The best of fall and winter road trips
Just because peak road trip season is over doesn't mean your sense of adventure needs to be. Here are some of the best, unexpected adventures that are just a car ride away
Golf all seasons on Vancouver Island
Picture swinging and driving your way along a stunning ocean coastline all year round. Sure, golf courses around the country may be closing up shop for the winter season, but the milder climate of Vancouver Island makes it the only place in Canada where you can reliably tee-off throughout the entire year. Load your clubs and weekend bags, and then hop on the scenic 90-minute ferry to Victoria. The Island boasts more than 40 golf courses, situated among coastal rainforests and snow-capped mountains.
Of note is Victoria Golf Club, which consistently ranks as one of the best courses in Canada and the top course on Vancouver Island. This scenic course, founded in 1893, is the oldest 18-hole golf club in the country that’s still in its original location. Eight of the holes on this par-70 course are situated seaside, while 13 have views overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Those teeing off early morning in November might even get the chance to spot orcas migrating past Trial Island.
While the Island is home to 13 championship courses (some of which were designed by esteemed architects like Les Furber and Jack and Steve Nicklaus), there are also plenty of excellent public courses suitable for all skill levels, like the 18-hole Cordova Bay Golf Course. Putt and swing among stunning views of Haro Strait and Mount Baker. Keep your eyes out for deer, which are known to wander across the fairways.
If you’re not a golfer, you can still take advantage of Vancouver Island’s warm microclimate with year-round hiking. About an hour drive from Victoria is the East Sooke Regional Park, where hikers are rewarded with views of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. Relax sore muscles après-golf and hike at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel’s Boathouse Spa. It features three outdoor heated mineral pools to soak in comfort while enjoying views over the Salish Sea. Or simply unwind over great food and drink in downtown Victoria — the waterfront AURA is known for its seafood and Pacific Rim-inspired cuisine while Clive’s Classic Lounge features live music and a roaring fireplace for a cozy winter atmosphere. In between, explore Victoria’s unique independent boutiques, like Lore General Store, which stocks beauty products, housewares and accessories, Frances Grey’s contemporary women’s fashion with an androgynous aesthetic and handmade leather goods from Oxford.
Distance from Vancouver about 3.5 hours, including a 1.5-hour ferry ride
Stargaze at the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve
Imagine a view of twinkling stars so thick that they blanket the nighttime sky. Surprisingly, all it takes to soak in the sight is a short drive from Edmonton to the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve. Here, artificial light is purposefully minimized to reduce the effect on nearby wildlife, while also offering a prime opportunity to view the night sky in its splendour. Count the shooting stars or, if the timing is right, witness seasonal meteor showers and the otherworldly glow of the northern lights.
The Beaver Hills Biosphere encompasses several notable outdoor spaces, including Elk Island National Park and the nearby Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, both of which offer excellent winter activities. Strap on your skates and hit the outdoor natural loop that takes visitors along the shoreline of Astotin Lake Area or pack your sticks and gear to join a game of pick-up pond hockey. There are also eight geocaches to discover in the park with the help of a GPS and a keen sense of navigation.
There’s an abundance of wildlife in Elk Island National Park. You can explore the park on cross-country skis or snowshoes to spot its namesake elk and American bison, both of which roam free as protected species in the park. Elk Island National Park has been preserving bison populations here for over a century and the species flourishes so greatly that you might find yourself in a bison traffic jam waiting for a herd to cross the road. Just make sure you admire them from a distance of 30 metres or more − bison may charge without warning.
Make your experience extra-educational with the engaging park programming that runs all year round. Embark on a guided snowshoe tour through the protected lands or learn how to track animals in the winter. If you're adventurous enough to brave the great outdoors overnight, campsite rentals are available through the winter, complete with fire pits for roasting marshmallows and keeping warm.
Distance from Edmonton 35 minutes
Go glamping at Buffalo Farm
Some of the best vacations are those away from our devices. Go on a digital detox this season and unplug and unwind in nature. Without any electricity, you’ll be cozying up to the fire, getting bundled in blankets with mugs of hot cocoa in hand and stunning views of the night-time stars above.
At Buffalo Farm, creative accommodations extend the camping season right through the winter so that you can connect with nature while still retaining some of the luxuries of home. This 500-acre farm in Calvin, Ontario, just north of Algonquin Provincial Park, boasts a rustic yurt and tipi that sleeps up to six guests each on mattresses and sofabeds – much more comfortable than the average camping trip. Both are equipped with a wood-burning stove and an insulated external shell to keep the interior comfortable and warm during sub-zero temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius. Take your stay to the next level by staying at the Buffalo Farm Suite — a unique 32-foot, two-story yurt with a 10-foot-wide window.
