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7 Amazing Places I Never Expected To See in Canada

Mountains, forests and a whole lot of cold. That’s what I was expecting when we moved to British Columbia seven years ago.

Turns out that Canada had a few surprises up its sleeve. I had already got a hint that my imagined idea of Canada was a little wrong after a visit to Quebec and New Brunswick a few years before. But, really, I had no idea. 

Keep reading to learn about seven amazing places you probably also didn’t expect to see in Canada.

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Gemma in the middle of an old growth rainforest
Exploring the magnificent rainforest in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

British Columbia’s coastal rainforest

“It’s so cold! But you must be used to that, living in Canada right?” Actually, no. There’s this whole magical section on the West Coast, around 2% of Canada’s total forest area, that is actually temperate coastal rainforest.

It’s mild and wet in the winter rather than dry and freezing cold. And some places within this rainforest really are very wet.

cape scott trail vancouver island

Henderson Lake on Vancouver Island actually holds the title of North America’s wettest place, receiving 665cm of rain every year. Douglas fir and Sitka spruce are tree species which thrive in this wet and warm climate.

I knew about the Redwoods in California but I didn’t know that Canada had their own record-breaking version. One highlight was walking amongst the giant trees in Carmanah Walbran, a wonderfully overgrown Provincial Park near Vancouver Island’s West Coast.

Looking out to Windsor Lake Powell Forest Canoe Circuit

Carcross Desert, Yukon

Driving towards the small town of Carcross in the Yukon, the idea of seeing a desert was probably the furthest thing from my mind. The Yukon is known for rugged, empty wilderness. Yet here was a desert.

OK, technically it isn’t a desert per se, but rather sand dunes created by the wind. But it’s dry, there’s sand and for all intents and purposes, it looks like a desert.

Gemma standing in the stands of the Carcross Desert
The Carcross Desert, Yukon Territory

Receiving less than five centimetres of rain each year, the Carcross Desert is often considered the smallest desert in the world at one square mile in size. Whatever it is, I think it’s awesome. Walking around barefoot on sand dunes was the last thing I expected in Canada’s Yukon.

Looking to book a stay in Carcross?

Cabins over Crag Lake – Cosy and comfortable

Boreale Ranch – Highly rated on

Carcross Desert Yukon 3

Dawson City

History was just not something that immediately sprung to mind when thinking about Great White North. The longer we live in Canada the more history I learn, but my favourite place so far has to be Dawson City.

Paddling the Yukon River river from Whitehorse, we discovered shipwrecks, old trapper’s cabins, an abandoned trading post (Fort Selkirk) and more. It was fascinating to see these relatively young human-built structures, already obsolete and slowly being reclaimed by nature.

We were following in the footsteps of the miners of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99 and our experience continued in Dawson City. Our destination felt almost like a living museum.

In the midst of panning for gold and playing for gold in Canada’s oldest casino, we were able to attend a First Nation gathering a little down river. I never expected to have this experience. 

Looking to book a stay in Dawson City?

Dawson City saloon Yukon

Westmark Inn – Good value

Alchemy B&B – Awesome location

moosehide opening ceremony dawson city

Francophone Towns

This is a bit of an embarrassing one. I sincerely apologise to all Francophone Canadians. And that does, unfortunately, include my very own boyfriend Jean Robert.

Before visiting Canada for the first time at 21, I hadn’t really grasped the concept that Francophone Canadians spoke French…all the time. And didn’t all live in Quebec either.

Acadian lighthouse Shippagan

Yes, I know – I’m sorry! Travelling to Northeastern New Brunswick to meet JR’s family for the first time, I quickly discovered that the whole Acadian Peninsula, plus a few hours in each direction, spoke French all day, every day.

Nowadays I am attempting to learn French while trying to spread the word that not all Francophone Canadians live in Quebec. And how, y’know, they really do speak French.

PFK Acadian peninsula
Acadian Flag Acadian Peninsula 1

Spectacular beaches

For being a country usually associated with polar bears, igloos and ice skating, Canada has some mighty fine beaches out there! Yes, I expected Canadian mountains.

But I would not have guessed I would be viewing them from such stunning beaches. From rugged and rocky to sand that squeaks your feet, I love Canada’s beaches.

The turquoise waters of Terence Bay
Terence Bay beach, Nova Scotia

On the same lines, the scuba-diving is supposedly pretty good too. Jacques Cousteau, the famed oceanographer, was said to have rated British Columbia’s coastal waters as the best temperate diving in the world after the Red Sea. Seriously!

