Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn’t Miss

At the Top of the Giant hike overlooking Lake Superior

If you’re thinking about driving across Canada – which is an exceptional way to see the country, don’t rush it. Savour the experience, the small towns, the quirky restaurants and the unusual places to sleep. Allow time to make detours – because those are the things you’re going to remember.

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• Driving Across Canada:40 Places You Shouldn’t Miss
Sometimes the prettiest scenery is in the rear view mirror

40 Stops You Shouldn’t Miss Driving Across Canada

The Trans-Canada Highway runs from Victoria to St. John’s, a distance of 7,821 km. While it’s a fairly direct route, do plan to drive some of the scenic byways so you see the country properly. Allow a minimum of two weeks though really three to four weeks would be ideal.

If you drive more than 500 km a day, chances are you’ll get a little squirrely. Plan accordingly.

In my view these are the stops you don’t want to miss driving across Canada.

Where to stop in British Columbia

Even though the Trans-Canada Highway officially starts in Victoria, I’d recommend starting in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a fantastic town – full of wonderful places to stay, amazing eateries, the incredible Long Beach, surfing, whale watching, hot springs and you’ll get a chance to see the massive trees of Cathedral Grove.

Where to stay near Tofino

If you’re on a budget camp at the Green Point Campground in Pacific Rim National Park. Make reservations.

If money is less of a concern check out the fabulousLong Beach Lodge Resortor Middle Beach Lodge.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
Don’t miss a stop in Cathedral Grove

From Tofino you could drive back to Victoria and spend a few days there, or if you’re ready to get a move on drive to Nanaimo and catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay. (In 2024 you can prepay and save quite a bit on the direct ferries between the mainland and Vancouver Island.)

You can easily hook up with the Trans-Canada Highway from there OR if it’s a glorious sunny day make a detour and drive the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.

(If you’re young and traveling alone an affordable option in the heart of Whistler is thePangea Pod Hotel.)

View to Anvil Island from Porteau Cove
View to Anvil Island from Porteau Cove on the Sea to Sky Highway

Vancouver and North Vancouver are well worth a few day’s of your time. Don’t miss a walk or bike ride around Stanley Park.

In North Vancouver hike the Grouse Grind or take the SkyTram to the top of Grouse Mountain for amazing views – along with loads of activities. Paddle out of Deep Cove. 

Sign up for aNorth Shore day tripfrom Vancouver to Grouse Mountain and the Suspension Bridge with round-trip hotel transportation included.

British Columbia has so much to offer that it’s worth spending extra time in this province. If you need to stretch your legs, stop in Squamish and hike the Chief. The views are exceptional and you only need two to three hours to do it properly.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
The views you get hiking The Chief

Continue driving east on the Trans-Canada Highway. From Vancouver it’s a four hour drive to Kamloops and then just over another hour to reach Salmon Arm.

If you’re hungry and want a picnic, pick up supplies at DeMille’s Farm Market (it’s one of the first markets you’ll reach as you drive east through Salmon Arm) or if you want a great piece of pie with a cup of coffee stop at the Shuswap Pie Company.

A reader has also suggested an ice cream stop at D Dutchmen Dairy in Sicamous.

Revelstoke is a further hour’s drive away – and may be just the place to call it a night. There are lots of B&B’s around. Stay atBase Camps Resortin Revelstoke.

If you’re keen to get out of the car go for a full day hike to Eva Lake in nearby Mount Revelstoke National Park. After the hike you could comfortably drive to Golden, Field, or even Lake Louise.

The fabulous Eva Lake hike is a great stop when driving Vancouver to Calgary
The fabulous Eva Lake hike is a great stop

Until 2019 I had never stopped to hike in Glacier National Park. Now that I have, I’d highly recommend it. But be prepared for steep trails.

If you want a break from the car and a good workout I highly recommend the Hermit Trail, with the trailhead a few minute’s drive east of Roger’s Pass. I also would suggest both Glacier Crest Trail and Abbott Ridge Trail.

Enjoying the big in your face glacier views from the Hermit Trail, Glacier National Park
Enjoying the big in your face glacier views from the Hermit Trail
Reflection in a pond beneath Abbott Ridge, Glacier National Park
Reflection in a pond beneath Abbott Ridge

Where to stay in the Field – Lake Louise corridor on a stop driving across Canada

Near Field you’ll be close to the beautifulEmerald Lake Lodge,Cathedral Mountain Lodge, excellent camping in Yoho National Park or choose from one of the many options in Lake Louise eg.Baker Creek by Basecampor thehostel in Lake Louise.

