Canada Road Trip: Everything You Need To Know | Stanton House Inn
Close-up of yellow lines on an epic highway into the mountains during one of the best summer road trips in Canada

Canada Road Trip: Everything You Need to Know

Head north on the road to Charlevoix in Quebec on a road trip Canada

This writer spent their twenties globe-trotting: mostly Africa and Europe. It was only a recent pandemic that made me appreciate the diversity of North America.

And the third largest continent in the world has plenty to see and do sprawling across it. And no place better represents that than the splendor of humble Canada.

There’s no better way to explore than on a Canada road trip. Canada’s roads could circle the Earth 22 times, after all.

Planning a road trip in Canada is easy, thanks to abundant car rentals, smooth roads, and the warm hospitality of locals. This guide is a packaged tour through Canada’s expansive landscapes and rich culture. It’ll take you from the rhythmic pulse of Montreal to the wild elegance of the Rockies.

Ready to explore the best Canada road trips? Let’s get into it:

Quick hits

  • An epic Canada road trip from east to west is a transformative experience across diverse landscapes. The optimal travel window for such a journey is between April to October. For a thorough exploration of the sites and cities, plan for 2-3 months of travel.

  • Don’t miss the Atlantic Provinces’ coastal drives, charming villages; urban Central Canada, and the open expanse of the prairies. Each region presents its own natural wonders, cultural experiences, and culinary delights.

  • Enrich your road trip with visits to national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

East to West: A Comprehensive Canada Road Trip Itinerary

 

A scenic view of the Trans Canada Highway during a Canada road trip

Imagine setting off on a road trip that spans the breadth of Canada, from the rugged east coast to the scenic west. As you traverse the country, the Trans-Canada Highway serves as your guid. It will lead you through a tapestry of diverse landscapes and experiences. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or embarking on your first road trip, this journey will reshape your view of adventure. And Canada’s network of well-maintained roads and welcoming stop-offs ensures a perMarina in Thunder Bay, ON

A swift drive across the entire country of Canada could take as little as 23 days. That said, dedicating 2-3 months for the trip allows an in-depth exploration of sites and cities. The ideal travel period stretches from April to October, offering the best conditions for your adventure.

What awaits you on this grand tour? You’ll encounter:

  • Busy metropolises like Toronto and Montreal

  • As well as natural marvels including Banff National Park and Gros Morne National Park

Yet these are just starting points. And, to be fair, it skips a huge chunk of the country, like the Northwest Territories. This country is just too big to see everything, no matter how long your road trips. Let’s explore what each region has in store, with their respective Canadian road trips! Considering few have 3 months of spare time, you can chop these up into smaller pieces.

Or be ambitious. Up to you.

Atlantic Provinces: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI

Charming coastal view on Cape Breton Island in the Atlantic Provinces during a Canada road trip

Starting on the east coast, your journey takes you through the Atlantic Provinces. These provinces are known for their stunning coastal views, charming villages, and unique East Coast hospitality. As you follow the Trans-Canada Highway, a panorama of diverse landscapes and vibrant cultures unfolds. This region is Canada’s “Maritime Playground,” featuring highlights such as the breathtaking East Coast Trail.

Road trips through the Maritimes, including Cape Breton Island, allow visitors to explore:

  • Charming villages

  • Lighthouses

  • Historic sites

  • Cultural landmarks

The Bay of Fundy has the world's highest tides, with 160 billion tonnes of seawater gushing in and out twice a day. The power of the tides is most visible at The Hopewell Rocks. At low tide, you can walk along the ocean floor and look up at the cliffs and rocks.

Don’t miss the opportunity for whale watching along the rugged highlands – an experience that will leave you in awe of nature’s wonders.

As you journey through these provinces, prepare for a culinary adventure. The East Coast is famous for its seafood, offering treats like lobster rolls. Newfoundland charms with Jiggs Dinner, a traditional Sunday feast. Be sure to indulge in these local flavors while exploring the Atlantic Provinces!

Newfoundland

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland offers an awe-inspiring display of natural splendor and a diverse array of wildlife. Combine this experience with a journey into the Viking past at L’Anse aux Meadows for a road trip that is distinctly Canadian. Additionally, make sure to venture into Fundy National Park for an adventure that’s sure to be etched in memory. This area is best visited from June to early October.

Prince Edward Island

A small fishing village along the Central Coastal Drive of Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, packs a punch when it comes to:

    • panoramic coastal views

    • lighthouses

    • sand dunes

    • unique East Coast hospitality

Ideal for a 1 to 3-day road trip, this island is a gem waiting to be discovered.

