The National Parks of Canada

The great land up north is full of amazing scenery and beautiful landscapes interspersed with some great cities and a kind and welcoming people. In this epic road trip we will take you from the pacific to the atlantic and all the great stops in between.

#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
Matt

States:
British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia

Start:
Vancouver, British Columbia
End:
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Total miles:
3,800

Suggested days:
At least 18

Type:
scenic road trip

Recommended for: 
First-timers to Canada, honeymooners, photographers, road trippers

Suggested season: 
Spring through Fall

Overview

This coast-to-coast road trip will take you on an unforgettable vacation across Canada, exploring many national parks and other wonderful natural locales along the way. You will begin by flying into Vancouver and, after enjoying all that the city has to offer, drive through the town of Kamloops en route to Glacier National Park. After your stay there, you will head to the famous mountains and lakes of Banff National Park. Then you will shoot north to Jasper National Park for a couple of days and then begin to head straight east towards Prince Albert National Park, stopping in the busy city of Edmonton on the way there. Next, you will drive southeast until you get to Riding Mountain National Park. After your time in the park you will stop in cosmopolitan Winnipeg en route to Pukaskwa National Park, many miles away. You will then toll into Ontario and hit the popular Algonquin Provincial Park. The province of Quebec is next, where you will visit La Mauricie National Park, stopping in Montreal and Quebec City on the way. You will then stop at Kouchibouguac National in New Brunswick, where you will savor the natural coastal beauty. Your penultimate stop will be at Prince Edward Island, where you can enjoy outdoors activities and culture alike, before heading down to Nova Scotia and flying out of Halifax.

How to Prepare

We recommend at least two-and-a-half weeks to encompass all of the possible offerings that are suggested in this itinerary. The national parks in this trip are all worth spending at least a couple of days in, perhaps more. Many of the drives are several hours long – with some very long stretches between towns – so plan accordingly. (Remember that Canada is, as a whole, a very rural country.) The weather throughout this region is somewhat predictable, though variable depending on the season. In the summer, it will be quite hot everywhere, muggy in most places. In the autumn, it will be much more pleasant everywhere, but it could definitely snow in the more mountainous regions. In the fall it will certainly rain quite a lot in British Columbia. Follow the forecasts before travelling.

DAY 1: arrival Vancouver

Fly into Vancouver International Airport and rent the car that will carry you clear across the country. The most populous city in the province of British Columbia and the third most populous in all of Canada, Vancouver is a fantastic city with no shortage of things to do. As a major metropolitan area nestled between ocean, mountains and forest, Vancouver has enough nature and culture to occupy visitors for many days. The best way to experience the city would be to do a little bit from each of those categories, whether that would be shopping at the Granville Island Public Market or on Robson Street, going to the world-class Museum of Anthropology or the Vancouver Aquarium, and wandering around the lush woods of Stanley Park.

Best urban island to explore:

Granville Island

Best place for a swim: 

Kitsilano Beach

Can’t miss it:

Clayoquat Sound

Best place for a stroll:

Butchart Gardens

Best place for dinner:

The Flying Pig

Best district to spend some time:

The Olympic Village

DAY 2: Glacier National Park of Canada

6.5 hours

Your next day of driving is a long one, just over seven hours to reach your national park destination. Atop the Manitoba Escarpment, Riding Mountain National Park is the rare forested parkland among the surrounding prairie farmland of the province. There are three separate ecosystems within the area: grassland, upland boreal and eastern deciduous forest. Bison can be seen roaming through the park and wolves, moose, elk and hundreds of bird species make their home here as well. The whole park is set within the larger Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Biosphere, which seeks to preserve this unique wilderness for future generations.

Recommended Hike:

Glacier Crest Trail

Best stroll:

Hemlock Grove Trail

Must see it:

Rogers Pass

Best place to hike in for an overnight stay:

Rent a back country hut

Best waterfall:

Bear Creek Falls

Best morning grab and go:

Muir’s Bakery

DAY 3: Banff National PArk

Canada national parks, national parks in Canada
3 hours/240 miles

Your next leg of the trip will take you to Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park and the third in the world. Its origins can be traced back 1883, when three Canadian Pacific Railway construction workers accidentally found a hot spring flowing through a cave on the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Today, the park contains over 2500 square miles of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, with 1000 miles of trails weaving through it all. Plan on spending at least a few days at Banff. It’s worth it!

Best historic site:

Cave and Basin Historic Site

Best place to soak your cares away: 

Radium Hot Springs

Best hike:

Sundance Trail

Where to shop:

Banff Avenue

Best place for dinner

The Bison

Best night out:

Park Distillery

DAY 4: the wonders of Jasper

jasper national park, best national parks for paddleboarding, paddleboarding national parks
3.5 hours

Not far from the glories of Banff is another naturally fantastic place, Jasper National Park, a mere three or so hours north. Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, encompassing 4200 square miles of a pristine wilderness that includes the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls and towering mountains. Elk, moose, mountain sheep and bears are often seen in the park, so you may have the chance to spot some real Canadian wildlife in their natural element. Hiking, mountain biking, boating and fishing are all popular sporting options in the park, but the town itself is also a renowned mountain town with a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of fine shopping and dining. A few days here would be a relaxing choice.

