If you're long-hauling it across Canada, you're probably spending some (or most) of your journey on a variant of the Trans-Canada Highway. While it ultimately connects the Great White North's east and west coasts. Not even the mountains or the ocean can conquer the Trans-Canada Highway; it soldiers its way through some rugged (and gorgeous) landscapes... and even connects to the island of Newfoundland via a ferry! The eastern provinces of the route are some of the most road-trippable, with provincial and national parks, big cities, small towns, and all kinds of roadside fun along the way!
Royal Canadian Mint
Money talks, especially at the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg. This shiny new, state-of-the-art facility is where every. single. last. Canadian circulation coin is minted here. That's billions of coins being cranked out each year! Take a guided tour to learn how their high-speed, high-volume operation works to produce 1,000 coins per second. There's also a boutique in the Mint where you can pick up some unique gifts and collector's coins to commemorate your trip.
Whiteshell Provincial Park
Whiteshell Provincial Park is filled with things to see and do. The lakes and rivers and boreal forests and granite ridges make for a perfect setting to hike, camp, or canoe. It's also home to archaeological features known as petroforms, or boulder outlines. In addition to countless opportunities for outdoor recreation, you'll find lots of educational resources within the park as well. The Whiteshell Natural History Museum is free and offers displays dedicated to the ecosystems and wildlife of the park; the Whiteshell Trappers Museum in the Alfred Hole Goose Sanctuary is dedicated to the history of fur trapping in the area; the West Hawk Lake Museum teaches about the geology in the West Hawk Lake area, from the gold that was mined to the meteorite that formed the lake; and the Whiteshell Fish Hatchery Interpretive Centre allows visitors to learn about the raising of lake sturgeon, trout, and walleye.
Sandbar Lake Provincial Park
If you're looking to hop out of the car and stretch your legs a bit, throw on a swimsuit and head to Sandbar Lake Provincial Park. The glacially-sculpted landscape features a sandy beach and forests, with boulders strewn about. It's also a nice, quiet place to camp for the night or take a quick hike. Sandbar Lake also offers opportunities for more advanced canoers to paddle challenging water trails. The best part of this park? The sunsets over the water; they're utterly stunning.
Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
Welcome to the Niagara of the North! This 40-foot, glacier-carved cascade is an absolute must-see when in the Thunder Bay area. It's also the site of a pretty spooky ghost story, the Legend of Princess Green Mantle. According to the tale, Princess Green Mantle was the daughter of Ojibwe chief whose tribe was about to be attacked by a band of Sioux. Green Mantle hatched a plan to protect her tribe; she paddled out to the river near the Sioux and pretended to be lost. When they took her captive, she promised to lead them to her father... but instead, she led the Sioux over the waterfall to their (and her) deaths. To this day, some people claim to see the figure of Green Mantle appear in the mist of the falls.
Terry Fox Monument
The Terry Fox Monument is an important stop for anyone looking to drive Canada coast to coast. Terry Fox was an accomplished high school and college athlete in British Columbia when he lost a leg to cancer. He continued to compete, winning wheelchair basketball championships and running with a prosthetic leg. His most famous feat was a planned run from Canada's east coast to its west coast, which he called the Marathon of Hope. He was running the equivalent of a marathon per day when he was forced to end his run outside Thunder Bay; cancer had spread to his lungs. He died shortly after, unable to complete his run, but a national hero nonetheless. The Terry Fox Monument stands near the spot where he was forced to stop; the memorial park and statue pay tribute to the man and his mission.
Pukaskwa National Park
You'll find the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes at Pukaskwa National Park, and if that doesn't get you excited to visit, I don't know what will! It's an ideal setting for fans of exploring the backcountry, but if you're looking for a quick way to experience the park, Parks Canada suggests the Bimose Kinoomagewnan Trail, and the South Headlands Trail is another favourite for a short stroll. Hattie Cove is a great destination for anyone who wants to paddle the lake; it's sheltered from a lot of the strong winds.
Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre
While you're in Sault Ste. Marie, stop by the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. Here, you'll learn about a little-known but super interesting facet of Canadian aviation history: bush planes. Mostly used to fight fires by water-bombing from above, this distinctly Canadian phenomenon is highlighted at the unique museum. They display Canada’s largest bush plane collection, and even have interactive displays and exhibits that let you get right up close and personal with bush plane aviation history!
