Planning your Great Canadian Road Trip – part 5

This post is part five of the series Great Canadian Road Trip.

In parts one, two, three and four we drove from Toronto to Western Canada, visiting 16 national parks and many iconic Canadian cities and towns. In parts five and six we’ll be driving from Toronto to Eastern Canada.

Similar to our first leg of the road trip, I’m going to assume we’re starting from Toronto (it’s the biggest city, most central location and arrival point for many international flights). Instead of driving west, however, this time we will be driving east.

Toronto to Fundy National Park

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You’ll first notice that there is one national park not on the journey (the maroon marker not connected to the blue path). That’s Point Pelee National Park and it’s about a 4 hours drive from Toronto (one way). I’m not a huuuge fan of the park or southwestern Ontario (everything southwest of Toronto) so I’m not including it, but if you’d like to make the journey out be my guest!

Anyways, the drive from Toronto (A) to Thousand Islands National Park (B) is a little under three hours, though the park does not recommend using Google Maps or GPS for locating access points to the water. Instead, here are their directions for finding the Visitor Centre who can then help you get to the access point you want.

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Thousand Islands National Park. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada.

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Thousand Islands National Park. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada.

Considering it’s a park of islands, the best way to enjoy it is from the water. There are kayak rentals, guided kayak trips, boat tours and more. There are plenty of campsites in the park or you can arrive early, spend a day on the water and then continue on your way in the evening. I’d probably spend an evening at a campsite before continuing onto Ottawa.

Ottawa (C) is only an hour and a half from Thousand Islands. Though not a park, it would be silly to drive across all of Canada, come so close to the capital and not make even a short visit.

I only made my first visit to Ottawa in 2017 even though my best friend has been living there for five years. Ottawa’s tourism page gives some ideas of things to do and see around the city. Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal make for a nice afternoon walk. If you’re visiting in the winter, the canal freezes over and you can skate on it.

I’d highly recommend The National Gallery of Canada even if art isn’t your thing. Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven (Canadian art icons) painted the most beautiful landscapes around Canada and you can see many of their original paintings here (see sample paintings below).

You can also make the short drive over the Ottawa River to Gatineau and do a short hike in Parc de la Gatineau. You could maybe see all that you wanted to see in a two-night-one-day plan, but giving yourself another day would allow you to slow down a bit, do a walk in Gatineau and enjoy yourself more.

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Autumn in Gatineau. Driving to the park, walking around the lake and driving back to the city all takes fewer than three hours.

After Ottawa, it’s just over a two hour drive to Montreal (D) in the province of Quebec.

Quick history lesson. Much of Eastern Canada was first settled by the French. French and Aboriginals worked together to develop fur-trading, traversing Eastern Canada waterways in canoes and earning themselves the title of voyageurs (part of the inspiration for this blog name). The English came, founding the Hudson Bay Company which competed with the French for fur-trading. Eventually the English defeated the French in a battle in Quebec City and created the province of Quebec to separate Catholic French from Protestant English . Today, Quebec is a francophone province (many communities do not speak English at all, like where I was living here and here), and several communities in maritime provinces and Ontario still speak French.

So expect some French language and culture as you make your way through Quebec. Again, not a park so pass over it if you’d like, but Montreal is one of the most culturally rich cities in Canada and a great place to visit. Walk to Parc du Mont-Royal for amazing views of the city and around Vieux-Montreal (old Montreal) where you’ll see architecture influenced by Europe. Being the outdoorsy type you are, the Botanical Garden and Montreal Biodome will be of interest to you. Also, Mile End is a fun neighbourhood with a quirky history. I can’t recommend enough doing a food tour with Local Montreal Food Tours (specifically the Mile End one). The guides are all from Montreal and know everything you could want to know, and the food is incredible. I think three days is a good amount of time to spend in Montreal.