The accommodations are equipped with stylish furnishings like antique trunks, rustic textiles and beautiful wooden flooring. Some of the furnishings were even built by the owners using wood gathered from the forest nearby. Candles help to illuminate the interior with a romantic glow and all bedding, wool blankets, pillows, mattresses and a bundle of wood are supplied for guests.
You’ll have full access to the farm’s 500 acres, including private access to a river that meanders through the property. Rent snowshoes to explore the grounds and admire the buffalo, horses and cattle that roam free through the pastures. Or, for a small fee, tour the on-site horse sanctuary and help groom and care for the up to 14 horses that find refuge here as part of a local rescue network.
There’s also plenty to explore nearby. The entrance to Algonquin Park is just a few minutes away, offering the chance to soak in the changing leaves this autumn. Amateur anglers can try their hand at catching walleye, northern pike and yellow perch while ice fishing in Big Moose Camp’s lake top huts. Eau Claire Gorge is also just a few minutes away, where water continues to flow underneath and around glacier-like structures that freeze over winter. This is also an excellent area to explore by snowshoe, which can be rented at the farm.
Distance from Toronto 4 hours
Distance from Ottawa 3.5 hours
Small-town foodie fare in Thornbury and Clarksburg
In the quaint villages of Thornbury and Clarksburg, brewers, apiarists and chefs take farm-to-table dining to heart with unique food experiences year-round. Situated along the shores of Georgian Bay, these neighbouring villages lie in the heart of “Apple Country”, surrounded by plentiful orchards that produce much of the province’s apple harvest.
Follow along the Apple Pie Trail to see how local makers, bakers and chefs continue to savour the season’s harvest into winter. Stop into Thornbury Village Cider House and Brewer, and sample its award-winning beers and crisp alcoholic ciders made from fresh-pressed local apples. Of note are Thornbury’s unique flavoured ciders like cranberry, elderflower and blueberry, along with a cider made exclusively from tart and sweet Red Prince apples. The bottle shop on-site sells cans and bottles to take home. Notable Toronto chef Mark McEwan of North 44-fame has recently opened a third location of his rustic Italian restaurant Fabbrica in Thornbury, serving wood-fired pizzas and fresh pasta inspired by McEwan’s nonna. And at the Honey House, in the heart of Clarksburg, visitors can taste the locally-produced Beaver Valley Gold Honey which is collected from over 300 bee colonies nearby. Afterwards, explore the many studios and art galleries here that have earned this village the nickname “Artsburg”.
Work up an appetite by hitting the ski hills of the Blue Mountains nearby or renting a snowmobile to explore over 2,400 kilometres of groomed trails in surrounding Bruce and Grey Counties. For a unique way to get your adrenaline pumping, the snowshoeing trails of Scenic Caves Nature Adventures take trekkers across a 420 foot-long suspension bridge for a picturesque view of Georgian Bay and snow-topped trees in the surrounding countryside. If you get there before the first snowfall, embark on a hike through picturesque trails that offer stunning scenery as autumn leaves transform into fiery bursts of red, orange and yellow.
With the amenities of Collingwood just 20 minutes away, it’s easy to enjoy the conveniences of a bigger city while immersing yourself in small-town charm.
Distance from Toronto 2 hours
Explore wine country in Prince Edward County
The vines may be frozen over but the wine keeps flowing in Prince Edward County. Here, hip and progressive wineries open their doors for tastings, where you can learn more about the winemaking process. It’s a great way to discover a new favourite vintage or grape before buying a bottle (or three) to take home with you.
Sip on a glass of vino in the rustic, restored barnhouse of Karlo Estates, the world’s first vegan-certified winery. If you’re a fan of bubbly, head to Hinterland Wine Company in Hillier, where a former dairy barn has been converted to produce delicate sparkling wines along with great bottles of syrah and chardonnay.
The County, as it’s affectionately called, is also known for locally-brewed ciders and beers. Try the Farm Brew from Parsons Brewing Company which uses barley grown on its own farm. Sample Parsons’ beers in their tasting room, situated between two 150-year-old buildings that were disassembled, reassembled and restored on the property. Elsewhere in the region, the County Cider Company has been producing estate cider for two decades using apples grown on the 40-acre family farm and from nearby orchards. Sample their range of unique ciders such as ice cider made from the juice of frozen apples.
Fuel these explorations with delicious farm-to-table cuisine and discover how Prince Edward County has earned its title as the ‘Gastronomic Capital of Ontario’. The newly-opened Flame + Smith cooks “farm-to-fire” fare over a custom-built open hearth, while the most buzzworthy spot for brunch is the Drake Devonshire Inn’s light-filled dining room, which overlooks Lake Ontario. On your way out of town, stop by Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. to pick up some of their specialty cheeses made from fresh, locally produced goat and buffalo milk and enjoy a bit of the County back home.
Distance from Toronto 2.5 hours
Distance from Ottawa 2.5 hours
Tree skiing in Nelson, B.C.
