Surprising and unique Canadian fall experiences

Search for polar bears, take epic hikes among 10 million trees, camp under starry skies, and discover a distinctly different Canada.

By Lola Augustine Brown
Published 18 Feb 2020, 11:26 GMT
A sea of red and gold leaves in Algonquin Park - watching the changing colors in ...
A sea of red and gold leaves in Algonquin Park - watching the changing colors in Canada’s wild places is worth traveling for.
Courtesy of Explorers' Edge

With a huge range of coastlines, mountains, prairies, barely-populated places, and hip cities, Canada offers visitors a unique range of experiences that they just cannot find elsewhere. Autumn is one of the best times to explore many parts of this incredible country. From food festivals to incredible wildlife and nature experiences, fall in Canada serves up the rarest of travel opportunities.

Celebrate the snow geese migration

Throughout October you can catch flocks of snow geese resting on the banks of the St Lawrence River before fall migration at the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area in Quebec. There are 180 species of birds that make this protected area their home, along with 30 species of mammals and a wealth of plants. Nearby Montmagny celebrates the migration with an annual festival each October that’s filled with social and cultural events, goose-sampling, and bird-watching.

Prime time for polar bears

Churchill, Manitoba, is the polar bear capital of the world. Fall is the perfect time to view the bears; on guided tours, in the safety of a Tundra buggy, from the windows of an eco-lodge, or high above them in a floatplane.
Courtesy of Destination Canada

Churchill, in northern Manitoba, is known as the polar bear capital of the world, with nearly 1000 bears in the area. The fall offers some of the best viewing opportunities ­– observe them from the safety of a floatplane, eco-lodge, tundra-buggy, or up close on a guided walk with a First Nations interpreter. Accessible only by plane or train (the line closes for winter in early November), life in sub-arctic Churchill is harsh but incredibly beautiful. And with luck, the Northern Lights may dance across the sky while you’re there.

Watch the salmon run

The Miramichi River, New Brunswick is considered one of the world’s best salmon fishing destinations, with celebrities, royalty and the like flying in to stay in high-end fishing lodges dotted along the river. When the salmon are running in October, bald eagles circle overhead and black bears hunt the waters, eager to enjoy the bounty of salmon coming upriver from the sea to spawn. It’s arguably the most impressive time to visit this beautiful part of a province that a lot of travellers won’t experience in their lifetime.

See the brightest stars in the darkest skies

The Dark Sky Festival in Jasper is a stargazing celebration under the clearest of night skies, offering music, entertainment, celestial lectures, and astral photography workshops.
Photograph by Tourism Jasper, Jeff Bartlett

There are 22 sites across Canada that are recognized as Dark Sky Preserves by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. From the Atlantic coast in Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia, to the plains of Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, to the rocky mountains in Jasper, Alberta, these are places where the stars shine brightest, with no light pollution. Each October the Dark Sky Festival in Jasper celebrates the beauty of its clear skies with music performances, photography workshops, and celestial lectures.

Follow the caribou migration

Each September, the 350,000 strong Quamirjuaq caribou herd heads South from their feeding grounds in the arctic. Join a safari to follow their slow migration, watching as the bulls fight, and the herd mates, swims, and feeds to fatten up for the winter months. Fly in to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, then travel by small plane to remote lodges that put you close by this migration, but far from civilization, for an unparalleled arctic experience.

Witness the spectacular changing of the leaves

The trees along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton glow in their fall colors.
Photograph by Sunset Maven, Shutterstock

From coast to coast, the changing of the leaves each fall gives Canadians a new excuse to get out and enjoy their favourite places set ablaze in a sea of reds and golds. Join the locals and hike one of the four peaks in Mount Carleton Provincial Park, New Brunswick, to stand above 10 million trees and feel completely alone in enjoying their beauty. Bike Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Trail along roads lined with trees painted in a riot of warm colours. Or, drive the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for flaming foliage against dramatic ocean views, and the occasional wandering moose.

Take an epic hike in the best conditions

Hiking 7.5 miles (12 km) along the cliff tops to Cape Split gives unparalleled views out over the Bay of Fundy, and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities along the way.
Photograph by Phil Tifo

All across the country, Canada is a hiker’s dream. Take your pick of hikes that ascend mountains, tackle rugged coastlines, or walk groomed trails that offer just enough of a challenge. In fall the weather can be perfect for hiking, and even the best known and most popular trails offer complete solitude. The 11.68-mile out-and-back hike to the bright turquoise Garibaldi Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia, is breathtaking. Or you could follow the edge of the world’s largest freshwater lake on the 40-mile Lake Superior Coastal Trail in Ontario, and master the challenging 34-mile Cape Chignecto Loop that takes you along the coastline of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, home to the world’s highest tides.

Gorge on tasty, fresh seafood

The Fall Flavours Festival in bountiful Prince Edward Island – known as Canada’s Food Island - is a seafood lover’s dream, with top chefs from across Canada and beyond creating incredible food experiences.
Photograph by Tourism PEI, Stephen Harris

Prince Edward Island bills itself as “Canada’s Food Island,” and it certainly has all the right ingredients: an abundance of fresh seafood pulled from its shores, and bountiful produce that thrives in the rich, red soil. The five-week-long Fall Flavours Festival that runs through September to early October each year is a massive foodie celebration, with Canada’s top chefs converging to host a range of sumptuous food events.

Attend the world’s biggest film food fest
Each October Devour! The Food Film Fest takes over Wolfville, Nova Scotia, bringing chefs, film makers, and food celebrities to eat and attend special culinary events and screenings. Past attendees include Anthony Bourdain, Bill Pullman, Jacques Pépin, and Jason Priestly. Wolfville is in the heart of Nova Scotia’s wine and farming region, and visiting for the festival is the perfect time to tour both wineries and the many superb farm-to-table restaurants in the region.

Appreciate the mighty cranberry

The Bala Cranberry Festival, in Muskoka, is Ontario’s largest harvest festival, combining foodie events with entertainment and a huge arts and crafts show.
Courtesy of Explorers' Edge

Every year, the weekend after Canadian Thanksgiving – the second Monday in October – the small town of Bala in the beautiful Muskoka region of Ontario is home to the largest harvest festival in the province - the Bala Cranberry Festival. Yes, the festival showcases the many ways cranberries are used (in wine, dipped in candy, in many culinary dishes) but it is also a cultural event with massive arts and crafts show, farmers’ market, and two days of non-stop entertainment.

Fall in love with Canadian wine

If you didn’t already know that Canada produces incredible, award-winning wines, then you’re in for a treat. And the many wine festivals that happen throughout September and October offer the perfect introduction, with the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival in the last two weeks of September championing the best bottles produced in Ontario. A full table of wine-related festivals and events happens throughout the fall in British Columbia’s Okanagan region, and Cornucopia in Whistler, British Columbia is a mix of casual and refined food and drink showcases that happen on the mountain each November.

Wherever your interests, Canada offers travellers a range of unique experiences, and fall is the perfect time to see them –the weather is often perfect and many places are less busy. Book your vacation, and begin your love affair with a different side of Canada.

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