Photo: Joanne Chui

Trans-Canada: Greatest Road Trip of Your Life

Canada Travel Insider Guides
by Carlo Alcos Sep 23, 2016

By region

CANADA IS THE BIGGEST COUNTRY in the Americas, and second only to Russia as the biggest country in the world. Across our vast spaces are epic travel possibilities; you can put together the best trip of your life here. This will be even more the case in 2017 with the opening of Great Trail, a nearly 13,000-mile car-free highway. The Great Trail will give hikers, skiers, cyclists, and equestrian riders the ability to traverse Canada on the world’s longest network of recreational trails.

For those wanting to plan major trips across Canada, the following guide breaks down the full coast-to-coast experience into different sections. It took us 80 days and some 18,000 kms (just over 11,000 miles) to drive from southeastern BC to North America’s easternmost point in Newfoundland, and back. We weren’t in a hurry, and took lots of side trips and detours, which is how I recommend doing any road trip in Canada.

Vancouver Island to the Canadian Rockies

You could spend several weeks alone on Vancouver Island exploring cities like Victoria and Nanaimo, surfing or beach-combing in Tofino, and hiking and biking on any number of forested trails and mountains. There’s only one road to Tofino unfortunately so from Victoria you have to go through Nanaimo, which is where you’ll backtrack to take the ferry from to Horseshoe Bay. If you want to spend a bit of extra time there are some cool spots just north of Nanaimo, like Parksville and the Comox Valley.

Once you’re on the island, here are some highlights:

Christie Falls

Photo: Chelsea Bassanese/Shutterstock

Just did this hike to Christie Falls in Ladysmith, south of Nanaimo. You have to walk down a logging road for a while before you get to the trailhead. This set of falls is the first one you come across, then you cross the creek on a log with roof shingles nailed to it. The hike then keeps elevating, at some parts quite steep, but it keeps alongside other falls. At the top you’re surrounded by water running down the hills, very beautiful.

Nanoose Bay

Photo: StandbildCA/Shutterstock

Quiet, beautiful place for easy hikes, nice views, sheltered waters, and pretty okay sunsets.

Strathcona Provincial Park

Photo: Lynn A/Shutterstock

Strathcona is an absolute gem, with epic multi-day hikes and paddle days. This photo in particular was taken on the flower ridge trail; a pretty big day trip starting near the Ralph River campground and either ending in alpine or continuing on for a multi-day experience to a ice field and contious loop bringing you back to a fairly close trail head. The trail is mostly steep, but enjoyable as there are few switchbacks. Be sure to bring trekking poles for the way down (we didn’t… Oops)

Getting back to the mainland from Vancouver Island

I recommend leaving the island from Nanaimo’s Departure Bay and taking the ferry to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. If you’re up for a gorgeous drive on the Sea-to-Sky Highway scoot up to to Whistler and Squamish for more outdoor adventure, quality stays, and excellent food and drink.

There are hikes and biking options for all levels, world-class skiing/snowboarding in the winter, and any other number of outdoor activities like kayaking, windsurfing, and rock climbing.

Or, don’t do any of those things and just relax in spas, restaurants, and shops.

Brandywine meadows

Photo: EB Adventure Travel/Shutterstock

Brandywine meadows and peak in the early fall is an amazing place to be as all the plant life changes colors. In the past the meadows were swampy and hard to hike through but with the new boardwalks it is a lot more accessible. #hiking #camping


Take your time here. Check out the different neighbourhoods like Kitsilano, Commercial Drive, Mt. Pleasant, and downtown. Stroll around Stanley Park and the seawall. Go watch some live music. And, of course, eat and drink!

Vancouver Seawall

Photo: GagliardiPhotography/Shutterstock

A lovely walk around Stanley Park. You’ll pass by beaches, go under the Lions Gate Bridge, and you may even see a sea lion in the water! You can walk, but it’s more fun (and faster) to bike.

Heading east

If you want to be like EVERYONE you’ll head toward the Rocky Mountains via the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH). It’s the most direct, however you’d miss out on a spectacular region of the province called the Kootenays.

As an alternative and the less-traveled road, branch off the TCH at Hope, BC and take the Crowsnest Highway (#3). You’ll go through Manning Provincial Park, resort-like Osoyoos, and up, down, and around mountains. Do not miss Nelson, a storybook mountain town of epic proportions.

Gyro Park

Photo: Stephen Bridger/Shutterstock

This park just below the hospital in Nelson gives a really accessible and awesome #view over the town and east down Kootenay Lake toward the Big Orange Bridge. In the summer the flower gardens are stunning. There’s also a #playground and a large wading pool for the kiddies.

PRO TIP: Deadwood Junction in historic Greenwood is an excellent stop to stretch and get some refreshments. Their cinnamon buns are out of this world.

Into the Rockies

When you’re done with Nelson and area, head up the Slocan Valley and into Nakusp where you can find several options for hot springs, both wild and developed. Feel free to disrobe in the wild ones, no one cares.

St. Leon natural hot springs

You’ll have to ask a local how to get to these wild hotsprings tucked away in the forest. They’re down a logging road then, depending if there’s snow or not, a long or short hike in.

You’ll cross a lake on a free ferry and make your way to Revelstoke, another great outdoorsy town with a ski resort second only to Whistler. Golden is next before you enter Yoho National Park and Banff National Park.

Spend as much time as you can manage admiring the unbelievably coloured turquoise lakes and rivers, the tall jagged peaks, and the wildlife before continuing through to Calgary.

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Photo: EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock

Such a great mountain to ski with some of the best lift accessed terrain in North America. Cheers!

Peyto Lake

Photo: Levi Coreman/Shutterstock

Home of the gatorade factory! Kidding. Glacial silt gives the water this color. A bit past lake louise, this viewpoint is just past the car park. Its a beauty.

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