Great road trips define Canada.
Every province and territory can lay claim to a rich selection of magnificent journeys, but at the top of the list are a clutch of big-hitting scene-stealers – epic strips of asphalt doused with glints of only-in-Canada magic. Expect massive glaciers, foraging fauna, stormy coastlines and the kind of raw, uncompromising wilderness that’s rare if you head further south.
In this modern and affluent country, roads are generally wide and well-maintained and drivers are scrupulously polite. However, you can often go a long way without seeing a gas station or decent food, especially in the north, so stock up on supplies and emergency gear.
To sample our favorite road trips in Canada, load up your playlist with Drake, Rush and the Tragically Hip, and kiss the urban traffic snarl-ups goodbye.
1. Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia
Best road trip for families
Vancouver–Whistler; 121km (75 miles); allow 4–5 hours
From the deluxe, hill-hugging homes of West Vancouver to the neo-alpine ski village of Whistler, the Sea to Sky Highway rarely lets you out of its rapture. Comprising the most spectacular section of Hwy 99, which runs for 377km (234 miles) from the US border to Cache Creek, this drive traverses the steep-sided slopes of Howe Sound before contouring north through the Coast Mountains to Whistler.
If you can take your eyes off the collage of peaks, forests and fjords, this winding thoroughfare has many worthy stops, especially if you're in the market for hiking, climbing or mining history. Horseshoe Bay is the city’s main ferry terminal and the starting point for a tough, rocky hike up to Eagle Bluffs for eagle-eye views over Vancouver.
Further north, Britannia Beach is a one-time company town whose former mining facility – now a museum and national historic site – concertinas down a steep hill. The small but growing town of Squamish is an obligatory stop for refueling (get gas at the local Shell station and coffee at the funky Zephyr Café) and a ride on the finest gondola in BC.
Planning tip: Locals fondly recommend an extended stop at Function Junction a few kilometers south of Whistler. You can hike through the forest to a 1950s train wreck that has been turned into an inspirational art project and buy lunch at peerless Purebread, possibly the finest purveyor of baked goods this side of Paris.
2. Icefields Parkway, Alberta
Best road trip for mountains and glaciers
Lake Louise–Jasper; 230km (143 miles); allow 5–6 hours
The Icefields Parkway – or the Promanade des Glaciers, as it’s romantically known in French – is the crème de la crème of Canadian drives. This 230km (143-mile) trip links the nation’s two most emblematic national parks, Banff and Jasper, leaving even the most verbose travel writers flailing for adjectives.
Starting near the robin-egg-blue waters of Lake Louise, home to the elegant Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel, the route penetrates north through some of the most elemental scenery on the planet. Giant mountains, craning trees and powerful waterfalls are mere supporting acts to the gargantuan glaciers and abundant wildlife, which gets even more copious as you approach Jasper.
You'll pass a litany of potential stops en route, many offering access to superb viewpoints and short interpretive hikes. Headliners include cerulean Peyto Lake, Jasper’s “hanging” Skywalk and the Athabasca Glacier – a frozen tributary of the colossal Columbia Icefield.
Planning tip: Thundering Athabasca Falls is at its deafening best during the spring snow-melt.
3. Klondike Hwy, Yukon
Best road trip for wilderness
Skagway–Dawson City; 708km (440 miles); allow 2 days
Following the same basic route as the 19th-century’s greatest gold rush, this sealed highway starts in Skagway, Alaska, and crosses the Canadian border near the tiny town of Fraser, before passing through Carcross and the world’s smallest desert en route to Whitehorse. Here, you can wise up on territorial history and the nuances of the gold rush at the town’s McBride Museum.
Head north of Whitehorse for unadulterated wilderness. Be sure to stop at the Braeburn Lodge, a rustic roadhouse known for its sweet, soccer-ball-sized cinnamon buns and brusque backcountry service. Blink and you’ll miss the self-sufficient communities of Carmacks, Pelly Crossing and Stewart Crossing. Plan for a longer stop at Five Finger Rapids, where a wooden staircase leads down to a viewing platform over the choppy Yukon River. The rafts of numerous Klondike prospectors upended on this rough stretch of water.
As you approach Dawson City, mine tailings from century-old dredging operations dot the roadside, alongside gravel piles and small ponds. The town is an understated beauty, filled with authentic gold rush history and the literary ghosts of novelist Jack London and poet Robert Service.
4. Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
Best road trip for a coastal drive
St Ann’s Bay–St Ann’s Bay; 298km (186 miles); allow 1 day
One of the main reasons travelers come to Nova Scotia is to drive the Cabot Trail, the looping, dipping roller-coaster of a road that snakes its way around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island.
Offering epic views of rolling seas and thick forests, and – if you're lucky – the chance to spot a moose, eagle or even a whale, this maritime classic traverses the edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The park is home to the province's grandest scenery, richest wildlife and best hiking trails.
Heading counterclockwise on this circular route, you’ll encounter Ingonish Beach, a long, wide ribbon of sand sheltered in a bay cocooned by gentle hills, and Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia’s premier whale-watching hub. The Skyline Trail, the Cabot’s hiking highlight, meanders through evergreen forests and along windy cliff-tops to a spectacular ridge.
Other favorite stops include Cheticamp, Nova Scotia's most vibrant and thriving Acadian community, and Baddeck, home to a museum dedicated to former resident Alexander Graham Bell, pioneer of the very handy device known as the telephone.
5. Viking Trail, Newfoundland
Best road drive for archaeology
Deer Lake–St Anthony; 434km (270 miles); allow 1 day
Imagine ancient indigenous burial grounds, 1000-year-old Viking remains, monumental icebergs, breaching whales and an almost supernatural national park whose trippy tablelands are a textbook guide to plate tectonics. Welcome to Newfoundland’s epic Rte 430, which links a patchwork of fog-cloaked coves, snow-capped mountains and stormy fjords.
Starting inauspiciously in the town of Deer Lake, the route plunges into Gros Morne National Park pausing at its waterside hub, Rocky Harbour, a nexus for trails and boat trips with a fun wildlife museum.
Further north lie two important archaeological sites: Port au Choix, a national historic site dedicated to the 5500-year-old burial grounds of three different indigenous groups, and L'Anse aux Meadows, where Leif Erikson and his Viking buddies arrived approximately 1000 years ago – the first known European settlers in the Americas.
Planning tip: The trail ends at St Anthony, a small fishing village with a rough-hewn charm that makes a perfect stop for whale- and iceberg-watching.
6. Gaspésie Tour, Québec
Best road trip for French-Canadian culture
Sainte-Flavie–Sainte-Flavie; 822km (511 miles); allow 3 days
Towering cliffs, freshly-caught seafood and Québécois sea shanties are all on the itinerary as you circle La Gaspésie, the lofty peninsula contoured by Rte 132 on Québec’s eastern shores. Easing out of Sainte-Flavie, make time to stop near Pointe-à-la-Croix at the Battle of the Restigouche National Historic Site, where a French-British naval clash in 1760 marked the death knell for French colonial ambitions in Canada.
The Parc National de Miguasha has the world's leading cache of ancient fish fossils, with a museum illustrating how prehistoric sea creatures evolved into tetrapods. The crown jewels of the Gaspé Peninsula are Rocher Percé, a huge offshore limestone rock formation with a seemingly gravity-defying archway, and blustery Forillon National Park, where mountains plunge directly into the choppy ocean and rugged cliffs stand sentinel over spouting whales.
Planning tip: After rounding the tip of the peninsula, you’ll head back along the St Lawrence waterway where it’s worth scheduling a lengthy stop in the Parc National de la Gaspésie. A short drive inland from Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, the park is a rough mountainous realm with fine hiking options.
7. Lake Superior Coastline, Ontario
Best road trip for lakes
Sault Ste Marie–Thunder Bay; 700km (435 miles); allow 2 days
Even Canada’s most populated province can seem positively remote as you motor along the northern shores of the world’s largest freshwater lake, following a quiet segment of the Trans-Canada Hwy through a necklace of provincial parks.
Pancake Bay Provincial Park hides one of Canada's finest stretches of sugary sand, and if you pull up off-season, you might have it all to yourself. Lake Superior Provincial Park protects a more precipitous coastline punctuated with the exposed rock of the Canadian Shield.
There are indigenous pictographs in the area and fabulous opportunities for stargazing (the park was designated a dark sky preserve in 2018). Similar solitude awaits at Rocky Neys Provincial Park, where Lawren Harris of the Group of Seven came to paint amid craggy beaches and roaming caribou.
Approaching Thunder Bay, you'll pass the jagged Sleeping Giant Peninsula – a series of flat-topped ridges that resemble a large reclining man. The rugged, forested terrain here is characterized by cliffs, hiking trails and plentiful fauna, including moose, wolf and lynx.