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Boasting the world’s longest coastline and home to an array of natural wonders, Canada was made for road tripping. On a self-drive holiday, you can expect to see everything from snow-capped mountains and forests to incredible icebergs. But with so much on offer, undertaking such a trip requires a lot of planning.
In this guide, we’ll tell you how to plan the perfect self-drive holiday with Canadian Affair. We’ll lend our expert opinion on what you need to do ahead of your trip, as well as looking at some of the best routes you can follow on a fly drive holiday in Canada. Keep your eyes peeled for other helpful guides throughout that you can add to your reading list.
Planning a self-drive holiday in Canada
Before you book your holiday in Canada you need to plan your trip. In this section, we’ll take you through our recommended steps, adding tips from travellers who have previously visited Canada.
Plan your route
To avoid using valuable time on your trip, we suggest planning your route before you arrive in Canada.
You should also decide on where you would like to stay if possible since the most popular hotels and campsites will get booked up early. Our fly drive holidays remove the stress of this step as Canadian Affair travel experts handpick the best accommodation options on offer.
Make a list of the main attractions and landmarks that you will want to stop off at during your road trip and map them out on your route. This will avoid rushing from one destination to another without having the time to enjoying each one fully.
Check the size of car/vehicle you can hire
From compact to 4×4’s, there are plenty of cars to choose from and here at Canadian Affair, we work with Avis to ensure you have a safe, reliable and comfortable hire car that suits your needs.
We offer pickups in cities across Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Decide on a starting point for your trip (ideally where you’ll be flying into) and map from there.
Use a GPS
The last thing you want when you’re on a road trip in Canada is to get lost, and one way to avoid this is to use a GPS. Many Avis vehicles already have a built-in GPS for convenience and those that don’t offer customers the option to add a portable one. Rates vary depending on location (and are likely to cost anywhere between $13-$16 daily or $75-$99 weekly).
Alternatively, you could bring your own GPS, like Karen from Travel Mad Mum. “Our best planning tip for organising a road trip would be to bring a GPS with worldwide maps on,” she said. “When you drive through the more rural areas you will not be able to rely on having a phone signal.”
Leave yourself lots of time
Canada is a huge country, making it impossible to see everything in one trip. To get the most out of your visit, list your stop-offs in order of preference and decide how long you want to stay in each place. That way, you’ll avoid rushing due to time constraints.
Kevin and Ruth Read, who share their stories and thoughts on their blog, ‘Travel with Kevin and Ruth’, gave this as their top recommendation: “Don’t plan a route where you’re going to spend all your time seeing things out of the car windows. Make sure you have lots of time available to stop and see things along the way.”
Photographer Marta Kulesza of the award-winning travel and photography blog, ‘In A Faraway Land’, adds: “Don’t try to squeeze in too much in too little time. You have to accept the fact that you won’t be able to see everything. Don’t spend all your holiday driving. Plan enough time to enjoy great hikes and the Canadian wilderness.”
Take random stops
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s important to make a list of the attractions and things you want to see. But there are lots of things you’ll discover purely by chance.
Jennifer Campbell runs the travel blog, ‘Just Chasing Rabbits’ and highly recommends allowing time for spur of the moment stops.
“You never know when you’ll come across amazing wildlife, a crazy roadside attraction, or a local restaurant that catches your eye. Some of the best adventures are not the ones you’ve planned for. We love spontaneity and the fun of discovering little gems on our own versus only following the advice of a guidebook. The name of our blog, Just Chasing Rabbits, actually came from this same concept!”
To recap, here are our top tips on how to plan the perfect self-drive holiday:
•Plan the routes you want to drive and what you want to see
•Check the size of car/vehicle you can hire
•Bring a GPS
•Leave yourself lots of time
•Take random stops
Popular driving routes in Canada
As we’ve touched upon, Canada is great for self-driving holidays, offering spectacular routes, jaw-dropping scenery and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife. Read on for our recommendations of some of the routes that should be on your bucket list.
