Coast to coast: 10 unique experiences across Canada

The vast and varied nation of Canada offers some of the world’s most exciting outdoor travel experiences – from polar bear safaris to summer hiking in the Rockies. Plan a cross-country trip with experiences as unique as you are.

By First Class Holidays
Published 5 Jan 2022, 10:51 GMT
Connection with the land is something many indigenous Canadians value and British Columbia is a great ...

Connection with the land is something many indigenous Canadians value and British Columbia is a great place to learn more about the culture and traditions. 

Photograph by Destination British Columbia

Extending from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic in the east and stretching northward into the Arctic Ocean, Canada is the second-largest country on the globe, with astonishing diversity to match. The temptation is to call Canada a land of contrasts. It’s home to an awe-inspiring array of landscapes and cultures, immaculate wide-open spaces and buzzing urban hubs. But there’s a seamlessness to these juxtapositions, a harmony to the endlessness of elements and experiences, a balance, if you will. It has the right ingredients for a love affair with the land, and with a plethora of places and ways to experience the country, this may just be the start of yours.

Hiking at Exstew Falls, a 0.3-mile loop takes visitors to this more remote waterfall in British Columbia.

Photograph by Destination British Columbia

1. Indigenous experiences in British Columbia

Summer in British Columbia compels visitors to head outdoors. From the dramatic Pacific coastlines to dense forests and the jagged loom of the Rockies, Canada’s westernmost province demands engagement with and a reverence for the splendour of nature. This connection to the land is something indigenous Canadians — including First Nations people — have abided by since time immemorial, with many of the natural experiences available in the region offering cultural resonance too. Look out for First Nations-owned and -operated eco tour companies across the province that are focused on offering authentic cultural and eco experiences.
 

An inlet of water in the middle of the city, False Creek in Vancouver separates the Downtown and West End neighbourhoods.

Photograph by Albert Normandin, Destination Vancouver

2. The best of both worlds in Vancouver

Hugged by its Pacific coastline and presided over by the North Shore Mountains, the British Columbian capital offers all the bustle of an urban metropolis, as well as an abundance of spectacular outdoor spaces. Stanley Park alone warrants a full day to explore, the Stanley Park Seawall Path offering 5.5 miles of forest-fringed waterfront to amble along at your leisure, while on the west side, Second Beach hosts free outdoor film screenings in summer. Elsewhere, Third Beach is the place for equally captivating sunset-viewing. Spend another day dipping into the city’s eclectic neighbourhoods, such as trendy Granville Island, a former industrial district turned cultural hub (hit the sprawling Public Market for locally produced delicacies). And spend a further day taking to the water — whether on a standup paddleboard, in a kayak or kicking back on a cruise.
 

A rider traverses a single track in the Rocky Mountains on a mountain bike. Here, there's over 2,000 vertical feet of terrain in the mountain bike park.

Photograph by Reuben Krabbe, Sun Peaks

3. Downhill biking in Sun Peaks

The mountain municipality of Sun Peaks, around 250 miles from Vancouver, promises landscapes carved from the dreams of downhill enthusiasts — and we’re not just talking skiing. As the region shrugs off thick winter snowfalls, summer reveals over 2,000 vertical feet of adrenaline-spiking biking terrain in the form of the resort’s downhill mountain bike park. The park’s legendary trails like Insanity One and Smitty’s Steeps have made it a venue for some of Canada’s major downhill racing events, but it’s not just technical riders hitting the slopes here. Developed with all ability levels in mind, the park even has a dedicated progression area to allow beginners to safely hone their technique.
 

While Whistler is famed for its winter skiing, other seasons provide an abundance of hiking trails and sightseeing opportunities. 

Photograph by Tourism Whistler, Mark Mackay

4. Peak-to-peak sightseeing in Whistler

The world-class year-round resort of Whistler might be synonymous with skiing but winter’s thaw reveals a different side to the alpine resort. Of course, a bird’s-eye view is the best.  As the highest lift of its kind, reaching its soaring pinnacle at 1,430ft over the valley, the Whistler Blackcomb resort’s multi-world record-breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a triumph of engineering. It takes just 11 minutes to traverse the three-mile expanse between Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain and offers panoramic views of jagged volcanic peaks, aeons-old glaciers and coastal forests bursting to verdant life in spring and summer. Once your feet meet terra firma again, take advantage of prime access to these two peaks to explore over 30 miles of summer hiking trails.
 

