Canada is one of my favourite destinations, returning there almost annually in the years since becoming a travel writer/photographer. It’s a vast almost continent sized country, diverse with incredible scenery, iconic wildlife and fascinating First Nation culture and art. This year the country is celebrating Canada150, 150 years since the establishment of the confederation, and as today is also Canada Day, it seems fitting to celebrate of the best of Canada, with some highlights of my visits to this great country.
Located on the Pacific north-west coast of British Columbia, the largest temperate rain forest in the world is a breath-taking combination of stunning scenery and iconic wildlife. Although it can be accessed by boat, the usual way to arrive is by float plane, adding to the allure of this wilderness.
A series of isolated islands, with secluded beaches, tiny coves and inlets, it’s great for exploring in an open canoe. There’s the opportunity to see bald eagles, brown bears, otters and even wolves or the mystical spirit bear, as well as some outstanding salmon fishing. Did I forget to mention there are also fin, minke and humpback whales, as well as orcas swimming in the channels between the islands?
I even saw my first and only wolverine here, that’s the best of Canada!
No best of Canada list would be complete without mention of the country’s rugged backbone. Having been fortunate enough to climb in some of the greater ranges of the world, returning to the Canadian Rockies still never fails to take my breath away. This range is probably my favourite, the rugged beauty of the jagged peaks dotted with azure coloured lakes is mountain scenery at its best. The fact that many mountain trails are easily accessible, almost roadside, which makes it a truly great mountain range.
Attractive towns like Banff, Jasper and Canmore represent the Rockies well, mountain towns, where mountain people, those with a love of the outdoors hang out. There’s also plenty of outdoor shops to cater for their retail needs and several bars to cater for refreshment needs.
Social media and the internet is littered with images of the iconic waters, Bow Lake and Moraine Lake are favourites with camera wielding tourists.
This lodge is literally the definition of remote; requiring a drive of nearly eight hours from Whitehorse followed by a float plane flight. The landing strip is McEvoy Lake, on which the lodge is located, deep in the North-West Territories. This is a true wilderness, apart from a few uninhabited lakeside fishermen’s lodges, the only sound the howl of the wolves which roam the forests.
Most of the visitors come to sample the excellent fishing, with grayling, trout and pike, but it would be a shame to stay and not make an excursion to the Logan Glaciers or the famed “Cirque of the Unclimbables“. Trips which can be made by helicopter, while the unreliable Wi-Fi is another reason this is a special place.
There can be few more surreal sights than witnessing thousands of lycra clad residents of Ottawa descending upon Parliament Hill, armed only with rolled exercise mats under their arms. Yet, this is the Wednesday routine, young and old, male and female give up their lunch break to enjoy a mass yoga session under the shadow of the Peace Tower.
Music blares out across the Ottawa River, with the local radio station DJ there to provide the tunes, and everybody seems to be there for a good time.
It’s a must see, and worth fitting in around a visit to the seat of Canada’s government and the nearby and historic Fairmont Château Laurier is worthy of a stop off, even if you aren’t fortunate enough to staying in one of the opulent rooms.
Following the southern coastline of Nova Scotia, the aptly named “Lighthouse Route” should not be missed by visitors to the province. Obviously, there are the twenty lighthouses which punctuate the rugged shores, but the pretty harbour towns like Liverpool and Lunenburg, and especially the famous Peggy’s Cove are worthy of a dawdle along this scenic coast.
While the whole drive can take almost two weeks, an abbreviated version can be undertaken, stopping off at the highlights from Chester to Yarmouth. The familiar sounding names are another reason to include this as one of Canada’s best.
Chasing the largest carnivore on the planet around the sub-arctic tundra of Hudson Bay must go down as one of the most exciting things anybody can do. A definite best of Canada experience, the surreal sight of seeing polar bears in autumnal surroundings is a memory which I will take to my grave, truly incredible encounters. Add the possibility of seeing a moose, or if extremely luck a wolf and this is adventure on an epic scale.
Their sheer size is breath-taking, and seeing a black bear do a passable impression of Usain Bolt when encountering a white bear is amazing.
The Yukon gets a second entry, visiting this historic frontier town which has retained the original architecture and spirit of adventure, causing thousands to swarm into the town at the height of the Gold Rush. Stories of adventure and pioneering endeavour have inspired the writings of Jack London, Robert W. Service and Pierre Berton, all of which spent time in the frontier town.
Evocative names like “Bombay Peggy’s” an old brothel, now guesthouse and “Diamond Tooth Gerties” casino merely add to the charm of the place.
The nearby Tombstone Territorial Park is a worthwhile excursion and the sunset view of the city and Klondike River from the Midnight Dome, simply has to be the best of Canada.
There’s a great deal to recommend from my most recent trip to Canada, but the newest UNESCO recognised site at Mistaken Point, seems worthy of special mention. It’s found by driving the scenic “Irish Loop” to Trespassey, on the “Edge of the Avalon”, and can only be visited with a guide. The fossils there date back around 580 million years, and are the oldest known and best preserved complex organism’s fossils found to date. The earliest known recognisable signs of life, just think about that a moment!
Any place which boasts a 16-metre tidal range, the greatest in the world is surely worthy of including, the Bay of Fundy has been recognised as one of the seven wonders of North America.
Being able to walk on the beach, among the rock architecture which several hours later will be under more than 5 metres of water is quite special. The rock formations are spectacular, intricate carvings, sculpted by tide and time. The area is also famed for Triassic dinosaur fossils, and the eagle eyed may even spot a semi-precious gem.
One of Canada’s most vibrant cities, Montreal has plenty going for it. It is also one of the world’s great street art cities, even holding an annual Mural Festival, where artists are invited to add to the eclectic collection of colourful graffiti which adorns the street galleries of the city.
With street performers providing entertainment, vendors providing tasty bites and some stalls selling all manner of bric-a-brac it’s a colourful way to spend an afternoon, or even a day. Seeing the talented artists at work, their creations in progressing before your eyes, and often being interviewed, is an enlightening experience.
Cape Point – Newfoundland and Labrador
The eastern most point of the North American continent, and the first place where the sun rises each morning. Staying at St. John’s? A pre-dawn visit to the lighthouses of Cape Spear is simply a must do!
One of nature’s true natural wonders, the world is made up of two kinds of people; those that have seen the Northern Lights, and those still waiting to see them. However, they are addictive, the more you see them, the more you want to see. The northern provinces of Canada are some of the best locations for viewing the aurora, high latitudes and remote, without distracting light pollution makes them ideal.
This is a personal best of Canada highlights list, there are of course many, many more, share a few of your favourite Canadian experiences and places in the comments.