Mo' money, mo' problems, right? The Big Nickel is a classic roadside stop. Specifically, it's a 1951 Canadian nickel, and it's located on the Dynamic Earth science museum grounds. The result of tireless work by a local fireman named Ted Szilva (his idea for the town of Sudbury to celebrate Canada's 100th birthday with a giant nickel was originally rejected by Sudbury, but he worked to make it happen on his own), it was dedicated in 1964 in front of a massive crowd. In a way, it's not only a memorial to honour the town's nickel-mining heritage... it's also a tribute to the indomitable Canadian spirit.
Grundy Lake Provincial Park
While the shores of Grundy Lake at Grundy Lake Provincial Park are rocky, it's still a great place for a swim. Fish in the waters, jump off the rocky cliffs, hike the trails, pick wild blueberries to snack on, check out the waterfalls, go for a ride on the slide rock... there are plenty of ways to experience the park. It's also home to a nice little campsite that's often rather uncrowded. Pro tip: If you do plan on going for a swim, keep in mind that the lake is rocky, and water shoes might be a good idea.
Georgian Bay Islands National Park
The world's largest freshwater archipelago lies within the borders of Georgian Bay Islands National Park; it's where the "islands" part of its name comes from! You'll have to book a boat ride to reach the islands (or take your own boat), but it's absolutely worth it, even for a day. The DayTripper water taxi package from Honey Harbour to Chimney Bay is the perfect taste of what these islands have to offer and should get you to an island and back, with a few hours to explore in between. If you plan to stay the night, you've got a variety of options, from backcountry camping to tent sites to rental cabins. The Cedar Spring Campground has a fun, party atmosphere, while the Christian Beach cabins are the paragon of solitude.
Home of Lucy Maud Montgomery
If you ever read any of the Anne of Green Gables books as a kid (or as a teen or adult, we don't judge!) then this is for you! Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote most of her works, including her tales about Anne along with hundreds of other short stories and poems while living at this site. While the home isn't the original home she lived in with her grandparents, many artifacts from her time living here (from the original mantel to pictures) remain. Plus, the experience of walking the paths that Lucy Maud Montgomery once walked, while she contemplated the plot of her next story, is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for fans of literary history.
Canadian Canoe Museum
Canoes have played a major role in the history of North America, from the indigenous peoples who used them to explorer Samuel de Champlain, who canoed as far as the Georgian Bay all the way back in 1615. The Canadian Canoe Museum pays tribute to the important, yet often-forgotten transportation vessel. With more than 100 canoes on display and loads of interactive displays, you'll leave with a wealth of knowledge about everything canoe-related and adjacent. Hopefully, since there's so much awesome canoeing and kayaking in Canada, you'll get a chance to rent a boat and put your new-found knowledge to good use!
O'Hara Sugar Maples
Canada and maple syrup go together like peas and carrots, so it'd be foolish to not stop by a sugar house while on your trip (especially if it's syrup season, which usually occurs between February and April). A visit here will offer a tour of their state-of-the-art operation... and probably some syrup and maple butter tastings as well. Stock up on maple candy (one of the more perfect road trip snacks) while you're here as well!
