From far and wide, Canada — our home and native land — is one big beautiful sight to see.
Spanning over 9.9 million square kilometres and occupying about two per cent of the Earth’s surface, the world’s second largest country — which is known for its breathtaking scenery — is abundant with natural wonder and beauty.
From the lush forests of B.C. to the coastlines of Newfoundland & Labrador, every province and territory is a treasure chest of gems just waiting to be explored.
And instead of exploring exotic places overseas or visiting the typical big metropolitan cities, Canadian travellers are choosing to treat themselves to the experiences their own backyard has to offer, says Claire Newell, travel expert with Travel Best Bets.
“Travelling within Canada has been more popular this year than it has been in past years because of Canada 150,” Newell explains. “Why is Canada a good place to visit? There are no currency issues, there’s no language barrier and there’s a whole lot to explore. There’s something for every budget and every type of traveller and any duration of a trip you plan on having.”
According to Newell, the most popular places for Canadians to visit this year is off the beaten path — like national parks and wildlife viewing, cross-country road trips and bucket list destinations that take them to the most remote corners of the country.
“There so many trips that you can do,” Newell says. “This country is so diverse and I think people forget how lucky we are to live here, and how many people come from across the world to do and see things within Canada that we just take for granted.”
But with so much to explore, where do you start? To help you get started, Global News has narrowed down some of the must-see places for Canadians to include on their Canada 150 bucket lists this year.
THE WEST COAST
The main attraction for travellers to the west coast is the wildlife.
“In western Canada, a lot of people — especially millennials — are doing a lot of wildlife adventures,” Newell says. “I see people doing something called ‘Belugas, Bears and Balloons.’ People are also going to see the killer whales.”
Others, she says, are choosing to do hiking trips and/or road trips up and down the coast of B.C., or from the Prairies into B.C.
“Travellers are starting in the Canadian Rockies, for example, and they either take the train or drive to Vancouver,” Newell says. “Another option is that people will land somewhere in maybe Winnipeg or Saskatoon and then follow the Trans-Canada Highway to Vancouver.”
Some of the highlights to visit include the Canadian Rockies, Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park on Vancouver Island and Spotted Lake in the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area in Osoyoos.
THE PRAIRIE PROVINCES
This Canadian region stretches from Alberta to Manitoba — three provinces that have three very different landscapes.
Alberta, for example, shares the Canadian Rockies with B.C. It’s also home to Jasper National Park and Banff National Park, both of which are rich in mountain landscapes, turquoise waters, thick forests and wildlife. They are also the two most visited national parks in the country (with over 3.8 million and 2.2 million visitors in 2015-2016, respectively), according to Parks Canada.
Perhaps the most misunderstood region within Canada is Saskatchewan. Many hold the belief that this prairie province is nothing but flat lands and wheat fields, when it’s much more distinct than that.
Experience the Big Muddy badlands near the town of Coronach — a seemingly endless stretch of land that’s reminiscent of the wild west.
Check out the Great Sandhills Ecological Reserve, in the rural municipality of Abbey where large sand dunes occupy 1,900 sq. km of prairie land.
And did you know Canada has its own Dead Sea? It’s called Little Manitou Lake near the town of Watrous located about 1.5 hours southeast of Saskatoon. According to the town’s tourism website, the lake has a mineral density that’s three times saltier than the ocean, which means you can effortlessly float around without having to worry about sinking to the bottom.
Another province with a few surprises up its sleeve is Manitoba. Besides a having a few national parks like Riding Mountain and Clearwater Lake, travellers can get up close with polar bears and beluga whales in the town of Churchill.
When it comes to natural wonders, perhaps the two most popular ones that come to mind for Ontario is Niagara Falls and Algonquin Provincial Park.
But if you dig a bit deeper, you can find some hidden gems within the province’s borders.
One of them is the Bruce Peninsula, a beach town with picturesque beaches and tropical-like waters located about 225 km north-west of Toronto.
Head up north for a complete change in scenery at the Polar Bear Provincial Park, found on the edge of Hudson’s Bay. Only accessible by air, Ontario’s largest and most northerly park is where you can experience the tundra and sub-arctic conditions, according to Ontario Park. Watch out for wildlife like foxes, caribou and — you guessed it — polar bears.
If Quebec is where you’re headed, Newell suggests visiting the Gaspé Peninsula along the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River.
See the beautiful seaside town raised high up onto tall cliff sides, walk along the beaches and take a dip in the blue-green waters of the river. If you do some hiking, you can also find some tranquil water spots surrounded by rock formations hidden amongst the trees.
Also check out the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve to marvel at the massive limestone outcroppings. The area is also known for its whale and seal watching, as well as puffin sightings, Parks Canada says.
“There’s been a real increase in Canadians travelling to Whitehorse, Yukon,” Newell explains. “People are going to see the Northern Lights, which is really a bucket list-type trip.”
While the Northern Lights can be seen from several different spots within Canada, Yukon is where you’ll get one of the best views — especially during the fall, according to the territory’s tourism website.
The Northwest Territories is another great place to see the Northern Lights. It also has four national parks that often go unexplored: Aulavik (no visitors in 2016), Tuktut Nogait (four visitors in 2016), Nahanni (1,044 visitors in 2016) and Wood Buffalo (3,119 visitors in 2016), Parks Canada reports.
Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest park, and is even bigger than Switzerland. It’s initial purpose was to protect the rare wood bison, but it’s also home to other rare animals like the world’s last surviving whooping cranes, the territory’s tourism website says.
And there’s Nunavut. The territory is another region within Canada with national parks (three to be exact) that see very few visitors. In fact, there were only a 519 visitors to these parks altogether in 2016. Canada’s Arctic, however, is not just a white powdered landscape. It’s a place to see polar bears and other Arctic wildlife, hilly landscapes, rivers that run through cliffs and canyons and more.
THE ATLANTIC REGION
Newfoundland is home to Gros Morne National Park, one of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. According to UNESCO, the park is a rare example of the process of continental drift — where deep ocean crust and rock from the earth’s mantle are exposed.
Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia share the Bay of Fundy, with each side having something to offer.
In New Brunswick, Hopewell Rocks and the Miramichi River are other recommended places to visit.
In Nova Scotia, find a piece of paradise at Carters Beach in Port Mouton.
And last, but certainly not least, is Prince Edward Island and Singing Sands Beach in Basin Head Provincial Park. In 2013, the Singing Sands was named Canada’s best beach by vacay.ca for having the warmest waters north of Florida. The sand here is actually known for the singing-like “squeaking” sound it makes when you walk on it (hence the name).
So travellers, are you feeling inspired yet?
Graphics by Deepak Sharma