From the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Arctic to the Great Lakes, Canada’s vast territory unfurls in a serene and inimitable tapestry of natural splendor. Pristine rivers, endless forests, taiga, tundra, glaciers, and picturesque valleys are just the beginning of what Canada has to offer. Travel the winding mountain roads of Banff and Jasper national parks to access incredible hiking trails and gaze upon powdery-blue lakes and ancient glaciers. Explore the coastal villages and national parks of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Relax in the tranquil towns and forests of the Charlevoix region of Québec. Enjoy the cosmopolitan verve and cuisine of Vancouver and Montréal, the remnants of colonial grandeur in Victoria, and the French-Canadian culture of Québec City. With the strong traditions of First Nations peoples, French heritage, and a growing multicultural identity, Canada’s cities are brimming with museums, vibrant arts scenes, international restaurants, and all offer great access to the outdoors. Travel the wild western coast of Vancouver Island, or hike on the edge of the Arctic in Torngat Mountains National Park.
Banff National Park
Spread out across the dramatic terrain of the Canadian Rockies to the west of Calgary, Banff was established in 1885, and is the country’s oldest national park. Wild rivers cut their way through colossal mountains that rise to soaring peaks; dense coniferous forest is broken only by craggy cliffs and sheer mountain slopes; and U-shaped valleys carved by ancient glaciers are punctuated by preternaturally blue-green lakes. This searingly beautiful landscape is a natural paradise and a year-round playground for outdoor enthusiasts and for those simply searching for serenity. Whether you come to Banff to hike, kayak, mountain bike, ski in the winter, or just to revel in unspoiled nature, this awe-inspiring setting makes every moment memorable. Hop off the Trans-Canada highway and drive through the park’s scenic roads which offer fantastic views and access to a vast network of hiking trails. The park boasts incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna—if you are lucky, you might see of the Rockies’ most dynamic animals like bear, moose, big-horned sheep, or elk. The town of Banff gets busy on season, but has an abundance of quality outfitters to help you make the most of the national park. Check out some of the park’s limelight attractions like Lake Moraine, Peyto Lake, Lake Louise, or the Upper Springs Hot Pool, but don’t rush through this breathtaking landscape—the length of your stay is the only limit to adventure.
Remote and rugged, Cape Breton Island hovers above the maritime province of Nova Scotia, connected only by a steel bridge. The mystical landscape of isolated coves, craggy coastline, and forested mountains make the northwestern tip of Cape Breton the jewel of the island. The mainstage attraction is the enchanting scenery of Cape Breton Highlands National Park—a fantastic destination for hiking, kayaking, Nordic skiing, and camping—where the mountains crash into the ocean. The Cabot Trail, the 185 mile-long scenic drive, wraps its way around the park and offers stunning views and access to beaches and hiking trails. In the center of the island, Bras d’Or Lake, an inland salt and freshwater lake that is peppered with verdant isles, almost divides Cape Breton in half. Visit the historic Fortress of Louisbourg on the southeastern coast, stop into local pubs for a taste of the local Scottish-flavored musical tradition, or bring your bicycle and golf clubs for some beautiful, hilly rides and challenging courses.
Stretching north from the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, Québec’s Charlevoix region is an enchanting mix of pastoral serenity and rugged wilderness. An area long adored by society’s wealthy elite as a retreat from life in the city, Charlevoix now cultivates an aura of outdoors sophistication. One of the first populated areas to be designated by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve, development takes a backseat to conservation, which has helped preserve the region’s incredible natural beauty. Sweeping views over the St. Lawrence merge into the forested slopes of the Laurentian mountains, where winter ski slopes offer summer hiking and cycling trails. Hike along steep rock faces in provincial Parc des Hautes Gorges de la Rivière Malbaie, or get out on the river kayaking or on a boat tour that takes you through the river valley. Visit the nearby town of La Malbaie, an amalgam of previously separate villages, for a glimpse of the region’s storied glamour. The quiet riverside village of Baie St Paul cultivates a delightfully bohemian atmosphere with its array of art galleries and workshops, historic hotels, and stellar local cuisine.