La Mauricie National Park (E) is located two hours from Montreal and offers car camping facilities, backcountry campsites and tent/cabin structures. The park offers hiking trails, canoeing and kayaking. The park is situated where the Canadian Shield meets the St. Lawrence Lowlands, so you get some dramatic landscapes and interesting geology. Again, how long you stay depends on how far into the park you’d like to see. To get into some of the more remote lakes, you might like 4 or 5 nights, but if you’d be content with a day hike and day paddle, 2 nights would also suffice.

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La Mauricie National Park. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada.

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La Mauricie National Park. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada.

Another two hour drive and you’re in the fortified city of Quebec City (F), the heart of French Canada. Old Quebec (the oldest part of Quebec City) is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While Canada as nation is just over 150 years old, Quebec City has already celebrated its 400th birthday.

Quebec City offers cobblestone streets and European architecture. Terrasse Dufferin is the boardwalk that runs along the cliffside above the St. Lawrence River and passes by Le Château Frontenac, the iconic red bricked copper roof hotel. This is the kind of city where you can’t go without a walking tour (and many of them are free) because you’ll see the beautiful, historic walks but also learn about their significance.

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A 30 minute drive outside of Quebec City is Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, though the name is a bit misleading. I’d never heard of it until I was researching for this post so I did some investigating and it isn’t listed as an official national park on the Parks Canada website. That being said, this website describes the park and its activities and has photos (and it looks awesome). So I think it’d be worth checking out.

After spending two or three (or four or five) days in Quebec City, getting good food, relaxing and walking around, it’s a 6 hour drive to your next stop. Again, here is another national park that’s not actually a national park. Parc national de la Gaspésie (G) is not listed on the Parks Canada website, so it isn’t technically a national park. That being said, if you’ll be driving by it anyways, I think it’s worth a quick stop. A guy I used to guide with was from there and always spoke so highly of it, so I am personally intrigued. Canoeing, kayaking, hiking, skiing, rafting – lot’s of potential fun to be had here.

Three hours onwards is our next park that really is a national park! Parc National Forillon (H) runs alongs the St. Lawrence Gulf, so you’ve reached the sea! This park is fantastic for whale watching (I’ve done a whale watching cruise in this area – saw some whales and the scenery was also beautiful). You can also do a guided sea kayaking or do one of several short/medium length hikes.

Our next stop is Kouchibouguac National Park (I), a 7 hour drive from Forillon. There are beaches, short-medium hiking trails, biking trails, beaches, paddling – you name it. The park has also made an effort to teach about the history of the land and the communities that were expropriated in the park’s creation. The park is located in the hunting and gathering territory of the Mi’kmaq, whose presence in the area dates back over 4,000 years. The park has plenty of options for front- and backcountry camping. Depending on how much time you have overall, I’d recommend leaving Forillon pretty early in the morning and then spending 2 nights or more in this park.

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Kelly’s Beach Boardwalk, photo from Parks Canada.

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Mi’kmaq in the park, photo from Parks Canada.

After a 2.5 hour drive, we’ve arrived at our next park: Fundy National Park (J). This national park is located at the Bay of Fundy (the national park only encompasses a small part of the bay – you can get more information on the area here). Now, the park is said to be quite lovely, however I would recommend going to Hopewell Rocks (located a short drive northeast of the park). This is where you can see the amazing flower pot rocks. The Bay of Fundy has the largest tides in the world (the difference can be over 50ft on a given day!) and you can walk along the ocean floor and then kayak above it later that day.

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Kayaking among the beautiful rock formations of Fundy. Photo by Will Daravong.

There’s lots of front and backcountry camping options, yurts and cabins to choose from. To get the most out of your visit, you need to spend at least a full day here to see the tides at their highest and lowest. There are also some cute towns around the area that may be worth passing through if that’s your thing. You can check out the New Brunswick Tourism page for more information.

Congrats if you’ve made it this far down the post – it’s a long one, I know. But we’ve managed to see 4 national parks, 2 sort-of national parks and 3 of Canada’s coolest cities. It’s been a long journey thus far, and we’re approaching the end of The Great Canadian Road Trip. Stay tuned for the sixth and final post where we’ll drive even further east for lighthouses, icebergs and more!

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