The most beautiful weekend road trips in Canada

Hit the road When it comes to road-tripping, there’s a lot of ground to cover…



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The 331-mile (533km) route from the capital of Yukon to the heart of Gold Rush country is appropriately known as the Klondike Highway. At about six hours each way it’s admittedly a bit of a long haul for a weekend trip, but the biggest part of the draw is the journey itself, leading drivers through quiet stretches of rugged wilderness and past old mining towns.



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Dawson City is worth visiting as the center of the historic Klondike gold rush. Full of museums, historic cemeteries, hiking trails, outdoor adventure, and opportunities to pan for gold, it’s one of Yukon’s key destinations. Located about halfway between the southern edge of Yukon and the Arctic Ocean, just east of the Yukon/Alaska border, Dawson is also an excellent place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.



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While it’s only 129 miles (207km), this east-to-west drive along the Pacific Rim Highway that cuts across the center of Vancouver Island, takes about three hours to complete due to the windy nature of the road. Even then, travelers may want to give themselves even more time to visit the sandy beaches of Parksville, the fishing town of Port Alberni, and the lush forests and waterfalls found along the way.



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Even though it’s on the same island, the rainforest-laden west coast of Vancouver Island feels like a different world, with the ferocious Pacific Ocean attracting surfers and “storm-watchers” who travel out specifically to watch the waves crash in. Both Tofino and Ucluelet to its south are laid-back communities, full of cool restaurants, shops, breweries and relaxing places to stay.



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Fraser Valley communities like Abbotsford and Langley are often seen as little more than bedroom communities that serve the big city, but it’s worth making the relatively short drive to spend some quality time in these laid-back towns. Abbotsford is about 44 miles (71km) from Vancouver, but its charming downtown area and locally-owned restaurants, breweries and shops feel like a real escape.



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Whistler itself is a world-famous tourist destination beloved by winter sports enthusiasts, but there are other points of interest in between Vancouver and the mountain resort town. The area around Squamish is full of opportunities for mountain biking and other outdoor adventures and the Sea-to-Sky gondola is a great way to get a bird’s-eye-view of Howe Sound.



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The city of Kelowna is generally considered to be the Okanagan Valley’s main hub, but there is so much more to see in British Columbia’s wine country. The Okanagan Highway runs alongside the long and narrow Lake Okanagan, continuing on past Skaha Lake towards Osoyoos Lake, passing through communities like Oliver, Penticton, and Summerland. Osoyoos, famously one of the warmest towns in Canada climate-wise, is popular resort destination itself.



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Banff is already a nice weekend road trip from the much larger city of Calgary, but one of the most dramatic drives in all of Canada is the 145-mile (233km) journey along the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise (which is a short drive west of Banff) to the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park. Drivers can stop at viewpoints to see the turquoise waters of Bow Lake and Peyto Lake and are likely to also spot bighorn sheep and other wildlife near the road.



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While Bar U Ranch is a worthy destination, the real treat is the drive along the southern leg of the Alberta Provincial Highway 22, otherwise known as The Cowboy Trail. The picturesque road rolls through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, past towns like Millarville, Bragg Creek and Turner Valley. Each stop is filled with authentic cowboy culture, as well as unique places to eat, shop and visit.



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Drumheller is actually closer to Calgary than it is to Edmonton, but the three-hour drive from Alberta’s capital city gives visitors a better excuse to stay the night and spend a couple of days exploring the province’s otherworldly badlands. The striated hills around the Red Deer River valley and unbelievable hoodoo rock formations make for some truly unique hiking experiences throughout the area.



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It’s easy to get just about anywhere by road in the southern part of Canada, but building roads in the Arctic is tricky business. Getting from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean previously was only possible by plane or a winter-only ice road, but in 2017 the 86-mile (138 km) Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway opened, allowing visitors to drive directly to the Inuvialuit hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk. The road is rugged and somewhat difficult to drive, but it is the first Canadian all-weather road to the Arctic Ocean.



