The Most Beautiful Places in Canada
Imagine everything that makes Alaska so epic (Northern Lights included); multiply it across a country six times as large; add cities with rich food, wine, and music; and you get Canada. Canada is full of natural wonders from coast to coast—as well as right offshore.
Forests dominate most of this country, so you don’t have to go very far outside of our northern neighbor’s major cities to find fantastic hiking and towering waterfalls (Niagara Falls is just two hours from Toronto, if that gives you an idea of how close major landmarks are). Beaches are not only near cities, some are even in them (Vancouver counts nine alone). And with ranges like the Rockies cutting through the country, you’ve got endless amounts of trails for trekking.
Given the many flight delays and cancellations—not to mention packed planes—at the moment, a road trip or train ride (or shorter flight, if you must) somewhere just over the border is sounding all the more appealing. From billion-year-old cliffs to gorgeous glacial lakes, fjords, and rainforest-filled islands, here are the most beautiful places to visit in Canada. You might even already start planning your next vacation here before leaving your current one.
Abraham Lake is like its own optical illusion. | CoolPhoto2/Shutterstock
As winter temperatures at this lake in the Canadian Rockies plunge to -30 degrees, methane gas from decaying organic material at the bottom takes on an ethereal formation. By the millions, bubbles stream upward and freeze fast in the ice. The result is a rock-hard frozen lake with constellations of glassy orbs suspended underfoot—a gorgeous sight with an edge of danger, given the flammability of the gas. After the thaw, this vast sapphire lake remains stunning in summertime.
Even from the only major city on the island, it’s still an eight-hour drive and two-mile hike to reach the boats. | Photo by Chris Hendrickson, courtesy of Destination Canada
Western Brook Pond
Newfoundland and Labrador
The 10-mile-long Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park, on the western edge of Newfoundland, is a natural masterpiece—and just getting there is an adventure. From St. John’s, the only major city on the island, you’ll need to drive eight hours, then hike two miles to access the boats. Those will take you out on the pristine lake for incredible views of cascading waterfalls, billion-year-old cliffs, and the Long Range Mountains. Once you’re there, your company in the fjord will be bald eagles, whales, caribou, seals, and foxes.
Kayak around Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park in the Bay of Fundy. | Photo courtesy of Destination Canada
Bay of Fundy
This aquatic fantasia is home to a 50ft tidal range, five times higher than the average on the Atlantic—the world’s largest. Twice daily, some 160 billion tons of water—enough to fill the Grand Canyon—move in and out of the Bay of Fundy. That action draws rafters, kayakers, and anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of whales or the critters in the many long tide pools. At low tide, walk along the ocean floor and see Hopewell Rocks, naturally eroded crags shaped like arches and keyholes. By high tide, the ocean will swallow all but the tops of the columns, some of which are capped with lush foliage.
A trip to the Canadian Rockies is always a good idea. | Photo courtesy of Destination Canada
This vast treasure in the Canadian Rockies is a hotspot year-round. During the summer, take part in epic backcountry hikes and visits to waterfalls and glacial lakes; in the winter, Marmot Basin offers dreamy ski terrain, including new trails that opened in 2021 for the first time in 56 years. The Jasper SkyTram gives you 50 miles of views from 7,472 feet up Whistlers Mountain. As a dark-sky preserve, the park strives to eliminate any light that could interfere with views of the universe at night, making it a destination for stargazers and astronomers. It’s also a fantastic road trip destination: The Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s most scenic drives, features more than 100 ancient glaciers and a glass-floored observation walkway 920 feet above Sunwapta Canyon.
The ancestral territory of the Haida Nation comprises 150 rocky islands off of British Columbia’s West Coast. | Photo by Adam Foss, courtesy of Destination Canada
Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii)
Haida Gwaii, the northernmost island chain below the Alaskan panhandle, is rich with First Nations culture, rainforests, and cliffside ocean vistas. The 150 islands (Graham and Moresby are the largest) and the Haida people on them are renowned for their totem poles and argillite carvings. From June through August, travelers can attend summer festivals and performances by local Haida performers, as well as indie, rock, and Latin groups. It’s also prime bird-watching territory: The Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary is the migratory home of about 140 different bird species. All that Haida Gwaii has to offer is worthy of preserving, which is why visitors must agree to a formal pledge promising to treat the land with respect and care.
Head to Cavendish Beach for hiking and fresh lobster. | JFGagnonPhoto/Shutterstock
Prince Edward Island
People around the world know PEI, Canada’s teensiest province, as home to fabulous oysters and, maybe incongruously, Anne of Green Gables. Even without the literary tourists flocking here, it’s worth seeking out the province’s white-sand shorelines like Cavendish Beach, which features rocky red cliffs, historic lighthouses, and hassle-free hiking trails. PEI is also a playground for deep-sea fishing, kayaking, parasailing, and golfing. As if you needed another reason to visit, one of the best is simply cracking open a fresh cold-water lobster caught that day by one of the fishermen in the nearby villages.
Banff is more than superb skiing—although that’s enough of a draw for us. | Photo courtesy of Destination Canada
Banff National Park, a few hours north of Montana on the border of Alberta and British Columbia, is the zenith of the entire Rocky Mountain region—it’s tall, jagged, and glorious. But within Banff, Lake Louise is a standout. Its glacier-fed waters sparkle a shade of Caribbean blue, and it’s ringed by an alpine backdrop straight out of a Bob Ross painting. In the summer, paddle around the 1.5-mile-long lake or hop on a sightseeing gondola to the top of Mount Whitehorn for views of the lake and Victoria Glacier. In the winter, that same lake becomes one of the world’s most scenic outdoor rinks.
Talk about a road trip. | Photo courtesy of Destination Canada
The Dempster Highway is 450 miles of gravel-topped adventure as it winds north from Dawson City through the Ogilvie and Richardson Mountains, past the Arctic Circle and tundra scenery, river ferries, roadside grizzlies, endless sun, and rugged backcountry camping in Tombstone Territorial Park. Here, you can hike through land barely explored by humans—meaning it’s practically free from pollution. Just find some land away from the highway and start exploring. And, of course, keep your gaze upward for a tremendous light show.
This makes Niagara seem small. | Marius Gomes/Moment/Getty Images
The cliff where the Montmorency River tumbles into the St. Lawrence is a vertiginous 275 feet tall—a height that makes Niagara seem downright diminutive. Seven miles from Québec City, you can take in the falls from a cable car or admire the view by climbing the staircase by the visitor center. Rock climbers can clamber around the interior of the canyon, rappelling down the rocks to a zip line across the canyon. And in the summer, the international fireworks competition uses the falls as the ultimate backdrop.
Soak up rainforest views in North Vancouver. | Maridav/Shutterstock
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Built in 1889, the 450-foot-long Capilano Suspension Bridge dangles 230 feet above the Capilano River, a major water source for Vancouver residents. It may be a manmade attraction (no doubt, incredibly designed), but it offers one of the most spectacular vistas of the West Coast rainforest—it’s best after a rainfall, but striking any time of the year. Once you’re on stable ground, head a few miles downhill to Vancouver’s beaches.
Despite its name, the “land that never thaws” is great in summer, too. | Ed Dods/Shutterstock
Auyuittuq National Park
The name of the park means “the land that never thaws,” in case you were wondering how warmly to dress. The Penny Ice Cap, a remnant of ice age glaciations, covers Auyuittuq with its broad, rocky valleys and sheer-faced mountains. Adventurous explorers can enjoy hiking unmarked routes above the Arctic Circle; skiers can follow Akshayuk Pass and set up camp at Summit Lake. Or, if you’re even more hardcore, climb the world’s tallest vertical cliff, Mount Thor.
Scuba diving through shipwrecks is one of the many attractions. | Russ Heinl/Shutterstock
You’d expect to find turquoise water, shipwrecks, coves, and sea stacks off the coast of France, Italy, or Greece. But Ontario? It’s all there at Bruce Peninsula, a majestic national park three hours from Toronto. Visitors from the big city spend the weekend here tossing a frisbee around on the beach, play tipsy rounds of golf, embark on a glass-bottom boat cruise, or scuba dive to explore 22 shipwrecks at Fathom Five National Marine Park. The wrecks were a result of ships that sunk during a logging boom at the end of the 19th century.
