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Our favourite scenic drives through Canada
We’ve had to make some big decisions whittling this list down to present our pick of the scenic drives through Canada, as there are so many highways through awe-inspiring scenery to choose from. Buckle up, windows down and off we go.
Sea-to Sky-Highway, British Columbia
Where: Officially known as Highway 99, this iconic and winding road starts begins in the seaside village of Horseshoe Bay near Vancouver and ends at the junction with Highway 97 near Cache Creek. The full 254-mile journey takes just over four hours, although most of our suggested flydrive itineraries stop off half-way in Whistler for a day or two.
What: Built as a two-lane road during the 1960's in a bid to develop tourism around Whistler Mountain, this historic highway enjoyed a multi-million dollar facelift prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics. There are numerous places worth stopping en route, whether just to pause and admire the view such as at Furry Creek or Porteau Cove or taking time to enjoy a scenic stroll away from the highway. As well as the superb coastal and mountain vistas, the big highlight of many of the hikes in this area are the spectacular waterfalls. Just outside of Vancouver you have Cypress Falls surrounded by ancient, giant Douglas Fir trees. Close to Squamish, Shannon Falls dramatically plunges a thousand feet over the cliffs, and there are easy trails to walk both at the top and the bottom of the falls. The 230-foot-high Brandywine Falls formed from lava flows has a wonderful viewing platform directly opposite.
The best bit: Halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, the Sea to Sky Gondola will take you on a 10 minute journey to see some magical views of the steep mountains of the Coast Range and the bright blue water of Howe Sound North. America's southernmost fjord that’s sprinkled with stunning islands.
Suggested holiday: Experience BC - Wineries & Walks
Canadian Badlands, Alberta
Where: The rugged Canadian Badlands are criss-crossed by dead straight back roads that descend into ancient valleys. Jurassic-sized adventure is guaranteed for drivers throughout, but mostly at UNESCO’s Dinosaur Provincial Park that’s two-and-a-half hours southeast of Calgary.
What: Nothing on the planet comes close to this 35,000-square-mile region for unique coulee landscapes, hoodoo rock formations, and a staggering amount of coal and dinosaur bones that were discovered in the late 1800's. Marvel at 80,000-plus specimens and 35 complete dinosaur skeletons at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller.
The best bit: Take the Hoodoo Drive Trail to discover historic mining towns like East Coulee and Rosebud. And perhaps visit to Drumheller’s Little Church - a tiny building built in 1968 that can only fit six worshipers and one minister at a time.
Suggested holiday: Explore Alberta - Peaks, Prairies and Dinosaurs
Viking Trail, Newfoundland
Where: The largest themed highway in Newfoundland, the 489-kilometre Viking Trail is the only route to the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Gros Morne National Park of Canada and L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada. Driving the road end-to-end takes five hours.
What: There’s historical sites, monuments and museums along the way, all of which illustrate Newfoundland’s aboriginal peoples and their cultures. These include the Maritime Archaic and Dorset Indians (Port au Choix), the Vikings (L’Anse aux Meadows), and the Basque Whalers (Red Bay). Also noteworthy are the views - fjords, wooded valleys, glaciers, waterfalls, rugged cliffs, sand dunes, and beautiful fields of wildflowers.
The best bit: Hiking to the top of Gros Morne Mountain, taking an afternoon boat trip up the fjord at Western Brook Pond, and visiting Labrador’s Red Bay - the fishing village that was home to over 1,500 Basque whalers during the 1540's. Most fascinating is the UNESCO-listed L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada - the very spot where Norse sailors first settled in North America that’s now the only authenticated Viking settlement in the Western Hemisphere.
Highway 60 Corridor of Algonquin Park, Ontario
Where: Passing through the southern section of Algonquin Park, Highway 60 is the best access route for Ontario’s huge outdoor playground. So as not to confuse drivers, the Corridor is clearly signposted with kilometre markings from the West Gate to the East Gate.