Imagine weaving in and out of snow-covered evergreens with the splendour of the mountain landscape around you. Manicured, wide-open runs may be the norm at modern ski resorts, but there’s one unique destination in British Columbia that’s remained a beloved gem for decades. Whitewater Ski Resort in Nelson, B.C., has retained much of its natural landscape, offering the unique opportunity for tree skiing.
More adventurous skiers and boarders can go even deeper into the woods by hopping on a lift to access backcountry skiing runs and trails. For a truly challenging adventure, you can access secluded regions by Cat machines that climb steep grades to reach more thrilling terrain. Or, get to those new heights with a heli-skiing experience that puts high alpine peaks and steep forests within reach. The Kootenay region regularly receives over 12 metres of dry powder snow every season, but lacks the big crowds of more popular ski towns – meaning you have a better chance of fresh powder. If you’re a novice skier, you can join a complimentary tour around the mountain, or for $40, those of us with more intermediate skills can get deeper into Whitewater’s lesser-known areas with an experienced resort guide.
There’s plenty to do in the area apres-ski. The recipes of Whitewater’s original co-owner Shelly Adams are so revered that she has published four critically-acclaimed cookbooks, filled with wholesome recipes inspired by the resort’s Fresh Tracks Café. Elsewhere in Nelson there are plenty of delicious eats to discover like sea-to-fork dining at West Coast Grill and modern Vietnamese cuisine from Yum Son. Afterwards, catch the game at one of many local sports bars, or cozy up to the Library Lounge’s brick fireplace with live jazz performances five nights a week.
While the Whitewater doesn’t offer accommodations, you can stay at the beautifully-restored Hume Hotel that combines original fixtures with modern amenities for an eclectic and luxurious stay.
Distance from Kelowna 4 hours
Head east on the Powder Highway
Brace yourself for the ultimate winter road trip. This circuit in the southeast corner of British Columbia is filled with unique ski-towns, breathtaking, mountainous scenery and super light, fluffy snow that makes the stretch the most epic winter wonderland.
If you’re an avid skier or snowboarder, you’ve probably already heard of the Powder Highway. There are a total of eight excellent resorts on the circuit, but those exploring the Powder Highway from Calgary can head just three hours away to reach Fernie, a charming ski town surrounded by the Kootenay Rockies.
Fernie, the Powder Highway’s easternmost destination, boasts excellent skiing and snowboarding conditions for gliding down Fernie Alpine Resort’s 142 runs and five natural alpine bowls. While beginners will find plenty of novice courses to hone their techniques, there’s also thrilling terrain to challenge experts, including a rail park for jumps, grinds and twists.
If you prefer to ski on more level ground, you can venture along nine kilometres of professionally groomed track at the new Elk Valley Nordic Centre, equipped with a warming hut to rest after your explorations. Or head to the Montane Nordic and Multi-Use Trails to cruise the area on a fatbike: a bicycle with wider tires and specialized forks to help improve stability, grip and stopping power on snow. Bikes can be rented from outdoor gear stores in Fernie such as Gearhub and Straightline.
Wind down from a thrilling day out in the mountains with a small-batch beer from the Fernie Brewing Company, enjoyed in its recently-renovated tasting room. If you dare, embark on the Trail-to-Ale challenge to reach three of Fernie’s most challenging peaks in a 24-hour period − you’ll be rewarded with a cold pint and a medal to mark your victory. Keep the energy going into the evening by exploring Fernie’s nightlife. Expect lively DJ parties at the Royal, housed in one of Fernie’s original hotels, built in 1909, while the Northern Bar’s entertainment calendar features live music all week long and a great pub menu.
Distance from Calgary 3 hours
Uncover arts and culture in Québec City
From colourful contemporary exhibits to unique dining experiences, a burgeoning arts and culture scene is waiting to be explored in Québec City. Witness the abundance of creativity in Québec’s capital in a quick weekend away. You’ll find it easy to fall in love with the city’s edgy museums and culinary favourites and the cool autumn and winter weather make this the perfect time to explore unique communities.
Make your first stop the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. It’s the only museum dedicated to Québécois artists, housing close to 40,000 works dating from the 17th century to today. Until January 6, the museum is hosting the largest exhibition of work by the notable Québec abstract expressionist Marcel Barbeau. Experience up-close the work of a Canadian artistic visionary and be inspired by the magnitude of Canadian talent. Then in February, head to the coopérative Méduse and experience the Mois Multi, a multidisciplinary and electronic art festival featuring interactive performances and installations that mix mediums, languages and forms.
Deepen your knowledge of Québec City’s cultural history with a visit to Wendake. Just 15 minutes from downtown, the self-governing territory is home to the Huron-Wendat Nation. You can learn more about the history of this community by visiting the Onhoüa Chetek8e Traditional Huron Site, an authentic reconstruction of a Huron village. From guided tours and scenic fall canoe rides to live Aboriginal performances and handicraft workshops, there are endless ways to immerse yourself in the urban reserve.
