In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday this past weekend, I thought I’d share my favourite places and moments of life and travels in this incredible country with you.
Maybe one (or more) of these experiences is on your own Canadian bucket list?
Experiencing the Midnight Sun in NWT
24 hours of daylight is truly something unique to experience. Time flies out of the window and the world is turned on its head when the sun stays out all day and night long. It was also (believe it or not!) hot, hot, hot.
Learning to snowboard, Vancouver Island
When we moved to Canada in 2011, our only plan was to work at a ski resort and learn how to snowboard or ski. 5 years on, we can both snowboard (one of us A LOT better than the other…) and each have over a hundred snowdays behind us. Sliding down a hill on a plank of wood can be very fun, as it turns out.
Living in a desert, Penticton, BC
Yep, Canada does get warm, even hot. Right now we live in the southern Okanagan in BC, an area that is technically a desert. Summers are hot, dry and sometimes dusty. The area is also home to rattlesnakes and cacti. Seriously.
Hiking to the end of Vancouver Island
Cape Scott is the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. East of here, there isn’t much to see until Japan.It was a very muddy journey to get there but finally seeing the sandy shores of Nels Bight made every step worth it.
This was also our very first multi-day hiking trip. What a destination to pick! There was also an earthquake on our final day, but that’s another story…
Spotting a lynx in Alberta
Canada is home to many amazing animals (bears! moose! orcas!) but our favourite sighting of all has to be the lynx we spotted in the Rocky Mountains. We were lucky enough to watch it hunt in the snow.
Driving the Dempster highway to the Arctic Circle a nd beyond, Yukon/NWT
The Dempster Highway is a long and dirty drive, through the middle of tundra, mountains and limitless wilderness. It is also Canada’s only road to the Arctic Circle. The wilderness here is rich, barren, lush and desolate all at the same time.
Walking with the giants in Carmanah Walbran, British Columbia
Probably the wettest place in Canada, even the air tastes moist here. The Carmanah Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island is home to the biggest and best collection of huge trees, including Douglas Fir, Red Cedar and Sikta Spruce. A special place that takes a bit of effort to reach, it’s common to have the whole valley to yourself.
Canoe camping in Main Lakes Provincial Park, British Columbia
Buying a canoe was definitely one of the best things we’ve ever done; we wouldn’t be without it now. One of the first big adventures with our canoe was a multi-day camping trip in Main Lakes on Quadra Island, BC.
Three lazy days of sunbathing, swimming and a bit of paddling in the perfect August heat = the perfect summer trip.
Witnessing the beauty of Moraine Lake, Alberta
The view of Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks behind it is one of the most famous in Canada. The notoriety is well deserved. Moraine Lake offers the kind of panorama you can’t stop looking at.
I was lucky enough to visit just two days after the lake opened up for visitors (late May) but missed out on the full blue-green colours that appear later in the season.
Flying above glaciers in Kluane National Park, Yukon
The epic scale of Kluane National Park is difficult to comprehend. The glaciers are over forty miles deep. The mountains are over 4000m high (Mt Logan, Canada’s highest mountain is here).
The icebergs are the size of skyscrapers. Everything about Kluane is epic. A grand place seen in a grand way.
Walking the streets of Old Montreal, Quebec
My very first experience of Canada was actually the city of Montreal back in 2009. It’s a fascinating hybrid of European and North American history, culture and architecture.
Old Montreal, with its laidback vibe and brick buildings, is like nowhere else in Canada.
Experiencing -40c in Fort St John, BC
Living in the ‘almost’ sub-Arctic for a winter was certainly an eye opening experience. For one thing, so many everyday tasks (keeping vehicles warm! not washing one’s hair just before going outside!) have to be thought about in a different way when the outside temperature is -40c. I doubt I’d do it again but I’m glad to have experienced it once.
Camping for free
Canada must be one of the best places in the world to explore the wilderness. And it is cheap to do so too, with SO MANY free places to camp all over the country.
The province of British Columbia is one of the best places for this, with hundreds of free spaces available in maintained Recreational Sites. We have camped for over 100 nights all over Western Canada without even spending a cent.
Celebrating St Jean Baptiste in Quebec City
Quebec’s national holiday is a huge flag waving party with fireworks, drinking and lots of live music. The usually quiet Quebec City takes an altogether different type of character every June 24th. It was also the day we happened to arrive in the city!
Vancouver Island is like a mini highlights reel of BC; thunderous Pacific coastline, huge mountain ranges, pretty alpine lakes, long sandy beaches and lush temperate rainforest. It’s possible to surf, ski, golf and kayak all on the same day here. A magical place.