Sitting 200 miles to the northwest of Banff, the town of Jasper sits at the heart of Canada’s largest national park. Snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes, and serene forests surround Jasper and make this a landscape of mind-blowing beauty. Jasper National Park is the quieter, wilder counterpart of Banff and offers incredible access to rugged backcountry with nonstop roadside attractions along the way. The Icefields Parkway runs from the northern end of Jasper National Park to Lake Louise in the south, and provides a continuously exhilarating collage of towering peaks, cascading rivers, and surreal walls of glacial ice clinging to mountains and flowing down valleys. The untrammeled wilderness of Jasper National Park is home to a higher concentration of wildlife than Banff, which makes your chances of snapping a picture of a moose or bear that much better. Enjoy fantastic views of the Canadian Rockies, and the braided river valley below, from the Jasper SkyTram which climbs to near the top of Whistlers Mountain—hike up to the summit on a clear day for views all the way to the Columbia Icefield. One of the park’s star performers is Maligne Lake, a surreal ribbon of aquamarine water enclosed by a crown of rocky peaks. Enjoy panoramic views while soaking in the luxurious Miette Hot Springs, ski, camp, snowshoe, kayak, hike and much more. Whatever you choose to do to explore this vast wilderness, be sure to look up and enjoy the billions of stars scintillating across the night sky.
Located in the heart of Banff National Park, Lake Louise is an elegant and tranquil alpine town on the Bow River, surrounded by verdant forest and towering peaks. Its namesake, Lake Louise, is an almost phosphorescent glacial blue-green hue. With Victoria Glacier perched at one end, and a serrated wreath of peaks as its backdrop, the valley is a picture-perfect setting for the regal Chateau Lake Louise. Built at the turn of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the grand hotel is steeped in luxury and jumps out from its natural setting. A popular destination among visitors, Lake Louise retains its aura of serenity and calm with aplomb. Walk around the Lakeshore Trail to the terminus of Victoria Glacier, or for a more solitary trek, explore one of Lake Louise’s many other trails. The town sits next to one of the premier ski resorts of the continent, and offers a slew of winter activities from downhill and cross-country skiing to dog-sledding and sleigh rides.
A trendy blend of historic and cutting-edge, upbeat and artsy, Montréal is the cultural heart of the country and revels in the role. Bilingual and vibrantly multicultural, the city is abuzz with theater, dance, and a steady stream of music festivals like the renowned Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. A hip, modern city with an elegant array of 18th-century facades, Montréal is comprised of distinctive neighborhoods ranging from the lively, pedestrian Rue Sainte-Catherine club and bar scene of the Gay Village to the cobblestone streets and plazas of Old Montreal. Head to the Vieux-Port, the Old Port, for a boat tour on the St. Lawrence River, or join the locals for an evening stroll, and and then climb the 192 stairs of the Clock Tower for panoramic views over the city and river. Montreal has a clean, efficient subway system, but the best way to get around is on bicycle—the city has over 200 miles of trails, and cycling is a great way to explore the shaded pathways of Mont Royal park. Check out the Quartier International for some of the city’s more upscale and innovative restaurants—an abundance of craft breweries, patisseries, and European-style food markets make dining well in Montreal an effortless endeavor.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The most easterly province of Canada, this region is a wild expanse of nature, dotted with small fishing villages and a few upbeat urban centers. The northernmost tip of Newfoundland island is home to the archaeological ruins of L’Anse aux Meadows, where the Norse explorer Leif Erikson is said to have landed. Travel down the eastern coast of the island to the craggy cliffs and glacial fjords of Gros Morne National Park and delve into a pristine and mysterious land that evokes a sense of timelessness. Hiking trails take you through this landscape of untrammeled mountains, bogs, and beaches—the park is an incredible destination for sea kayaking and boat tours. Head over to the southeastern capital of St. John’s and trade the solitude of the wilderness for this musical and youthful city. Bars and restaurants abound, and when you are ready for more outdoor adventure, St. John’s setting is prime for sea kayaking and nearby hikes. The islands of Witless Bay Island Reserve Park to the south of St. John’s, are home to more than 250,000 pairs of nesting Atlantic puffins in the late spring and summer months, along with kittiwakes and storm petrels. If you are searching for truly untamed wilderness, join trained Inuit guides at the Torngat Base Camp Research Station in the far northern Torngat Mountains National Park of Labrador for an unsurpassable wilderness adventure.
