By Diana Ballon
Published in CAA Magazine, Spring 2021
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Coast to coast, there’s much to experience and explore across Canada. And there’s no better way to discover this vast and beautiful country of ours then hopping in an RV and driving through our postcard-worthy provincial parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites and visiting national monuments. We highlight six routes that allow you to choose your own adventure, whether it’s driving across the country or visiting a regional gem.
Scenic views from Tofino to Banff
The drive: Vancouver to Calgary
Recommended time: 14 days
Best season to go: Spring
Sylvia Baumann, a Torontonian who drove with her husband and two young teens through Vancouver Island, mainland B.C. and parts of Alberta, says that driving an RV through the mountains can take longer than you might expect. “Plan to be flexible with each destination and enjoy whatever the road brings,” she says.
Baumann’s family picked up their CanaDream RV rental in Vancouver and then took the ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, before beginning their drive to Tofino. Although only about three hours if you drive straight, there is great hiking and beautiful views along an oftentimes windy route. Once in Tofino, there’s more great hiking, including the popular Rainforest Trail in Pacific Rim National Park in the Tofino-Ucluelet area. Reward yourself with tacos at Tacofino, and a kelp stout at the nearby Tofino Brewing Co. And while you’re there, try whale watching or surfing.
After retracing your steps back by road and ferry to Vancouver, start your overland portion of the trip. Head northeast to Whistler and then on to Lillooett, where you can stay overnight at Fraser Cove Campground and Guest Cabin. This area is ideal for sturgeon fishing and, yes, panning for gold. Book the six-hour gold panning tour from River Monster Adventures, which includes a jet boat ride and gourmet picnic. It’s sure to be a hit with the kids.
Next, drive northeast towards Yoho National Park, Banff National Park and Lake Louise. The bigger national parks offer guided conservation hikes, as well as fun learning experiences for the kids, like what to do if you see a bear and how to identify wildlife. Every hike ends in a waterfall, and every lunch takes place at a picnic table overlooking mountains or a lake.
Plan your trip to end in Calgary. While you’re there, visit the Calgary Tower to get a 360-degree view of the city from its observation desk.
The drive: Halifax to Vancouver
Recommended time: Three weeks
CanaDream, a global RV rental group that is one of the largest RV rental and sales companies in Canada, describes this as the “Great Canadian Road Trip.” You could do it in three short weeks, or take a more leisurely pace, with longer stays at some of the peak stops along this route.
The trip involves travelling along the Trans Canada Highway from east to west, beginning in port Halifax. Your first stop is Fredericton, which is home to both excellent microbreweries and fascinating historic sites. From Atlantic Canada, head to Quebec to visit Quebec City, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site with narrow cobblestone streets, lively cafés and shops on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. Then explore Montreal: it’s a vibrant city with tons of free outdoor concerts, a beautiful view from the top of Mount Royal and great restaurants and food tours.
Head next to Ontario to explore Canada’s capital, Ottawa, which is also the country’s museum capital, home to seven national museums including the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of History. Next, head north to Sault Ste. Marie followed by Marathon, for a beautiful drive along the north shore of Lake Superior. Plan an overnight at the award-winning campground Sault Ste Marie KOA, a pet-friendly 74-acre resort with an RV-weighting service just off the Trans Canada Highway.
Your trip continues through Kenora and then into the Prairies. Don’t miss the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, a rodeo in Medicine Hat, and a detour to Cypress Hills International Park, which has many options for RVs. You’ll next leave the flat lands of the Prairies for mountains. See the Western Canada road trip for highlights in Banff and Lake Louise, with your final stop in Vancouver, a city that is surrounded by water and mountains.
Drive: Quebec City to Charlottetown
Recommended time: Seven to 10 days
Best season to go: Summer
Canada’s eastern provinces should be on your bucket list for great campgrounds, scenic drives—the Cabot Trail being just one—and lots of kid-tastic activities.
This RV route extends from Quebec through to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. From Quebec City, drive to Rivière du Loup and then into New Brunswick, where you can go tubing down the Nashwaak River in the west-central part of the province; going to Hopewell Rocks, where you can see the Bay of Fundy at high tide and then return later to walk on the ocean floor at low tide; and visiting the city of Dieppe with its European-style downtown, its market, beaches and parks.
When you’re in Nova Scotia, be sure to spend at least a night at the Wild Nature Campground in Shubenacadie: it’s a welcoming low-key place for families with friendly staff and a little pond where the kids can feed the turtles and fish.
Crossing into P.E.I. via the two-lane Confederation Bridge, which is a two-lane toll bridge between Borden-Carleton, P.E.I and and Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick, was Angela Carter and family’s favourite part of their recent RV trip. They loved its beautiful sandy beaches and red cliffs; overnights in places like Cavendish Campground in Prince Edward National Park; low-key family fun like the Sandspit Amusement Park and excellent seafood restaurants like the Wheelhouse in Georgetown. They also found some unexpected little gems, like exploring Murray Harbour, a quaint fishing village in the southeastern corner of the province, and taking photos at Blue Rocks in the Lunenberg region.
