The Trans-Canada Highway is an incredibly important road. It's one of the only roads connecting Canada's east and west coasts, so it's kind of the perfect Canadian road trip... and, since it connects some of the bigger cities and most of the country's provinces, if you're traveling by road for a longer distance, you'll probably end up on it at some point. The half of the highway running through the western provinces is a pretty epic drive. It crosses through the domineering Canadian Rockies, a portion involves a ferry ride, and there are vast stretches through the wilderness. There are also loads of gorgeous parks, including Banff National Park, awesome cities, and, of course, there's plenty of roadside fun to go around. Here's our guide from Victoria B.C. across half of the country to Winnipeg!
Royal BC Museum
The Royal BC Museum is one of the most comprehensive museums in all of British Columbia. It is dedicated to the natural and cultural history of B.C., from the Ice Age and the stories of the First Nations to the museum's recreated Old Town village (complete with Chinatown section) and the displays about the HMS Discovery, which began exploring the shores of B.C. in the late 1700s. There's a great exhibit on the gold rush, spaces dedicated to botany, paleontology, ornithology and more, and plenty of space for travelling exhibitions as well. Their collections contain a staggering 7 MILLION artifacts, so rest assured that you're getting the most thorough overview of B.C. history possible.
The dense woodlands covering British Columbia are one of the most important features of the province, both in the development of the industries in B.C. and for what it adds to the scenery. The BC Forest Discovery Centre is the best place to learn a new appreciation for the woodlands. 100-acre, open-air museum shows off the beauty and history in these forests with trails, heritage buildings (including a blacksmith shop and an old schoolhouse), logging artifacts, a sawmill, and an operational railway that cruises through the temperate rainforests, over trestles and through tunnels. You don't have to have kids with you, but if you do, they'll love the old equipment they can play on!
Petroglyph Provincial Park
Petroglyph Provincial Park is the perfect place to immerse yourself int he First Nations history you learned at the Royal BC Museum way back when. The main attraction of the park is the cluster of prehistoric rock carvings on a hill overlooking Nanaimo Harbor. The drawings, which depict mystical beings, fish-like beasts and even human figures, were the main form of communication for tribes who had no written language. They could mean many things and might signify territorial ownership or even commemorate special events. And, since petroglyphs were generally crafted at sites with a strong energy, where the forces of nature were believed to be especially strong, you should consider spending some quiet time recharging here.
The route passes through Vancouver, and if you only have time to do one thing in the city, make it a stroll across Capilano Suspension Bridge. Think the 230-foot-high swinging bridge looks terrifying now? Then imagine how scary the first bridge built here looked when it was constructed... in 1889, out of rope and wooden planks. Scottish Civil Engineer George Grant Mackay, who designed and constructed it, had horses swim the ropes across the river, and then pulled them up the other side of the canyon. It attracted tons of curious visitors almost instantly. Thankfully, the wood and rope bridge was replaced with a more structurally sound wire cable bridge in 1903, and even that was replaced in 1956 with the 460-foot-long bridge we see today (although the bridge has undergone repairs, like after a 300-year-old, 46-ton Douglas Fir tree fell on the Western portion). The totem poles and native history aspects were added in the 1930's, and other attractions, like the Treetop Adventure Bridges which gives visitors a squirrel's eye view of the park with seven wooden suspension bridges that are 110 feet above the forest floor, and the Cliff Walk, a narrow, U-shaped bridge that suspends the brave and willing off of a granite cliff, have been put in throughout the years, making it a super popular destination.
Fort Langley National Historic Site
Back in its day, Fort Langley was a melting pot of B.C.'s most interesting people. The 19th-century fort was where Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders mingled with California gold prospectors and First Nations peoples. Today, it's a National Historic Site with costumed interpreters, live demonstrations, farm animals to pet, pan for gold, and generally immerse yourself in 1800s life on the Canadian frontier. The coolest part about Fort Langley National Historic Site? The themed oTENTiks. oTENTiks are exclusive to Parks Canada, and they describe them as "a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent mounted on a raised wooden floor." Themes are historical and include First Nations, Hawaiian, French-Canadian voyageur, North American gold prospector and Scottish boat builder.
Who doesn't love a good waterfall? Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park is best known for the 60-metre cascade that flows down a smooth rock face. Keep your eyes peeled for the puffball plants that grow in abundance around here; First Nations tribes once had a tribe here that was called "Popkum" after their word for the unusual botanical. You can also see the concrete remains of a power generator that was used to harness the energy from the falls to power the Bridal Veil Chalet in the 1900s. Hike the short trail to the viewing platform at the base of the falls for a great chance to stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh air.
Skihist Provincial Park
Skihist Provincial Park is a destination that packs a real punch. Originally established a spot for those travelling on the Trans-Canada Highway to set up camp for the night, the park is also a hotspot for river rafting and fishing. If you're a novice rafter, book an excursion with an outfitter in Lytton or Spences Bridge. You can enjoy the quiet views from the old Cariboo Wagon Road or more striking scenery at Thompson Canyon. And keep your eyes peeled for the thriving herd of elk that roam the area! It remains a bustling campground with lots of amenities, so if you've got a tent or RV, this is a great place to spend an evening.
A strange, desert-y landscape makes up the majority of Juniper Beach Provincial Park, located in one of the hottest and driest parts of Canada. There aren't many places in the Great White North where you can see cacti and rattlesnakes, so it's worth stopping by to marvel at the atmosphere. The Thompson River runs through the park, providing recreational opportunities for boaters, and historic buffs will love the chance to watch trains thunder by on the CNR and CPR railways. Some campsites back up to the river, providing refreshing breezes.
British Columbia Wildlife Park
Add some safari vibes to your Canadian adventure at the British Columbia Wildlife Park. Boasting over 40 species of animals, including a variety of bears, big cats, reptiles, waterfowl, small mammals, and more, this park also dedicates time and resources to rehabilitating animals, research, and educating the public on the importance on conservation. You can also enjoy their interactive Discovery Centre, ride their little train, or cool off at their splash pad. If you're lucky, you'll stop by when they're feeding the animals or hosting a talk from an expert!
D Dutchman Dairy
The D Dutchman Dairy is so much more than a cattle barn! Of course they have the calf barn, milking parlour and cheese making plant for visitors to tour, and naturally, they make some of B.C.'s best ice cream, but they also keep llamas, donkeys, goats and exotic birds as well. You can't leave without picking up a block of maple bacon cheddar for the road, or without grabbing an ice cream cone to enjoy. Their ice cream comes in regular, above average and mammoth serving sizes, so there's something for every appetite here. And, black licorice lovers will be pleased to know that that is one of their signature flavours!
Who wouldn't want to stop in and see what The Enchanted Forest is all about?? This attraction was the lifelong dream of Doris & Ernest Needham, who worked on it during their retirement in the 1950s. It opened in 1960 and has been a road trip stop ever since. The main trail of the grand forest has surprises around every turn; 350 figures depict favourite fairytale scenes, cedar stump cottages, castles, dungeons and dragons and more can be seen along the way, peaking with B.C.'s tallest, most magnificent treehouse. It's a magical, 50-foot-tall whimsical creation that has to be seen to be believed.
Mount Revelstoke National Park
Mount Revelstoke National Park is an underrated gem. Temperate rainforests, stands of massive giant red cedars, subalpine meadows loaded with wildflowers, and mountain hikes with incredible views await here. When you first arrive, hit the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, which takes you right to some of those colourful fields of flowers. Additionally, the Giant Cedars Boardwalk and the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk are short hikes that provide interpretive signs and show off the scenery within the rainforests themselves. More adventurous explorers can backcountry camp and even summit the mountain.
You're starting to get into the thick of the highway as it winds its way into the Canadian Rockies. You can't pass up the chance to pose for a photo with the World's Largest Paddle. It's certified and proportionally correct, a whopping 13 times larger than the average paddle. It's over 60 feet long, making it perfect for any 78-foot giants out there hoping to canoe. It's near Golden, B.C. and while you snap pictures of the behemoth, you can also enjoy the views of the Columbia River Valley as well.
Yoho National Park's name comes from the Cree word for awe and wonder, and it's not hard to see why it's called that. Though its the smallest of the four contiguous parks in the Canadian Rockies, it really is unbelievably beautiful. Head to Takakkaw Falls or Wapta Falls, hike to half-billion-year-old fossil beds, experience the Spiral Tunnels, do some learning at the Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site, explore the tiny Village of Field, an authentic mountain resort town, or enjoy the crazy-blue waters of Emerald Lake. You don't have to be an experienced outdoorsman to enjoy all Yoho has to offer, either; start at the Visitor Centre in Field for help building an itinerary. Or, check out our handy-dandy guide!
We could devote a whole separate guide to visiting Banff. In fact, we did devote a whole guide to the famously stunning National Park. It's Canada's oldest National Park, boasting chilly glaciers and ice fields, lush forests, flower-studded alpine meadows, and the brightest blue lakes you could ever imagine. We suggest riding the Banff Gondola, taking a warm soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs, hiking to Peyto Lake or Lake Louise (seriously, you have to see them to believe them), and visiting a tea house. Seriously, leave AT LEAST a full day to visit this magical place; it's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Road food is one of the best parts of road trips; even the health nuts among us can't argue. Peters' Drive-In in Calgary bills itself as "the drive-in you can't drive by", so pull up for a fresh, flame-broiled burger on a specially-made bun. The menu is simple, offering burgers, hot dogs, and sides of the deep-fried variety. But is there anything better than a double cheeseburger, an order of poutine and a milkshake after a long day of driving? I think not.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Once you're out of the Rockies, you'll roll into the Canadian Badlands. Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that can claim to be one of the richest deposits of dinosaur fossils anywhere in the world. More than 500 specimens, from microscopic fern spores to forty dinosaur species have been discovered at the park. The park offers bus and guided fossil hunter tours, or go it solo on the trails yourself; the Trail of the Fossil Hunters is, obviously, not to be missed. While most of the dinosaur fossils have been moved to museums across the globe, there is a great Visitor Centre with an Exhibit Gallery on site. And, best of all, this park offers full-blown glamping (or, as they call it, comfort camping.) The tents feature handmade furnishings, electricity (including a heater and a fan), and a private deck with furniture. Dino bones and glamping... I'm sold.
World's Tallest Teepee (Saamis Tepee)
If the World's Largest Paddle didn't do it for you, maybe the World's Tallest Teepee will! Also known as the Saamis Tepee, it was built for the Calgary Olympics in 1988. It's made of steel and concrete and is 215 feet tall (think about that; that's as tall as a 20 story building!). It's also 160 feet wide. The 10 rings around the masts are story-boards that tell stories from Canada's past. The name "Saamis" tepee comes from the fact that it now sits atop the Saamis archaeological site, one of the most important on the Northern Plains. Years ago, it was a buffalo camp and meat processing site, and today, experts believe that over 83 million artifacts are buried at the site.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
You should visit Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, even if only for the fact that it's Canada's first and only interprovincial park. It sits on the southern Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary and is divided into two sections: a west block and a center block. Interestingly enough, the park's Cypress Hills plateau and prairie are home to 14 species of beautiful orchids, check out the views from Head of the Mountain Viewpoint, visit the Fort Walsh National Historic Site (where you can learn about Mounties and Canada's bootlegging history during America's Prohibition), or enjoy watersports on one of the many lakes; you can even rent kayaks, canoes, bicycles, and stand up paddle boards.
As you continue through the prairies, get a taste for what the landscape looked like as early pioneer settlers travelled here with a stop at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park. Here, you'll find a herd of plains bison in a hillside paddock, a tribute to the creatures that once filled the plains. Buffalo Pound Lake is an ancient glacial lake with two sandy public beaches, which are a real treat for families, road-weary travellers looking to relax, or anyone looking for a bit of lakeshore fun. The park also has its own pool and mini-golf course as well. You can camp here, fish the trout in Buffalo pond, and spy wildlife on the boardwalk through Nicolle Flats Marsh as well.
Winter will always be a slightly more challenging time to visit Canada, especially if you're planning on taking on the Rockies. Bring chains and extra supplies in the off-chance things get really snowy if you're driving the road in the colder months. Spring and early summer in the badlands and prairies are a green and beautiful time to visit, and fall brings mild weather that's ideal for road-tripping. Ultimately, though, this is a fairly major route through Canada and will almost always be in good condition for a drive.
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