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Once in Tuktoyaktuk (or “Tuk” as locals call it), visitors will find a small but friendly community of people who still routinely conduct whale and caribou hunts. The land is cold, but also beautiful, with large ice-cored hills called pingos cropping up in the frigid ocean near the shore. There aren’t many hotels or restaurants in Tuktoyaktuk, so visitors tend to head back to Inuvik after exploring the town and dipping their toes in the Arctic Ocean.



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Even as Saskatchewan’s fourth-largest city Moose Jaw itself is fairly small, but it’s full of friendly Moose Javians, classic prairie architecture, parks and trails, and a series of signature murals. The city also has a series of underground tunnels that were used by Chinese railway workers fleeing persecution and bootleggers running rum during Prohibition. Finally, no visit to Moose Jaw is complete without a glimpse of Mac, who remains the world’s largest moose sculpture.



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While Saskatchewan roads have a reputation for being flat and boring, the province is actually a pleasure to drive through, thanks to the serenity of the endless acres of farmland and bright yellow canola fields. Road trippers will get a pretty drive no matter which direction they head out in from Saskatoon, but the 191-mile (308 km) drive to the Great Sand Hills is particularly worthwhile.



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Situated in the middle of the prairie near the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, the Great Sand Hills are a series of golden sand dunes that look like they should be in the middle of a great desert. The dunes are constantly moving and the area is also a popular spot for bird watching. Those looking to make a weekend trip out of it can stay in nearby Leader, a small and charming prairie town.



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Manitoba is known for its beautiful lake country and the beach community of Gimli is one of the province’s most popular summertime recreation destinations. Gimli sits on the southern tip of Lake Manitoba and is an easy 56-mile (90km) drive from Winnipeg, the province’s capital and largest city.



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Gimli Harbour is home to a busy marina that serves recreational boats as well as fishing vessels, which both make up an important part of the area’s economy. Gimli is also known for its robust Icelandic heritage, culminating each year in an Icelandic Festival. That Icelandic culture is also represented by the Giant Viking, a 15-foot (4.6M) fiberglass statue that has stood in Gimli since 1967.



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The Niagara region is almost directly across Lake Ontario from Canada’s largest city, but it takes about an hour and a half to make the 80-mile (130km) drive along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). Niagara Falls is the most obvious highlight of the destination, but after taking a look at the majesty of Horseshoe Falls, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy a weekend in the Niagara area.



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Niagara-on-the-Lake is just north of Niagara Falls and is considered to be the official headquarters of Ontario wine country. The historic town is a perfect picture of charm, with plenty of unique shops, quaint inns, renowned restaurants and well-kept gardens. There are also about 40 wineries in the area, many of which are open to visitors who tour by bike or guided bus tour.



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The town of Huntsville is the largest municipality in the Muskoka but most visitors just drive up to the region to experience the quiet of nature. While gazing at the peacefulness of the water from an Adirondack chair or going for a calming paddle in a canoe is enough for most city-dwellers, those who crave a little bit of human interaction can seek out some of the many places in the area to golf, hike, indulge in spa treatments, or go out for a gourmet meal.



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The drive northward from the southern tip of Ontario between Lakes Huron and Erie takes drivers from the American border to one of Canada’s most culturally significant small cities. It’s technically a shorter drive to take the Ontario 401 highway through London (or to go across the US border and through Detroit when open), but it’s worth adding an extra 45 minutes to take the scenic route via Lambton Shores on Lake Huron.



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While city dwellers in southern Ontario flock to the areas around the Great Lakes for weekend downtime, many people from Ottawa head to Lanark County for their weekend downtime. The County’s best-known municipal center is the town of Perth, located just an hour southwest of Ottawa. Originally settled in 1815, Perth is a small town, but one that’s chock full of history.



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Today Perth is an enchanting town full of stone buildings, many of which sit on the pretty Tay River. The area is also beloved by outdoor enthusiasts, with the Rideau Trail, a 240-mile (387km) hiking trail network running right through the center of town. Visitors can also canoe, hike, bike or camp at the nearby Murphy’s Point Provincial Park.