Southern Ontario: North Shore of Lake Erie
The drive: Toronto to Point Pelee /Pelee Island
Recommended time: Five days (Seven days including Pelee Island)
Best season to go: Spring
Kathryn Munro, CanaDream’s director of international sales and marketing, notes that this route is a favourite of birdwatchers in the springtime. The trip starts in Toronto with the first stop in Niagara Falls, where cascades of water plummet 57 feet to the ground below. You’ll head towards Fort Erie next, and continue westward through pretty beach suburbs to Port Colborne. Continue along the north shore of Lake Erie to Rock Point Provincial Park and on to Long Point Provincial Park. Although there’s only a 1.5 hour drive between these two parks, you’ll pass Port Dover, where you’ll find The Combine, a farm-to-table restaurant, and Port Rowan, a quaint lakeside town where you can stop for ice cream and antiquing. Once at Long Point Provincial Park, plan to spend the night to enjoy its magical 1.5 km stretch of sandy beach.
From there you can head inland via Highway 401 en route to Point Pelee Provincial Park, but a more leisurely and prettier route is to follow the Coastal Route—a route that isn’t actually on the coast, despite its name.
Spend a night at the Kettle Creek Inn in Port Stanley if you want to enjoy a round of golf at the nearby 18-hole course at Kettle Creek Golf and Country Club or the 12-hole Bluffs Golf Club, which overlooks Lake Erie. The next stop is Rondeau Provincial Park followed by Point Pelee National Park, which is 2.5 hours away. Both are a bird lover’s paradise during the spring migration. Point Pelee is also the most southern point of mainland Canada: plan to spend a night at Point Pelee National Park Campground.
Time permitting, take the ferry from Leamington to Pelee Island. (Check Ontario Ferries for boat time.) The island is well-known for its beaches, wineries and cycling routes.
Ontario: Canadian Canoe Route Tour and Rideau Canal Route
The drive: A loop beginning and ending in Toronto
Recommended time: 9 days
Best season to go: Summer
This historic trip follows canoe routes that early explorers once traversed and includes the Rideau Heritage Route. “It’s a nice bit of Canadian history,” CanaDream’s Munro says. Drive from Toronto to Peterborough, then continue north to Madawaska Kanu Centre where you can book a family whitewater rafting trip. From there, continue along the Canadian Canoe Route, ending up at OWL Rafting, a waterfront resort where you can park your RV and do a full whitewater rafting trip on the Ottawa River. In Ottawa, stay overnight at the Wesley Clover Parks Campground before beginning the Rideau Heritage Route portion of your trip.
The Rideau Heritage Route is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the Rideau Canal links lakes and rivers with hand-operated locks. Explore some of the pretty heritage villages, towns and cities in the area, such as Merrickville, Perth, Newboro and Westport, where you can and go for a hike and picnic on nearby Foley Mountain. Head to Chaffey’s Lock next, where you can rent a canoe or kayak, or arrange for a guided paddle through Rideau Tours.
Gananoque, a beautiful town on the shores of the St. Lawrence is 35 minutes away, and the gateway to the Thousand Island. Stay at the 1000 Islands Ivy Lea KOA campsite. Take a guided kayaking tour with 1000 Islands Kayaking, a scenic flight with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours or a cruise with 1000 Islands Boat Tours. Then drive to Kingston and back to Toronto.
Lake Superior Circle to Bruce Peninsula National Park
The drive: Thunder Bay to Toronto
Recommended time: Seven to 10 days
Best season to go: Fall
This popular route has something for everyone, says GoRV’ing Canada’s president, Chris Mahoney, from off-the-beaten-path exploring on Manitoulin Island to big city sightseeing in Toronto—with something for foodies to enjoy at each step along the way.
Begin in Thunder Bay, famous for its Sleeping Giant, a natural landmark that resembles a slumbering giant. Visit the impressive Kakabeka Falls and the Ouimet Canyon. Eat Finnish pancakes—a tribute to the large Finnish population in the area—and try a local delicacy: the Persian, a fried oval-shaped pastry that’s topped with pink berry frosting.
From Thunder Bay, drive along the north shore of Lake Superior to Pukaskwa National Park, and then do the scenic drive to Lake Superior Provincial Park. From there, travel about six hours to the Little Current Swing Bridge that takes you onto Manitoulin Island.
Manitoulin is the largest freshwater island in the world, with great hikes, numerous lighthouses to explore and a rich Indigenous culture where you can easily spend a couple of days. Leave via the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry to Tobermory on the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula—but be sure to book your ferry tickets ahead of time. Stay at the Cyprus Lake campground in Bruce Peninsula National Park, using this as a base for some hiking or a boat tour aboard Tobermory Wave Adventures to see the famous Flowerpot Island and the Grotto.
Make your way down the peninsula, stopping to explore Sauble Beach on the shores of Lake Huron and nearby Wiarton, with an overnight at Bluewater Park Campground. Then drive to Owen Sound on the south shore of Georgian Bay, and onto The Blue Mountains and Collingwood. Spend the night at the waterfront campground at Craigleith Provincial Park, and from there enjoy Wasaga Beach, just 25 minutes away, before heading to Toronto.