If you have time for one hike in BC, do the Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park. There are exceptional hikes around Lake O’Hara but unless you’ve planned well in advance it will be too difficult to get a seat on the bus to the trailhead.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn’t Miss
Views hiking the Iceline Trail

Stops to make in Alberta

If you’ve made it to Lake Louise, then you’re within spitting distance of the Icefields Parkway and one of Canada’s most beautiful drives. And yes you have to do it. It’s a three hour drive to Jasper one way – without stops.

And you really do need to get out at scenic overlooks along the way and take in the majesty of Canada’s Rocky Mountains. So give it at least a day and then continue east again from Lake Louise.

The Wilcox Pass hike on the Icefields Parkway
The Wilcox Pass hike on the Icefields Parkway

Banff is 45 minutes east of Lake Louise and while the town can be overrun with tourists in the summer, the trails are not.

Choose one of these 18 day hikes in Banff to get your Rocky Mountain fix.

Kananaskis Country off of Highway 40 is also phenomenal for hiking. These 17 Kananaskis hikes are all blow you away beautiful!

And the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is open. It’s associated withPomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge– which after a renovation is a great place to bed down for a night.

The Kananskis Nordic Spa is one of the most relaxing day trips from Calgary
Visit the Kananaskis Nordic Spa – but make reservations

Calgary is an hour’s drive east of Canmore. In July it’s famous for free pancake breakfasts all over the city as part of the annual Calgary Stampede. Buy a cowboy hat, throw on a pair of cowboy boots and be a part of the energy.

Other places to visit in Calgary include the world-class National Music Centre, the East Village pop-up market (Thursday – Sunday), the Calgary Zoo and of course the fabulous network of hiking and biking trails along the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

And for a hotel with an awesome outdoor pool scene that’s centrally located, check out Hotel Arts.

There are two more stops you have to make in Alberta – Dinosaur Provincial Park. It’s a UNESCO site and home to the largest concentration of complete dinosaur bones skeletons. I’m not crazy about dinosaurs but I am a fan of the superlative badlands scenery you find here – especially at sunset. (Sign up for a tour.)

You need a full day to take advantage of the tours and short, interpretative hikes. There is camping. The park is just 35 minutes off of the Trans-Canada Highway northeast of Brooks – and NOT in Drumheller.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park has also earned UNESCO status. It’s a couple of hours detour off the Trans-Canada Highway – with a location in the southeast corner of the province and it’s well worth visiting. You can camp or glamp in the park.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
The spectacular badlands in Dinosaur Provincial Park
The park is a photographer's dream
The park is a photographer’s dream

Not to be missed stops in Saskatchewan

From Brooks it’s a two hour drive to Maple Creek and if you don’t mind driving dirt roads, I highly recommend a side-trip to historic Reesor Ranch in the Cypress Hills. (You can also access it faster if you’re coming from Alberta by driving south from Walsh).

Book the cute Cowboy Cabin, and enjoy a two-hour horseback ride or a hike to a high point on the property to catch the sunset. Meals are cowboy licking good though you can cook in the cabins too.

There's a firepit and a barbeque on the deck of our Cowboy Cabin
There’s a firepit and a barbeque on the deck of our Cowboy Cabin at Reesor Ranch

Hopefully you’ll be lucky and you’ll catch a summer storm as you drive across Saskatchewan. The skies here are big and beautiful. Other stops to make include the tunnels of Moose Jaw and the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina. 

In Moose Jaw I recommend an overnight stay inTemple Gardens Hotel & Spa. Don’t forget your bathing suit so you can enjoy a soak.

Heading off on a Tunnels of Moose Jaw tour - one the unique places to visit in Saskatchewan
Heading off on a Tunnels of Moose Jaw tour – on the unique places to visit in Saskatchewan

Places you have to visit in Manitoba

One of the worthwhile side trips, located just 50 minutes southeast of Brandon, is the Spirit Sands hike in Spruce Woods Provincial Park. Lots of sand will keep the kids happy!

