With the Canada Day long-weekend upon us, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to look back on my cross-country road trip a couple years ago and share my five favourite places I’ve been to across my home and native land. These are not in any weighted order, just chronologically when I visited them while travelling from the west to east… even if it got a little jumbled in the Atlantic provinces. I didn’t mention anything in my home province of British Columbia, but it is my ultimate favourite place so it kind of goes without saying.
- Banff National Park. Banff is a UNESCO World Heritage site and national park within the Rocky Mountain region of Alberta (the next-door neighbour of my own province of BC). It is actually Canada’s oldest national park and one of the most popular in all of North America. I’ve been to Banff a couple times and it’s always such a beautiful and memorable part of any trip. The town of Banff itself is in the same vein as Whistler and Tofino, and quite touristy (we only really went to get a Beaver Tail and a Starbucks mug) but the park contains such incredible natural features that it just couldn’t not be on this list.
On our first trip through Alberta back in 2001, my bother and I had a contest to see who could walk the furthest into Lake Louise (which is harder than it sounds when it’s a glacial lake that doesn’t generally thaw until the first week of June! #justcanadianthings). Lake Louise also features one of Canada’s grand railway hotels: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. A short drive from there is Moraine Lake, an incredibly beautiful lake that was actually featured on Canada’s $20 bill (before we got the plastic maple-syrup scented money haha). We decided to go see Moraine Lake the evening we arrived in Banff and were lucky enough that there were only a couple other cars in the parking lot. My brother, dad, and I hiked up to a viewpoint and took my favourite picture from the entire cross-continental trip. The next day when we went back to Lake Louise, the road up to Moraine Lake was blocked because the parking lot and roads were at capacity, so it was incredibly serendipitous that we braved the bugs to go the evening before!
Banff National Park extends to include the Columbia Icefields, the largest Icefield in the Rockies, which formed during 238,000 to 126,000 BCE. We were technically in the part closer to Jasper, but shh.
It was such a cool (pun intended) part of the trip and absolutely breathtaking to be able to walk on the glacier itself and tour through the skywalk. My parents actually had their honeymoon in Banff and to see how much smaller the Icefield has gotten in just thirty years is heartbreaking. Global Warming isn’t fake news!
- Old Québec. After passing through the prairies and Ontario (none of which have a place on this list lol), you arrive in Canada’s French province: Québec. After a lifetime of hearing stereotypes and ten years of taking French as a second language, I was prepared to dislike it altogether but to my surprise, it was actually one of my favourite provinces to visit! It was so cool to experience this sense of “culture shock” while still being in our own country and I found it to be so beautiful, both in the architecture and history as well as the natural features. We drove through Montréal, opting to spend more time in the provincial capital of Québec City instead. The first thing I learned was that people in Québec do not call Québec City… well, “Québec City” and instead just “Québec”. As a Canadian student who had to label many a map of this country with all the provinces and their capitals, I was quite distraught to discover that I had been led astray by the Canadian education system, but it does make things less confusing. Anyway!
The evening we arrived, we took a ferry to Old Québec and even though we had a limited time to ensure we caught the last ferry back, it was one of the most memorable evenings of the trip. It was raining slightly and we were all in kind of foul moods but we stumbled across this area of the upper town that had little lantern lit alleys and with the misty rain, it was utterly magical. We got Beaver Tails. We got Starbucks. I photographed the most photographed hotel in the world (Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, another grand railway hotel), I (kind of) got a picture of the Parliament Building that was poorly lit and under construction by reaching over the blockade with my phone. Turns out, I have a huge soft spot for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I definitely want to go back to Québec, both the province and its capital city.
- Newfoundland. While the former two places on this list were pretty specific geographical regions, I couldn’t choose just one area of Newfoundland. It kind of has an unfair advantage in that it was the province we spent the most time in and saw the most of, but it’s just so incredibly unique that even a day there would have solidified its place on this list. Imagine Ireland, Jurassic Park, Mars, the arctic, and the most picturesque harbour town you’ve ever seen in a postcard or calendar image and blend them all together and you have Newfoundland in a nutshell.
