NEW THING #38:
ROAD TRIP TO SOMEWHERE NEW
Aren’t road trips the best?
I mean experiencing new places with your fave people at your own pace from the seat of your car sounds pretty awesome to me!
How about you? Any good ones on your wish list?
Driving Across Canada
From the moment we started planning our move to this country, we really wanted to go on a road trip across Canada one day. We’ve already been all the way to the East (from Toronto to Halifax) & traveled from Vancouver to Kelowna earlier this year, but we’re still missing the part kind of in the middle. So we decided to use the occasion of moving to Kelowna to go on the road trip, and see The Canadian Prairies & Rockies from the windows of our car.
And let me tell you: Canada is huge! Just to give you some perspective: This trip took us 6 days. We had 4057km to go. We crossed 3 time zones (from EDT, CDT, MDT to PDT). It’s 2 full days just to leave our province (Ontario). But it’s so beautiful!
By the way, make sure you check out the post about our 5-days long Train Journey Across Canada we did in Winter.
Road trip from Toronto to Kelowna
We left Toronto, and we had to go across 5 provinces: Ontario (where we started), Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia (where we were going to).
I was posting lots of Instagram Stories that I turned to a Highlight that you can watch on both 100 New Things To Try & on my private Instagram profile (at Domi Hanc). So check them out if you are into some humiliating pics & breathtaking views! And there are way more pictures at the end of the post, so make sure to scroll down!
Okay, let's get into details, now!
Planning a Road Trip
Don't expect a detailed, hour-by-hour itinerary. I don't make rigid travel plans. I don't know about you, but I want to have the flexibility and be able to "check what's behind the corner" whenever I feel like it. If that's what you're into as well, keep reading!
So this is what works really well for all of our road trips in terms of planning: I usually just map it out in Google Maps, and I throw together a rough plan in Google Sheets. The idea is to see how many days we need, is there anything that we need to book in advance, and what are the absolute must-see landmarks, so we don't miss anything major. Also, because we don't eat meat nor dairy, I usually search for vegan restaurants on the way so that we know our options when it comes to grabbing something to eat. I add it all up to one Sheets file (I throw in links if necessary but not to the major stuff in case I can't access internet while on the road) and save it on our shared Google Drive (so Michal can access it too in case he wants to or my phone dies on the way). Just before the trip, I download it too, just in case I need to access it when there's no wifi or LTE.
In the case of this trip, the distance between the major cities is pretty equal and perfect for one day drive. As we traveled during early Spring (last week of April) and we were moving to our new home (meaning, fully packed car), we decided to sleep in hotels. Taking all that into consideration, this was our day-by-day travel plan:
toronto to kelowna travel plan
What Should I Take for a Road Trip Across Canada
Here's the thing: our road trip was not entirely for pleasure. We were moving to Kelowna, and the road trip is a side effect of that. So I get that you may not be moving. But most of the things we did apply either way. So keep reading!
What to See when driving from Ontario to British Columbia
Because it's a long drive, it's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip for many. So you don't want to miss anything, right? Yeah, I get it. So here's the list of the main landmarks along the way.
Places to Visit on a Road Trip Across Canada
Sault Ste. Marie
Luckily for us, we already traveled from Toronto to Thunder Bay (the first two days of this road trip) before. So we knew we could just drive through Ontario pretty quickly this time. Otherwise, I would plan for more days.
So the first day we only stopped in Sault Ste. Marie for a night.
But we went for a road trip over there 2 years ago.
If you are willing to spend one more day there, I recommend that you visit:
- The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre,
- Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site: the two oldest stone buildings in Northern Ontario,
- and walk along the Sault Ste. Marie Canal.
All those places are a cool way to learn a bit more about Canadian history.
Also, depending on when you plan to do this trip, you may want to consider splitting the drive into 2 days and taking a ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island (only May to Oct) or taking a 3-hour-cruise to see 30,000 Islands of Georgian Bay (June to Oct). Both very Instagrammable!
Scenic Drive Around Lake Superior
This part of the road is one of Canada's famous scenic drives. So make sure your phone is charged, your gas tank full, and you are ready for constant awwws and ooohs!
Again, we spent a week on a road trip over there before as there are really a lot of really cool places along Lake Superior.
So this time we only stopped to take pictures at:
- Wawa Goose - yes, it's a large goose, but apparently, it's also one of the most photographed landmarks. It's just by the road, so stop & snap a pic, or it didn't happen.
- Winnie-the-Pooh statue in White River - another chance for a selfie as it's where the real bear cub that inspired A. A. Milne was from. It's a 5 min stop so you may as well do it.
- Highway Lookouts - keep an eye out for them as some of them are really worth stopping to snap a picture.
- Terry Fox Monument - it's not only a heritage site with a statue honoring one of Canada’s most beloved heroes, but also it's overlooking Lake Superior. There's also a nice picnic area right there.