Alberta's Rocky Mountains sit in the backdrop of Banff National Park — an ideal spot for summer hiking with some 1,000 miles of trails.

Photograph by Travel Alberta

5. Hiking in Banff National Park, Alberta

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, Banff National Park is a natural jewel in Canada’s crown. Peak hiking season runs from July to mid-September, with around 1,000 miles of well-maintained trails zigzagging from deep valleys to soaring peaks, frosty glaciers to forests, and lush meadows to rushing rivers. For a slice of pie with a view, try the hike from the iconic Fairmont Château Lake Louise to Lake Agnes, where a cosy wooden lakeside tea house greets you with freshly brewed tea and postcard views. In autumn, the Larch Valley hike up to Sentinel Pass includes snow-capped mountain peaks punctuated with patches of brilliant gold among the evergreens. In the colder months, designated winter trails allow visitors to strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore portions of the summer hiking trails.
 

Four provinces — New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island — stretch along the Atlantic Coast in Eastern Canada to create the region of Atlantic Canada.

Photograph by Tourism Industry Association of PEI

6. A self-drive tour of Atlantic Canada

Few places call for an epic road trip more than the pretty seaside towns dotted along Atlantic Canada’s scenic coastline. The four provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island allow visitors to take full advantage of the ocean’s near-constant presence, making a self-drive tour of this region so unforgettable.

The Bay of Fundy, situated between the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, is an essential summer and autumn destination — for travellers and up to 12 different species of migratory whale alike. After an exhilarating whale-watching tour, journey over to Prince Edward Island. Whether you’re visiting some of the island’s 63 lighthouses, setting sail from one idyllic harbour to another on a chartered boat or paddling its pristine coves and inlets, Canada’s smallest province packs a scenic punch. Once you’ve had your fill of glorious views, filling up of an altogether different sort is in order with a visit to one of the region’s legendary seafood cafés for a fresh-as-it-gets lobster roll. It’ll put you in good stead for uncovering coastal gems as you hit Newfoundland and Labrador’s 10,900 miles of coastline. Carved by glaciers, the Western Brook Pond Fjord in the Gros Morne National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is a landlocked fjord that serves up stunning views when hiked from ahigh but can also be explored via a two-hour boat tour.
 

Accounting for one fifth of the world's fresh water, Ontario has an abundance of waterways and routes running through for canoeing and kayaking. 

Photograph by Tourism Ontario

7. Canoeing in Ontario

The name ‘Ontario’ is derived from an Iroquoian word meaning ‘land of shining waters’, and with over 250,000 lakes, 62,000 miles of rivers and four Great Lakes in the province, there’s no shortage of picturesque waterways to explore, either on foot or by paddle. Algonquin Park, the oldest provincial park in Canada, is home to over 1,200 miles of canoe routes that wind through a lush landscape of maple hills and rocky ridges. The four-mile Barron Canyon Water Trail is an accessible yet awe-inspiring way to begin exploring the park — home to rare relict plants dating back to glacial ages and nesting birds calling from the cliffsides. Rent a canoe at Canoe Lake or Lake Opeongo, or if you prefer to stay on land, there are over 70 hiking trails for all levels in the park.
 

Churchill in Manitoba is one of the few human settlements in which polar bears roam wild — spot them on a safari on the Arctic tundra. 

Photograph by Dennis Fast, Travel Manitoba

8. A wildlife safari in Churchill, Manitoba

Some call Churchill the ‘accessible Arctic’. Others have dubbed it the ‘polar bear capital of the world’. Neither is a stretch when it comes to this remote Manitoba town. Approximately 620 miles north of Winnipeg and accessible only by air and rail, where the waters of Hudson Bay meet boreal forests and tundra, that’s where you’ll find Churchill. Despite having a population of only 900 people, the convergence of natural biomes means frequent, jaw-dropping animal guests — most notably beluga whales in the summer and polar bears in autumn. These bucket list experiences, exist with minimal interference to the giant carnivores, with many local tour companies offering ethically focused and less invasive approaches to seeing them up close.
 