Learning to fish
Neither of us are particularly proficient fisherpeople but love to try anyway! And sometimes, we get lucky. Fishing in Yukon Territory was great for our confidence since there are far more fish than people there…
Summiting mountains in Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon
The jagged peaks of Tombstone practically call out to be climbed. And climb you can – simply pick a mountain on the map and try.
We chose Rake Mountain, not far from the Dempster Highway. Some tundra traversing and three hours later and we were greatly rewarded. The barren, desolate landscape is an unforgettable, haunting sight.
Discovering dinosaurs in Tumbler Ridge, BC
This little town is one of BC’s best secrets. Not only is Tumbler Ridge full of waterfalls and amazing geology, but it also is a hotspot for dinosaur fossils. Dinosaur footprints can be seen (and stepped in!) at the side of Flatbed Creek. Super cool.
Hiking in Cathedral Provincial Park, BC
Cathedral’s Rim Trail must be one of the best day hikes in BC. From start to finish, almost every kilometre has some kind of epic view of the surrounding lakes, alpine meadows, mountains and forests of the Cascades. Photos do not do this park any kind of justice.
Calm waters, a rugged mountainous backdrop, cosy island campsite and a handful of freshwater lakes make Desolation Sound one of the best paddling destinations around. It’s a place that is anything other than desolate. Two visits in three years and I have no doubt that we’ll still go back for more.
Walking to wineries in Penticton, BC
For such a relatively ‘cold’ country, Canada has an incredible amount of wineries. Case in point, there are over a hundred wineries within an hour of our home in Penticton. The best part though is that we can actually walk to many tasting rooms from our house. Walking wine tour anyone?
Going back in time in Dawson City, Yukon
The tiny town of Dawson City was the ground zero of the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush. Nowadays the town something of a living museum. It’s still possible to pan for gold in the same creek where the famous discovery was made.
Driving the Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
The Cabot Trail is all about winding roads past cliff-top vistas, Gaelic culture and moose. Lots and lots of moose. The chance of spotting whales is possible too, with boundless ocean views seen almost the whole drive around the Cape Breton highlands.
Paddling the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City
Just as the Klondike gold miners did over a hundred years ago, we paddled 750km on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Along the way, there were many relics to explore, from simple cabins and homesteads to sternwheelers and abandoned villages.
The extra great thing about this trip is that the Yukon River flows at an average of 10km/h, so the paddling part is not as exhausting as it initially sounds.
Learning about Acadian culture in New Brunswick
Contrary to popular belief, French Canadians do not only live in Quebec! Jean Robert is actually an Acadian, a descendant of some of the first French settlers in Canada. The Village historique Acadien on the Acadian peninsula in New Brunswick is a living museum portraying the daily lives of Acadians from 1770 to 1949.
Driving the legendary Alaska Highway
The aim of this epic wartime construction was to build a secure transportation link between the lower 48 states and Alaska. It is now a comfortable cruise through the wilderness of Northern BC and Yukon.
The section through the Northern Rocky Mountains features azure lakes, rolling mountains and lots of wildlife. In a few short hours, we spotted moose, bison, mountain goats and caribou.
Adventuring to Canada’s highest waterfall
Della Falls on Vancouver Island is Canada’s highest waterfall and it takes a bit of effort to get there. First, a 25km paddle across the notoriously windy Great Central Lake followed by a 13km hike (and hand cranked cable car ride!) to the base of the falls.
And then you do it all in reverse. The journey is definitely as important as the destination in this case.
Walking on squeaky sand on Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island is full of beautiful sandy beaches, but there is one that stands out a little from the rest. Basin Head is home to sand that actually squeaks (or ‘sings’) underfoot as you walk across the beach. The noise ranges from a faint squawk to a higher pitched squeak.
Attending the Moosehide Gathering in Yukon
The small town of Dawson City had already offered us so much in the way of gold mining history and music festival fun…and then we heard about Moosehide. We felt so lucky to be able to attend this bi-annual celebration of local First Nation culture.
Learning to climb at Skaha Bluffs
Climbing is such a simple, straightforward thing. But it’s harder than it looks. Lucky then, there are quite a few places to practice in Canada, with one of the best being right in our back garden. Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park hosts over a thousand routes between three different valleys, with climbing possible all the way from March to late October.
Becoming a permanent resident of Canada
Of course, one of my top moments in Canada has to be the time I became a permanent resident. On 11th April 2013 I was granted the right to live in Canada permanently. I finally became a Canadian citizen in 2018.
Have you been to any of these places? What are your favourite Canadian destinations and experiences?
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada