Plan the Ultimate Canadian Road Trip

by W. Andrew Powell

Grab a map, pack the car and head out on the open road to explore all that Canada has to offer.

Ah, yes. The great Canadian summer road trip. The holiday where it’s more about the fun you have along the way than the final destination. Whether travelling with a spouse, friends or the whole family, can help Canadians make the most out of their cross-country journey, with handy tips and a list of local treasures that can be found on and off the beaten path.

As with all great holidays, a little time should be taken to plan and prepare for a road trip. Amy Ziff, editor-at-large with, recommends the following list of tips to make yo ur great Canadian road trip as safe and enjoyable as possible. For more on summer road tripping and a guide to conquering the open road, check out Amy’s latest column.

1. Map out your trip in advance. Plan to make frequent stops to let your kids use the bathrooms and expend some energy

2. If you plan to drive along coastal areas, print out ferry schedules before you leave home so that delays can be avoided

3. Ensure your vehicles lights, signals and wipers are in working order. Check fluid and tire pressure levels to ensure safer driving and better gas consumption

4. When travelling with small children, check their cars seats to make sure they’re installed correctly and the straps are properly buckled

5. Have an emergency roadside kit packed in the trunk with the following items: flashlight, water-proof matches, road flares, blanket, first aid kit, jumper cables and extra radiator and windshield wiper fluid

6. When booking a car rental, consider renting at off-airport locations, as there are sometimes fewer taxes and fees. The earlier you book the better and according to the airport car hire in Mallorcathe, the best time to book is Thursday afternoons. As strange as that sounds, it’s accurate.

7. Check your cell phone for its range (roaming charges can add up quickly) and remember to pack your cell phone charger

8. Pack a cooler with drinks and snacks from home – it can be cheaper than purchasing them on the road

9. Keep everyone entertained with portable entertainment, such as music, games or DVD players

10. While on the road, start looking for your evening accommodation by 3:00 p.m. Hotels and motels fill up quickly towards the end of the day, especially in tourist areas. Avoid the stress and extra costs by prearranging your accommodations

Now that you’re armed with handy road trip tips, chart your course and start discovering Canada’s local secrets. Culled from’s “Local Secrets, Big Finds 2005” poll, these places offer a truly unique experience often overlooked by tourists. From breathtaking natural wonders to great festivals and special events, here is a sampling of some our favourite Local Secrets, Big Finds. For a complete list, check out

The Dempster Highway – Inuvik, Northwest Territories
For the “most beautiful scenery in the world” and a “rare opportunity” to drive north of the Arctic Circle, get in your car and drive the Dempster Highway – a stretch of “remarkable” road that takes you from Dawson City to Inuvik. On your journey, you will pass through two “picturesque and magnificent” mountain ranges, and it even crosses the continental divide on its way to the Beaufort Sea. Make sure to plan your trip June through September for some “perfect weather and blue skies” along with 24 hours of daylight.

Floating Down the River Channel Connecting Okanagan and Skaha Lake – Penticton, British Columbia
When summer brings Penticton’s “reliable, hot, sunny weather,” it’s time to “slather on the sunscreen” and spend the day “floating down the River Channel.” All you need to get down the channel is a bathing suit and a flotation device. On site, “there is a little kiosk that rents out inner tubes for a nominal fee,” or you can “pump up any that you bring.” Once in the water, you can expect a “relaxing (or wild – if you’re with kids) float for one and a half hours to the next stop off.” And if all this doesn’t float your boat, “it costs nothing to park your car nearby” and just “people watch.”

Lethbridge Train Bridge – Lethbridge, Alberta
Built in the early 1900s, the Lethbridge Train Bridge stands as “the longest freestanding train bridge in North America.” The structure is “a marvel of construction” that is “fascinating in scope and size.” Try to time it right so that you can watch a train go over the span. After, you can explore the small town of Lethbridge. Situated along the Oldman River there are many hiking and biking trails boasting mountain and prairie views.

