With bookings surging in hotspots such as Toronto and Lake Louise, here’s where to venture off the beaten path, writes Tim Jepson
Suppose you understand the appeal of Canada: the majestic landscapes
(mountains, fjords, forests, glaciers); the plethora of outdoor activities; the allure of the open road; extraordinary wildlife; scenic rail journeys; and the range of buzzing, contemporary cities.
Knowing this, why would you want to think outside the box? Surely, in a country of this size and scenic grandeur, where wilderness and wide open spaces prevail, almost everywhere is off the beaten path?
Well, yes and no. Like any country, Canada has its vibrant places – places you and everyone else want to see – and tours and activities that far too many people want to indulge in: the Canadian Rockies (top of the list, of course), the honeypots of Banff and Lake Louise, as well as Niagara Falls, Whistler for winter sports and the world-class cities of Vancouver and Toronto.
Canada’s hotspots are under pressure. British tour operators are reporting an increase in bookings, coinciding with higher than usual numbers of Canadian and American travelers who, after the pandemic, have chosen to holiday closer to home. This results in a shortage of accommodation, rental cars and motorhomes.
Be flexible around dates, if you can, is the advice of operators and, specifically, this year or any year, look beyond the usual destinations to get under the skin of the country. The same goes for vacation types – why always the same train rides through the Rockies or the same oversubscribed spots for polar bear or whale watching? And why only summer when the fall colors in the forests of eastern Canada, for example, are on par with their counterparts in New England?
We’re not saying avoid Canada’s highlights – no one wants to miss the Rockies – but rather consider them as part of a less predictable itinerary, or choose some of the more sedate but equally glorious alternatives we have. highlighted below.
Waterton Lakes National Park
It’s hard to resist Banff National Park, the great centerpiece of the Canadian Rockies, and even harder to resist nearby Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, two of the park’s scenic spots, but to say these are very frequented is an understatement. As an alternative – or complement – to Banff and its all-too-famous lakes, head 265 km south of Calgary to Waterton Lakes National Park (pc.gc.ca), the lesser-known of the Rocky Mountain parks. The eponymous lake is a beauty, and charming little Waterton (mywaterton.ca) a superb base from which to explore the park. Wildlife abounds – take the Red Rock Parkway to see it – and there’s plenty to do, including a host of half-day and full-day hikes, with the walk to Bertha Lake stands.
Not an alternative to the Rockies perhaps, but certainly a complement, the Kootenays (kootenayrockies.com) occupy the southeast corner of British Columbia, a magical and little-visited region of mountains, lakes and picture-perfect log homes. and flower gardens in villages. like Nakusp, Kaslo and New Denver.
Nelson (nelsonkootenaylake.com), with its vibrant arts scene and over 350 heritage buildings, makes an excellent regional base. There’s plenty to keep you busy – though you’ll need a car – including visits to Sandon (sandonmuseum.com), one of the region’s five ghost towns, a legacy of the region’s rich silver mining heritage. region.
A journey through the Canadian Rockies by train is one of the most iconic rail journeys in the world. Strange, then, that most travelers only consider the private Rocky Mountaineer or state-operated VIA Rail trip, unaware that there is a third rail option in the Rockies: the Skeena, which takes two days between Jasper and Prince. Rupert via Prince George. You get a day in the Rockies, including majestic views of Mount Robson, the highest point in the Rockies (something you don’t get on other trips), and the huge bonus of a ride along the beautiful Skeena Valley as it cuts through British Columbia’s Coastal Mountains.
The Skeena (viarail.ca) runs from May to October, starting at C$154 ($192) per person one way. Accommodation in Prince George is not included.
The Canadian Arctic
Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world, which is great, except you often share your wildlife sightings with a whole lot of other people. The answer? Go further off the beaten path, further north to Pond Inlet, Nunavut (travelnunavut.ca). Traveling here is expensive, but the rewards are extraordinary: not just polar bears, but also narwhals, bowhead and beluga whales, and countless seabirds and other marine mammals. And, unlike Churchill, you can enjoy the ethereal landscapes of Canada’s Arctic North – one of the great last frontiers – and experience the Inuit way of life firsthand.
