Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Happy Canada Day! Some great Canadian ideas for travellers

You can hike or canoe to Grey Owl's cabin in Saskatchewan.
So you want to experience an iconic Canadian moment, eh?

Well, if you're planning a trip to Canada, here are some of the really great experiences you should set your sights on if you're planning a trip to Canada.

I do admit a bit of bias, since I love getting outdoors and experiencing nature. Most of these are all experiences I've enjoyed myself and I've tried to include all parts of the country. It was really tough keeping it to 10, but I had to stop somewhere, or I'd be still be writing.

1. Paddle a canoe in Algonquin Provincial Park. For me, paddling in this park is the ultimate experience, although not everyone likes to "rough it." But even doing it just once should bring immense rewards. Gliding past scenery immortalized by artist Tom Thomson, you can see otters playing in a creek, herons winging overhead, raccoons and deer sauntering along the shore; you'll here the wild and iconic sound of a loon. There are plenty of ways to do it. You can rent canoes and do your own trip and supply your own meals; you can get the folks at the Portage Store to outfit you; you can even hire a guiding service if you're a neophyte wilderness paddler. If an overnight trip is too much, just take a canoe out for a few hours. Lodges like Killarney provide free canoes for their guests.

2. Take in an NHL game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. While the Leafs have been pretty bad lately, there's still something about the atmosphere in the arena when these two decades-old rivals meet. Despite the Leafs' recent woes, they are still #2 in total Stanley Cup wins - second only to Montreal. Plan well in advance, or be prepared to pay exorbitant scalpers' prices in either Toronto or Montreal. If you just can't get tickets, then take in a CFL game. It's a bit different from the NFL experience and much more affordable in any of the league's nine cities.

Be sure to paddle a canoe in Algonquin. 
You might even have time to fish.

3. Go polar bear or beluga whale watching in Manitoba. This is still on my "to-do" list. The province is world-renowned for getting visitors up close to the big white bruins in "bear-buggies." At certain times of the year (summer) it's possible to see bears from Zodiacs in the Churchill area. As for Belugas ... you can see them from rafts, or even snorkel alongside them.

4. Visit Grey Owl's cabin in Prince Albert National Park. A man ahead of his time in terms of espousing a conservation ethic, the man portrayed by Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 film worked as a warden in this central Saskatchewan park and his cabin on Lake Ajawaan is still there. You can hike in all the way, or you can combine a visit as part of a canoe trip in the park's back country. There are great wildlife and bird watching opportunities here.

You can get poutine burgers in Vancouver,
but for the best poutine, try Quebec.
5. Eat something Canadian. You want poutine? You can get it just about anywhere, but if you want the best, get it in Quebec, since this combination of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy originated in that province. What about butter tarts? There's actually butter tart trails and tours in Ontario. If you're in Ottawa, be sure to sample a beaver tail (it's a pastry, not an actual rodent appendage.) Ottawa also has a poutine-fest, if you can't get to Quebec.

6. Spend some time among the dinosaurs. Alberta's badlands offer a couple of great places to look into the past. Dinosaur Provincial Park, near Brooks, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Guided hikes take you into places where you can see fossils. It also is home to the field station for the Royal Tyrell Museum. The museum proper is near Drumheller. The scenery in both places is spectacular, especially if you don't really associate deserts and hoodoos with Canada.

7. Hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. This sits above gorgeous Lake Louise, Alberta. Spend an afternoon hiking up the switchbacks of this trail and enjoy incredible views of the lake, then enjoy homemade soup, sandwiches, and cookies before heading back down to the trailhead.

It's hard to beat the beauty of a badlands sunset.
8. Visit Spirit Island. Sitting halfway down Jasper National Park's Maligne Lake, this spot may be one of the most photographed places in Canada. Tour boats take visitors down to this spot. You can also paddle there in a canoe or kayak, as there are a pair of backcountry campsites on the lake, halfway down and at the end of the lake.

9. Raft the Fraser River. Roaring through Hell's Gate on a motorized whitewater raft was one of my bucket list items I crossed off very early when I moved out west several years ago. I liked it so much, I did it again, three years later. After shooting through the rapids, take time to ride the gondola across the river which will give you a birds' eye view of what you've been through.

10. Go puffin-watching in Cape Breton. This Nova Scotia island offers much for visitors to enjoy, but if you like birds and wildlife, you won't want to miss out on the opportunity to see these cute-looking birds that look something like a cross between a penguin and a parrot. This is another one on my "to-do" list, which I hope to check off next year.

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