Can’t miss it:

Athabasca Falls

Must see:

Jasper Sky Tram

Test your courage:

Glacier Skywalk

Best hike:

Maligne Canyon

Best Dinner:

Downstream

Great place for morning coffee:

Wicked Cup

DAY 5: Edmonton

4 hours

Your next park destination, Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, is a long drive away, so a midway stop in booming Edmonton is a wise idea. As you’ve been in scenic parks and mellow mountain towns for about a week, perhaps you’ll be craving some city stimulation and this is a good place to do it. The capital of Alberta and the fifth-largest city in Canada, Edmonton is a truly thriving city that acts as a cultural, governmental and educational center for the region. The city is home to North America’s largest mall, the West Edmonton Mall, and the largest living history museum in Canada, Fort Edmonton Park. Whatever you might be wanting after your time in the wilderness, Edmonton will provide for you.

Can’t miss shopping:

West Edmonton Mall

Best historical experience:

Fort Edmonton Park

Get some science:

TELUS World of Science

Best place to get dinner:

Woodwork

Try your luck:

Grand Villa Casino

Best place to grab a local brew:

The Canadian Brewhouse

DAY 6: Prince Albert National Park

6 hours

An entirely different ecosystem than the Canadian parks you’ve visited thus far, Prince Albert offers visitors a preserved environment of northern coniferous forests and diverse wildlife. There are a number of small lakes dotting the park and backcountry canoeing is a popular recreational activity. Perhaps the main natural attraction, the massive Waskesiu Lake is open for many boating, swimming and sunbathing on the beach. It also the location for the only town in the park, Waskesiu, where one can do some shopping and dining, if needed. Spending a couple of days here would be a nice way to unwind before moving on to your next park destination.

Best place for a glimpse of local history:

Grey Owl’s Cabin

Best canoe trip:

Bagwa Paddling Route

Best unique experience:

Rent a yurt at Nesslin Lake

Best spot for a swim:

Waskesiu Lake

Best place to grab a bite:

Pete’s Terrace

Best coffee in the morning:

Evergreen Coffee

DAY 7: Riding Mountain National Park

Moose looking ready to fight, staying away from wildlife is our second nature photography tip
6.5 hours

Your next day of driving is a long one, just over seven hours to reach your national park destination. Atop the Manitoba Escarpment, Riding Mountain National Park is the rare forested parkland among the surrounding prairie farmland of the province. There are three separate ecosystems within the area: grassland, upland boreal and eastern deciduous forest. Bison can be seen roaming through the park and wolves, moose, elk and hundreds of bird species make their home here as well. The whole park is set within the larger Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Biosphere, which seeks to preserve this unique wilderness for future generations.

Best place for a swim:

Clear Lake

Best hike:

Deep Lake

Best place to see a buffalo:

Lake Audy Bison Enclosure

Best place to get Ice Cream:

Lakehouse

Best place to grab a brew:

Farmery Estate Brewery

Cant’s Miss it:

Find a Red Chair

DAY 8: Winnipeg and the wild plains of Ontario

2.5 hours

Your next park destination at Pukaskwa National Park is at least a few days away, over twenty hours of driving from Prince Albert. The best way to break this up would be in two stages. The first stage would be a stop in Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital and largest city, considered Canada’s “Gateway to the West”. There is plenty of culture, shopping and dining to be found here, so it wouldn’t be too hard to spend a full day touring around the city. As this is the last city for many days, Winnipeg should be your last chance to “stock up” before you head out into the remote regions of Middle Canada.

Best place for a picnic:

Assiniboine Park

Best hike:

Kings Park

Best museum:

Fort Gilbraltar

Best place to eat:

The Forks

Can’t miss it:

Old Market Square

Best local brew:

Little Brown Jug

DAY 9 & 10: Ontario's Remote Regions

7.5 hours

Your next drive will be a long one to reach the stunning Pukaskwa National Park. Aim to stay the next day in Thunder Head, a decent sized town on the northwestern banks of Lake Superior, where you can rest and dine before your somewhat shorter drive the following morning. Drive the remaining few hours until you reach remote Pukaskwa National Park, full of rugged beauty, wild northern forests and wonderful views of Lake Superior. This is the only national park in all of Ontario and the longest protected shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes, so it’s a deservedly special place. Spend a full day relaxing here, if you can.

