When you live near destinations known for their cultural interest, natural beauty or fun attractions, it’s easy to take them for granted. But don’t! Whether you live in Vancouver, Toronto or Calgary, you’re only a car (or ferry) ride away from a host of great day trips and weekend getaways. Before summer’s over, take in some of the sites that are (practically) in your own backyard. Here are just a few sites in Canada you won’t want to miss.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Are you looking for the challenge of an outdoor adventure? Need some beachside relaxation? Or do you crave the energy of a cosmopolitan downtown? Whatever you’re seeking in a short getaway, you’ll find it on Vancouver Island. Even if you’ve visited the Island before, there’s always more to see and do:
- Pacific Rim Highway – If you don’t mind navigating winding mountain roads, take this 3-hour scenic drive from Nanaimo to the beach town of Tofino through the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Stay overnight in Tofino, which Outside magazine named the best surf town in North America. to enjoy some of the area’s highlights: hiking in the rainforest, whale watching, kayaking, touring the nearby hot springs or taking surfing lessons at Long Beach, named one of North America’s best surfing beaches by Outsider magazine.
- Nanaimo – From Vancouver, most people take the 1-hour-and-40-minute ferry ride to this harbor town. Worth a day trip on its own, Nanaimo offers history, art, music, shopping, restaurants and breweries. There’s a “trail” for everything here, and not just in the outlying parks. Follow the Artisan Trail to meet local crafters or the BC Ale Trail to taste some Island brews. Or pick up a Nanaimo Bar Trail brochure at one of the visitor centres to nibble your way through 39 varieties of this Canadian treat.
- Campbell River – About 155 kilometers from Nanaimo, Campbell River is home to multiple marine parks and wilderness parks. Here you can enjoy an endless variety of outdoor activities: caving, whitewater rafting, snorkeling (with salmon), fishing or wildlife viewing. Get a breathtaking view of Elk Falls from the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge. (Warning: Avoid this one if you have a fear of heights!)
Whistler, British Columbia
Sure, you know Whistler for winter skiing, but it’s a great weekend escape in summer, too. Just 120 kilometers from Vancouver along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, this mountain village is host to a range of events all year long. Enjoy free outdoor concerts, visit the farmers’ market or cheer on mountain bikers as they compete at the Crankworx Whistler Mountain Bike Festival in August.
Take the kids (or not) on the Peak 2 Peak 360 Experience, which includes a ride on the world-record-breaking gondola that links Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain. Walk across the 130-metre Cloudraker Skybridge, explore biking and hiking trails, play disc golf or get a bird’s-eye view as you ride North America’s longest zipline.
Just a little more than 1.5 hours from Calgary (or 3 hours from Edmonton) is the dinosaur capital of the world, Drumheller. If there’s a budding paleontologist in your family, this is the perfect place for a day trip – you won’t find a more dinosaur-centric town. Visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum, home to the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in Canada. At Fossil World, kids can dig up a dinosaur skeleton, take home a real fossil and get up close and personal with a T. Rex. Stretch your legs on the Drumheller DinoWalk around town as you learn about more than 20 different types of dinosaurs. And be sure to visit the World’s Largest Dinosaur to get a view of the area from inside her mouth.
For outdoor adventures, follow the Hoodoos Trail for a view of these unusual formations in the Alberta badlands. Hike, bike or learn about the local mining history at Midland Provincial Park. Or visit Horsethief Canyon, an area where outlaws once hid with their stolen horses, where you can take in the beauty of the colorful striated rock as you walk along the many hiking trails. For an amazing view of the Red Deer Valley, stop at the Orkney Viewpoint just off Highway 837 high up in the red rocks.
Kananaskis Country, Alberta
This area consists of a system of parks along the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. From Calgary, you can be in the easternmost part of Kananaskis Country in about an hour (or about 3.5 hours from Edmonton). Mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding are among the land activities you can enjoy while experiencing the beauty of the mountains nearby.
For water-oriented excitement, the rapids on Kicking Horse River, Kananaskis River or Bow River offer exhilarating whitewater rafting adventures. Or go cliff jumping on Bow River. For less challenging water fun, head for the calmer spots on the Kananaskis to take a dip or try your skill at stand-up paddleboarding.
The Muskoka Lakes, Ontario
Frequently named among the best vacation spots in Canada, Muskoka Lakes is located just 2 hours from Toronto. The lakes offer families a variety of water activities, from water skiing and swimming to water trampolines. Santa’s Village is Santa’s summer home, and kids can tell Santa what they want for Christmas months in advance.
Learn about the area’s heritage at one of 10 museums, including the Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Center, which tells the history of wooden boat building. The area also offers outdoor fun like hiking, visiting waterfalls and golf. If you plan to stay the weekend, you’ll find a variety of lodging, from lakeside resorts to cabins and inns.
St. Jacobs, Ontario
A quaint village on the Conestoga River, St. Jacobs is accessible from Toronto in less than 2 hours. Known for its farmers’ market (the largest in Canada), you can find everything from fresh foods from local farms, to crafts to antiques and furniture. Shopping isn’t limited to the farmers’ market, though. The village offers charming boutiques, food shops and an outlet mall.
Learn about the Mennonites who made St. Jacobs their home at The Mennonite Story, a visitor center that offers a multimedia show, as well as exhibits and displays. Visit the Maple Syrup Museum and the History of Electricity Museum, go for a horse-drawn tour or see the St. Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway. St. Jacob’s is perfect for group outings too – get some other people from your high-rise or community together and make a day of it.
No matter which province of Canada you call home, you’ll find just the getaway you’re looking for this summer. But hurry! Summer will be over before you know it!