Calgary to Vancouver
Two of Canada’s great cities are Calgary and Vancouver and one way to see both is to embark on a road trip from one city to the other.
There is a direct route that takes around 10-hours, but if you have longer, we recommend visiting Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Whistler, Kelowna, Kamloops and Vancouver Island.
Marta Kulesza tells us about her experience of driving this route: “If you have at least a two-week holiday I would highly recommend travelling across British Columbia and Alberta from Vancouver to Calgary, visiting all the hot spots along the way (including Garibaldi Provincial Park, Jasper and Banff National Parks, and the Kananaskis region. You will be driving with your nose glued to the car window and wanting to stop all the time, because of the incredible scenery ahead!”
Karen from Travel Mad Mum also highly recommends driving from Calgary to Vancouver, which she details in this post. “We drove from Calgary to Vancouver and highly recommend this Canadian road trip,” she said. “Along the way, you’ll see glass mirror lakes, lush forests, rolling blue mountains, intriguing wildlife, adventure activity galore, and fantastic wineries! We especially liked this route because we felt we got to see some of the best spots in Canada and we didn’t have to drive more than three hours straight between stops, which is great when you’ve got kids in the back seat.”
Cape Breton in Nova Scotia is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations for a fly drive holiday in Canada as it boasts rugged coastlines and highlands, perfect for hiking. The region is also home to a range of other outdoor activities such as cycling and whale watching.
The Cabot Trail is synonymous with the region as the 185-mile route gives you the chance to experience the highlights of Cape Breton as it loops around the northern edge of the island.
Kevin and Ruth have driven most routes across the country and have two recommendations for first-time visitors: “The first is the eastern province of Nova Scotia, specifically the area around Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the famous Cabot Trail highway. Absolutely spectacular scenery with ample areas to stop and hike and explore.”
Golden Circle Route, Yukon
You’ll need your camera in hand as you enter the Golden Circle Route in Yukon. Here, you’ll see gold rush towns, spectacular mountain ranges and azure lakes.
Activities along the route including hiking, mountain biking and wildlife-viewing. You will also have the opportunity to experience First Nations culture.
Jarryd & Alesha, the founders and editors of ‘NOMADasaurus’ have driven along the Golden Circle Route in Yukon previously. They tell us a bit about why they would recommend this route for your self-drive holiday.
“Having driven the length of Canada twice, from BC to Newfoundland, we really recommend driving the Golden Circle Route in Yukon. It’s a fantastic road trip filled with immense mountains, gorgeous lakes, huge national parks to explore and some of the most intense wildlife experiences in the country. Expect to see grizzly and black bears, moose and a multitude of other animals. The road is paved the entire way so any car will do, but if you want to do some further exploration it’s best to get a 4×4. Unless you’re driving from BC or Alaska, we recommend flying to Whitehorse and doing a loop from there.”
Kevin and Ruth also highly recommend exploring the Yukon Territory: “In Canada’s northern Yukon Territory, the drive from the city of Whitehorse to the historical gold mining town of Dawson City is a once in a lifetime experience. You will likely see bears, moose, lynx and other animals, as well as very few other vehicles. If you get really ambitious you can continue driving north of Dawson City all the way to Inuvik and the Arctic Ocean!”
The Sea to Sky Highway
One of the world’s most picturesque and scenic drives is along the Sea to Sky Highway on Canada’s Pacific Coast. You can take in spectacular views of the shoreline, mountains and lakes while on this spectacular drive.
The drive will take you north of Vancouver to the Coast Mountains and eventually to Whistler, a hugely popular year-round destination. It has regularly been voted as one of the best mountain resorts in the world.
Other top stops along this route include Brandywine Falls, Garibaldi Lake, Alice Lake, Squamish, Shannon Falls and the spectacular Sea to Sky Gondola.
If you are interested in going on one of these routes, take a closer look at Canadian Affair’s fly drive holidays and start planning your perfect trip.