 

Nova Scotia

Rolling hills along the Skyline Trail on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia’s 300-kilometer Cabot Trail is a must-visit for any road trip enthusiast. The trail offers a scenic drive with stunning coastal views, particularly from June to October. During this period, the weather is temperate, and the fall foliage is in full bloom. Along the winding roads, you can discover charming fishing villages and enjoy breathtaking views of the sea.

Central Canadian Road Trips: Quebec and Ontario

Montreal skyline from Mont Royal

The next leg of your journey unfolds in Central Canada and the dueling provinces of Ontario and Quebec. These two provinces have influenced Canada’s history thanks to their cultural differences. Great spots include the historical charm of Quebec City and the dynamic energy of Toronto.

Montreal

Old Port of Montreal from a boat tour

Start your Quebec road trip in Montreal, with key attractions such as:

  • Panoramic city views from Mont-Royal

  • A taste of history at Vieux Montreal & Vieux Port

  • A relaxing visit to the Bota Bota spa

  • Trying the famous Montreal-style bagels – a sweet, wood-fired treat that’s sure to delight your palate!

Quebec City

Quebec City

A three-hour drive northeast from Montreal will take you to Quebec City. This is a place where time seems to stand still. Wander the quaint streets of Vieux Québec at golden hour for a touch of historical charm. Be sure to visit Montmorency Falls, where a variety of viewpoints offer stunning vistas.

Ottawa

Parliament buildings in Ottawa

A four and a half-hour journey from Quebec City brings you to Canada’s capital, Ottawa. Here, you can visit landmarks such as Byward Market and Parliament Hill. Don’t forget to visit the National Gallery of Canada, which hosts diverse art exhibits and the famous Maman spider sculpture. This is also home to the scenic beauty of the Rideau Canal.

Toronto

City lights of Toronto

Your next stop is Ontario, where the vibrant city of Toronto awaits. Known for its diverse culture and iconic skyline, Toronto offers something for every traveler. Don’t miss the panoramic views from the CN Tower and the eclectic experiences at Kensington Market and Centre Island.

If you’re looking for more ways to extend this fantastic pick among the best road trips from New York City, continue on to the majestic Niagara Falls.

Prairie road trips in Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta

Vast mountains and unique landscapes of Alberta during a Canada road trip

Continuing westward around the north shore of Lake Superior and Thunder Bay leads you to the vast prairies of

  • Manitoba

  • Saskatchewan

  • Alberta

These provinces are celebrated for their wide-open spaces and distinctive landscapes. These areas are what you think of when picturing a uniquely Canadian road trip.

Manitoba

Pedestrian bridge in Manitoba

First is Manitoba, where you can:

  • Visit the charming town of Souris and take a stroll across Canada’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. It provides a picturesque view of the Souris River.

  • Explore Riding Mountain National Park and see bison in their natural habitat. The park also offers trails for hiking and biking.

  • Discover the picturesque trails leading to the scenic falls at Whiteshell Provincial Park.

 

History enthusiasts will appreciate the Inglis Grain Elevators. They’re monuments to the agricultural heritage of the prairies.

Saskatchewan

Fields of Saskatchewan

Next is Saskatchewan, where the inviting landscape of Moose Mountain Provincial Park awaits. This park is a haven of forests, lakes, and marshes, alive with a diverse array of bird species. For those seeking adventure, Kenosee Lake offers a variety of activities including:

 

  • Water slides

  • Golf

  • Horseback riding

  • Tennis

 

For a serene escape, visit Wakamow Valley in Moose Jaw, which offers:

  • parks

  • trails

  • picnic areas

  • water activities like canoeing

Alberta

View of Calgary from River Park

An Alberta road trip is a feast for food connoisseurs, especially in Calgary. There, the city’s steakhouses serve the renowned Alberta beef to perfection.

This province is arguably Canada’s most beautiful. Some awe-inspiring sights here include:

  • Calgary, where architectural marvels like Studio Bell and the Central Library are worth exploring.

  • The dramatic Athabasca Glacier is a must-see.

  • Enjoy a frozen lake walk with a guide and enjoy hot chocolate on Elk Island.

  • Kayak Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka in summer and snow in winter.

  • Visit the dinosaur capital of the world, Drumheller.

  • If you’re here in the winter, the Ice Castles in Edmonton create a frosty wonderland, while Maligne Canyon hosts frozen waterfalls.

West Coast and Rockies: British Columbia

Breathtaking beauty of British Columbia's West Coast and Rockies

At long last, the climax of your cross-country journey: the awe-inspiring west coast and Rockies of British Columbia. Famous for its stunning landscapes and great outdoors, British Columbia is a paradise for nature lovers.

