Canada was made for road tripping and cross country jaunts are a common experience for most Canadians. Many of us have wonderful childhood memories of piling into the family vehicle to set off on a grand cross country adventure. I can recall driving across the country when I was 11 yrs old due to a family move from Ottawa, Ontario to Calgary, Alberta. But there were many road trips before that.
When I was 7 yrs old my family did a 2 week road trip to explore Canada’s eastern provinces. We camped at the local campsites and lived out of our van. Expeditions to the cottage, located 3 hrs away, seemed to take days, and we’d go multiple times every summer. My grandparents lived in Toronto, a whole 4 hrs drive south and we’d often go visit during the holidays.
I attended university in north western Ontario, an 18 hr drive away. Usually my roommate and I would fly to and from school for visits back home. But one spring break we drove back to school in my friends dads Suburban so that we could move all our stuff home when school finished 2 months later. This was the first time my roommate and I ever changed a flat tire (after being pulled over by the cops who had to inform us of said flat tire), but that’s a whole other story.
Since growing up with road trips, I’ve been on a few long distance drives while traveling. I love the freedom of hitting the open road, stopping whenever I please weather it be to find a much needed bathroom or to stop and enjoy an incredible view.
Something I didn’t realize until I started traveling was how Canadians use driving distances as a unit of measurement. Due to the shear size of the country and commonalty of road trips, Canadians tend to measure distance by how many hours it takes to drive from one place to another rather than in kilometers (or miles).
I love a good road trip, so last summer when my parents (who currently reside in Canada’s western most province of British Columbia) were planning a trip to the east to visit family and friends, my dad announced that he would be driving across Canada rather than flying (because he’s retired and thought, why not drive?). Not wanting him to do the long drive alone, I jumped at the chance to drive with him.
Although my parents live in central BC in a little mountain town called Revelstoke, I began my journey in the city of Vancouver, located right on the Pacific Ocean. I flew into this spectacular metropolis in mid-August and spent 5 days exploring the area and even venturing over to Vancouver Island to go whale watching and sea kayaking. I stayed with a friend in West End Vancouver, just a stones throw from the famous Stanley Park.
At the end of my time in this incredible city, my friend drove me the first leg of the journey from Vancouver to Revelstoke, where I stayed with my parents for a few days. Unfortunately, the town was under a thick cloud of smoke, brought up from the south by strong winds from a wild fire burning in Washington State, USA. Hiking was out of the question, both for health reasons and for the lack of views, so I tried SUPing on the Columbia River instead.
Cutting my visit to Revelstoke short, my dad and I packed up the Jeep and bid Farewell to my mom. We decided to head further north to the incredible mountain town of Jasper, Alberta, hoping to escape the smoke. We were in luck in terms of smoke but drove right into a downpour as we drove through Mt Robson Provincial Park, just before Jasper. So much for mountain views!
As we entered Jasper, the rain let up and we were able to set up our tents under cloudy skies rather than rain. We had planned on spending a day exploring the beautiful Jasper National Park before taking another day to drive the stunning Icefields Parkway.
Our first morning we hiked one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve even done, exploring Edith Cavell Meadows beside Mt Edith Cavell, taking in the stunning views of hanging Angel Glacier. Despite starting the hike in the rain, we persevered and were rewarded with sunshine and one of the most spectacular lunch views I’ve ever experienced.
Finishing our hike in the early afternoon we took a scenic drive down Maligne Lake Road to Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake. With high winds wiping across the water, we decided against any further exploration across the lake on one of the organized boat tours and enjoyed the view from the beach instead. While heading back to town we stopped to take a short wander to see the deep and winding Maligne Canyon, cut deep like a knife into the thick slabs of rock on the earths surface.
After spending a another night camping at Whistler’s camp ground, just 5 min outside Jasper, we rode the Jasper Sky Tram to the top of Whistler’s Mountain hoping for some amazing views of the valley and the town. Arriving at the top under a thick cloud we hiked to the peak and watched as the clouds rolled in and over the mountain top, occasionally lifting and exposing the wonderful mountain views. As we made our way back to the gondola it started snowing and soon we were caught in the middle of a winter flurry (it was the end of August!).
We bid farewell to Jasper and headed down the Icefields Parkway, stopping at Athabasca falls and basically any time we saw a great view.