Cape Scott Provincial Park hike Nels Bight

Arid lands

Driving north from mild and wet coastal Vancouver, you’ll reach Whistler, home of some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. Keep driving and another couple of hours later, you’re in a whole other word.

It’s dry here. Really dry. Like 40c in summer dry. And Lillooet isn’t an anomaly.

Train tunnel and road amidst arid landscape
Landscape around Lillooet, British Columbia

There’s a whole swath of BC’s interior which experiences extremely hot temperate in summer and a remarkably arid landscape.

Near the US border, the Okanagan Desert (another desert that isn’t quite a ‘real’ desert) looks similar to parts of the Mojave desert, with its shrub-steppe ecology. Wineries flourish here, alongside lake holidays.

The unique Spotted Lakes Osoyoos
Spotted Lakes, Osoyoos

Pacific Islands

There’s just something about island life. Vancouver Island (often incorrectly referred to as Victoria Island) is the largest Pacific Island east of New Zealand. We lived here for two and a half years, snowboarding in winter and canoeing in summer.

Island hopping is usually associated with exotic destinations such as Hawaii or Fiji, but did you know that you can island hop on Canada’s West Coast too? 

Deer on rocky beach, mountains in background
Rathtrevor beach, Vancouver Island

Between Vancouver Island and the mainland are seemingly hundreds of smaller islands, each with their own character and beauty (as well as some pretty awesome beaches!)

Further north, the archipelago of Haida Gwaii has a strong First Nation presence, with half of the residents identifying as Haida. 

The ferry costs may not be cheap, but I loved every one of my island hopping trips to Cortes, Quadra, Cormorant Island (Alert Bay), Denman, Hornby, Gabriola and Salt Spring!  Alternatively, buy your own transportation and paddle yourself as we did to beautiful Sandy Island and Newcastle Island.

Gulf Island views from Salt Spring Island
JR Gabriola Island BC Ferries

Were you surprised by any of the places and experiences listed? Seven years on we’re still finding surprising destinations in Canada!

Mountains, forests and a whole lot of cold. That's what I was expecting when we moved to British Columbia seven years ago. Turns out that Canada had a few surprises up its sleeve. Click here to discover seven amazing places you probably also didn't expect to see in Canada!
There's more to Canada than mountains, moose and maple syrup! Here are 7 amazing places that challenged my preconceived ideas of Canada and proved that there is much more to this beautiful country than first meets the eye!

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Thursday 5th of February 2015

Wow! Canada is so diverse! That desert looks so enchanting. Seriously, I would have never expected a desert in Canada. I hope to explore this amazing land one day.


Saturday 31st of January 2015

As a Canadian, I'm really proud of this post and our great country! I'm from Ontario and I've traveled through Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI, but I've never visited the other provinces. I'd love to go to BC sometime! Canada is such a beautiful place with such different landscapes, not just snow & igloos ;) Thanks for writing this and thanks for linking up with #WeekendWanderlust!


Sunday 1st of February 2015

I'm glad you enjoyed the post Lauren! The stereotype image of year round snow and igloos does make me laugh a lot. Let me know when you make it out west!


Sunday 25th of January 2015

A desert (okay, sand dunes) in the Yukon? Amazing. My mental image of the Yukon involved the whole thing being pretty much covered by permanent snow, haha. You've given me some great ideas for my future (imaginary, at this point) trip to Canada.


Sunday 25th of January 2015

It's crazy right?! The 'Great White North' isn't so white after all ;) Let me know if you need any more tips or advice for your eventual trip to Canada! Would love to help. Thanks for your comment :)


Saturday 24th of January 2015

This is incredible! So many beautiful places to see. I have always said Canada is totally underrated.


Sunday 25th of January 2015

It really is a lot more varied than I ever could have imagined! And to think I still haven't visited all the provinces yet. Thanks for your comment Ruth!


Saturday 24th of January 2015

Great post as always. I too didn't have a full appreciation for how varied Canada really is before I spend half a year driving across it. Driving West to East I was amazed at how both the landscape, towns and people changed. It is truely a huge and wonderful country, and I barely feel like I scratched the surface. I am excited to be back and to be able to continue the exploration.


Sunday 25th of January 2015

It really is quite a country, much much more than just the Rockies! And to think I haven't really even seen them properly yet! It's funny that with you being in the Yukon right now, you're experiencing yet another area of Canada....even after driving thousands of kilometres across the country last year!