Nothing beats a road trip. Whether it’s with family or friends, there’s no better feeling than hitting the open road and exploring uncharted territory in your own backyard. Here are my five favourite driving routes across Canada – gems I’ve discovered over 15 years of covering press launches from coast to coast.
Scenic 7 from Vancouver to Hope, B.C.
When you think of road trips in British Columbia, the iconic Sea-to-Sky Highway (Highway 99) from Vancouver to Whistler most likely comes to mind. Sure, it is a breathtaking drive filled with ocean vistas, soaring mountain peaks and majestic waterfalls. But the 163-kilometre route can take several hours when it’s jam-packed with vehicles in the summer. So, I’d skip it and take a less-travelled route. My suggestion? The scenic Highway 7, a 128-kilometre trek from Vancouver to Hope. It runs north along the Fraser River, winding through several communities including Mission, where you can stop to stretch your legs at the Cascade Falls Regional Park, a 22-hectare park renowned for its spectacular waterfall, or go fishing, boating or swimming on Harrison Lake in Harrison Hot Springs. It’s a fantastic route to ride a motorcycle, too.
The Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, N.S.
The Cabot Trail loops around the northern tip of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. It’s a spectacular route that covers nearly 300 kilometres. You can drive clockwise or counterclockwise on the trail and start in several spots along the route. My choice? Begin at the entrance to Cape Breton Island from mainland Nova Scotia. Take Route 19 up the coast to the trail, and you’ll quickly be mesmerized by the rugged coastline with incredible views of the ocean and excellent spots to stop, such as Ingonish, where you can go whale watching or play golf at the Highland Links Golf Course, or Pleasant Bay, where you can get close to Mother Nature at Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Montreal to Quebec City
If you want a driving route with a European feel, take King’s Road (Chemin du Roy in French). This historic road runs along the north shore of the majestic St. Lawrence River, linking Quebec’s two biggest cities, Montreal and Quebec City. Dating back to 1737, the road was one of North America’s first major thoroughfares. Begin in Repentigny, a suburb of Montreal, and drive 280 kilometres to the old cobblestone streets of Quebec City. There are numerous historical landmarks along the way, including charming houses dating back to the 18th century, the old prison of Trois-Rivières, and the Quebec Popular Culture Museum.
Want more? Continue driving northeast another 30 kilometres along the St. Lawrence River to the Charlevoix region to see Montmorency Falls, the highest waterfall in Quebec – it’s actually three feet higher than Niagara Falls. And the architectural masterpiece of the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré – one of the oldest pilgrimage sites in North America.
St. John’s to Fogo Island, N.L.
Start in St. John’s, North America’s oldest city, where you can visit famous sites such as Cape Spear, North America’s most easterly point, before hitting the open road. Then, take the Trans-Canada Highway west to Gander. Remote fishing villages line the route – you can go whale watching, seabird watching, kayaking or hiking. From Gander, take Route 330, then 331, and finally 335 to Farewell, where you can take the ferry to Fogo Island.
A must-see on the island: the Fogo Island Inn. Impossible to miss, it’s perched on stilts with unbelievable views of the Atlantic Ocean. Owner Zita Cobb was born and raised on Fogo Island. She became a multimillionaire in the high-tech industry in Ontario, retired in her 40s, and went back to Fogo to build the inn and boost the ailing fishing and tourism economy. You might even spot a celebrity – Gwyneth Paltrow, David Letterman and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have vacationed there. Itʼs 450 kilometres to Fogo Island from St. John’s.
Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon
Yukon is larger than life. Rich in lakes, mountains, forests and winding roads with little traffic, this pristine, unspoiled territory resembles a picture-perfect postcard. More than 80 per cent of Yukon is wilderness. There are spectacular mountains to see, including Mount Logan. At 5,959 metres, it’s the highest in Canada.
Start in Whitehorse and head to Haines Junction on the Alaska Highway, about 154 kilometres away. Haines Junction borders Kluane National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From Kluane, head to Chicken, Alaska, on the Taylor Highway – a pit stop in Alaska is needed so you can drive back into Canada over the breathtaking Top of the World Highway. As its name suggests, it feels like you’re driving on top of the world. Follow it to Dawson City, heart of the legendary Klondike Gold Rush. There, you can pan for gold, take a boat tour on the Yukon River or sip on the infamous Sour Toe Cocktail – garnished with a real, alcohol-preserved human toe. Head back to Whitehorse, about 525 kilometres away. It’s a long route, but well worth the drive.
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