Land-wise, it's one of the world's largest countries, but most of Canada's population lives within a fairly short distance north of the U.S. border. Here you'll find world-class cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, all beautiful and diverse. Whether you want an adventure in the Rockies or a historic jaunt through quaint maritime towns you're sure to find your ideal slice of Canada.
Canada's Vast Landscapes
The summertime provides the best opportunity to see Canada. With long days of sunshine lasting well past 9 PM (and even later at higher latitudes), long strolls, outdoor dinners, and daytime adventures are all easily accommodated. Count on lots of places to run, hike, and explore. The larger cities of Vancouver and Toronto might appeal to international travelers who want to see urban landscapes, but escapes to smaller communities like Tofino on Vancouver Island can prove just as appealing.
Even though it gets very cold, Canada doesn’t shut down in the wintertime! Skiers and snow-sport enthusiasts flock here in the winter, for the great slopes, olympic history, and renowned ski resort towns and lodges. If you want to see the Northern Lights, head to the Northwest Territories and to the town of Yellowknife, where the views of this natural phenomenon rival those in Iceland and Greenland. Although opinions vary on when is best to see the Aurora Borealis, mid-August to end of September and winter/early spring (usually November to April) are widely considered great times to see the lights.
Canada is a prime destination for wildlife, in both summer and winter. For winter travelers, the chance to see polar bears in the wild is one you should not pass up. There are ample opportunities - consider tours to Manitoba that include Churchill for an unforgettable experience. The Churchill tourism website estimates that currently between 900 and 1000 polar bears in the area, giving you a very good chance of seeing multiple bears up close. Practice your snow photography, or if you shoot with an iphone, determine beforehand the best settings. You don’t want to miss out on the perfect shot!
Bear season does not overlap with other prime wildlife viewing, such as whales for example. Plan to visit Canada in October through November for Polar Bears. If you’re also interested in seeing whales, the best time to visit is June to August, so the chances of seeing both in one trip are unlikely.
Train Travel in Canada
From a transportation perspective, there are many ways you can travel through Canada. Canada train tours are a very popular and effective way to cover a lot of ground while taking in tremendous views. Some train journeys are available across the entire country - this is ideal if you have a lot of time and want to see more than just western Canada.
The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the most popular train trips in Canada. It’s a great option for older travelers or those with limited mobility, to experience the majesty of the Rockies and the expansive wilderness in comfort. There are 4 main routes on the Rocky Mountaineer, each will give you an unforgettable experience. All involve exciting excursions, top of the line dining, and comfortable accommodations along the way. This is also a very popular and exciting trip for families with young children.
Visiting Canada's National Parks
The great outdoors is perhaps what Canada is best known for. Sweeping mountain ranges, glacial lakes, bright green, rugged forests, and some of the world's most beautiful coastline.
Whether you’re an adventure seeking traveler looking for an exhilarating whitewater rafting trip or a challenging multi day mountain trek, or a senior traveler looking for a way to get out among nature, but with some creature comforts along the way, there’s something for everyone in Canada’s National Parks.
Canada has over 40 national parks, covering the country from East to West. These can be experienced in many different ways — from long camping trips, where you’ll sleep under an incredible expanse of stars, to pleasant walks and leisurely train journeys, staying in luxury mountain lodges. The Canada national park tours on Stride last anywhere from 6 days all the way to 20 days.
5 of the most popular national parks in Canada include:
1. Banff — Famous for sweeping views of the Rockies, glacial lakes, and recognizable as a picture perfect postcard in every souvenir shop you’ll find, Banff National Park is a can’t miss stop. Right on the border of Alberta and British Columbia, prepare to be in awe around every turn as you take in the majesty of the Canadian Rockies.
2. Torngat Mountains National Park — Newfoundland and Labrador. This is the place to go for those interested in Inuit culture. The entire parked is staffed by native Inuit people, and part of staying here is learning about their history, culture, and customs. You can also see the northern lights (if it’s the right time of year — October to March), and polar bears.
3. Prince Albert National Park — Saskatchewan. This is a very family friendly park, easily navigable and mostly flat. Great for long nature walks and wildlife viewing — especially bison. The lake attracts water skiers and wakeboarders in summer, while in winter this is a popular destination for cross country skiing.