We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday
We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday

I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of the drive across the Manitoba prairie – unless I’m passing fields of canola or sunflowers – though that’s just me.

But I do love Winnipeg and would highly recommend at least a day in the city. Check out the polar bears in the Assiniboine Zoo (I could spend a solid day watching them swim).

Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, sign up for the fascinating Hermetic Code Tour at the Manitoba Legislature and finally hit the Nordik Spa for a few hours of relaxation.

For a great hotel with a superb location, stay at theInn at the Forks– a splurge but worth it.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn’t Miss
The polar bears are definitely a highlight at the Winnipeg Zoo

If you want to change it up and spend a day in a canoe, drive two hours east of Winnipeg and head for Whiteshell Provincial Park. Rent a canoe and plan a day canoeing the Caddy Lake tunnels and beyond. It’s great fun.

Looking towards South Cross Lake from the second tunnel
Looking towards South Cross Lake from the second tunnel

If you’re up for a longer detour from the Trans-Canada, drive north for 90 minutes and explore Riding Mountain National Park. It’s home to fabulous hiking trails, fabulous swimming, paddling and SUP, along with the option to stay in oTENTiks.

Bison in Riding Mountain National Park
Bison in Riding Mountain National Park seen in winter

The best stops to make in Ontario while driving across Canada

To get to Toronto from Winnipeg will take you just shy of 24 hours of driving so you really must break the drive up. Toronto isn’t actually on the Trans-Canada Highway, so decide by the time you reach Sudbury if you want to include a stop in the city.

If you’re willing to drive an additional 90 minutes from Toronto you could visit Niagara Falls and the cute town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Otherwise head to Ottawa via North Bay.

Some of the stops to consider making in Ontario include the following:

  • Enjoy a picnic by Kakabeka Falls just west of Thunder Bay.
  • Stop for ice cream at Merla Mae in Thunder Bay.
  • Detour to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (you can camp here) and do the Top of the Giant hike for airy views over Lake Superior.
Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
At the Top of the Giant hike overlooking Lake Superior

I highly recommend a detour to Pukaskwa National Park, located 3 hours and 40 minutes driving time east of Thunder Bay. There is excellent camping and even some B&B’s to stay in.

Nothing beats some hiking along the shores of Lake Superior. I recommend the Southern Headlands Trail for its combination of beaches and Lake Superior views.

Horseshoe Beach on Lake Superior
Horseshoe Beach on Lake Superior

South of Wawa stop in Agawa Bay in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Not only is there beautiful camping but excellent hiking – and lots of it. Try the Nokomis Trail.

For another ice cream stop, check out Holy Cow’s Ice Cream Parlour in Sault Ste. Marie.

In Ottawa check out the Byward Market, Parliament Hill and consider renting a bike and cycling for a couple of hours along the Rideau Canal. This is an especially beautiful outing in May when the tulips are in bloom.

For some of the best gelato of your life, visit Stella Luna Gelato Café in Ottawa, another reader recommendation.

My recommendation for a hotel in Ottawa is theAndaz Hotelin the Byward Market.

If you’d prefer a hostel check out theOttawa Jail.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
Biking along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa

Places to see in Quebec when driving across Canada

It’s a quick drive between Ottawa and Montreal. In summer Montreal is festival central so do some research before you arrive if that’s what you love.

Be sure to stop in Quebec City and walk the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec. Visit Montmorency Falls and check out the food scene on Île d’Orléans.

Consider an up and back side-trip to beautiful Baie-Ste-Paul and even as far as the mouth of the Saguenay River. Then you could take advantage of superlative whale watching trips in the St. Lawrence River. You might even see a blue whale!

In Baie-Ste Paul I recommend a night in theHôtel & Spa Le Germain CharlevoixorAuberge La Grand Maison.

Read: Quebec Road Trip: Quebec City to Havre-Saint-Pierre

Montmorency Falls just outside of Quebec City
Montmorency Falls just outside of Quebec City

Best stops to make in New Brunswick while driving across Canada

Returning to Quebec City continue on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River to follow the Trans-Canada Highway into New Brunswick. If you love lobster plan a side trip to Shediac to capture the lobster festival in July.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
The world’s largest lobster in Shediac, New Brunswick

Chances are high you’ll be driving through Edmunston. If you have a hankering for ice cream in the city, stop at Le Scoop Royal.

