At 3.8 million square miles, Canada is the world’s second largest country. Which means the best way to see it is to hop in a car and drive . . . and drive. Along the way you’ll gape at glacier-carved peaks, bird-filled marshlands, and everything in between. There’ll be plenty of stops to take in the views, sample local hot spots, and rest your road-trip weary head too.
But knowing where to go in such a vast and diverse land might seem daunting. No worries – we’ve made it easy with this list of best road trips in Canada’s 10 provinces and two of its three territories. (To date, there are no roads into Nunavut or between its communities). Take your pick, start your engine – the open road awaits!
Sea to Sky Highway, B.C.
Buckle up for this curvy 101-mile jaunt past ocean, forest, mountains, and farmland. Starting in the casually hip coastal city of Vancouver, the Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99) heads north through adventure meccas Squamish and Whistler before winding down in bountiful Pemberton. Stop to stretch the legs at Shannon Falls Provincial Park, refuel at Backcountry Brewing and tuck into Sweetwater Lane Farm B&B for the night. Take your time over a few days, and go mid-week to avoid busy times.
Icefields Parkway, Alberta
Thinking about the Canadian Rockies for your Canada road trip? Then the 146-mile Icefields Parkway is your front-row seat to some of the range’s most fetching glaciers and turquoise lakes. Leaving the hamlet of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, head north along Highway 93 to savor such sights as mirror-like Herbert Lake, the sweeping Athabasca Glacier, and double-barreled Sunwapta Falls. Hang your toque at the newly renovated Glacier View Lodge on the way up or at Jasper’s cozy Chateau Jasper in Jasper National Park at route’s end. Count on a full day but take a few to explore the icefields and both parks during less-busy spring and colorful fall.
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
Exploring Saskatchewan’s eclectic roadside attractions just got better. Thanks to the 2019 opening of the Badlands Parkway, you can now see Grasslands National Park on not one but two revealing Canada road trips. From the village of Wood Mountain, drive south to the paved, seven-mile parkway in the park’s East Block to glimpse a wild but fragile prairie landscape. Then make tracks to the West Block just south of Val Marie to spot plains bison, black-footed ferrets, and settler homesteads on the 50-mile-loop Ecotour Scenic Drive. Take one to a few days; 178 miles total.
Interlake Region, Manitoba
Immerse yourself in history and nature on this 186-mile, one-to-three-day journey through Manitoba’s Interlake region, straddled by the province’s two inland seas of Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. From the bustling capital of Winnipeg, make tracks north to Lower Fort Garry Historic Site, Oak Hammock Marsh, Lake Winnipeg’s iconic wooden piers, and swim-friendly Winnipeg Beach. Detour west for the Narcisse Snake Dens – visit in spring or fall for best viewing – before returning to the lakeshore for Viking-rich Gimli and Hecla Village. End with a round of golf and overnight at the Lakeview Hecla Resort.
Toronto to Stratford, Ontario
Take in big-city sights and theater-town delights on this two-day sojourn in southeastern Ontario. Spend a day strolling Toronto’s museums and galleries, and a night at the artsy Gladstone Hotel or chic Kimpton Saint George. Then motor west 93 miles for a dose of Victorian architecture and live theatre in Stratford, home to the province’s annual Stratford Festival. Along the way, take a peek at Baden’s ornate Castle Kilbride Museum.
Montreal to Gaspésie, Quebec
Take a week or more to hit several Quebec sweet spots on this charming 606-mile drive, which should be on everyone’s best road trips in Canada bucket list. Visit Montreal and Quebec City – voted third and first top Canadian cities, respectively, in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2019 – before heading northeast along the St. Lawrence River to the Gaspé Peninsula and its striking Percé Rock. Watch for whales, caribou, and northern gannets – you can’t miss their distinctive black-tipped wings. Alternatively, skip the cities for the full-on Gaspésie Tour or try one of these scenic drives.
Irish Loop, Newfoundland and Labrador
Start with a stroll past colorful row houses in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital of St. John’s, also North America’s most easterly and oldest city. Then head south on a 192-mile coastal loop packed with outdoor adventure and natural wonders. Spot whales and seabirds on a Witless Bay boat tour or hike by sea stacks and cliffs on the East Coast Trail. Pick up fresh sandwiches and lemonade in Lighthouse Picnics’ historic 1870 lighthouse, then enjoy them outside while watching icebergs float by.
Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick
Explore the wild ways of water on New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy – a hot spot on a top Canada road trip. Here, some 150 billion tons of water flow in and out every six hours, making for the world’s highest tides at up to 50 feet. Ease into this four-day 140-mile trip by taking tea at Moncton’s quaint 1883 Thomas Williams House, then pad about the ocean floor during low tide at the Hopewell Rocks – eroded tree-topped sandstone formations a.k.a. Flowerpot Rocks. Catch August’s Rising Tide Festival in Fundy National Park, and be sure to kayak St. Martins’ red-rock sea caves on the route’s last leg. See more on these road trips.
North Cape Coastal Drive, Prince Edward Island
It might be Canada’s smallest province, but Prince Edward Island boasts its fair share of road trips too. Foodies in particular will want to wind their way around the western peninsula, sampling the island’s fresh bounty on a four-day 217-mile drive. Find out why Prince Edward Island’s potatoes are so famous at the Canadian Potato Museum, then fill up on a fully loaded baked spud – choose from lobster, pulled pork and more – at the onsite PEI Potato Country Kitchen. Slurp back world-renowned Malpeque oysters at the rustic Malpeque Oyster Barn, and savor mussels and lobster rolls at the Catch Kitchen + Bar. Rinse it all down with a Drag’n Anchor blonde ale at Moth Lane Brewing.
Halifax to the Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
Get your urban fix in the lively capital of Halifax before striking out for rural Cape Breton Island and the world-famous Cabot Trail – considered to be not only one of the best road trips in Canada but in the world. Named after Italian explorer John Cabot, who landed on these shores in 1497, the 186-mile coastal loop climbs from sea-swept beaches and sleepy fishing villages to forested slopes and cliff-tops. Plan for a full four days to take in Baddeck on the shore of Bras d’Or Lake; Cape Breton Highlands National Park and its 26 hiking trails; and the traditional Acadian town of Chéticamp.
Dempster Highway, Yukon
Tucked into the northwest corner of Canada, the Yukon is home to few people (population 38,500), many mountains and 3,100 miles of maintained roads. Of the territory’s go-to road trips, the 458-mile, five-to-seven-day Dempster Highway delivers the most off-the-beaten-track experience. Load up on supplies and gold-rush history in Dawson City (think historic walking tours, can-can girls and the infamous Sourtoe Cocktail). Then drive north through wildlife-rich tundra, crossing the Arctic Circle and hopping two ferries on the way to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Catch early fall’s red, yellow and orange tundra, winter’s ice roads, spring’s foraging wildlife and summer’s midnight sun.
Inuvik-Aklavik Ice Road, Northwest Territories
Come winter, some 1,245 miles of ice roads are plowed across Canada’s vast Northwest Territories. Impassable the rest of the year, these frozen waterways connect 12 towns and their residents to the outside world. If you’re up for a more off-beat Canada road trip, make like a local and give ice-road travel a go on the 73-mile stretch – called “pretty and pretty legendary” by the NWT tourism authority – between Inuvik and the hamlet of Aklavik. Revel in Richardson Mountain views as you cross the Mackenzie Delta. Winter travel in Canada can be unpredictable: drive with caution and be prepared.
Got the grit for a grand-slam road trip through Canada? Travel the country from coast to coast on the 4,860-mile Trans-Canada Hwy. Opened in 1962, the route passes through all 10 provinces and most major cities. Start your journey in the west in Victoria, British Columbia, or the east in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Either way, take your time (at least two weeks) on the world’s longest national road – it’s sure to be a trip of a lifetime.
Canada Road Trip Tips
No matter where you road trip through Canada, keep these points in mind for ease of travel and a trip to remember:
- Distance is measured in kilometers, not miles. All road signs are in kilometers (km for short), with one kilometer equaling 0.62 miles.
- Talking on a hand-held device while driving is against the law and subject to distracted driving legislation.
- When passing emergency vehicles at work, Slow Down, Move Over laws apply.
- If you plan to stop or stay in a national park, you need to purchase a park pass.
- Drive with extra caution in busy summer traffic, construction zones, wildlife corridors and winter conditions.
- Some establishments and attractions, especially in rural areas, are only open in summer. Best to call ahead in the off-season.
A self-guided driving trip is one of the best ways to see the sprawling country that is Canada.