1. Camping Under the Stars
There is no shortage of camping in Canada. You can do it by a lake, up a mountain, in a field, on a beach, in the forest, by a river — you name it, you can probably camp there. While many campsites are affordably priced, there are a number of sites and books dedicated to helping you find a free slice of paradise wherever you are in our great nation. Check out Tracks and Trails for many free camping listings. Tip: if you have to hike in to get there, chances are it’s free or very cheap to stay overnight.
Above: Peyto Lake, AB
2. Hike your heart out
Canadians like to get outside after a long winter, so trails are plentiful in all provinces. The most famous hikes would be The Chief (BC), Garabaldi Lake (BC), The Lake Louise Tea House Challenge or the Plain of Six Glaciers (AB), KIllarney Park (ON), Gaspeise National Park (QC), Fundy Trail (NB), Twillingate (NFLD), the East Coast Trail (NFLD) and the West Coast Trail (BC), among many more. Not all of them are free — though many are. Those that aren’t, the money goes to protecting the park and area.
3. Jump into lake country
Each province and territory has it’s slew of lakes, though Manitoba and Ontario probably take the cake on this one. No matter where you are, there’s likely a lake not too far, and come July and August, they get to great swimming temperatures, if not blatantly warm. There’s long stretches of sandy beaches (Lake Winnipeg, MB), there are steeply cliffed ones great for leaping, if you dare (Manzinaw Lake, ON), super family friendly lakes (Muskoka Lake, ON), bright blue glacier fed lakes, though perpetually chilly (Garabaldi Lake, BC), and everything in between.
Above: Lake Banff, AB
4. Kick back with a bonfire
The perfect end to a perfect day. That is, if you do it safely. Use a proper fire pit or dig deep and ring with rocks, and ensure the fire is completely out before turning in for the night. We’d prefer you didn’t just burn everything down this way, if you don’t mind. Possible cost here would be firewood if you can’t scavenge, and beers. Obviously.
Above: Beachy Cove, NFLD
5. Free pancakes at the Calgary Stampede
A standing tradition whether or not you’ve got a ticket to the real Stampede. You can find the Calgary Stampede Caravan Committee serving up more than 70,000 pancakes at malls around Calgary, from 9am to 11am. Get in line! Then go take in the Calgary Stampede Parade, also free. The stampede itself, not so much.
Above: The Stampede lit up after sundown, Calgary, AB.
6. Take in an outdoor movie
In most major cities across the country, outdoor cinema is taking off. Downtown Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, and many more towns and cities are now hosting them. The cost is free and you should turn up with a blanket and snacks. Don’t expect block busters — mostly cult hits and gems like Jaws, Goonies, or Grease for example. Try social media for the most up-to-date information on showings.
Above: Vancouver, BC
7. Watch Canada Day fireworks
Coming to every Canadian city this July 1st.
Above: The parliament buildings in Ottawa.
8. Join a pride parade
Pride parades are in nearly every major city and offer loud, colourful, and rowdy floats and events during the day and into the night. Turn up early to get a good seat; or better yet, make friends and find your way onto a float!
Above: Toronto, ON
9. Shake it off at Caribbean Carnival
Caribbean Carnival takes place in downtown Toronto and is not just a parade but a celebration of culture include food, music, and dancing. There’s no one parade — there’s actually at least three for different purposes, cultures, and styles. This festival goes on for nearly three weeks.
Above: Toronto, ON
10. Go north and find the lights
You need to go pretty north, and you need to stay up really late, but if you do, you can hopefully witness the Northern Lights. You should research your chances before going but the end of August and early September can be good times (outside of winter).
Above: Fort Nelson, BC
11. Do free outdoor yoga
Three times a week there is free outdoor yoga at Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, among other free yoga events. Just show up, greet the day, and namaste.
Above: Yoga with Vancouver, BC, behind
12. Niagara Falls: always free
If you’re in Ontario, you have to see the Falls at least once. Despite the gawdy downtown (full of Ripley’s museums and tacky tourist stops) the falls are truly impressive. Go early and you may have them nearly to yourself, but even when it’s busy, the deafening roar drowns out distractions.
Above: The falls at sunrise
13. Volunteer at a Music Festival
Can’t afford the steep tickets to any of the major outdoor music festivals? Try signing up to volunteer, and you’ll get at least a day pass in return (or be inside for the big acts). Major or noteworthy summer fests: Live at Squamish, Pemberton Music, Bestival, Osheaga, and Shambhala (just to name a few).
Above: Squamish Music Festival
14. Pilgrimage to Vancouver’s Festival of Lights
Every summer a Firework competition takes place over two weeks in Vancouver, known as the Festival of Lights. Different countries preform and locals gather on beaches with radios tuned in to music meant to go with the show. Starting last year, the best view points will have platforms with seats for sale, but the other nearly two million people will find their way to smaller beaches or bridges (or go up Cypress Mountain for an aerial view) without spending a dime. Arrive super early, don’t go by car, and be prepared to have a long wait for a home. However you get there, and home, don’t worry — it’s worth it.
Above: Vancouver, BC