Prince Edward Island
One of Canada’s eastern maritime provinces, Prince Edward Island is nestled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off of the sweeping coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Sheltered from the force of the open Atlantic by the curve of Cape Breton, the island is a pastoral haven of farmland and fresh local cuisine—a proliferation of farm and ocean-to-table restaurants embody the island’s self-reliant attitude. Rolling green pastures, golden and red sand beaches, gabled houses, and quaint villages define the landscape. Burnt sienna sandstone bluffs and wind-sculpted dunes back the sandy beaches of Prince Edward Island National Park—dramatic coastal wetlands and forested slopes, home to diverse plant and animal species, make this national park the jewel of the island. The small provincial capital, Charlottetown, is an enchanting city and the cultural hub, where the burgeoning culinary scene supersedes its small-town setting with style. The Confederation Trail, is a fantastic cycling and walking route along an old railway that branches out across the island, making Prince Edward an ideal destination to explore under your own steam.
Spread out along the forested bluff of Cap Diamant, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, Québec City is the French-Canadian heart of the province. The towers of Le Château Frontenac, an audacious and elegant hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1893, defines the city’s skyline. One of North America’s oldest settlements, where Samuel de Champlain put down roots in 1608, Québec City’s UNESCO-listed Old Town is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets filled with museums and striking colonial architecture. Tour the Citadelle, a massive stone fort constructed over the span of a century by the French and British armies to repel a potential invasion by the United States. Stroll the scenic Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk above the St. Lawrence before riding the funicular down to the Lower Old Town. Sidewalk cafés, European-style bistros, and a seemingly endless array of festivals and music events give Québec City a cosmopolitan luster. And just 30 minutes away, Jacques-Cartier National Park is a year-round wonderland of forested mountain-plateaus and deep valleys—hike, kayak, ski or snowshoe, and then settle into a cozy cabin in the tranquil wilderness.
Hip, modern, and multicultural, Vancouver is the artistic pulse of the Pacific coast. The metropolitan area has nearly 2.5 million people, and is the most linguistically and ethnically diverse city in Canada—the city’s cultural vibrance shines in its sterling culinary scene. Authentic Chinese restaurants and the informal Japanese gastro-pubs called izakayas proliferate and add an intriguing élan to the city’s spread of fresh-caught seafood eateries and bohemian breweries. In addition to its fine foods, Vancouver boasts an eclectic array of galleries, museums, theater, and street art. But the city’s proximity to nature and its prolific offering of outdoor activities is Vancouver’s most appealing attribute—hike through coastal rainforest, kayak amidst islands, or hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding come wintertime. Right in the city, Stanley Park is a sanctuary of green space, beachfront ocean views, and winding trails; or head north to Grouse Mountain for incredible views of the city and scenic woodland dining.
Perched on the craggy, southeastern coast of Vancouver Island, along the Juan de Fuca and Haro straits, the provincial capital of British Columbia is the more relaxed, regal cousin of Vancouver. VIctoria’s British legacy is on display in the Old Town’s Victorian architecture and the elegant parliament buildings overlooking the city’s Inner Harbor—next-door lies the Fairmont Empress Hotel, another luxury château-style hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway at the turn of the 20th century. Victoria has long held onto its colonial past, but there has been a youthful resurgence that has ushered in a wave of innovative cuisine, brew pubs, and charismatic cafés that put the city on Canada’s culinary map. Stroll the oceanside paths of Beacon Hill Park, tour the turreted Victorian mansion, Craigdarroch Castle, and then learn about the natural history and the heritage of the First Nations on the island at the Royal BC Museum. To the north of the city, the exuberant floral shows of Butchart Gardens are well worth the trip.
North of Vancouver, sitting on the edge of Garibaldi Provincial Park, Whistler is an internationally renowned ski-town. Whistler Blackcomb, one of North America’s largest ski resorts, also played host for alpine events in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The town itself is a compact, pedestrian friendly village nestled into the spectacular Coast Mountains. A premier destination for skiing and snowboarding, Whistler offers an array of other winter activities like snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice climbing, and snowmobiling. A picture-perfect setting of snow covered gabled roofs in the wintertime, Whistler now sees summer crowds just as eager to get into the mountains. The area has an extensive network of mountain biking and hiking trails, and offers incredible opportunities for kayaking, climbing, rafting, and other more leisurely pursuits like golfing and riding gondolas for panoramic views. Whistler is a town that knows how to entertain off the slopes too—cozy hearths in the winter are replaced by sunny restaurant terraces and free outdoor concerts on relaxing summer nights.