With big open roads framed by colossal glaciers, dense forests, soaring mountain ranges and wild beaches, Canada is made for road tripping. Whether you’ve got an endless time limit or only a few hours to spare, there’s an unforgettable journey waiting for you the length and breadth of the country. So fasten your seat belt, turn up the cruising playlist and set out on one of our five favorite Canadian adventures by road.
In Novia Scotia, 185 miles (298 kilometers) of scenic road traverses the northernmost section of Cape Breton Island. The Cabot Trail wraps around the coastline and passes sprawling green pastures, rugged cliffs and secluded beaches, then clings to mountains on its way to panoramic lookouts. There are boundless places to stop and rest or dabble in adventurous activities. Hiking the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and visiting Fortress Louisbourg National Historic Site are just a slice of what’s on offer. You’ll want to stop at the towns and villages, too, to delve into the island’s curious blend of Celtic, Acadian and First Nation heritage. Winter features world-class skiing while spring and fall offer the chance to spot migrating humpback whales.
If you prefer roads less traveled then the Dempster Highway is for you. This epic 460-mile (740 kilometer) all-weather highway crosses the Arctic Circle from Dawson, in the Yukon Territory, to Inuvik, way up in the Northern Territories. In places you’ll be sharing the road and unbeatable views of the Arctic wilderness with migrating caribou, so you’ll need to drive with the utmost diligence. There’s one solitary hotel on the route but you can stay at remote campgrounds. Its open all year round, although the warmer summer months is the best time to visit when road conditions are clear. That said, you might wish to hang around until fall when the Northern Lights make their first appearance of the year.
Fancy cruising through the Canadian Rockies with cloud-bursting mountains and over 100 glaciers rising up on both sides of the highway? The Icefields Parkway offers just that on its 144 miles (232 kilometers) between Banff and Jasper. This is arguably the best way to experience the raw beauty of Alberta and there’s no shortage of things to see and do on the way. Athabasca Falls, Columbia Icefield, the Glacier Sky Walk and Lake Louise are but a few highlights to put on the agenda. June to September offers near-perfect driving conditions and superb visibility but if you are here to ski then time your trip between November and April.
Prince Edward Island Coastal Drives
Get off the mainland again and explore the laidback Coastal Drives around what many Canadians affectionately call the Gentle Island. The route is loosely split into three sections and highlights the island’s traditions and culture with stops at beach towns, fishing villages, lighthouses and picture-perfect cities on the way. Uncover Mi’kmaq heritage on the North Cape Coastal Drive, visit parks and hike trails on the Points East Coastal Drive and delve into the history of Anne of Green Gables on the Central Coast Drive. There’s also miles of cycling routes, if you prefer to get around by pedal power.
Sea to Sky Highway
As the name suggests, the Sea to Sky Highway takes you on an epic journey from the seashores of Vancouver, along the coastline of Howe Sound and up into the dramatic mountain peaks of Whistler. Your jaw will undoubtedly drop at the turn of every bend as you gaze at glistening waters, impeccable old-growth rainforests and snow-capped mountains. When you want to stretch your legs, simply park up at one of several accessible provincial parks. Don’t miss the Sea to Sky Gondola for panoramic views and a spectacular suspension bridge. The mountain resort town of Whistler is a fitting end to a legendary drive.
Bonus: Trans-Canada Highway
Special mention should go to the 4,847-mile (7,800-kilometer) long east-to-west Trans-Canada Highway. Some say that this route from Victoria, British Columbia to St John’s Newfoundland is the ultimate way to experience Canada. More a collection of trips around Canada’s 10 provinces than one single journey, it incorporates some of the nation’s most famous sights. Take in the Alberta Badlands, the Rockies, the capital city of Ottawa and Quebec City. It also connects with the Cabot Trail, Icefields Parkway and Sea to Sky Highway.