Temple Gardens Mineral Spa – Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Natural geothermal mineral water is one reason why Temple Gardens Mineral Spa is an “absolutely world-class spa.” In addition to the pampering benefits, the historic tunnels add to the town’s charm. Take a tour under Moose Jaw’s main streets to see the “infamous Chinese underground” where Al Capone allegedly ran his bootleg operations.

Gimli Film Festival – Gimli, Manitoba
Head out of the city “60 miles north of Winnipeg” to the town of Gimli, “a very popular Icelandic fishing village and a wonderful summer town.” Set right on scenic Lake Winnipeg, this film festival has “a screen set up on the edge of the lake and shows movies after sundown until 1 a.m.” These movies under the stars celebrate Canadian filmmakers. Even if you don’t see the Northern Lights during the movie screenings, “it is an unbelievable experience to sit on the sand facing the lake and watch films with your family and friends.”

Flying Trapeze Lessons at the Toronto School of Circus Arts – Toronto, Ontario
Luckily the ceilings at the Toronto School of Circus Arts are 40-feet high, so you’ll have plenty of space to fly. Since 1985, people from the general public have been participating in this “unique sporting adventure.” Sign up for flying trapeze lessons, and you’ll learn to “fly safely through the air and do acrobatic tricks.” A few stunts that the qualified staff might teach you include: swinging trapeze, stationary trapeze, flying trapeze, trampoline, tight wire, aerial skills, juggling, and bungee acrobatics.

Jean-Talon Market – Montreal, Quebec
A visit to Jean-Talon Market, or Marché Jean-Talon, is like taking “a mini-vacation.” In the center of town, near little Italy, it actually takes up “a few blocks” of town. There is an “abundance of fresh produce, including organic” finds. Discover “fish, meat, and vegetable produce from around the world, including the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.” Like the products, the crowd is a “wonderfully varied mix.” From the fresh flowers to the abundant products and diverse crowd, this is “a wonderful place to shop.”

The Dunes in Bouctouche – St. Edouard de Kent, New Brunswick
If you want to “walk the boardwalk and enjoy the ocean,” these unique dunes are a “spectacular place” for beachcombing, cycling, and hiking. “The Irvings have donated the land for all to see,” and, as a result, the experience is “free of charge.” If you’re interested in a more structured outing, they “offer tours at a low price,” and interpreters are often on hand to point out regional butterflies and shorebirds. Because “there is so much beauty in the surroundings,” preservation of the delicate sandbars created by ocean currents and wind is paramount.

Sunrise Trail – North Shore, Nova Scotia
The Sunrise Trail meanders through the pristine North Shore of Nova Scotia. It is a “country road that winds through green fields, rolling farmland, and past the sandy shores of the Northumberland Strait.” Enjoy some of the freshest seafood and get “fresh lobster directly from a fisherman’s catch of the day.” Beach goers can bask on the “red, sandy beaches,” and swimmers can take a dip in the “warmest waters north of the Carolinas.” The towns and villages along the way are “steeped in history,” and “throughout the summer, there are festivals celebrating everything from blueberries to wine to seafood.”

College of Piping Concerts – Summerside, Prince Edward Island
Day and night, throughout the summer, the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada hosts “full-blown” concerts, or ceilidhs (pronounced kay-lees), to carry on the area’s predominant Celtic heritage. The performing arts include: “bag-piping, Highland dancing, step dancing, drumming, fiddling, and more!” Since “70 percent of Prince Edward Island’s population is of either Scottish or Irish ancestry,” the concerts are truly “authentic, heartfelt Celtic.”

Brigus Blueberry Festival – Brigus, Newfoundland
Held on the second Saturday of August, the Brigus Blueberry Festival is a “fun-filled weekend for all ages.” There are various activities, including: a “folk festival, cash bar, parade, pie-eating contest, Missed Blueberry Pageant, craft tables, baked goods, and traditional food.” You can even try a moose burger! Plus, there are horse and buggy rides, games, and dancing for everyone, from pre-teen to senior citizen. Don’t miss the “three-foot blueberry pie” on display and stick around for Sunday night’s fireworks.

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