4. Wapusk National Park — Manitoba. This is the main polar bears viewing area in Canada. Wapusk is Cree for “White Bear”. Despite freezing temperatures, winter is the most popular time to visit to view these and other classic tundra wildlife such as caribou, arctic foxes, wolverines, and moose. The nature and wildlife is well preserved here; no trails or roads exist in or out of the park. This means the only access is by helicopter — get ready for the experience of a lifetime!
5. Fundy National Park — New Brunswick. Canada’s eastern provinces provide an entirely different natural landscape. Beautiful green forest, coastal wildlife and coves illustrate the natural maritime history. Watch dramatic tides roll in and out from the St. John River, snorkel among rare Atlantic salmon, and hike up to the highest tides in the world at Hopewell Rocks.
With such diverse natural sights, comes incredibly diverse wildlife. On a tour through one of these many national parks, you’ll come face to face (from a reasonable distance) with black bears, grizzly bears, moose, grey wolves, and white tailed deer — just to name a few. Canada is also one of the best destinations for birding enthusiasts, with over 400 different species, including 16 separate species of owl.
Touring British Columbia: Diversity in Everything
The province of British Columbia is one of the most beautiful and exciting parts of Canada - with multiple national parks, plus vibrant cities, including Vancouver, it’s the perfect destination for a well rounded getaway.
In the winter months, there’s a chill to the air but the region is still majestic with the slopes of Whistler a short 90 minute drive from Vancouver. In summer, long days and fresh air off the water provide a clean getaway from toxic, traffic clogged cities of the world.
Or head over to Vancouver Island a short 30 minute helicopter ride or 2 hour ferry ride away) and to the provincial capital of Victoria. Victoria is home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada, a quaint downtown that lives to serve the hordes of tour boats that dock here, and the picturesque Butchart Gardens, a floral park that adds to the natural splendor of this fantastic island.
The small towns dotting the West coast of Canada are not to be missed either. Head north to Tofino, about 3 hours’ drive from Victoria, and take in a relaxing weekend away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. The clean air is almost a shock to city dwellers who are used to pollution in some degree, and it’s incredibly healing.
You may not think immediately of wine when you think of British Columbia, but you should. The Okanagan Valley is an up and coming wine region, which, much like Oregon, has been quiety producing solid wines for the past few decades. It’s a five hour drive from Vancouver, which might sound daunting to some, but if you have the time, it’s well worth a visit, if only to be among the first to know about these wines before they blow up!
Exploring the Canadian Maritimes: a Coastal Paradise
The Canadian Maritimes are an underappreciated and less well known destination for travelers to Canada. Most are familiar with the bigger cities, national parks, Quebec, etc. The Maritimes are an incredible step back to the past, where stately historic homes, beautiful coastal walks, lighthouses, crisp sea breezes, and lovely small towns full of boutiques, quaint cafes, and of course, fresh seafood are the name of the game.
Comprised of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, a tour of the Canadian Maritimes will typically spend a few days in each. This usually involves some time on the water, getting from place to place, so if you get seasick easily prepare accordingly.
In Nova Scotia you’ll find a legacy of fishing villages and family businesses, with crab and lobster shacks just off the piers. This is also where one of the most widely used symbols of the maritimes can be found - a very popular destination for photographers - Peggy’s Point Lighthouse.
New Brunswick is the largest of the three Maritime provinces. Due to its size, there are many influences here, providing keys to early Canadian history. From the native cultures, to the exploration age when French and British explorers first landed. From there, thriving timber and mining industries influenced the population growth and economy.
Today, New Brunswick is known for beautiful coastline, particularly the Bay of Fundy. The outdoors coupled with the second largest town in the Maritimes, where you can shop, enjoy delicious meals, and visit museums, make this province a perfectly balanced trip for travelers to Canada.
Fans of the wildly popular book and film series Anne of Green Gables, will immediately recognize the name Prince Edward Island. This tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia has been a tourist destination for kindred spirits of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s spunky red haired heroine for decades.
You can visit the Green Gables house, several museums dedicated to the series, and you’ll definitely feel the spirit of Anne all through the island. Those uninterested in the book series can still get a lot out of a visit to the area, including gorgeous photo ops, fresh seafood, and a multitude of outdoor activities.
Canada's Urban Areas
While a lot of travelers will seek out Canada’s natural delights, the cities are also worth exploring:
Vancouver is a big city with the some of the best food in North America. Sushi, Indian, and Chinese specialties all imbued with local ingredients are not to be missed. For Asian food especially, head south to the enclave of Richmond where most restaurant signs will sport two languages. And then of course there's the unparalleled seafood from the bordering Pacific - salmon, trout, bass, oysters, and crab, just to name a few.
There are many cutting edge fusion restaurants as well as local farm to table offerings to be found. A stroll through Gastown, with its many boutiques and charming vibe is a must when visiting Vancouver. And don’t miss a half day bike ride around Stanley Park!
Many tours allow a few days in Vancouver before venturing through the Rocky Mountain regions and nearby national parks. Alternatively, multiple small ship cruise routes that also visit Alaska stop in Vancouver.
Toronto is another popular city to visit, known for a thriving arts scene, cutting edge culinary finds, and one of the world’s biggest LGBT pride parades. Many tours use Toronto as a base from which to visit the thundering Niagara Falls, which shares a border with nearby upstate New York.
Montreal is Quebec’s largest city, often looked over for it’s more famous counterparts above. But this bustling metropolis is a great place to visit - with museums, art galleries, and parks. Visit here for a city fix before venturing out into the wild and beautiful Canadian outdoors.
The Farther Reaches of Canada: The Yukon and Northwest Territory
It’s name evokes the same “far away and impossible to reach” connotation as Timbuktu: the Yukon Territory. With a population of roughly 33,000, the Yukon is a prime destination for adventurous travelers seeking a truly unique experience.
And despite its reputation, the Yukon is actually easy to visit. Cold, yes, and mostly uninhabited, but not impossible to get to. And once you do, you’ll be in awe of its beauty. The Northwest Territories are even farther reaching.
Some of the incredible places to visit in the Yukon include:
Kluane National Park and Reserve - This beautiful national park is known for it’s enormous mountains and peaks, including Mount Logan - the highest peak in Canada, and second largest in North America. (The largest is Denali, in Alaska). A classic destination for backpacking, trekking, skiing, and glacier walking.
Ivvavik National Park - A classic place to get an overarching taste of the subarctic Canadian wilderness. This park was ultimately established as part of an agreement reached over aboriginal land claims. Only a limited number are allowed to visit each year in effort to preserve the area’s pristine nature and wildlife.
Alsek River - Winding its way through the Yukon, sourced from Kluane National Park and ultimately reaching the Pacific Ocean, the Alsek River is a very popular place for rafting, kayaking, and fishing. The area is also famous for wildlife spotting, and is incredibly picturesque so no matter what activity you partake in, you’re sure to enjoy spending a few days along the Alsek
Canadia in a Nutshell
Take all of those ridiculous stereotypes you have about Canada – the ice hockey, the poutine, the Robin Sparkles jokes – and accept them. They’re true. People do love hockey. Poutine is quite rich and satisfying. And yes, Tim Horton’s is a common breakfast destination. But it’s also easily one of the safest and most naturally beautiful places to travel. Grab your camera and embrace all this beautiful country has to offer!
Travel to Canada: Practicalities and Logistics
Canadians not only have a reputation for being some of the friendliest people on earth -- they actively embrace it! Their easygoing manner is impossible not to like. Should you need help such as directions or recommendations, there’s no better place to feel ok about approaching strangers.
Before You Go
Capital city: Ottawa
Dialing code: +1
Language: English & French
For US citizens, a visa is not required. All you need is a valid passport. Other nationalities may be required to obtain an ETA (electronic travel authorization) which is a very simple process, usually costing $7 canadian. You can find out more on the Canadian Government web page for Entry Requirements.
Although Canada is a very safe country, in larger cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, you’ll want to watch for pickpockets, especially in places that attract a lot of tourists.
If you’re planning outdoor activities, be prepared for some extreme weather! Especially if you’re traveling in winter. Pack lightweight, breathable layers and remember to drink a lot of water. Always adhere to warnings and respect closures that may be in place for certain hiking trails or attractions due to wildlife or weather conditions.
Those planning to travel to the further north regions, such as a cruise to the Canadian Arctic, or a tour to the Yukon or the Northwest Territory remember to dress warmly, even in summer.