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This year’s edition of Hidden Canada will inspire you to explore old sights in new ways

Brookvale, Prince Edward Island

Turns out you don’t need mountains to be a coveted mountain biking destination
Views over central Prince Edward Island. Handout

Our small crew pulls in to Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park at Brookvale in central PEI, smack in the middle of the Island’s prime mountain biking area, and we start unloading the bikes. It’s 10 a.m., the sun is out, the trails are dry, and the lot is filling up. It’s going to be an awesome riding day.

Mountain biking on PEI? Don’t be so surprised. The 60 kilometres of trails at Brookvale and the nearby provincial parks, Strathgartney and Bonshaw Hills, are prized by riders in the know. People love the care that’s put into building and maintaining the trails. And they love the wide variety of riding. Intermediate and advanced will find challenges, but it’s the trails for beginners that really make this a special spot. It’s an environment made for working on skills – especially without fear of breaking your neck. As they say here, “Red dirt don’t hurt.”

Mike Robertson, co-owner of Meridian63° MTB, an outfitter that offers mountain biking lessons and tours, knows the joys of riding these trails firsthand. Our guide for the day, he’s warm and friendly, and committed to getting all his guests out on the trails safely.

Meridian63° MTB offers mountain biking lessons and tours on the island. SIMON REID/MERIDIAN63° MTB

Standing a few metres from the trailhead, Robertson runs us through his mantra: Feet flat on the pedals, brake lightly, don’t fear bike-body separation. “Is that when you fly off your bike?” I ask, half joking, raising my right hand, which is in a brace from a recent road bike accident. “I think I’ve got that down.” A quick laugh from Robertson before he pulls us back to bike handling. He takes his lessons seriously.

After a few practice drills, we’re off, rolling down the flowy, three-kilometre Green Machine, a red dirt single-track trail that is machine-built and winds through stands of beeches bursting into fall colours. It’s a beginner trail that packs a few technical turns and climbs, but is smooth enough that you can relax and enjoy the ride. We pause on a knoll to take in a view of the Confederation Bridge, then get at it again.

As we pedal, I feel completely focused and engaged on navigating the trail’s twists, turns and surprises – a boardwalk here, a sharp downhill there – and also totally carefree. It’s an exhilarating combination.

Robertson and his business partner opened Meridian63° Luxury Camping to allow more people to immerse themselves in that carefree riding experience. They’ve dropped four solar-powered cabins and a geodesic dome right in the middle of Strathgartney Provincial Park, steps away from 30 kilometres of mountain-biking and fat-biking trails.

Meridian63° is launching luxury camping with micro cabins in Strathgartney Park so that mountain bikers have easy access to trails. Handout

Although Robertson calls it glamping, the resort isn’t about bringing hygge to the great outdoors. It’s about creating a sustainable, year-round destination that removes barriers to nature.

“When I travel for mountain biking, I want the trails right there,” Robertson says. “I want to roll out of bed, eat my breakfast, have my coffee, and be on the trails. That’s what we’re building here. It’s all about getting people outside and on an adventure.”

And the riders are there for it. After our first run, I catch up with five enthusiasts from Halifax who come here often. They wax rhapsodic about the sheer number of kilometres to ride, the surprising challenges, and how well-built and maintained the trails are. “You can actually learn how to ride a berm properly,” one of them exclaims before they pedal off with the energy of a gang of 10-year-olds.

A few hours later, I see them again as they pass us up a hill. ”I thought PEI was flat,” one of them shouts, delight in his voice.

How to get there

Brookvale is a 30-minute drive west of Charlottetown. Once you’re there, it’s an easy 15-minute drive to the trails at Strathgartney and Bonshaw Hills.

Where to stay

Immerse yourself in nature at the new Meridian63° Luxury Camping. For a classic hotel option, try the historic Great George or the Holman Grand Hotel, both in downtown Charlottetown.

What to bring

Your energy, spirit of adventure and love of the outdoors. The rest of the bike gear you can rent from Meridian63° MTB.

Skoki Valley, Alberta

It’s still possible to go off the beaten path in the country’s most popular park
Mount Richardson rises above Skoki Lakes. DENNIS BREYMANN/WHITE MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES

To truly experience Skoki Valley in Banff National Park you must release yourself to nature. It’s a place where the quiet of the forest is punctuated by exquisite birdsong, where the company you’ll have will be Columbian ground squirrels, pikas and marmots, and where the highest concentration of female grizzly bears with cubs can be found in the park.

This is a part of Banff National Park that’s rarely visited by tourists, even though the scenery includes mountain creeks, fields of wildflowers and turquoise lakes – all set before a backdrop of the peaks of the Rockies. Its seclusion is owed, in part, to the fact that it’s hidden behind Lake Louise Ski Resort. It also requires a nine-kilometre round trip hike to access.

Until now.

Local outfitter White Mountain Adventures has exclusive access to drive guests from the Lake Louise Ski Resort up the four-kilometre Temple Road to the Skoki trailhead, making this wilderness destination easily accessible in a day.

On a cool autumn day, White Mountain Adventures hiking guide Kristi Beetch drives me and three other hikers, who are from Quebec and Alberta, up Temple Road to the trailhead. It feels absolutely luxurious as we head up the winding road passing groups of backpackers along the way.

Summer months see wildflowers bloom in Skoki Valley. DENNIS BREYMANN/WHITE MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES
A view of Mount Temple from the top of Boulder Pass. DENNIS BREYMANN/WHITE MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES

We set out on an 11-km return hike with 330 metres in gradual elevation gain. Beetch shares stories about the area’s flora and fauna – she describes winter wrens the “Pavarotti of the forest” when one calls out – as we make our way to Boulder Pass (2,345 metres), then follow the trail along Ptarmigan Lake, before tucking into a sheltered lakeside spot to rest and enjoy lunch.

Hiking season in this region typically begins in late June or even into early July, and extends into late September depending on conditions. Hikers in early summer will see western anemones and glacier lilies blooming. In late July and into August, the peak of wildflower season, the landscape changes to profusion of wildflowers, including western spring beauties, fireweed, heart-leafed arnicas, and white and red heather. In fall, the colours change again, with the larch-covered hillsides turned to gold. Lyall’s larches take 200 years to mature, growing very slowly because of the altitude.

We start to make our way back to the trailhead, passing leaves starting to turn colour, birds serenading us as we leave them behind. I was eight years old when my family first took me into Skoki. Ever since, it’s been one of my favourite places in the world. Coming back I see that Skoki is a place for all seasons – both in nature, and in life.

How to get there

White Mountain Adventures leads hikes from early summer through fall. Guides can be met in Banff or at Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Where to stay

Baker Creek Mountain Resort is a 15-minute drive east of Lake Louise Village (45 minutes west of Banff) on the Bow Valley Parkway. It offers an authentic Canadian Rockies experience with cabins in the woods and lodge suites, most of them newly renovated.

What to bring

Sturdy, comfortable footwear is a must, as is dressing in layers – be prepared for all weather. Bring plenty of water, and your camera.

Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba

A century-old beach town that’s fallen off the radar is being brought back to life again
An hour’s drive from the city of the same name, Winnipeg Beach is having a resurgence. JACOB BOOMSMA/ISTOCK

Winnipeg Beach, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, isn’t exactly a secret destination. Just a 55-minute drive from the city, it’s about as convenient as a beach getaway gets. In its heyday in the early 1900s, it was a little Atlantic City on the Prairies, a buzzing summertime resort with a boardwalk, a 14,000-square-foot dance pavilion and an amusement park.

In the early 20th century, two trains ensured the town was hopping. The Daddy Train brought fathers working in Winnipeg to their families in summertime; the Moonlight Special left the city at 6:30 p.m., bringing young couples for dances or to ride the enormous New Dips Roller Coaster and walk along the boardwalk before it returned at midnight.

But that was at its peak. In ensuing years, Winnipeg Beach’s favour gave way to its Interlake neighbour, Gimli, or the more glamorous cottage territory of the Canadian Shield. These days it’s on the comeback trail.

Winnipeg Beach’s landmark water tower. TRAVEL MANITOBA

Though I had spent time in Winnipeg Beach as a kid, I’d mostly ignored it since. Until my first foray out of Winnipeg since the pandemic started.

After a year and a half in the same house (a personal record), I’m excited as when I was 8 and had a crisp five-dollar bill to spend at the resort’s legendary Playland Arcade.

My feeling of adventure is mixed with nostalgia, a feeling that is baked into the Winnipeg Beach experience – even if you haven’t spent time there in the past. But the destination also has a new energy about it, starting with some cool eateries and a newly repurposed motel.

After the drive out of Winnipeg, zooming through a two-dimensional landscape of big blue sky and bright yellow canola fields, I turn off Highway 8. The shocking pink hotel I’m staying at is not hard to find. In 2020, Winnipegger Liz Crawford took a rundown motel and transformed it into the Instagrammable Rosé Beach House. The spacious and colourful rooms, inspired by 1960s California beach culture, each come with a kitchenette, and the hotel offers bikes to guests – just some of the reasons to make a trip here last more than just a day.

Newly renovated motel Rosé Beach House. TRAVEL MANITOBA

The town’s nascent mini food scene is one more. Carlo’s Cucina, just outside town, won top national spot during Winnipeg’s 2021 Le Burger Week with its Smokey Barrel burger; an enormous line snakes through its parking lot when I stop by. Then there’s Casa Bianca, where le tout Winnipeg Beach dines on good Italian fare. One night I join friends in its small (and sweltering) dining room, a table on its more airy patio proving impossible to book.

And the old stuff still endears. Playland Arcade in Winnipeg Beach’s downtown, a strip about as big as a stick of chewing gum, has been closed for a couple of years now, but its old neon sign is worth a moment’s admiration. Ice cream shops on the strip dish out cones, and I grab one before walking along the boardwalk, passing in front of the bandstand where tribute acts play on summer nights. I find a spot on the sandy beach and lie under a sunny sky watching sailboats.

There’s a harmony here of simple, vintage-loaded pleasures with an eye toward tomorrow that strikes a chord – welcome notes of beach life in the midst of the Prairies.

How to get there

Winnipeg Beach is an easy 75-kilometre drive from Winnipeg along provincial highways 8 or 9.

Where to stay

Rosé Beach House, open year round, is located in the small downtown and across the street from the beach.

What to bring

Beach chairs, bug spray, suntan lotion and a sweater for chilly nights.

Churchill, Manitoba

A shoulder season visit pays dividends when it comes to wildlife sightings of all sorts
Polar bear spotting in Churchill. DOMINI CLARK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“In about a month we’ll get polar bears every day,” Paul Ratson says. “As long as they wander through, that’s fine. They live here, too.”

Here is Churchill, Man., 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg. It is early October, and while my walk with Ratson, a long-time local, doesn’t result in any bear sightings, I will hit upon a trifecta of northern wonders soon enough.

For most visitors, Churchill has three seasons: beluga (summer), polar bear (fall) and Northern Lights (winter). But here’s a surprise I learned: If you time things right in this town of 900, you may get lucky and see all three during one trip. Although there are never any guarantees when it comes to nature, an early autumn adventure offers the best odds for wildlife sightings of all sorts.

On my first day belugas make an appearance in Hudson Bay near Prince of Wales Fort, a National Historic Site. The warmer months are by far the best time to see the white whales; thousands come into nearby estuaries to eat and breed, and you can kayak or even paddleboard alongside them. Still, in my books a sighting is a sighting.

My encounter with ursus maritimus happened later in the trip, when I was aboard a Frontier North Tundra Buggy. This massive vehicle – picture a bus on steroids – allows you to safely get up close to the bears. They’ve been known to stand up and look in the windows, but the hulking beasts we spotted had no interest in making friends.

Frontier North’s Tundra Buggy allows visitors to safely get up close to polar bears, like the one lounging on the ground. DOMINI CLARK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Views of the Northern Lights from Churchill Northern Studies Centre. DOMINI CLARK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Which is maybe why I found it more of a thrill to see polar bears from a distance of kilometres, rather than metres, during a ride with Hudson Bay Helicopters.

The ones we gazed down at were, for the most part, unaware of our presence as they roamed the icy muskeg of Wapusk National Park. And from this perspective it was clear they are not the pure white of our imaginings, but a dirty beige that allows them to blend in much better with their scrub-dotted surroundings.

The sky also delivered the most magical moment of the trip, although this time I was on the ground. On my third and final night at the non-profit subarctic research and education facility Churchill Northern Studies Centre, after most others had gone to bed, I decided to check one last time for Northern Lights. We had been treated to a display of ghostly green apparitions the first night, but on the second the sky was quiet. With winter typically peak viewing time, I wasn’t expecting much.

But when I climbed into the centre’s aurora dome I gasped. The sky was alive: Curtains of amethyst, emerald and sapphire danced over Churchill, the light simultaneously stretching up to the heavens and reaching down to Earth. It was as if crystals were raining upon me.

Once again, my timing was perfect.

How to get there

There are no roads into Churchill. From Winnipeg you can take a VIA train or fly on a regional airline, such as Calm Air.

Where to stay

The Churchill Northern Studies Centre is a field station that offers accommodation and prepackaged “learning vacations.” It’s a no-frills experience (rooms sleep four, with two bunk beds in each), but less expensive compared with other tour operators. Five-night Lords of the Arctic fall packages are $4,199.

What to bring

Clothing for layering, winter accessories (toques, mittens) and hand warmers. Cold-weather gear, including boots and parkas, is available to rent from outfitters, including Frontiers North. Don’t forget a camera with a telephoto lens.

Green Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador

This region on the central coast exemplifies what the province is all about
You can enjoy a fresh seafood lunch on the water’s edge in King’s Point. ADVENTURE CENTRAL NEWFOUNDLAND

Grabbing a few snacks in a shop, a woman I’ve never met turns to me and gives me a welcoming smile. She says she’s going to a party at a dock and invites me to come. I’m a stranger in this town, but I’ve already been invited to this gathering – five times.

I already know about the party, because I spent most of the day here in Triton with Mike Roberts, a fisherman who has spent 30 years on the water. Every day in the summer, he rises before dawn and steers his longliner out onto Badger Bay in search of crab, cod, capelin and squid. In the afternoon, he welcomes tourists onto his 23-foot motorboat, Black Beauty, and takes them to his favourite haunts.

Stops include the rainbow of fishing sheds on Jim’s Cove, waterfalls, resettled communities – homes hauled by horse teams across ice in winter, by order of Joey Smallwood, the province’s first premier – and grottoes, which we enter, filled with crystal clear water and lined with crustaceans, including lobster, and starfish.

“People need to see this,” says Roberts, about the whole area. I hasten to agree.

The fishing villages the line coves, tickles and inlets here in the Green Bay region, subdivided by sculpted, rugged mountains, tell the story of Central Newfoundland.

The region sits less than two hours east of Corner Brook (and more than five hours west of St. John’s) in a part of the province where the land splinters into a million little pieces, islands and peninsulas and rugged points, nothing but the blue North Atlantic beyond. There are surprises. In Triton, there’s a 13-metre skeleton of a sperm whale enclosed in an excellent interpretation centre. Next door in Pilley’s Island, there’s a microbrewery called Bumblebee Bight offers “bunks, brews and b’ys” – overnight accommodation, wood-fired pizza and handcrafted beers with a fun crowd.

The town of Triton is nestled along the coastal region of Green Bay South. ADVENTURE CENTRAL NEWFOUNDLAND
Views of what gives Newfoundland its nickname “The Rock” in King’s Point. ADVENTURE CENTRAL NEWFOUNDLAND

And there are characters. After a fresh seafood lunch on the water off picturesque King’s Point, I visit Dulcie Toms who has been running Joshua Toms and Sons since before the road came through. You can buy anything from hand-knitted quilts to antique tea sets, but the main attraction is the 86-year-old Toms herself, who will tell you stories of the days when goods arrived here on steamships.

Nearby in Springdale, I slide on a set of hip-waders and follow Shawn Rowsell into the Indian River. The cold flow carves a curving course through the rock from deep inside an emerald forest to the sea, the steady roar of a cascade sounding nearby. As the clear water swirls beneath, up to my knees, Roswell teaches me how to cast a fly, more art than science, in search of salmon. “People are really blown away by all this beauty,” he says, noting he’s out there every day in the summer, enjoying the scenery and water so clean he drinks right from the river. “I just love being out here. If I catch a fish? That’s just a bonus.”

We don’t catch anything. But back up the road in Triton, we party. Joining Roberts, and the friendly woman from the store, and someone from the whale centre, and a whole bunch of others from the village, a guitarist and a squeezebox player, we rock the dock. Singing along, between bites of deep-fried cod and squid. People stop by on their boats to say hello, and at one point, the herring start swirling. Thousands of them, tiny little fish filling the water all around us, a boiling black cloud but below. Someone casts a net, and we eat a few of those, too. The guitarist plays some more, and we sing, long into that Newfoundland night.

How to get there

Direct flights from Toronto, Montreal and Halifax arrive at Deer Bay Airport, in Western Newfoundland. From there, it’s about a 75-minute drive on the Trans-Canada Highway to reach the region.

Where to stay

Each suite is unique at the Riverwood Inn in Springdale. Many feature deep-soaker tubs, fireplaces, and broad balconies overlooking the Indian River.

What to bring

While fishing excursions and boat trips will provide you with all the clothing and equipment you’ll need, weather can be unpredictable, even in the summer. Pack a raincoat and a warm sweater for potentially chilly evenings. Plus, a good sense of humour, and willingness to chat, as pretty much everyone you meet on the street will be happy to talk, and crack a joke or two.

The writer was a guest of Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism. It did not review this article before publication.

Oro-Medonte, Ontario

It’s overshadowed by cottage country, but this township’s rural charm is worthy of more attention
Horseback riding is available at Glen Oro Farm. DESTINATION ONTARIO

It’s a cool morning in October, and I’m in a tent – though I’m using the term loosely. Yes, the walls are made of sturdy canvas and the structure is surrounded by soaring evergreen trees, but I’m snuggled under the covers of a king-size bed, about to tuck into a gourmet breakfast courtesy of Chopped Canada winner Melanie Robinson’s Eclectic Café: a tart yogurt parfait, subtly sweet scone, savoury pastries and, to keep things virtuous, a small fruit salad.

No wonder I feel like I’m in a well-appointed country home rather than the Explorer’s Tent at Glen Oro Farm, a family-owned horse farm in Oro-Medonte, Ont., that started offering luxurious glamping experiences during the pandemic. And I do mean luxurious: The Explorer’s Tent comes equipped with hardwood floors, a mid-century-style leather sofa and occasional chair and a wood-burning stove, which has kept the space toasty all night long. There’s a kitchenette and ensuite bathroom, complete with cedar shower and composting toilet (owner Luke Sedgwick’s goal is to combine comfort with sustainability). And my breakfast was delivered to my door.

Still, I feel immersed in nature, even though I’m only about an hour and a half from my apartment in Toronto. That’s the pleasure of Oro-Medonte. Set on the northwestern shore of Lake Simcoe, between Barrie and Orillia, the township has historically been relegated to a place you pass through on the way to Muskoka. But it’s an ideal place to get back to nature without having to make an hours-long trek.

A full glamping experience can be had with a stay in Explorer's Tent at Glen Oro Farm. DESTINATION ONTARIO
The garden at McNiven Farms. DESTINATION ONTARIO

The region has leaned into agritourism in recent years. Glen Oro Farm started out as an equestrian facility before branching into tourism with trail rides. Now, visitors can book a riding experience, with professional equestrians instructing small groups on the finer points of grooming, saddling and grazing their animals before leading them on a slow-but-steady two-hour trek through leafy trails.

At McNiven Farms, which specializes in beef, eggs and maple syrup, visitors can also explore a “secret garden” full of blooms. Owners Andy and Lisa McNiven provide a mason jar to fill with flowers to take home. On weekends, guests can take an adorable group of alpacas on a walk through the forest at Davidson Estates Alpacas. If you’re lucky, there might even be some alpaca-wool gear on offer; the socks I picked up have kept me warm all winter long.

An agricultural focus means there are lots of farm-to-table eats to enjoy, too. Robinson’s Eclectic Café in Orillia offers up soups, sandwiches and bowls made with locally grown ingredients, including Lavender Hills honey, produce from Kitchen Garden Farm and East Oro Berry Farm and maple syrup from the Roost Farm. The smash burgers at Quayle’s Brewery in Coldwater may be the best I’ve ever had, eclipsed only by its elote popcorn, which is topped with salty cheese, hints of cilantro and a dash of spicy chili powder. Meanwhile, Braestone Club’s new restaurant, The Kitchn, offers elevated pub classics and stunning views of the golf course.

There’s also mountain biking and hiking nearby, plus skiing in the winter, and the recently opened Vettä is a Finnish-inspired spa with one of the largest saunas in North America.

If it’s a little surprising that all of this exists just 90 minutes away from Toronto, well that just cements Oro-Medonte’s status as a hidden gem. But it won’t stay hidden for long.

How to get there

Oro-Medonte is 116 kilometres north of Toronto, about a 1½-hour drive on Highway 400. Nothing in the township is far away, but it’s not exactly walkable either, so a car is a must.

Where to stay

Glen Oro Farm offers a geodesic dome with a skylight for stargazing or the larger Explorer’s Tent, which has a sitting and dining area, kitchenette and electricity. Both come equipped with a king-size bed and ensuite bathroom.

What to bring

If you plan to take advantage of the numerous trails, pack activewear, sunscreen and bug spray. Sturdy, closed-toe shoes (or rainboots, depending on the weather) are a must if you plan to trail ride or visit one of the nearby farms. And a cute outfit or two wouldn’t be amiss for dinners out.

White Bear Forest, Temagami, Ontario

Here forest bathing is taken to the next level
The fire tower lookout in Temagami’s White Bear Forest. JOHN SHYMKO

It’s hard to remain a skeptic in the midst of an ancient forest. This is something I discovered in the woods of Temagami, in northeastern Ontario, where pine trees of up to 400 years old are found. Temagami is famous for its fire tower lookout, but it’s the trails of White Bear Forest and beyond that offer visitors so much more.

The stress of the city starts to drain away as I enter White Bear Forest, a protected 800-hectare area not five minutes from town. With each step I breathe in the fresh zest of pine with mossy, earthy undertones released from the forest floor. Overhead boughs from the enormous canopy rustle prettily. Nature is working its magic. And yet, when my local guide tells me to listen carefully – “The wind sounds different when it blows through red and white pine needles” – I’m not buying it.

We continue to clamber over the Canadian Shield and through bogs – there are 17 kilometres of trails in White Bear – and he helps me see that old-growth forests are not just about the trees but the ecosystem. Even the dead and dying bits are stunning: ghostly white fungi-covered branches, tree trunks with intricate but deadly galleries of bark beetle tracks, fallen nurse-logs that support new life and snags (upright dead trees) that are home to flying squirrels and martens. Even trees once scarred by lightening or fire can keep growing and growing.

The Three Sisters, Wakimika Triangle old growth, is at the north end of Obabika Lake. NORTHEASTER ONTARIO TOURISM
Trees as so large in White Bear Forest, you need three people holding hands to be able to encircle it. MITCH BOWMILE

I learn that even bigger white pine – trees that need at least three people holding hands to wrap around – can be found by heading further into the surrounding forests and lakes. A local outfitter can take you there, winter or summer. For those on canoe trips, try to find Teme Augama Anishnabai elder Alex Mathias’s cabin on Obabika Lake. He welcomes the chance to share stories with visitors about Temagami First Nation’s thousands-year-old connection to the area and its fight to protect the old growth.

With trails for all ages and abilities, White Bear Forest is a great first stop on your old-growth tour of Temagami. But don’t make it your only stop. In Temagami’s forests, the pine-resin-scented air soothes my soul, and eventually I realize my guide is right: If I open my mind and my ears, I can hear the wind blowing different notes through the needles after all.

How to get there

The town of Temagami is a five-hour drive north of Toronto; many White Bear Forest trailheads begin at the parking lot beside the impressive Temagami fire tower. To see bigger and older trees head into the backcountry (even if it’s just a canoe day trip to Temagami Island) with Temagami Outfitting Company. Bonus: It provides elevated backcountry cuisine. Or, Smoothwater Outfitters and Lodge just north of town.

Where to stay

Temagami Shores Inn and Resort, for modern cottages overlooking Lake Temagami, has a walking trail connecting the waterfront property to Finlayson Point Provincial Park. Smoothwater also offers private lodge rooms a 15-minute drive north of town.

What to bring

Sturdy hiking shoes – and an appetite. In town, Temagami Outfitting’s restaurant will surprise you with its cocktails, grazing boards and mains. And in nearby Haileybury, reward yourself with the elevated menu at L’Autochtone, a chic bistro run by chef Gerry Brandon. He’s a Sixties Scoop survivor who has worked across the country but returned home to offer “evolving Indigenous cuisine.”

Île d’Orléans, Quebec

A gourmet mini road trip awaits just 20 minutes from downtown Quebec City
Pastoral farmland fills Île d’Orléans. CATAPUKTE DESIGN, DESTINATION QUÉBEC CITÉ

It’s a Canadian thing to wait until something or someone has been recognized by an international audience before it’s celebrated widely at home, and such is the story of the food scene on Île d’Orléans.

As Anne Monna gives me a tour of her family’s blackcurrant farm and facilities, which she runs with her sister Catherine, she says the island often had visitors from Europe and the U.S., but it was really during the pandemic that Quebeckers came to visit. With international travel restrictions in place, they were now exploring their backyard and discovering a thriving food community on this island just a few minutes from the heart of Quebec City. And now the rest of the country is, too.

It takes only an hour to drive around the whole of Île d’Orléans, but the point of coming here is to stop, browse, taste and shop. There are six villages on this tiny island, each filled with farms, food producers and history.

The diversity of black currant is on full display at Cassis Monna & Filles. VIRGINIE GOSSELIN/DESTINATION QUÉBEC CITÉ
Vignoble Ste-Pétronille is one of six wineries on the island. Michel Julien/DESTINATION QUÉBEC CITÉ

Cassis Monna & Filles is in St. Pierre, one of the first villages you encounter after crossing the bridge to the island. There’s a museum on site where visitors can learn about the history of the farm; the shop, meanwhile, will occupy just as much time. Cassis Monna products run the gamut from crème de cassis and blackcurrant vodka to jam, tea and goose terrine with blackcurrant. For immediate refreshment, they have a dairy bar with blackcurrant ice cream, as well as a drink of the day, such as a cassis spin on frosé. (I had both on my visit. No regrets.)

But navigating Île d’Orléans is an exercise in restraint. Filling up at the first stop means missing out on what the rest of the island has on offer. There are six wineries and two cideries, cheese shops and chocolate stops.

The pub at Île d’Orléans Microbrewery in Sainte-Famille overlooks the St. Lawrence River, and its seasonal brews take inspiration from local specialties. Forge has flavours of chocolate, vanilla and coffee, while Amber gets its sweetness from the island’s maple syrup. And there’s a line out the door when I get to Île d’Orléans Chocolate Factory in Sainte-Pétronille – rightly so as the chocolate dip ice-cream cones alone are worth a trip to the island.

In between each stop are idyllic scenes: vineyards and farmland, quaint communities and views of the river. A visit to the island could simply be a lunch stop, but it’s easy to spend an entire day exploring what is essentially a suburb of the provincial capital. It’s a bounty that seemed to be hidden in plain sight. Not any more.

How to get there

Île d’Orléans is a 20-minute drive east of Quebec City. Most destinations on the island have on-site parking.

Where to stay

Le Capitole hotel, right across from Place D’Youville and just outside the gates to the old city, is ideal for exploring the city on foot, and then hopping on the road to go further afield. The hotel, on top of the Capitole Theatre, recently went through renovations to add spacious suites, complete with balconies overlooking the old city.

What to bring

An appetite and a reusable bag to carry home all your gourmet souvenirs.

Adams River, Tsutswecw Provincial Park, British Columbia

This 12-kilometre river is home to Canada’s largest salmon spawning grounds
Sockeye salmon swim upstream in Adam River, near Shuswap Lake. CHUN LEE/DESTINATION BC

My salmon obsession began early. Growing up in Kamloops, the first field trip of the school year for me and my elementary-school pals was a dose of science in the outdoors: witnessing the salmon returning to Adams River.

I credit those patient teachers (thank you Mr. Zukowski!) for sharing their excitement when they spotted bright red-skinned salmon about to spawn and caught glimpses of the pale pink eggs the next generation. I wondered if the same thrills would bubble within me when I returned to the area last October.

Arriving on a rainy fall morning, the earthy aromas of old growth Douglas fir and cedar fill the air as I hike a wide manicured path from the park’s entrance – an improvement from the narrow dirt trail I remember from my childhood. I emerge onto a recently added metal viewing platform, which offers a 180-degree view; but as I cast my gaze down into the flowing waters below, the one thing I want to see isn’t there.

I walk past students, attentively listening to teachers explain the salmon’s journey to get here, eavesdropping for a moment to hear if they’ve seen salmon (not yet!). It’s approximately an 18-day journey for the salmon from where the Pacific Ocean meets the Fraser River south of Vancouver to the Adams River, avoiding fishers and predators along the way.

According to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, a non-profit working on conservation and restoration efforts for salmon and their habitats, the fish are anadromous, migrating from the sea to fresh water to spawn – instinctually swimming upstream to mate, spawn and die at their birthplace. Every four years it’s called a dominant year, or as locals say, the big run. This year is one of those years.

2022 is a dominant year for the annual salmon run, meaning the population of migrating fish will be bigger than usual. A festival, including daily tours, will run in October. JOSH HUMBERT/DESTINATION BC
Migrating salmon populate Adams River. CHUN LEE/DESTINATION BC

The Adams River Salmon Society hosts the Salute to the Sockeye Festival every four years, this coming fall partnering with the Little Shuswap Lake Band to offer daily tours and cultural events. (The festival runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 23.)

Ted Danyluk is an interpretative guide for the Adams River Salmon Society. His first viewing of the spawning salmon in 2010 was record-setting: According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 3.8 million sockeye salmon came back to Adams River that year. During 2018′s big run, only 425,000 sockeye returned to the river. Dwindling Pacific salmon numbers have been reported by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society at several spawning sites across the province in recent years.

Danyluk remains hopeful for this year’s big run to be memorable and has sage advice about salmon spotting: “Don’t get hung up on the numbers. Enjoy what it took for the salmon to get back here.”

Indeed, on that day last October, it’s quiet on the river, but there is still life. I spot a break between the pale orange leaves of the cottonwood trees, and step down the muddy bank to the water’s edge. Immediately I spy the ruby red of two salmon resting on the rocks of the riverbed. In unison, the duo wriggle their tails, pushing into the river’s current. I’m mesmerized watching them repeat this struggle over and over. Floating back, pushing forward, incrementally gaining inches, wondering how they’ll know when they’ve reached their destination.

My eyes fixate on their movements, my heart beating faster, even though I’ve been stationary for a half hour. Meanwhile the rain stopped, and more school groups have appeared. I notice several clusters of salmon resting on either side of the river as I walk along the banks. A few determined fish fight the fast rush of the water in the middle of the river, routinely losing the battle, but never giving up their instinct to get to paradise.

How to get there

Tsutswecw Provincial Park, where the Adams River salmon spawning grounds are located, is an hour east of Kamloops. Take Trans-Canada Highway from Kamloops to the Squilax-Anglemont Road exit, cross the bridge and head approximately eight kilometres to the provincial park.

Where to stay

The 70-room Quaaout Lodge and Spa has direct access to an expansive beach on Little Shuswap Lake, 10 minutes from Tsutswecw Provincial Park. Guests can tuck into salmon cuisine from chef Chris Whittaker and sign up for Secwepemc cultural experiences, such as a smudging ceremony or storytelling.

What to bring

Comfortable clothes, walking shoes, a rain jacket and a camera.

Lumsden, Saskatchewan

This Regina suburb is finding delicious ways to bring the community together
Wascana Valley Natural Area Recreation Site is a popular picnic spot, and has 15 kilometres of trails for hiking. GERARD MAKUCH

“That’s about to be 2,000 bottles of rhubarb-raspberry wine,” says Sylvia Kreutzer, following my gaze into a tank of brilliant pink juice extracted from fruit grown on the 16 hectares of rolling plains that surround us, overlooking the Qu’Appelle Valley in south-central Saskatchewan. Prairie Rhuberry is the biggest seller here at Over the Hill Orchard and Winery, and she pours me a glass to pair with the tall, saucy sour-cherry sundae I’m devouring as I take in a stunning view of orchard, grasslands and river valley.

Kreutzer and her husband Dean opened their orchard to the public 20 years ago, selling wines, cherry-focused desserts, and even the plants themselves, in order to support Dean’s love of agronomy and quest to leave a legacy in the form of new – or at least improved – prairie-friendly fruit varietals. Though they’re best known for sour cherries, new visitors are inevitably surprised by what they find growing here. It’s still early spring and there are figs in the greenhouse, pinot noir grapes thriving on vines, and thousands of strawberry plants – a variety that tastes like bubble gum, some of which they’ll sell at the Regina farmers’ market. The Kreutzers turn their organic peaches, plums, apples, apricots, raspberries, haskaps and saskatoons into wine, some blended with pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and other grapes.

Over the Hill is just over 10 minutes by car from Lumsden, a town of 1,800 and a bedroom community for Regina. Lumsden has the feel of a small-town movie set, with wide streets, large green spaces, extraordinary century-old brick and sandstone homes and mature trees creating canopies over roadways. Known as a community of artists and entrepreneurs, the tiny population has been focused on alternative forms of energy in recent years, and aims to become the most sustainable town in the province.

Harvesting at Over the Hill Orchard near Lumsden. GREG HUSZAR/TOURISM SASKATCHEWAN
A vertical raspberry patch at Over the Hill Orchard. GREG HUSZAR/TOURISM SASKATCHEWAN

Lumsden is a neighbourhood in the truest sense of the word. I felt part of its fabric instantly, getting to know brewers, distillers, bakers and restaurateurs at every stop. At Last Mountain Distillery, grains for their spirits are delivered via auger by farmers just a few miles down the road, and the fresh dill for their famous dill pickle vodka grows right across the street. The ribs at Free Bird, a hip eatery owned by chef JP Vives and his mother, Pam Vives, are sticky with barbecue sauce made with cherries from Over the Hill and whisky from Last Mountain. At Iron Bridge Brewery, named for the iron truss bridge that crosses the Qu’Appelle River and provides access to the Lumsden River Park, father-son owners Darrell and Denby Haysom have that delicious Prairie Rhuberry wine on their menu, along with cocktails made with Last Mountain spirits. With a dozen taps, they have enough room for a few other local brews as well as their own, including a beer made with lentils from Rebellion in Regina (Saskatchewan is the world’s No. 1 exporter of lentils).

Over at the orchard, the Kreutzers hold special suppers every weekend between May and Thanksgiving, collaborating with local chefs to serve meals outside, overlooking the valley, after Dean takes guests on a show-and-tell tour of the orchard and greenhouse. Their bottles are also packed into luxe picnic baskets with local bread, cheese and charcuterie for visitors to take out to enjoy in the trees. Just south of the orchard, the Wascana Valley Natural Area is popular for picnicking, and offers 15 kilometres of trails suitable for walking and mountain biking in summer, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter.

Lumsden was an unexpectedly delicious discovery, a calm, culinary-focused haven in the middle of the prairies. Driving back along a secondary highway to my Regina hotel, I pull over so I can take in a tiny brick 1886 schoolhouse, and then again when a red-painted wooden barn built on a stone foundation catches my eye – a stunning backdrop for big spring snowflakes that have begun to fall. It’s a beautiful day in this neighbourhood.

How to get there

Lumsden is 33 kilometres northwest on highway 11, about a 20-minute drive from Regina.

Where to stay

The elegant, historic Hotel Saskatchewan was built in 1927 in downtown Regina; it offers a boutique-style stay with a celebrated dining room and lobby lounge (Circa 27).

What to bring

Comfortable shoes if you’re heading out to Wascana Trails, wandering around town or taking the 6.5-kilometre self-guided Lumsden walking tour that takes visitors past 51 historical sites including the Town Bell, the 1904 CNR train station and the town’s earliest home, built in 1888.


Compiled and edited by MARYAM SIDDIQI; Art direction and photo editing by BENJAMIN MACDONALD; Design and development by CHRISTOPHER MANZA

Travel assistance provided by Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, Tourism PEI, Bonjour Quebec, Destination Ontario, Destination Northern Ontario, Orillia Lake County, Tourism Saskatchewan, White Mountain Adventures and Destination BC. These organizations did not approve nor review the stories prior to publication.

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