If you're not in a hurry, here are the highlights that are more time consuming, but totally worth visiting along the way:
- Agawa Rock Pictographs trail - this one is a bit extreme for my taste but totally worth it. It leads to one of the few pictograph sites in Ontario accessible by foot. Mind you, it's accessible only when the weather is good, and the lake is calm. It's a short trail, but part of it you have to walk on a tiny path along the slippery rock holding a rope so you won't fall into the lake. So here's where we learned what "accessible" means in Canadian 🙂 But once you're done with it, the sense of accomplishment is enormous! (This stop will add about 1 hour to the trip)
- Sleeping Giant Provincial Park’s Thunder Bay Lookout. It's a bit of a detour - 1-hour drive from the highway. But you can combine it with camping at the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park which is amazing (campsites by the water kind of amazing). The lookout is great as long as you're not afraid of the hight. Why? Because it's a cantilevered platform extending from the cliff edge situated almost 140 meters above the water. The views are stunning, though.
- Fort William Historical Park: if you want to understand Canada history, all the things about trading posts & fur trade - this is a place to be! It's super cool. Make sure you catch a guided tour as this place is huge (over 250 acres). And you need a couple of hours to spend there.
- Kakabeka Falls - they're called the ‘Niagara of the North’ and are pretty awesome. If you skip the hike, you can snap a few pictures from both sides of the falls and be back in the car within 1 hour.
- Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park - an easy 1.8 km loop trail with panoramic views of the canyon. The views are really great, but you'll need at least 1 hour to do it.
The third day was all about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. I've heard a lot of good things about it. So we woke up really early and just drove straight from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
We only stopped to snap a picture at the CST time zone change board (still in Ontario) - because you've got to celebrate gaining one hour to your day! (tip: keep your eye out for it as it's on the left side of the road when driving West). And then at the Manitoba border some 6 hours later. Fun fact: it took us 2 full days just to leave one province because Ontario is huge, and you need to go around the great lakes.
Other than that, we only took quick washroom and lunch breaks as we wanted to have as much time as possible in the museum.
We've arrived in Winnipeg around 2 PM, quickly checked into the hotel and went straight to the museum. And it didn't disappoint. It really is a must see! Mind you, it's emotionally intense. They even have a place called Garden of Contemplation where you can stop and process it all. But it is good! It makes you think about what being a human really means. It shows you how new we are to the whole human rights idea and how many mistakes we've made on the way. It is a humbling experience. And the building itself is a masterpiece complementing the exhibitions really well. So I totally recommend spending at least a couple of hours there.
Then we went to the Forks Market (which is just next to the museum) to grab a bite. And it's an excellent place to see how vibrant Winnipeg is. It's a farmer's market style shopping & dining hall with a lot of food & beer options for everyone. Really cool! So make sure to check it out.
Besides that, we only walked back to our hotel, passing numerous loft-style heritage buildings that give the city a distinctive look and feel.
On the fourth day, we braved the Canadian Prairies. This is the part of the road that most people hate because the land is flat as a pancake and there's not much to see according to many. On the other hand, people praise the Big Skies of Canadian Prairies. So we were kind of excited to see how it's really like.
Here's the thing: there are two ways you can take your trip from Winnipeg:
- Yellowhead Highway from Winnipeg to Saskatoon, and then west to Edmonton or Calgary (it's said to be a bit more scenic, but also a lower quality road)
- or continue on Highway 1 to Regina, and then to Calgary (the fastest).
So we considered taking the more scenic route through Saskatoon, but the weather was really unpredictable. There was snow in Calgary, flurries in Winnipeg, and we didn't want to get stuck somewhere on the way. So we just chose the fastest route. This meant it was one of the shortest drives of the whole trip - not even 600 km.
We obviously stopped at the Saskatchewan border to take a picture. But other than that we just drove straight to Regina.
And honestly, it wasn't boring at all. There may not be much to see, but that's the whole point of nothing blocking the views. We really enjoyed Saskatchewan Skies. It felt like being inside of a huge snow globe.
We also gained 1 more hour by crossing time zones. Yay!
When we arrived in Regina, we finally felt how tired we were. So we just drove around town, grabbed a vegan burger in one of the restaurants, checked in to the hotel, and fell asleep. What is life without adventure, right?
Day five had a few fun stops along the way.
We stopped at Moose Jaw to take a picture with the giant moose sculpture. Obvi! Then at the Alberta border. And then in Medicine Hat to see the world's largest tepee. All of those were 5 - 10 minutes stops that make the 8-hour driving a bit more interesting. The rest of the time, we enjoyed the Big Sky of the Canadian Prairies.
We reached Calgary in the early afternoon and changed out road-trip-mode to moving-places-mode. Which meant that instead of visiting the city, we visited the last IKEA we had on our way before reaching our new home town. Well, honestly, we just knew we would be visiting Calgary soon as we move to this part of Canada permanently. And we really needed that mattress 🙂 So don't judge!
On the last day, we started driving at 6 AM, as we needed to pick up the keys to our new place. And we were actually glad we did have a head start because it was the prettiest, but also the trickiest part of the trip.
It was May, 1st and there was snow, -4C /24F, and we passed 2 trucks that slipped off the road. So make sure you have the winter driving skills when you decide to take that road.
But I have to admit that the views are breathtaking!
We stopped for a few minutes in Banff, which is the cutest little town you've ever seen. We tried to drive up to Lake Louise, but there was too much snow to risk it, so we turned back. We need to visit it in the summer time for sure. If it's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip for you, make sure to reserve more time for Banff National Park and seeing the beautiful lakes it's famous for.
We took a picture with the last province border crossing to British Columbia.
And a few hundred km later we felt like we crossed season borders too because it was 20C sunny spring weather in the Okanagan Region. And this reminded us why we wanted to move to Kelowna in the first place!
What You Need To Know When Going on a Road Trip across Canada
If you are considering driving across Canada, you may have a lot of questions. So I gathered all of the questions I got on my Instagram Stories - thank you all my Instagram Friends! And here are the answers!
When is the best time to go on the cross-Canada road trip?
We traveled in early Spring, but I would not recommend going that early if you don't have to.
The high season in Canada starts on Canada Day weekend (July 1st) and ends on Labour Day weekend (the first Monday of September). During this time, all of the attractions are open, and the weather is usually the hottest. But it also means crowds. So if you want to avoid that, travel in the "shoulder season" starting on Victoria Day (last Monday before May 25th) or just after the Labour Day weekend in September when kids are already in school, but the weather is still really nice.
We made the Lake Superior trip in mid-June 2017, and it was quite alright. Not many people, nice weather, but also some of the campgrounds were still partially closed for the season, so you had to navigate buying the wood and the pay & display systems. But mosquito-wise, it gets better in the Fall.
Also, if you plan to travel in Spring or Fall, check if you don't need winter tires. They are required by law on some of the roads (for example you need them while driving Highway 1 through The Rockies between Oct 1st and April 30).
How many days & hours a day you had to drive?
My husband loves driving, and we don't mind long hours in the car. Our trip from Toronto to Kelowna was 4057 km, and it took us 6 days. We drove 700 km / 7-8 hrs a day on average.
It may take longer if you really want to explore the cities along the way or drive less hours a day.
However, we already know that we have to go back to Calgary and Winnipeg as we only had a few hours in each of them.
Where did you stop? Did you book your stays in advance?
So here's the thing: because we were moving out to Kelowna, we traveled with lots of our stuff in the car and also during early Spring. This made us decide to stay in hotels with reliable parking lots.
We also planned our stays around big cities, and that is what I researched other people who didn't camp were doing as well. Well, simply there are not many good accommodation options in the remote areas.
So we were usually booking online with hotels.com. The same day, either in the morning just before leaving our previous hotel, or sometime midday on our phones. But again, we were traveling in early Spring, and it may be different in high season, so to make sure you're good, check hotel's availability in advance.
If you want to stay at the campgrounds, you can book online (which I recommend doing way in advance during Summer & long weekends). Canadians love camping, and if you want to get some really good spots, you sometimes have to book even 6 months in advance. Seriously! Been there, done that. Also, remember that Canada has National Parks Campgrounds, Provincial Park Campgrounds, and various private and regional ones. And the reservation services are not consolidated, you need to book through a website specific to a particular park. All National Park Campgrounds can be reserved on Parks Canada website while provincial parks can be reserved through these websites: Ontario Parks, Manitoba Parks Reservation Service, Saskatchewan Provincial Parks, Alberta Parks, BC Parks.
How much does it cost to travel across Canada?
Our whole trip from Toronto to Kelowna added up to around CAD 1700.
The biggest costs are hotels and gas (over 80% of that amount). But it can be lower with Airbnb or when it's warm enough to stay at campgrounds. You can probably save a bit on gas if you drive a smaller car (we were driving an SUV).
This amount can quickly go up if you want to travel even further West (to Vancouver, Nanaimo, or Whistler) or add Eastern parts of Canada to your trip (Quebec, Prince Edward Island or Halifax). You need to remember that Canada is a pretty huge country, like 6000 km huge! So you may not want to do it all at once.
We didn't really spend money on any touristy attractions this time except for The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Two tickets with the special exhibition about Nelson Mandela cost CAD 42. But you may want to think about other attractions along the way as well (like all the ferries, museums, or Banff National Park Pass).
What are the absolute must-see when driving from Ontario to British Columbia?
- Canadian Museum for Human Rights: emotionally intense but really really worth the visit.
- Banff: it's a cute little town located in one of the prettiest National Parks in Canada. I mean you can see the peaks of Canadian Rockies while grabbing your latte. I don't know a person who wouldn't love that!
- Drive along Lake Superior: It's just constant "oohs" and "awwws!" Seriously! Just don't forget to fill up your gas.
How to escape the cold?
Travel in the summer months! Contrary to popular belief, Canada really gets hot in the summer. But even if you decide to travel in Winter, coffee in Tim Horton's is always super hot to keep you nice and warm.
Was it worth it?
Of course! No doubt about that! I mean look at the pics we brought back. I added a few more below.
Is there anything I would do differently? For sure. It was a long drive, and we were tired for the last two days. If I were doing it again (and totally for pleasure), I would plan more time in Winnipeg and Calgary. And if you haven't been to Northern Ontario, add at least 2-3 more days to see all those beautiful places along Lake Superior.
Do you want to know anything else? Let me know! I want to make this blog post as practical as possible.