We took the overnight ferry there from Nova Scotia and when we docked around seven in the morning, it was like we had driven through the park gates onto Isla Nublar surrounded by fog covered green mountains. The roads were dreadful and there was next to no data coverage (I almost lost my 1000+ day Snapchat streak east of Gander lol) but it just felt so out of this world that I have to rewatch the video footage I took to even believe I was there. The Tim Hortons parking lot in Deer Lake was quite dear (hehe) to us as we pulled over to have a nap and then stocked up on Timmies before venturing on.
One thing to know about Newfoundland before going in is that it’s pretty sparse until St. John’s. Even Gander, which I’d heard of and kind of expected to be like a relatively big town, was the equivalent to any small town we drove through in the prairies. They made up for it big time in charm. Gander is known as an important aviation town, and is especially well known for the events retold in Come From Away, where 38 planes had to make emergency landings in Gander following the events of 9/11, more than doubling the town’s population. In their aviation museum there was a small display about it, and you betcha I was crying while going through it. In Gros Morne National Park (another world heritage site) you are able to walk on the Earth’s exposed mantle (which absolutely delights the geology nerd in me).
The capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is St. John’s, and is an exceptionally beautiful city. We were actually approached by a police officer asking if we wanted to be the official visitors of the day, which included a city tour and lunch with the mayor but had to decline because we were leaving the next day.
If I had to pick a singular highlight of Newfoundland, it would be the puffins. We went on boat tours in Bonavisa and Witless Bay, getting an up close view of icebergs, humpback whales… and PUFFINS. Words cannot express how much I love these little silly birds who are significantly better at tummy skidooing than they are at flying.
A fun fact I learned while in Newfoundland was that it is not included in the Maritime provinces, and if speaking about it in addition to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI, it is correct to refer to them as the “Atlantic Provinces” but the Maritimes only refers to the latter three. The more you know, right?
- Halifax. Of all the places we visited, if I was to relocate to anywhere else in Canada, it would be Halifax. Nova Scotia actually means “New Scotland” and it definitely has that Irish/ Scottish feel without being as remote as Newfoundland. Its capital city, Halifax, has the same kind of vibe as Vancouver and Victoria, being a city right by the ocean but has a more east-coast, Maritime feel that is hard to put into words.
Highlights of Halifax for me were the life-size Theodore the Tugboat, the Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum (where I ugly cried through the documentary film), and Peggy’s Cove.Peggy’s Cove is arguably one of the most iconic places in all of Canada, but Atlantic Canada for sure. Seeing it at sunset was so incredible special. While I can’t describe it as a “highlight” necessarily, seeing the graves of people recovered from the Titanic at Fairview Cemetery was powerful beyond words.
- PEI. In grade two I did my province report on Price Edward Island and being there in person was so cool. Again, I couldn’t just pick a specific region of PEI but mostly because it was quite small and since I wasn’t there for very long, it kind of blended together. If I had to pick my favourite part of PEI, it would be the Green Gables house in Cavdendish. On the drive from New Brunswick to our campsite in PEI, I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time since elementary school and to do so in the province where the story is actually set in was a whole different level of serendipity. I took a picture of the book while I was there, and PEI Tourism actually reposts it a couple times a year on Anne related dates.
The whole island just has such a quaint, homey feeling and we had one of our best meals of the whole trip there too! Going across The Confederation Bridge was surreal, the red sandy beaches were out-of-this world, and a fun side-trip to the Singing-Sand Beach where the sand actually squeaks as you walk on it was up there with the puffins!
The Bay of Fundy. Another place I really loved but not quite as much as the other places on this list was New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy. This bay features the highest tides in the world, where 100 billion tonnes of seawater rises up to twelve metres multiple times a day! We visited the Hopewell Rocks (my favourite part of New Brunswick) at low tide and were able to walk amongst the famous Flowerpot Rocks.
On the way towards the U.S. border and before setting out on the second half of our trip, we spent an afternoon in St. Andrews (also known as St. Andrews-by-the-sea) and it was just the most charming little town ever. If geology is something that interests you (even a little bit), reading about The Bay of Fundy is a total treat.
Thank you so much for checking out this post! I definitely recommend visiting any (or all!) of these places and if you get the opportunity, road-tripping across Canada was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Happy Canada Day weekend!