RV in the Yukon
Western Canada is tailor-made for motorhome or campervan travel, but with sparse facilities and with plenty of motorhomes on the road in popular areas, vehicle supply and parking spaces. summer can be a problem. Instead, head north on the Alaska Highway (themilepost.com), one of the continent’s great road trips and a wonderful window into exceptional wilderness. Pause in Whitehorse (yukontourism.com), the capital of the Yukon, then continue to Dawson City (dawsoncity.ca), the former capital of the Klondike Gold Rush. Even better, drive part of the Dempster Highway (dempsterhighway.com), the only public road in North America to cross the Arctic Circle.
Newfoundland (newfoundlandlabrador.com) is a world apart, but one of manageable size and extraordinary variety. Best of all, it rarely seems busy or crowded. You can easily spend two weeks here or combine a week of flying with time to explore the Maritimes. Follow the 524 km Viking Trail (vikingtrail.org), one of the newest road routes in Canada, and explore the mountains of Gros Morne National Park (pc.gc.ca). Visit the rugged Burin Coast, watch whales at Bay Bulls, admire the remarkable bird colonies at Cape St Mary’s, hike the East Coast Trail (eastcoasttrail.com), see summer icebergs and treat yourself to two days to enjoy the brackish charm of St. John’s (destinationstjohns.com), the island’s capital.
Follow the foliage
Think of a trip to see the fall leaves around the bend and you’re probably thinking of New England. But why? The colors of the forests of eastern Canada are just as spectacular as those just across the US border. And you’ll pay less for the privilege, share the experience with fewer people, and discover hidden Canadian corners in the process. Visit provincial websites such as tourismnewbrunswick.ca and novascotia.com for updates on changing colors. Many specialist travel agents can organize tailor-made flights to the most famous areas, including Algonquin Provincial Park, the Laurentians, the Bruce Peninsula, Cabot Trail, the Fundy Coast and Prince Edward Island. Or leave the itinerary to the experts and travel on a guided tour.
Cruise on the St. Lawrence
Spectacular first impressions of Niagara Falls don’t last long, so the site is surrounded by tours and gimmicks to hold the attention of the 13 million visitors who flock here each year. Instead, opt for a more subtle aquatic adventure nearby, a river cruise on the St. Lawrence, one of North America’s great rivers. There are delightful landscapes along the way and a different stop each evening, with the option of adding days in Quebec City and Montreal. Cruises operate as part of longer itineraries, with the nearby Georgian Bay Islands National Park (gc.pc.ca) a superb complement.
Be active in Quebec
Most visitors to Quebec (bonjourquebec.com) venture no further than its key cities, Montreal and Quebec City, missing out on countless little-known destinations and activities. Try the beautiful Appalachian countryside of the Eastern Townships (easterntownships.org), perhaps following a route through the region’s vineyards (laroutedesvins.ca), or the more rugged landscapes of the Gaspé Peninsula and of Forillon National Park (pc.gc.ca). Ride the 96 km Traversée de Charlevoix (traverseedecharlevoix.qc.ca), one of the best walking trails in Eastern Canada, or cycle Le P’tit Train du Nord (ptittraindunord.com), a remarkable section (and family) of the Route verte (routeverte.com), a 5300 km cycling network across the province.
Alternatives to skiing
Most ski resort operators focus on Canada’s major ski resorts – Mont Tremblant in the east and Whistler, Banff and Lake Louise in the west. It’s all right: they’re popular for a reason. But also busy, of course.
Some operators include less prominent Mont-Sainte-Anne in the east and Kicking Horse, Sun Peaks and Big White in British Columbia. But for quieter slopes in breathtaking scenery, opt for the country’s charming little resorts: Stoneham (ski-stoneham.com) and panoramic Le Massif (lemassif.com) in Quebec, for example, and Revelstoke (revelstokemountainresort .com), Red Mountain (reresort.com), tiny Whitewater (skiwhitewater.com), Fernie (skifernie.com) and Silver Star (skisilverstar.com), among others, dotted across British Columbia.
GETTING THEREAir New Zealand offers direct flights from Auckland to Vancouver. Air Canada will resume direct service in November.
Destination Canada (travel.destinationcanada.com) has other off-the-beaten-path travel ideas. For practical information, visit travel.gc.ca.
All travelers must submit their information via the ArriveCAN app and show an electronic travel authorization (cic.gc.ca), as well as proof of full vaccination, or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of boarding , or a negative antigen test performed within 24 hours prior to boarding, or proof of recovery.
© Tim Jepson / Telegraph Media Group Limited 2022
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