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The drive from Montreal to the tip of the Gaspé peninsula is considered one of the best road trips in Canada, but at nine and a half hours either way it’s a bit long for a weekend sojourn. For a shorter trip, it’s a good idea to head in the same direction to the Centre-du-Québec region, an agricultural area south of the St. Lawrence River that’s known as the breadbasket of Quebec.



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Visitors will find centers like Drummondville and Victoriaville in the area, but it’s the smaller rural towns that make this trip truly special. It’s easy to find local cheese-makers (like the award-winning Fromagerie du Presbytère, located in a repurposed church) cideries, cranberry bogs, sugar shacks and breweries scattered throughout the countryside, for a literal taste of traditional Quebec culture.



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The two-hour drive from Quebec City to La Mauricie National Park takes drivers down a scenic route along the northern bank of the magnificent St. Lawrence River. The park is one of Canada’s most beautiful, full of lakes and waterfalls and thick forests that are at their most stunning when the leaves change to brilliant colors of orange-red in the fall months.



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The city of St. John is actually right on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, so this weekend road trip is about exploring the Bay itself. The Bay is famous for having the highest tides on Earth, reaching to about 52 feet (16m), far beyond the global average. The Bay touches both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and can be accessed by either province.



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The New Brunswick side of the Bay can be easily accessed from St. Martins, a 40-minute drive from St. John. From there, visitors can explore sea caves (at low tide) or go for a kayak. St. Andrews is also a good stop, with opportunities for whale-watching and seaside golfing. The famous Hopewell Rocks are also only a two-hour drive north from St. John.



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As Canada’s smallest province it’s relatively easy to drive from one end of Prince Edward Island to the other, but taking a loop around the central part of the island will arguably give drivers the most bang for their buck. The 157-mile (253km) Central Coastal Drive route takes travelers through the northern Green Gables Shore and the southern Red Sands Shore, hitting many of PEI’s most popular attractions.



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Cape Breton Island, a large island off the north coast of Nova Scotia, has a special place in Canadian culture, largely because of the traditional fiddle music that’s so tied to the island’s way of life. There’s no better way to see the island’s culture and stunning natural beauty than to take a drive along the Cabot Trail, a 185-mile (298km) loop that circles the northwestern part of the island.



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The Cabot Trail is a spectacularly scenic drive that takes visitors through Cape Breton Highlands National Park and along the island’s dramatic coastline. The park offers plenty of opportunities to hike, but it’s just as nice to stay in the car and spot the lighthouses, coves and cliffs along the way. The Cabot Trail also attracts art lovers, with a number of small galleries and artist studios on the route.



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Newfoundland’s Viking Trail is a 327-mile (526km) route that starts at Deer Lake and stretches northwards up the west coast of the island into Gros Morne National Park. One of Canada’s most spectacularly rugged national parks, Gros Morne is renowned for its fjords, fossil-rich hills and unique geological formations like the Tablelands, which are favored by hikers looking to explore the forces of continental drift.



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Newfoundland is an island of finger-like peninsulas, which provides lots of opportunity for fun seaside road trips. The 143-mile (230km) Baccalieu Trail takes drivers up one of the long fingers of the Avalon Peninsula, through some of Newfoundland’s most historic small towns and communities, while offering some breathtaking ocean views.



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Dildo is a popular attraction with people who take photos next to its town sign, but the community was also once a historic whaling port. Explorers on the Baccalieu Trail can also make stops to learn firsthand about the first transatlantic cable that was received in Heart’s Content, the pirate stories of Carbonear, and about Amelia Earhart’s takeoff from the Harbour Grace.



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Heading south from St. John’s, drivers can take a circular loop around the bottom part of the Avalon Peninsula. The 194-mile (312km) Irish Loop leads drivers through prime seabird and whale watching territory, where tours take off from the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve in search of humpback and minke whales. There are also ample hiking trails in the area, for those who would prefer to stop and explore the craggy shoreline by foot.



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