Again if you have time, it’s worth the side trip to check out the Fundy Isles, especially Grand Manan Island. There’s whale watching, hiking, kayaking, biking, birding – plenty to do along with a laid back vibe.

And Campobello Island (the former summer home of Franklin D. Roosevelt) accessible via ferry from Deer Island or from Maine, is a wonderful laid-back spot to visit.

View out the back door of my cabin in Seal Cove
View out the back door of my cabin in Seal Cove on Grand Manan Island

Memorable stops in Nova Scotia

The Trans-Canada Highway bypasses Halifax, the scenic south shore and the area around Wolfville, three of my favourite places to see in Nova Scotia.

Add in a day or two so you can visit Peggy’s Cove, Blue Rocks, Lunenburg and the wineries near Wolfville. In Lunenburg, sign up for a sail on the Bluenose II – the boat on the back of the Canadian dime.

Walk the ocean floor when the tide is out in Blomidon. Stay in a lightkeeper’s cabin at Cape d’Or on the Bay of Fundy. And then continue east to Cape Breton Island. You absolutely must drive the Cabot Trail.

From Nova Scotia you can take a ferry to PEI or to Newfoundland.

Peggy's Cove at sunset
Peggy’s Cove at sunset
The colourful Lunenburg waterfront
The colourful Lunenburg waterfront seen from the Bluenose II

Prince Edward Island stops when driving across Canada

You primarily want to visit Prince Edward Island for the magnificent beaches. Bypass the busier Cavendish Beach and head instead to the Greenwich section of PEI National Park.

The boardwalks, beaches and parabolic sand dunes here are a delight. Pack a picnic so you can stay awhile. Stay at the Inn at Bay Fortune where the meals are memorable. Trust me on this one!!

In Charlottetown be sure to catch Anne of Green Gables – The Musical. Stay inThe Great George– where the rooms are lovely and the location is perfect.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
The Greenwich section of PEI National Park

Best places to see in Newfoundland while driving across Canada

In my opinion you could easily spend a few weeks in Newfoundland. It’s a big province rich in history and natural beauty and the people of Newfoundland are renowned for their hospitality.

The Trans-Canada Highway takes you to St. John’s by way of Deer Lake.

Make the less than an hour’s detour to visit Gros Morne National Park. If you only have time for one thing to the boat ride on Western Brook Pond.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
Red chairs at Western brook Pond

From Deer Lake it’s a 6.5 hour drive to St. John’s. To break it up hike the Alexander Murray Trail near King’s Point. It has 2,200 steps and offers great views once you reach the high point.

Absolutely add a day to hike at least one section of the East Coast Trail. The Sugarloaf Path is particularly lovely and allows you the chance to visit Quidi Vidi Village. Another standout section is the Spurwink Island Path. End the trip with a swig of Screech.

Driving Across Canada: 40 Places You Shouldn't Miss
Scenery along the Sugarloaf Path section of the East Coast Trail

Road tripping with kids

If you’ve elected to do this trip with kids be sure to start the planning process by involving them. If every child has a say in a destination or activity they’re much more likely to be on-board and get something out of the trip.

Pull out maps, do the research, task them with finding the best apps and kid-friendly restaurants. For your part, keep healthy snacks on hand, pack the favourite toy along with audio books (go to the library beforehand) and figure out some car friendly games to pass the boring stretches.

I also recommend my friend Jody Robbin’s book –25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit.

Driving across Canada will open your eyes to the beauty and diversity of this awesome country. Start planning and then do it.

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Driving across Canada - 40 places you shouldn't miss

  1. Hello Leigh I really enjoyed reading this and love all the great information! We’re planning a (not rushed) post-retirement trip across Canada in 2022 and will be caravanning in travel trailers with great friends. We hope to do some find bike riding excursions too… hurray for e-bikes! We’ll be meeting soon to start planning and your article will be included in our conversation 🙂 Thanks so much!

