This is a great time to visit Canada. The Canadian dollar recently was worth about 80 US cents, so everything in Canada is on a 20%-off sale for Americans. And low gas prices mean people who live near the border can economically drive to Canada.
Here, Canada travel expert Robin Esrock identifies great destinations in Canada that many Americans may not be familiar with.
Cold-Weather and Year-Round Ideas
Attend the world’s best winter festival, and stay in an ice hotel. Quebec City’s Carnaval de Québec is arguably the world’s greatest annual cold-weather celebration, the bring-your-long-johns two-week equivalent of Rio’s Mardi Gras. There’s dancing, dining, concerts, parades, sledding, ice sculpture and plenty of other activities. This winter, it runs from January 26 through February 11. (Carnaval.qc.ca)
Also: Visit the Hôtel de Glace, a hotel built out of ice, located just outside Quebec City. You can stay overnight if you like—rooms start at around $200 Canadian*—but a daytime tour can be a more comfortable way to experience this stunning structure. (HotelDeGlace-Canada.com. Tours start at $15.87, $14.13 for seniors and teens, $8.05 for kids five to 11.)
See the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are a truly unforgettable natural wonder. Electrically charged particles high in the atmosphere create massive, moving bands of color in the night sky. This celestial light show is particularly common along the “auroral oval” regions surrounding the earth’s magnetic poles. Yellowknife—the largest city in Canada’s sparsely populated Northwest Territories—sits directly under the northern oval. There’s great fishing and hiking around Yellowknife, too.
Visit a massive underground Cold War bunker. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Canadian government spent millions of dollars building a massive, top-secret, four-story structure hidden beneath the earth. The Diefenbunker, about 20 miles outside Ottawa, was designed to house more than 500 members of the Canadian government for 30 days in the event of nuclear war. Today the bunker is open to the public as a Cold War museum, allowing visitors to explore a network of tunnels, halls, canteens and facilities in their original 1960’s state. (Diefenbunker.ca, open daily 11 am to 4 pm. Admission is $14 for adults, $13 for seniors and $8 for kids six to 18.)
Stay in a restored—and extremely remote—18th-century fishing village. Battle Harbour is on a windswept island off Canada’s Atlantic coast. It’s an incredible spot—killer whales and icebergs are frequent sights—and it’s so far from anything that you truly can imagine that you’ve gone back centuries in time. The small island can be reached via an hour-long ferry trip from Mary’s Harbour. Lodging is available at the Merchant Building and Battle Harbour Inn. The guest rooms are relatively modern, but there are no cell phones, no televisions and very limited Internet access. (BattleHarbour.com. Rooms start at $195 per night.)
Drive the Western world’s most beautiful mountain road. When people visit Banff, it’s usually for the skiing. But the Icefields Parkway, a well-maintained 144-mile stretch of Highway 93 connecting Banff National Park (pictured on page 13) and Jasper National Park, provide postcard-quality vistas. To find better views of soaring snow-capped peaks, you would have to go mountain climbing in the Himalayas. There are pristine mountain lakes along the way, and the two spectacular national parks are perfect for hikers.
Warm-Weather Travel Ideas
Snorkel with the salmon in British Columbia. Each summer, millions of Pacific salmon return to the rivers where they were born to lay their eggs. Floating in the water as they swim past is an unforgettable experience. The waters teem with fish, some impressively large—chinook salmon can weigh more than 50 pounds. Destiny River Adventures’ Snorkel with Salmon tours of Vancouver Island’s Campbell River are a great option. The company supplies the snorkeling equipment (including a wetsuit—these waters are chilly even in summer) and a manned raft so that customers can climb aboard when they want a break from the water. (DestinyRiver.com. Three-hour tours cost $125 per adult and $115 per child and are offered from July 18 through the end of September.)
Float in North America’s own Dead Sea. The Dead Sea, that famous body of water between Israel and Jordan, has such a high salt concentration that bathers float effortlessly in its waters. If you don’t want to travel halfway around the globe, just visit Little Manitou Lake, a serene resort area about 90 minutes southeast of Saskatoon. This lake’s waters are similar to the Dead Sea—and three times saltier than the ocean. Stay at the lakeside Manitou Springs Resort & Mineral Spa. (ManitouSprings.ca. Rooms start at around $130 per night.)
Catch heroically large catfish. Anglers commonly catch catfish more than three feet long in the Red River between Selkirk and Lockport, a half-hour drive from downtown Winnipeg. The fishing is so good that even novice fishermen regularly reel in real monsters. It’s catch-and-release only, though, so don’t expect to eat your catch. For best results, visit between mid-May and end of September and hire an experienced guide from City Cats. (CityCats.ca. Full day of guide service for $500 or a half day for $400.)
Walk and kayak among incredible coastal rock formations. The Bay of Fundy, the body of water separating New Brunswick from Nova Scotia, has the biggest tides in the world—the water level can climb more than 50 feet from low to high tide. These tides create a unique opportunity to explore the Hopewell Rocks, stunning rock formations along the coastline, in two completely different ways. You can walk on the seabed beneath these towering rock formations while the tide is out…then about six hours later rent a kayak and paddle near the tops of the rocks when the tide returns. (TheHopewellRocks.ca. Park entrance fee is $10 per adult, $8 per senior and $7.25 per child.) Ninety-minute to two-hour kayak trips are offered by Baymount Outdoor Adventures from early June through early September. (BaymountAdventures.com. $69 per adult, $59 per child.)
Raft a tidal wave in Nova Scotia. When the massive Bay of Fundy tides mentioned above rush into the Shubenacadie River near the northern end of the Bay, they produce a tidal wave. (This is a true tidal wave—a wave caused by changing tides—not a “tsunami,” a giant ocean wave usually caused by an undersea earthquake or a volcanic eruption.) Rafting companies offer trips on these tidal waves. It can be an intense experience—on par with rafting a class-five river rapid. If you would prefer a calmer raft ride, these rafting companies can help you choose a less powerful tide. (RaftingCanada.ca. May through October, $60 to $95 per person.)
Bike—and eat—your way around Prince Edward Island. This picturesque province is so tiny—just 175 miles from tip to tip—that it makes an ideal weeklong road trip or bike ride. You’ll drive or pedal past red sand beaches, blue seas, emerald fields, quaint coastal towns and sites from the classic children’s book Anne of Green Gables. Prince Edward Island is known for its great seafood as well as its natural beauty, so consider combining the two—tour operator Great Canadian Trails offers a weeklong bike trip punctuated by stops for sumptuous seafood meals. (GreatCanadianTrails.com, from $1,279 US.)
*All prices are in Canadian dollars except as noted.