Best place for a stroll:

Sleeping Giant Park

Can’t miss it:

Fort William Historical Park

Best place for dinner:

The Keg Steakhouse

DAY 11: Algonquin Provincial Park

9.5 hours

Your next drive is another full-day long one, as you wind along the eastern shores of Lake Superior to eventually reach lovely Algonquin Provincial Park in Central Ontario, the oldest provincial park in the country. Encompassing a total of nearly 3000 square miles of wilderness, Algonquin is one of the most popular parks in the province, and in all of Canada, due to its relative proximity to both Toronto and Ottawa. The park can also boast having 2400 lakes and 745 miles of rivers and streams within its border. At the border of Northern and Southern Ontario, the park’s wilderness shows an area of transition between northern coniferous forests and southern coniferous forests.

Great park museum:

Algonquin Logging Museum

Can’t miss it:

Highway 60 Corridor

Watch the Northern Lights:

Anywhere in the park

Best hike:

Lookout Trail

Can’t miss it:

Algonquin Art Centre

Best place for dinner:

3 Guys and a Stove

DAY 12: Viva Quebec!

7.5 hours

Next, you will head into Quebec, the Francophone province of the country and home to two of the country’s major cities, Montreal and Quebec City. As both are already on your route, you may wish to stop in one, or both, of them. You could even spend the night in each, on your way to and from the park. It’s up to you, really. Montreal is a very cosmopolitan city with an international feel, home to some of the country’s finest arts and eating. Quebec City is the capital of the province and the historical center of this French-speaking region of the country. Both are stunning and endlessly entertaining cities to enjoy at your leisure.

DAY 13: La Mauricie National Park

2 hours

Though close to two booming cities, La Mauricie National Park feels like genuine wilderness far removed from any civilization. Covering over 200 square miles and 150 lakes, the park is set within the Eastern forest-boreal transition ecoregion, popular for hiking, backpacking and boating. The latter should definitely be on your list of things to do in the park, as a float along either the Matawin or Saint-Mauricie Rivers would be an unforgettable experience.

Best place for a swim:

Edouard Lake

Can’t miss it:

Deux-Criques Trail

Best canoe trip:

Wapizagonke Lake

Beautiful Waterfall stroll:

Les Cascades

Best dinner:

Union Station

Best night out:

The Musee POP

DAY 14: Kouchibouguac

8 hours

A full day of driving – though a beautiful one, as you’ll move up the side of the St. Lawrence River to leave Quebec – awaits you as you leave one province to reach another. On the Acadian coast of New Brunswick is Kouchibouguac National Park, where mixed-wood forest meets marshland and beaches. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has declared the park a Dark Sky Preserve, so the starry views at night in Kouchibouguac are just as breathtaking as the ocean vistas during the day. Plan on spending a couple of days here to unwind from your driving and absorb the wonderful landscape.

Best place for a swim:

Kellys Beach

Best hike:

Osprey Trail

Best canoe trip:

Ryans to Major Kollock Creek

Can’t miss it:

The Visitor’s Center

Best dinner:

O’Donaghue’s Irish Pub

Best morning coffee:

Creative Grounds Coffee

DAY 15: To the shores of Prince Edward Island

2.5 hours

Your penultimate day will take you to beautiful Prince Edward Island, both the National Park and the province proper of the same name. The park is, effectively, 37 miles of the island’s north shore along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, protecting the marshes, wetlands and beaches. It’s a nesting habitat for the endangered piping plover and has been designated a Canadian Important Bird Area. This area is an excellent place to relax on a sunny day by taking a hike or a bike ride. The province as a whole is nicknamed “The Garden of the Gulf” for its pastoral scenery and farmland. Both the capital city of Charlottetown and the smaller Summerside have plenty of dining, shopping and lodging options.

Best place for a stroll:

Victoria Park

Best way to get some culture:

Confederation Centre of the Arts

Best place for a swim:

Cavendish Beach

Can’t miss it:

St. Dunstan’s Basilica

Best dinner:

Water Prince Corner Shop

Best night out

Victoria Row

DAY 16: Halifax

3.5 hours

The final stretch of your trip will be in Halifax, the capital city of the province of Nova Scotia, located a few hours south of Prince Edward Island. Halifax is considered one of the economic centers of Atlantic Canada and is also thought to be one of the best cities to live in the world, according to a recent quality of life study. There are a few universities in the Halifax and a fair amount of culture to keep residents and tourists busy throughout the year. Spend a day or two here to fully enjoy what the city has to offer. Reward yourself for finishing your incredible voyage across the span of Canada by going out to one of Halifax’s excellent restaurants and stay in a deluxe hotel before you head back home.

Best place for a stroll:

Halifax Public Gardens

Best place to people watch:

Halifax Waterfront District

Be a soldier for a day:

Halifax Citadel Historic Park

Can’t miss it:

Fisherman’s Cove

Best seafood in Halifax:

The Pressgang

Best place to stay:

The Prince George