Welcome to Canada's worst-kept Cold War secret! Hiding the construction of a 100,000 square foot underground bunker seems pretty impossible, but that didn't stop the Canadian government from at least trying to keep their massive Cold War subterranean stations under wraps. But, since being decommissioned, the government has opened up the largest one for tours-- and despite the fact that they didn't do a great job of keeping it on the down low, it's a pretty impressive marvel of engineering. The structure, affectionately known as the Diefenbunker (officially called the Canadian Forces Station Carp, or CFS Carp) was commissioned in 1959, at the height of Cold War tension, by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (hence the name, coined by a clever journalist who uncovered the top-secret project). The 4 story, 300+ room station was to house the Canadian government in case of a nuclear attack-- the location just outside Ottawa was ideal for this. The structure was capable of withstanding a nuclear blast up to 5 megatons from a mile away, with massive blast doors and a crazy air filter system to prevent radiation from finding its way inside. There were enough supplies to last up to 535 high-level government employees a whole month without any assistance from the outside world, which they likely assumed would be a nuclear wasteland. The Carp Diefenbunker was the largest of a few such underground bunkers built across the country. The structure, which was built under the code name Project Emergency Army Signals Establishment (EASE), used 32,000 tons of concrete and 5,000 tons of steel. Among the numerous rooms in the bunker were an emergency broadcast studio, a hospital, a vault for the Canadian National Bank's gold reserves, and a special suite for the Prime Minister. The site was completed by 1961 and operated continuously until 1994 when the threat of an intercontinental ballistic missile striking Canada was not really a huge thing anymore. People started asking for tours of the bunker, because of government secrets, and it quickly grew into a popular attraction. By 1997 it had evolved into a full-on museum, complete with exhibits on Cold War history. Many of the rooms have been refurbished to look as they did in the 60's, although most of the authentic stuff was cleared out when it was decommissioned in the 90's.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
You don't have to be religious to have a spiritual experience at the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. The 1829 church is so opulently decorated that it's almost brain-bending. The vaults are a rich blue adorned with gold stars, hundreds of intricate wood carvings are woven into the sanctuary, and the stained glass windows depict scenes from Montreal's religious history in a riot of colour. It also is home to one insane pipe organ. The Casavant Frères pipe organ is from 1891 and features four keyboards, 92 electro-pneumatic stops, 7000 individual pipes and a pedal board. Definitely take a moment to peel your eyeballs off the altar and turn around to admire the organ!
Musee de la Civilisation
The Musee de la Civilisation takes on the Herculean task of interpreting the human experience through various lenses. From the great cities of the world and fascinating ancient civilizations to significant sociocultural movements and the heart of Quebec society, the exhibits here are as thought-provoking as they are inventive. It's sort of an art museum, sort of a history museum, and all worth a stop while you're in Quebec City. By the way, it's quite fitting that the Musee de la Civilisation is located in one of North America's oldest settlements!
New Brunswick Botanical Garden
The New Brunswick Botanical Garden has the distinction of being the largest arboretum east of Montreal. It backs up to the Madawaska River, which creates a picture-perfect setting for a garden, and there are some 80,000 plants to encounter as you visit. Learn to unlock the secrets of botanicals at the herbal garden, grab a snack at the cafe, or have an existential crisis at the Khronos Garden, which features a cosmic egg, a circle of monolith stones, and a mirror of time, among other things. Just trust us, it's worth checking out. Pro tip: There's also an antique car museum here as well!
World's Largest Axe
Is it even a real road trip if you don't stop by the world's largest something? The World's Largest Axe is in Nackawic, the Forestry Capital of Canada, so it's fitting that they have constructed a very, very, very large axe. It's 15 metres (49 ft) tall and the head alone features seven TONS of steel. It's all located in a lovely little park, and the town itself is loaded with hidden gem diners and ice cream shops to find, so save some time to explore after you snap your photos of the axe.
Queens County Court House Museum
Keep the small Canadian town vibes going with a quick stop at the Queens County Court House Museum. It's one of New Brunswick's oldest surviving courthouses, having been built in 1836. All manner of crimes, ranging from arson and murder to using profanity in a public place and cow theft have been heard here during the court house's time. Today, though it no longer serves as a courthouse, it is the crown jewel of the Queens County Historical Society and is the hub for tours, historical reenactments and more. When you visit, you'll even have the chance to sit in the judge's seat and the prisoner's box!
Maritime Motorsport Hall Of Fame Inc
You don't have to be a racing fan to appreciate the displays at the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame. Their exhibits include race cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, antiques, hot rods, the hall of fame itself, and loads more. The hall of fame commemorates important figures in stock car, snowmobile, kart, drag car, truck and motorcycle racing and restoration. If you're not into the world of racing, it's a great overview of what makes motorsports so fun and exciting!
As a main east-west route through Canada, the road is taken care of during the winter, and though the more challenging portions of the route are in the western provinces, one should still exercise caution when driving the Trans-Canada Highway in the winter. Pack chains and supplies just in case. Plan for the ferry to be down to only one route, and for some attractions to be closed. Many parks, however, can be enjoyed in the winter, and are particularly fun to visit when covered in snow!
Banner Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Kavanagh
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