After cruising the cape, settle in for drinks on the water. | Photo courtesy of Destination Canada
Jutting into the lobster-filled North Atlantic waters, Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island claims one of the best drives in Canada. The 185-mile Cabot Trail—named after the Italian explorer who stumbled on North America in 1497—skirts the rugged coastline in view of passing bald eagles and whales, including fin, minke, humpback, and pilot. Once you’re done exploring, enjoy live Celtic and Acadian music in small-town pubs and bars, which are particularly lively during the Celtic Colours International Festival in October.
The view alone is worth the visit (but the cider wine and cheese don’t hurt, either). | Denis Roger/Shutterstock
French-speaking and maritime cultures collide at the southern bank of the Saint Lawrence River with pastel-colored cottages, roadside lobster rolls, flocks of gannet seabirds, and a handful of gorgeous parks, including Forillon National Park, with its epic seaside cliffs. There are several cute towns along the way to stop at with restaurants serving fantastic local fare, like fresh salmon, cider wine, local cheeses, and poutine. The peninsula, which is a bit larger than Belgium, makes for a spectacular 550-mile loop starting and finishing in Québec City. Don’t make the trip without grabbing a pint of craft beer in view of the towering 300-foot Percé Rock.
No need to hunt for the Northern Lights here. | Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba
Leave space on your bucket list for this town of 1,000 residents in northern Manitoba, known as the polar bear capital of the world. Only accessible by air or rail, you’re almost guaranteed to see a polar bear if you visit in the fall. The area is home to baby (and adult) beluga whales, seals, caribou, and up to 250 bird species. A tour up here doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth it to experience the finest light show on Earth, the aurora borealis, which is seen above Churchill some 300 nights a year.
Keep an eye out for grizzlies and wolverines. | Photo by Chris Hendrickson Photography, courtesy of Tourism Saskatchewan
Canadians might rip Saskatchewan for being a province of never-ending flatness, but Grasslands National Park, a few miles over the border from Montana, transforms that jab into the most generous of compliments. The park is 350 square miles of utmost peace and solitude disturbed only by an abundance of animals like black-tailed prairie dogs, bison, elk, grizzlies, and wolverines. Camping here is great, too, because you can walk around and find your own spot anywhere as long as it’s outside of a designated campsite. Don’t forget to look up at the stars at night—Grasslands is the darkest of Canada’s dark-sky preserves.
You’re bound to see polar bears while exploring Nunavut’s northern islands. | Photo courtesy of Destination Canada
The Northwest Passage
One spot to add to your list of must-visit places is the Northwest Passage, the long-sought-after Europe-Asia link that stifled many an explorer, including Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition (the whole crew disappeared and turned to cannibalism in their desperation). Melting glaciers caused by climate change have made the 900-mile route that winds through Nunavut’s northern islands more accessible than ever in summer, leading a few cruise lines to offer expeditions. Along the way, you’ll see polar bears, Arctic birds, humpback and beluga whales, remote Inuit communities, and—if you’re lucky—one of Franklin’s recently discovered shipwrecks.
Dunes for days. | Photo courtesy of Destination Canada
Prince Edward County
Just two and a half hours east of Toronto, Sandbanks Provincial Park is Canada’s version of White Sands National Park—if it had beautiful turquoise-water beaches, that is. Along with great beaches and towering dunes, Sandbanks has some easy-going hiking trails and excellent campgrounds. But what makes a trip here even more worthwhile are the cute villages, biking trails, wineries, and restaurants in surrounding Prince Edward County.
Nahanni National Park Reserve
This vast and relatively remote park is a well-deserving member of UNESCO’s World Heritage family. It features spectacular mountain ranges, a waterfall twice the height of Niagara Falls, 3,000-foot canyons, and the wild South Nahanni River. The park is a natural playground for hiking, multi-day canoe trips, white-water rafting, rock climbing, and soaking in sulfur hot springs. It also offers up one-size-fits-all hiking experiences ranging from a five-mile trek up Sunblood Mountain to the grueling experience of tackling the granite peaks surrounding Glacier Lake, known as the “Cirque of the Unclimbables.”