We ended the day at the Athabasca Glacier under heavy rain and thick grey clouds. Disappointed with the complete and utter lack of views due to the rain, we stopped by the visitors center for a warm cup of hot chocolate, in the hopes that the weather would pass. Patience paid off and for a brief few moments the clouds parted and the sun shone down on the magnificent mountains that flank the sides of the glacier.
We had planned on camping at the Athabasca camp site but after arriving to near freezing temperatures in a downpour, we did a quick google search and found an HI hostel close by. Well, it was more of a mountain cabin but turned out to be our savior. We waited until the hostel’s proprietor arrived and asked if he had any extra beds available. As luck would have it he was only expecting one other couple that night so my dad and I settled into the beautiful cabin in the woods for the night.
The cabin was located right along the Athabasca River and we were surrounded by snow capped peaks. It felt very much like we were staying at our family cottage, with no electricity and a simple outhouse for a bathroom. And we loved it!
The next morning we woke to a layer of wet and heavy snow covering the ground. My dad and I were so thankful to have found this wonderful little cabin for the night as we would have been cold, wet and miserable had we camped.
We continued down the gorgeous Icefields Parkway until we reached Saskatchewan River Crossing and then veered east along the David Thompson Highway, quickly leaving the Rocky Mountains behind us.
As mountains gave way to the prairies, we entered the dinosaur capital of the world, Drumheller. Located in the heart of the badlands, this place was literally out of this world. As we arrived at the local campground that evening my dad had a surprise in store for me: we would be spending the night in a tee-pee!
This day we experienced the wildest variations in weather as well as geography. We kicked off the day in the Rocky mountains with a layer of snow on the ground, bundled up in winter clothing. By the time we arrived in the flat, prairie town of Drumheller, it was hot and sunny and we’d made the switch to shorts and t-shirts. But that’s Canada for you!
The next day was spent exploring the peculiar landscape that makes up the badlands by driving the Dinosaur Trail. The land here was the flattest I’d ever encountered, except for the giant tears in the earth’s surface that produced beautiful, striated canyon’s, perfect for exploring. Throughout the morning we went for a hike in Horse Thief Canyon and stopped to see the curious looking rock formations called Hoo Doo’s.
Continuing east out of Drumheller, we made a beeline to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dinosaur Provincial Park, about 2 hrs south east. This fascinating park is home to one of the richest deposits of dinosaur fossils in the world and looks like an alien planet. Not having much time left in the day, we went for a quick hike through the badlands and drove a few hours east to the town of Medicine Hat were we set up camp at the local campground.
Saskatchewan & Manitoba
The next 2 days were spent driving, about 10 hrs each day. We went straight across the prairie province of Saskatchewan and spent the night at a hotel somewhere west of Manitoba’s capital of Winnipeg. Getting an early start the next day we made it to my universities home town of Thunder Bay, and our final province of Ontario.
Needing a break from all the driving, we stayed 2 nights in Thunder Bay. The first night crashing at a friends house and the second night camping in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. It was incredible to be wandering my old university stomping grounds as I hadn’t returned to the place were I spent the first 4 yrs of my adult life in over 12 yrs!
We spent our free day hiking in the beautiful Sleeping Giant Provincial Park located right on Lake Superior, one of the North America’s Great Lakes.
The last 2 days went by in a blur. Ontario is such a large province that it takes 2 days (2 very long days) of driving to make it from one end to the other. Stopping in the mining town of Sudbury for a nights rest, we arrived in my home of Ottawa 10 days after beginning our journey in Revelstoke (17 days for me since I started the trip in Vancouver!).
Driving across Canada is a Canadian rite of passage and is something that almost every Canadian has on their bucket list. Too often we tend to leave our marvelous nation behind in search of far off lands and different cultures, forgetting how truly incredible our own backyard is. I’m guilty of this and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I really started exploring Canada, that I realized how amazing my home country is.
This summer I’m very excited to be hitting the road again, this time with K, as we spend 2 weeks exploring the eastern provinces of Canada. I will complete my cross Canada road trip by driving from Ottawa, Ontario to Halifax in Nova Scotia. This means that over the course of 2 summers, I will have driven from one ocean to the other, clear across the North American continent and covering every Canadian province except Newfoundland!
Cross Canada Stats
Number of Provinces Visited: 5 (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario)
Distance Traveled: 5190 km
Number of Days: 10 days from Revelstoke to Ottawa. Add 1 day for Vancouver to Revelstoke.
Accommodations Breakdown: Camping -4; Hotel -2; Hostel/Cabin -1; Tee-Pee -1; Friends Place -1