Canada has some world-famous drives — the Rockies, Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail, the epic Dempster Highway in the Yukon and Northwest Territories — and some less celebrated but just as stunning road odysseys. Rent a car or RV and hit the highway for a freewheeling weekend or month. Here are some of the best road trips across a country known for its superlative scenery.
Algonquin Provincial Park is quintessential Canada: 12,432 sq km of fiery maple-filled hills, glassy lakes with browsing moose, howling wolves and calling loons. Take the long way from Ottawa to Toronto in autumn on the Frank MacDougall Parkway — 56 km of some of Canada’s most renowned landscapes as captured in paintings by the famed Group of Seven.
Road trippers need to pull over to take in the steep fjords, circling bald eagles and vertical granite rock faces of British Columbia’s aptly named Sea-to-Sky Highway. The 162-km route twists along Howe Sound between ocean, cliffs, and mountains from Vancouver to alpine resort Whistler, revealing waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and canyons, quaint towns and the vintage Britannia Mine, once the largest copper operation in the British Empire and today an interactive museum.
With turquoise lakes, rugged forest, grassy valleys and the towering Rockies as the backdrop, the winding Icefields Parkway ranks as one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring drives: 232 km of 100 glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife and rock spires from iconic Lake Louise to Jasper. Must stops are the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier, and mountain town Jasper.
Vikings set foot on Newfoundland in the 11th century and built North America’s oldest Norse settlement outside Greenland at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. Just one stop along the Viking Trail, a 489-km west coast route that hits dramatic Gros Morne National Park, a hiking hotspot, with clifftop views of the Atlantic Ocean, 10,000-year-old icebergs and breaching whales.
Witness the world’s highest tides on the Fundy Coastal Drive, which skirts the Bay of Fundy for 460 km. In addition to 160 billion tons of water washing in and out each day — twice — highlights are fossil hunting on the red sand, ocean vistas, charming bays and some of the freshest seafood around.
A National Geographic top travel destination, The Gaspesie Tour from Montreal or Quebec City to the Atlantic is marked by brightly painted fishing villages, hidden beaches, whale-filled waters and historic lighthouses. It’s also the way to see the largely undiscovered 249-km Gaspé Peninsula of varied, untamed landscapes and French-Canadian small-town charm.
If it’s solitude you’re seeking, drive the 742-km defunct oil transport gravel road known as the Dempster Highway. This is Canada’s wilderness highway and only all-season route crossing the Arctic Circle. It’s also only for the self-reliant. Expect wild, raw landscapes and open tundra, scant services and few humans, though numerous grizzlies and caribou.
Celtic culture, live music and fresh lobster only add to the Cabot Trail’s international cachet. On wild Cape Breton Island (a Travel + Leisure must-see island), the highway winds 299 km up and around steep green cliffs, revealing dizzying coastal views along with browsing moose and bear, and far below, pods of whales.
In a feat rivaling the Panama Canal, 16,000 men labored in 1942 to build the Alaska Highway, a strategic WWII link between Alaska and the U.S. mainland. Motor the epic 2,232 km from British Columbia to Alaska via the Yukon — past snow-covered peaks and glacier-carved valleys, historic sites and First Nations communities — to appreciate the legend.