, Kamloops is known as the tournament capital of Canada due to the sheer number of world-class sporting events held there each year. This is a destination for all seasons featuring hiking and biking trails in the summer and skiing and snowshoeing in the colder months.
Animal lovers can spend an eternity at the wildlife park spotting native Canadian flora and fauna, responsible adults can make the most of the award-winning wineries and those who love a time gone by can relive the past with a ride aboard a genuine steam train.
Set into the western coast of Canada, Vancouver is dripping with easily-explorable neighborhoods, endless outdoor activities and fine food encompassing every cuisine from Vietnamese to classic North American fare.
Remarkably, it is true that Vancouver gives energetic locals and visitors the chance to ski in the morning before taking to the beach for a relax in the afternoon. Another day could see you delving into the heritage Gastown area, getting lost in the Granville Island Public Market, exploring the stunning Grouse Mountain or just aimlessly discovering this truly incredible part of the world for yourself.