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If you could design a country for the sole purpose of road tripping, you couldn’t do any better than Canada, where seemingly endless highways zigzag through evergreen forests, past towering peaks, and along rugged shorelines. From the Rocky Mountains in the west to thundering Niagara Falls to the east, the sprawling landscapes and natural wonders are the definition of wild. By land mass, Canada is only outsized by Russia. It’s so big that its three largest national parks — Wood Buffalo, Nahanni, and Quttinirpaaq — could each swallow smaller countries whole.
All of that open space in the Great White North makes outdoor recreation, from hiking trails in the summer to skating across frozen lakes in the winter, favorite national pastimes. Rafters ride the rapids of thrilling waterways like the Ottawa, Kicking Horse, and Chilcotin rivers. Ski towns like Banff in Alberta and Whistler in British Columbia have become synonymous with world-class snow sports. And while many of the 10 provinces remain sparsely populated, the largest cities pack a global punch: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are thriving cosmopolitan metropolises, each earning international acclaim for their arts and culinary scenes. Truly, Canada shows off its remarkable diversity at every turn.
Air travel is the quickest way to get from province to province. Even so, it takes nearly seven hours to fly across Canada from Victoria, British Columbia, on the West Coast to St. John’s in the easternmost province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Most major airports are found in the country’s largest cities. In metropolitan areas like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, the efficient transportation systems mean you don’t really need a car to get around.
Outside of the largest cities, public transportation is limited to intercity buses and the national VIA train lines. That means road trips are the most classic way to see Canada’s wildest and most remote reaches, so you’ll want your own wheels to tour rural highways and sightsee the iconic national parks. The vast majority of Canada’s towns and cities are clustered in the southern reaches of the country, within driving distance of the border with the United States, the longest international land border in the world.
There’s a reason Canada was nicknamed the Great White North: Winters get icy and subarctic cold throughout much of the country. Unsurprisingly, winter sports such as ice hockey, ice fishing, skiing, and snowshoeing are widely popular activities. But even in the snowiest months of December, January, and February, Canada’s sheer size makes for varied climates. In general, the coastal areas of British Columbia, the westernmost province, remain the mildest throughout the year, with drizzly winters and balmy summers.
All of Canada’s major cities experience distinct seasons, with gardens blossoming in the spring, outdoor festivals booming throughout the summer, and colorful foliage in the country’s many urban parks luring out leaf peepers in the fall. In the great outdoors, summer is the high season, as mountain trails to dazzling alpine lakes finally become accessible when snow melts late into June at the highest elevations. And any trip to Canada demands at least a few licks of maple syrup — even better at one of the many springtime festivals dedicated to the seasonal tapping of the sap.
No other place in North America has quite the European flair of Old Quebec, the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. Today this historic district — dating from the early 16th century — forms the cultural center of Quebec City, the capital of the province of Quebec. Its charming French- and British-era architecture is so significant and well preserved it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find independent boutiques and little cafes filling pedestrian areas like the compact Quartier Petit Champlain, one of the oldest shopping districts on the continent.
Canada’s world-renowned national parks preserve some of North America’s most scenic landscapes, with Banff being the first and arguably most dramatic of them all. This slice of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains is a year-round alpine playground. In the summer, hikers and bikers take to the trails lacing across the backcountry and circling turquoise lakes. Winter action turns to the slopes, when the resort town of Banff buzzes with skiers and snowshoers chasing the fresh powder.
Once you slip on your waterproof poncho and get a close-up look at this trio of thundering cascades, you’ll understand why Niagara Falls has wooed so many honeymooners here for centuries: The views of the rapids tumbling over the glacier-carved cliffs are magnificently poetic. The unmatched popularity of the falls certainly draws crowds, but it’s easy to get off the typical track with active side trips such as Niagara Glen, where you can hike trails through the scenic Niagara Gorge, and tasting tours in the surrounding wine country.