Complete your stay with an overnight at Hôtel Musée Premières Nations and be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the nearby Akiawenrahk 'river – each room faces the river and comes with a stunning view. This four-star boutique hotel is inspired by First Nations culture, with nods to traditional design and culinary offerings of wild game and sauces made from berries and herbs from the Boreal Forest. Sip on a warm cup of Labrador tea and sample traditional bannock bread while listening to ancient myths and legends told around a fire in the Ekionkiestha’ longhouse. Don’t forget to pop into the Aboriginal galleries and arts and crafts shops on your way out to support the thriving industry of artisans.
Before leaving Québec City, be sure to grab a bite at L’Affaire est Ketchup. At this quirky bistro, once featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, exceptional meals are prepared on just one electric stove in an open kitchen. The best part? Its casual, approachable atmosphere invites you to come however you please — a refreshing update on fine dining’s traditionally stuffy atmosphere. Make sure to call ahead and reserve: there are only eight tables in the restaurant and they fill up quickly. Or treat yourself to a refined meal at Initiale, which is currently ranked 20 on Canada’s Best 100 Restaurants list. Housed in a historic building (est. 1866) which formerly served as the Union Bank of Lower Canada, Initiale serves elegant French dishes like asparagus velouté and sweetbreads using ingredients sourced from local producers.
Distance from Montreal 2 hours and 45 minutes
Chase waterfalls in Owen Sound
Situated on the southern edge of Georgian Bay, below the Niagara Escarpment and its limestone cliffs, Owen Sound is a geographic wonder. Its most revered natural landscapes are a series of waterfalls located less than 10 kilometres from downtown. Inglis Falls, Jones Falls, Indian Falls and Weavers' Creek Falls flow through in spring but sub-zero temperatures transform these landscapes into otherworldly frozen cascades.
The best way to view the falls in winter is on snowshoes, which can be rented from shops in town like BikeFace. A pair of ski poles or a walking stick is also recommended to help traverse icy terrain. These waterfalls can be reached as part of a day-long hike− each surrounded by beautiful conservation areas with their own marked trail networks. Before they freeze over, hit the water for a refreshing autumn float along the Sydenham River. Canoes and paddle boats can be rented by the hour at Harrison Park’s Putt n' Paddle kiosk on weekends.
Come dark, from mid-November to early January, the Festival of Northern Lights illuminates the shores of the river and the main strip in Owen Sound with dazzling displays and colourful lights. The area is also home to the Tom Thomson gallery, housing small oil sketches, graphics and memorabilia from the notable Group of Seven painter, as well as the Owen Sound Artists' Co-op where you can shop for unique wares such as jewellery, woodwork and glassware made by local artists from Bruce County.
Explore excellent dining options in downtown Owen Sound like fresh Mexican fare at Casero Kitchen Table (where you can also purchase house-smoked beef brisket to take home), hearty pub food at the lacrosse and hockey-themed Boot & Blade restaurant, and the Milk Maid which serves up charcuterie boards accompanied with craft beer and local wine. The Milk Maid also stocks a range of gourmet pantry items from nearby producers, including the locally-roasted Civil Kat Coffee, jams and chutneys from Round the Bend Preserves and Meredith’s Ginger Syrup.
Distance from Toronto 2 hours and 30 minutes
Technology to enhance your next road trip
Take the stress and frustration out of your next adventure with the right tools at your fingertips. The newest technology in safety and navigation looks out for you and your passengers and helps you enjoy the journey.
The community-based traffic and navigation app Waze has been helping drivers bypass traffic jams and highway congestion for years. Now, Lincoln has made it easy to arrive at your destination sooner with Waze integration right on your console with SYNC® AppLink.
You can get all of Waze’s crowdsourced updates on road conditions and traffic − recalibrating directions for the optimal route on the fly, based on real-time alerts on accidents and road hazards. The app can also be operated using the Talk to Waze voice command function, allowing for hands-free use to keep your eyes focused on the road.
And since two brains are better than one, Lincoln uses the Co-Pilot 360™ safety suite of driver-assist technologies to put you in control. This includes:
- Blind Spot Information System warns you of vehicles entering your blind spot.
- Cross-Traffic Alert warns you of oncoming vehicles when you’re backing up.
- Cruise Control allows you to set and maintain your desired speed.
- Lane-Keeping System detects and avoids unintentional drifting.
- Collision Mitigation in the event of an accident, the car will stop itself from rolling into oncoming traffic.
- Rear Backup Camera with Camera Wash improved visibility all around you without anything blocking your view.
- Auto High Beam one less thing to think about when there’s low light.
Now all you have to do is pick where to go next.
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio.
The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.