The streets of Quebec (one of Canada's oldest cities) are lined with places to sample some of its growing culinary scene.

Photograph by Tourism Québec

9. A food tour in Quebec City

Over 400 years of history and influences, spanning France to the First Nations, have led to a culinary scene infused by tradition and modern twists on classics in the Quebecois capital. Old Quebec City, with its cobblestone streets and fortified walls, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the perfect place to sample regional fare. Hit the Petit Champlain District, where authentic French-style bakeries beckon for breakfast and local craft beers and ciders, cheese and charcuterie round off the day. Indulge your sweet tooth with sucre à la crème, a traditional sugary confection, and don’t miss Canada’s famous poutine (french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy). For an added slice of history with your meal, stop by Bistrot le Pape Georges, a rustic eatery set in a house built in 1668.
 

VIA Rail connects Canada from Coast to Coast, with a range of itineraries and routes ideal for exploring more of the country.

Via Rail

10. Journey coast-to-coast by rail

There’s no more historic — or romantic — way to explore Canada than by rail. To celebrate Canada’s world-renowned natural landscapes, diverse cultural heritage and treasure trove of superlative experiences, First Class Holidays has partnered with VIA Rail to offer a coast-to-coast love letter to the nation in the form of the 26-day Essence of Canada itinerary. Departing on 2 May 2022, this bucket-list trip from Halifax to Vancouver includes flights from Heathrow with Air Canada and 20 nights’ hotel accommodation, as well as three nights aboard VIA’s Canadian train and one aboard the historic Ocean train. This is no regimented tour-by-numbers trip: eight days of intermediate car rental give travellers the freedom to choose their own adventures, while several planned tours and excursions, including a Montreal city tour and Niagara Falls excursion ensure that the major sights aren’t missed. The Essence of Canada tour costs £3,869 per person, based on two travelling. Manchester departures on the same day are also available from £4,019 per person.

How to do it

Fly with… Air Canada, the multi-award-winning airline offering non-stop flights from the UK to Canada. En route from London, travellers depart from Heathrow’s latest addition, Terminal 2: The Queen’s Terminal featuring Air Canada’s very own Maple Leaf Lounge. From here, Air Canada provides non-stop year-round service to Calgary, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, with regular service to Halifax resuming spring 2022. Air Canada also operates a non-stop seasonal service to Toronto from Edinburgh and Manchester.

Hop aboard with… VIA Rail. VIA Rail connects Canada from coast to coast and offers many routes for exploring the country, including: The Corridor service which connects all the major cities in Ontario and Quebec; The Canadian, which offers the ultimate experience crossing Northern Ontario’s Lakelands, wide open prairies and the Rockies between Vancouver and Toronto, with stops in Winnipeg, Jasper, Edmonton and Saskatoon; The Ocean that links Montreal and Halifax; and The Skeena and Winnipeg to Churchill routes which offer travel into lesser-known areas of the country and an opportunity to see incredible wildlife and the stunning Northern Lights.

Plan with… First Class Holidays. An expert in Canadian travel, the company has been creating tailor-made holidays to the North American country for the past 26 years. The knowledge of the staff is incomparable, with 750 years’ experience between the team, collaborating a wealth of tips and insider knowledge — also available to hear on their newly launched podcast about Canada, available on Spotify, Google and Apple. With a vast assortment of itineraries, ranging from self-drive tours to cruises, adventure getaways to luxury retreats, and with travel experts on hand to assist travellers with anything they might need or want to know, discovering Canada your way starts here.

For more information, email First Class Holidays at enquiries@fcholidays.com or call them on 0161 888 5633.

Read More

You might also like

Travel
Discovering Canada through expert eyes
Travel
Discover Canada's wild west on Vancouver Island
Travel
Canada: Come in from the wild
Travel
What's new: Where to see the Northern Lights
Travel
Explore Celtic heritage on a one-week road trip from Wales to Ireland

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us

Subscribe

  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved