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off the beaten trail

The Northern Lights come alive at Blachford Lake near Yellowknife, one of Canada’s best spots to see the phenomenon.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Canada may not have much in the way of palm-lined, tropical island paradises, but when it comes to outdoor adventure we're second to none. Here are some of our favourite ways to get adventurous in Canada.

Light show

No matter how spectacular a person imagines the Northern Lights to be, a good display always exceeds expectations. Nothing on Earth quite competes with seeing the sky itself come alive in an epic, shifting display of colour.

A 20-minute Twin Otter flight from Yellowknife's Old Town float plane dock takes visitors to Blachford Lake Lodge, where Prince William and his then brand new bride visited on their last trip to Canada, one of the most beautiful and remote spots to view the phenomenon.

Mid-August through mid-October and Mid-December through Mid-April are the best times to catch the lights, but if it's cloudy or the lights are quiet, guests can always console themselves with a soak in the hot tub or a second helping of the lodge's caribou stew, bulked up with vegetables from the organic gardens.

Disputed island

For the most part Canada and the United States are exemplary neighbours, getting along well and sharing nicely. One tiny, remote island in the Bay of Fundy is something of a sticking point, however.

Machias Seal Island, uninhabited save for a Canadian lighthouse keeper (there to bolster Canada's claim to the island) and several thousand pelagic birds, remains disputed after all these years.

That doesn't mean it's off limits, however. Sea Watch Tours, sailing out of Grand Manan, N.B., transports up to 15 guests a week to the island on a converted lobster fishing boat.

The abundance of Atlantic puffins, Eider ducks, terns and Wilson storm petrels, razorbill auks and black guillemots (among many others) make this disputed territory one of the Canada's most phenomenal birdwatching destinations.

Remote Ontario

Travel like the mighty voyageurs once did – with the slight benefit afforded by the occasional float plane ride and comfortable lodge to eat and sleep in – on a canoeing trip through Ontario's remote Wabakimi Provincial Park.

Wilderness North, an adventure tour company that operates a string of lodges in the area, offers a six-day trip through the region that was recently chosen by the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership as one of its Ontario Signature Experiences.

Deep in the heart of the Canadian Shield, the park includes stretches of boreal forest and is home to great herds of woodland caribou.

Waters from this area, teeming with walleye and pike that grow to legendary size, are located on a slight uprising that causes them to flow both north to the Arctic Ocean and east all the way to the Atlantic.

This is Canada at its most elemental, the landscape almost untouched since people first came through here centuries ago, leaving behind one of North America's largest collections of First Nations pictographs.

Riding the rails

Our history and our landscape unite with our railways. Nowhere is this reality brought closer to home than on a rail trip through the Canadian Rockies. The most patriotic and luxurious way of experiencing this is aboard one of the Royal Canadian Pacific luxury train journeys.

The full Royal Canadian Rockies Experience, considered by National Geographic Traveler as a "tour of a lifetime," includes visits to Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the Waterton glacier and the infamous Spiral Tunnels, among other adventures. Best of all, when the day is done guests retire to their cozy staterooms to be rocked to sleep by the rails. This is true Canadian adventure at its most luxurious.

Haida Gwaii

Is there a more onomatopoeic name for a destination than Haida Gwaii? The words themselves seem to conjure up images of deep, moss-dripping forests edged up against the sea, where the smell of the Pacific Ocean mingles with aromas of wet earth and cedar.

Getting to these remote islands on the north coast of British Columbia is never simple and some locations can only be reached by water. Outer Shores Expedition offers several trips around the region in a classic 1970s schooner, bringing guests up close to the abundance of wildlife that thrives here, from blue whales to albatross, from jellyfish to black bears.

Shore excursions give visitors an opportunity to explore rich old growth rain forests and discover ancient Haida villages and hear stories about the region's history from Haida Watchmen.

The writer was a guest of Blachford Lake Lodge. It did not review or approve the article.

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