  2. Hi Leigh, this wonderful and very helpful. My partner and I are traveling mid September from WA state back home to Vermont and wanted to take a Canadian route as we have done the US route many times. Our plan was to drive to Whistler via Sea to Summit and then head either to Jasper or Lake Louise. We would like very much to do the Ice Fields Parkway (93) from Jasper to Banff or visa versa, and then head to the Badlands (Dinosaur Provincial Park). What would be your recommendation? What is route 5 to Jasper like from Kamloops? Thanks ever so much! Eva and Jim

    1. Hi Eva,
      You’re in for a treat, especially once the wildfires and smoke die down. It’s lucky you’re going in mid-September. Both drives are fantastic though you need to be a little careful that you don’t get caught in a construction delay around Golden. They are mostly at night in summer but the construction schedule may change in the fall. The drive from Jasper to Dinosaur Provincial Park is several hours longer than it is from Lake Louise so perhaps that would be a factor. I highly recommend pre-booking a tour or two in Dinosaur. You’ll access areas of the park that are otherwise off limits to the public. Also it can be a zoo around Lake Louise in mid-September because its larch season so the area is particularly attractive. (I would recommend booking the shuttle if you want to go to the lake). Also be sure to book accommodation in September now.

  3. Thanks for curating this, I am gearing up for my second trip across the country, this time terminating in Gatineau QC. It was great to see so many places I recognize from my Halifax to Victoria, coast-to-coast trip!

  4. Lots of options and love the suggestions for hikes and things to do along the way. I drove from Ontario to Victoria with my kids 5 years ago and keen to do something like that again!

    1. @Sarah I think breaking up the trip do get outside and experience Canada makes it that much more interesting. Great way for kids to learn about their country – and its size.

  5. I plan to travel West for a wk. As far as I can this summer. Already did East with my children when they were young. I live in TO. I will go to some of the scenic areas mentioned. Just testing the water.

    1. @Elaine No matter how far you get, I bet you’ll have a good time, enjoying the freedom of the road. I hope you make to to Alberta. Book early as from what I’ve heard accommodation is going to be taken quickly in summer – especially with the vaccine rolling out more and more.

  6. Some really nice ideas. I will come back to it once we plan our trip. I’m just a bit sad that people always wash down Manitoba’s beauty.
    We definitely have more to offer then Winnipeg ( and i don’t know what’s so different between the drive thru Saskatchewan and Manitoba)
    But if you come again then i challenge you to visit some more places. Like Steep Rock, Riding Mountain National Park, Gimli and many more.

    1. @Christine Thanks for your comment. Mostly I have tried to include stops that aren’t too far off the Trans-Canada but after your comment I added a few stops I have enjoyed including Spruce Woods Provincial Park and Riding Mountain National Park. Trust me – I am always up for exploring the province but it’s one of the ones I have spent the least amount of time in. Still hoping to do the train trip up to Churchill one day too.

      1. Hi – we are leaving the pacific NW about the first of April with our 5thwheel rv. Our Destination is around 10 May Bath, Maine. The time/month cannot be changed. Instead of heading south across the United States and then back north, Our wish would be to take our time, and travel across from Vancouver all the way to Quebec down into Maine. We realize this is not the best time to do it. But is it a reasonable time? What kind of weather should we expect to find or weather wise safety of travel? Would you do it?

      2. @Jan That sounds like a grand adventure.It’s a crapshoot with the weather. Some years will be absolutely marvelous though there definitely won’t be as many services open in a few places. The Trans-Canada through the mountains could be beautiful or a nightmare. I’d wait till you got a good forecast.I have driven that road in April and been stuck waiting for avalanche blasting at Roger’s Pass. On another occasion it was clear sailing. Once through the mountains, the driving should be more predictable. And one of the benefits is fewer people in the campgrounds in Banff and Lake Louise. I know there is a year-round one in Banff on Tunnel Mountain – and that’s a good location. I would do it BUT I would only drive the mountain passes with a snow-free forecast. Does that help?

  7. Very informative and beautiful pictures, thank you. We are going to use this as a guide when we do our cross country trip , leaving in 2 weeks.

    1. Certainly plan to use your suggestions on my upcoming Senior Solo cross country trip leaving from my home in Port Moody. However I am surprised you didn’t mention beautiful Manitoulin Island (largest fresh water island in the world) in your mention of a side trip to southern Ontario. Exploring the Island (hiking the bluffs…) And then Taking the ferry from the Island to Tobermoray is a much more interesting and scenic way of getting to Toronto, etc.
      Of course then you would miss my ever interesting home town of Sudbury!!

    2. Hi. Did u take your cross Canada trip? If you did have you any recommendations? Tips?

      Tks. Sandi

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