What: For those keen to get back to nature, there’s no shortage of views along the way. Expect wildlife sighting spots, interpretive walking trails, picnic areas, restaurants and beaches galore - as well as plenty of places to park your car. To learn more about the park’s wildlife, history and geology, the Algonquin Park Visitors Centre at Kilometre 43 is a great starting point for exploring this 3,000-square-mile wilderness.
The best bit: Getting up close with some incredible wildlife (130-plus types of breeding birds, bears, wolves, moose, beavers, hares, moles, chipmunks, shrews, skunks, and more) and discovering a fraction of the 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams & rivers
Suggested holiday: Algonquin Canoe and Log Cabin Adventure
St. Lawrence Route, Quebec
Where: Linking Baie-Saint-Paul to La Malbaie via Route 362, this 36-mile-long road follows the St. Lawrence River in the Charlevoix region - a fabulous drive through the province of Québec.
What: This short but very sweet drive takes in the picturesque villages of Les Éboulements and Saint-Irénée en route to the elegant resort town of La Malbaie. Be sure to do as many little side trips along the way as time allows, giving priority to the region’s highly-acclaimed art museums, craft shops, beaches, gourmet restaurants, and microbrew pubs.
The best bit: The beach of Saint-Irene is really lovely for a stroll and weather permitting a picnic lunch – spot seabirds and seals and enjoy the views of the mighty Saint Lawrence River.
Pacific Rim Highway, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Where: Highway 4 leading west from Port Alberni to the isolated ports of Tofino and Ucluelet, winding across the spine of Vancouver Island Mountains to the open ocean and the Pacific Rim National Park
What: The two hour drive from Port Alberni to Tofino is challenging, so expect narrow sections and a great deal of twists and turns – but it’s well worth it as you head deeper into the ancient rainforests and along the pristine coastline. Skirt alongside the forested shores of crystal-clear Sproat Lake, take a dip Clayoquot Plateau with its waterfalls and natural bathing pools, drive the by picturesque Kennedy Lake before pausing at the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre to get your bearings.
The best bit: At the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre you can either turn left and drive to the aptly named Wild Pacific Trail and the fishing village of Ucluelet perched on the most westerly edge of Canada. Or turn right towards the glorious sandy stetches of Long Beach and the surfing centre of Tofino.
Suggested holidays: Explore BC - Wildlife & Beaches of Vancouver Island or Vancouver Island by Motorhome
The Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
Where: Lopping around a sizeable chunk of the island and passing through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park at its northernmost point, the 185-mile-long Cabot Trail takes you along some of the best off-the-beaten-track trails and coast-hugging fishing villages.
What: It comes as no surprise that this scenic roadway is touted as one of the world’s best drives. But what gets the most attention are the cliff-top vistas of the serene lakes, deep-cut river valleys, and glistening ocean. The best start and end point for motorists is the little village of Baddeck in the heart of Cape Breton Island. Keep you’re your eyes peeled for moose, black bears, coyote, Canada lynx and bald eagles at Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
The best bit: - Sampling the region’s famous lobster and crab dishes and tasting the local beers and other tipples. You can tour the Whisky Warehouse at Glenora Distillery - the fabled home of Canada’s only single malt whiskey.
Icefields Parkway, Alberta
Where: Winding 143 miles through the heart of Banff and Jasper National Parks, the Icefields Parkway (also known as Highway 93 N) is one of the most scenic drives we’ve found, linking Lake Louise with Jasper.
What: Punctuated by sparkling glaciers, lush meadows, cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, limestone cliffs and the snow-topped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, the views are knockout. Sightings of elk, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, black bear and coyote are a given, but drivers may also be lucky enough to spot grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and lynx. Take the 14-minute ride on the Lake Louise Gondola for the best-ever views of alpine wildflowers, dramatic glaciers and bubbling springs
The best bit: Stopping off at the Columbia Icefield to take a trip to the Athabasca Glacier on board a huge Ice Explorer vehicle followed by a walk along the glass-bottom Glacier Skywalk.