Come to the end of your Trans-Canada Highway trip on the drive from Banff to Vancouver. This 900-kilometer leg of the drive offers the pristine beauty of the parks along the way. You’ll be captivated by the vistas of Banff and Yoho National Parks and the tranquil lakes of Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Sea-to-Sky Highway

You could continue your adventure on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, which heads north from Vancouver to Whistler. Offering:

  • Ocean viewpoints

  • Local waterfalls

  • And connecting routes to regional highlights like Squamish and Pemberton

 

This scenic drive is best from July to September, during the region’s warm summer weather.

For relaxation amidst mountain vistas, consider the Kootenay Rockies Hot Springs Circle Route. This therapeutic road trip takes you through famous hot springs, where you can unwind and rejuvenate in the natural beauty of the Rockies.

Cross country skiing through the hiking trails of Yoho National Park

A trip to British Columbia wouldn’t be complete without a foray into the province’s wine country. The Okanagan Valley is also known as the “Napa of the North”. The region invites you to its vineyards for high-quality wines and farm-to-table dining.

Shoreline of Stanley Park in West Vancouver, facing Vancouver Island in western Canada

End your epic Canada road trip on Vancouver Island, encapsulating the province’s diverse landscapes. From the historic and gastronomic city of Victoria to the surfing haven of Tofino, Vancouver Island is a fitting finale to your cross-country adventure.

And congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated about 18% of the circumference of the entire world!

National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Whilst traveling the width of Canada, the nation’s natural beauty is best appreciated at its national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site or two. These sites exemplify the country’s rich biodiversity, stunning landscapes, and cultural heritage.

Top picks include:

Banff National Park

Banff National Park

Alberta’s Banff National Park, renowned for picturesque locales such as:

  • Lake Louise

  • Lake Moraine

  • Emerald Lake

  • Two Jack Lake

  • Mount Norquay

  • Johnston Canyon

  • And Sulphur Mountain

Hiking enthusiasts will find a paradise of trails, including those to Helen Lake, Lake Agnes Tea House, Devil’s Thumb, and Plain of Six Glaciers.

Jasper National Park

Athabasca Glacier

To the north, Jasper National Park awaits with its own set of outdoor adventures amidst breathtaking scenery. Here, you can step onto the Athabasca Glacier, connecting with the icy heart of the Rocky Mountains in a profound way.

The Calgary to Vancouver journey passes through Banff, Yoho, and Mount Revelstoke national parks. It features family-friendly hikes, such as Glacier National Park’s Great Glacier trail. Plus, trails like Wapta Falls and Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park welcome visitors of all ages.

Glacier National Park

The Icefields Parkway in Alberta is a scenic connector between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, offering a stunning route best experienced from June to September, and in October for those who don’t mind a bit of rain and fewer tourists. This route is more than a road; it’s an experience through the Canadian Rockies, providing an unforgettable wilderness adventure.

The Icefields Parkway in Alberta is a scenic connector between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. It’s a stunning route best experienced from June to September, or in October for those who don’t mind a bit of rain and fewer tourists. This route is a truly memorable drive through the Canadian Rockies.

Culinary Delights and Local Flavors

Enjoying poutine from a food truck

While Canada’s landscapes and wildlife captivate your eyes, the culinary scene tantalizes your palate. Traditional dishes and regional specialties showcase the country’s diverse cultures and history.

Poutine, Canada’s national dish, originates from Quebec. This hearty combination of fries, cheese curds, and gravy is a must-try for food lovers. In Quebec City, take the chance to enjoy local treats like poutine and black currant ice cream against scenic backdrops on the Île d’Orléans.

Montreal’s claim to culinary fame is the unique Montreal-style bagel. Sweet and wood-fired, these bagels are a delight. Head to the most famous bakeries, either Fairmount Bagel or Hinnawi Bros Bagel & Café.

Quebec’s split pea soup is another specialty, offering comfort during cold weather with its blend of yellow peas, salt pork, and herbs.

Ontario is proud of its butter tarts, a beloved pastry with a syrupy center. The culinary journey continues in western Canada, where you’ll find British Columbia’s Nanaimo Bars. These indulgent three-layered dessert bars are the perfect sweet finish to any meal.

Wildlife Encounters and Natural Wonders

An elk grazing in Banff National Park

Your Canada road trip is ideal for encountering the nation’s diverse wildlife. Alberta’s Banff and Ontario’s Algonquin are sanctuaries for species such as:

  • Grizzly bears

  • Moose

  • Caribou

  • And black bears

Keep an eye out for these animals in their natural settings.

Polar bear in Churchill, Manitoba

For something different, visit Winnipeg’s Journey to the polar bear capital, Churchill, Manitoba. It’s a spot to see Arctic wildlife like polar bears, beluga whales, and walrus. Just keep a safe distance, and follow a guide.

In Canada’s remote regions, you can discover rare arctic species and vast prairie ecosystems. Exploring:

  • The Northwest Passage in Nunavut

  • Or Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan

Will leave you in awe of the wildlife diversity.

The scenic routes, including Alberta’s Icefields Parkway and Yukon’s Dempster Highway, are not just about the views. They also provide opportunities to see wildlife, such as black bears on the Jasper to Maligne Lake route. Moose, grizzly bears, porcupines, and ground squirrels are common along the Dempster Highway.

Cultural Experiences and Historic Sites

A Montreal street mural depicting the heritage of the First Peoples

Canada’s rich cultural fabric is woven from history, tradition, and diversity.

In Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum awaits. Its vast collections range from:

  • European period rooms

  • Dinosaurs

  • To cultural and natural history galleries

Art lovers can delve into Canadian and Indigenous artworks at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Royal BC Museum in Victoria offers insights into both natural and human history. Cool exhibits here include Angkor, Cambodia, and authentic totem poles. Gatineau is where the Canadian Museum of History showcases artifacts traces Canada’s history and its First Nations.

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa chronicles Canada’s military history. It covers everything from early conflicts between First Nations and European settlers to the global wars. In Moose Jaw, you can explore Prohibition-era tunnels. They once harbored Al Capone and provided refuge for Chinese immigrants.

Adapting Your Itinerary: Shorter Road Trips in Canada

St Lawrence River coastline in Tadoussac, QC

Although a cross-country journey offers a comprehensive exploration of Canada, few have the luxury of time. No worries, though—there are ample shorter road trips tailored to a variety of interests and regions. Each delivers a slice of Canada’s diverse landscapes and experiences.

The route from Montreal to Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula is perfect for those drawn to pine forests and cliffs. Spanning roughly 9 hours from the city, this trip is at its best from June to mid-September.

On Prince Edward Island, you can choose from three distinct Coastal Drives:

  • The North Coast

  • Central Coastal Drive

  • And Points East Coastal Drives

These routes are most enjoyable during the warmer months when attractions are open. And of these road trips are a condensed yet rich tour of the island’s allure.

Ontario provides a versatile road trip experience through its cities, towns, and wilderness. Some popular road trip itineraries in Ontario include:

  • The Georgian Bay Coastal Route

  • The Lake Superior Circle Tour

  • The Niagara Parkway

  • The Thousand Islands Parkway

  • The Bruce Peninsula

These itineraries cater to various interests and can be enjoyed throughout the province. And you could always continue south for some of the best American road trips.

Featuring prairie and mountain views, Alberta’s Cowboy Trail captivates drivers. That’s especially true for the stretch beginning near Bragg Creek. Optimal travel months span from May to October, presenting breathtaking vistas and a taste of cowboy culture.

Whether you have a few days or a few weeks, there’s a road trip in Canada that’s just right for you. So, adapt your itinerary, hit the road, and let the adventure begin!

Tl;dr

Here it is – your guide to an epic Canada road trip from coast to coast. This journey bursts with magnificent landscapes, wildlife encounters, and culinary treats. You have the freedom to stick to this route or tailor it to your own interests and timeframe. Regardless, you’re guaranteed to gain a newfound appreciation for Canada’s natural splendor.

The journey stretches from the rugged highlands of the Atlantic Provinces to the stunning west coast of British Columbia. Along the way, you’ll encounter hip cities, quaint villages, historic sites, and distinctive culinary experiences. This road trip is a narrative of discovery and adventure waiting to be written.

So, are you ready to set out on your Canadian road trip adventure? It’s time to grab your map, pack your bags, and hit the open road. Embark on a journey of excitement and discovery, and carry home experiences that will linger with you well beyond the end of your travels.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best road trip in Canada?

For a memorable road trip adventure in Canada, consider exploring the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia, venturing along Alberta’s Icefields Parkway, or winding through Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail. Each route offers a distinct and unforgettable experience.

How can I spend 2 weeks in Canada?

During a two-week stay in Canada, you can immerse yourself in the splendor of the Canadian Rockies with visits to Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. Ascend to the top of Toronto’s CN Tower for panoramic city views, marvel at the thunderous Niagara Falls, and stroll through the historic streets of Quebec City. Have a wonderful journey!

How long would a road trip across Canada take?

A road trip across Canada generally takes up to 3 months if you want to enjoy the journey and not feel rushed. The route from St John’s, Newfoundland, to the Alaska border alone takes 23 days at a leisurely pace.

Is Canada good for road trips?

Yes, Canada is great for road trips because of its vast size and diverse landscapes, making it perfect for scenic drives and exploration. So, if you have the opportunity, definitely consider a road trip in Canada!

When is the best time for a Canada road trip?

The optimal period for a Canada road trip spans April to October. June to October is the prime window for Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail. Meanwhile, July to September offers the best conditions for British Columbia’s Sea to Sky Highway.

 

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