This post is part one of the series The Great Canadian Road Trip.
I remember once saying that my goal was to visit every national park in Canada. Someone responded “well, you’re going to need a lot of time and a lot of money for that.” I hadn’t appreciated the sheer quantity of parks, nor the immense distance between them all. Many of the parks are far north and difficult to access, but there are still so many to see even if you don’t have the luxury of ample time and ample money. So read on for your guide to the greatest Canada Road Trip!
Whether you’re from Canada or abroad, seeing all that this country has to offer is an incredible experience. But how to do it? The country is huge! Many people choose to drive across Canada (flights within Canada are expensive), and it’s on my bucket list too. So, here’s my take on how to plan your great Canadian road trip.
To simplify things, I’m going to break up the journey into a few posts. You can mix and match them according to your time and budget. Note: the number of nights I’ve budgeted is pretty huge. A lot of people who come to Canada do it once and spend A LOT of time here. If that’s not your style or you don’t have that much time, shorten the days or just choose one or two sections.
In this first post, we are departing from the Greater Toronto Area (where around 20% of Canadians live and many international flights land). We will drive along the coasts of Lake Superior and Lake Huron. It’s an incredibly scenic route.
Toronto to Thunder Bay (10 nights)
Starting in Toronto (A), drive 290 km (3 hours and 40 minutes) to Bruce Peninsula National Park (B). There are places to camp, you can rent a kayak or canoe for a few hours or hike. I’d recommend staying there 2 nights.
Then drive 3.5 hours to Georgian Bay Islands National Park (C). This park is by boat access only, but totally worth the effort (I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world). Drive to Honey Harbour, and then you can either take the DayTripper Ferry in the morning and return that late in the afternoon, or take a water taxi and camp. I strongly recommend camping at either Honeymoon Bay or Chimney Bay on the island – both the sunrise and sunset are not the be missed – and hiking some of these trails (especially the Northern Ones). Depart from Honey Harbour in the early morning, spend 2 nights camping and then head back to Honey Harbour late the next day.
Not a national park, but I think anyone would be crazy to skip Killarney Provincial Park (D), you might want to make a stop in Sudbury here though (4.5 hours from C). Take a nice, hot shower, restock food and gas and get ready to do the most Canadian thing: canoeing. You can rent canoes, paddles, and any other gear you’d need from Killarney Outfitters and head out for 2 or 3 nights. Due to popularity, campsites must be booked far in advance. Consider going on a weekday.
Leave for campsite early int the morning, paddle to the outfitter to return your gear and then start the 4 hour drive to Sault St. Marie.
You can use this to either do a quick refuel and restock, but I’d suggest staying the night to shower and reset. Then, in the morning drive for 4.5 hours to Pukaskwa National Park (F). You can car camp at Hattie Cove Campgrounds and choose from a number of day hikes or day paddles to experience the land. You can park your car and do some backcountry hiking/paddling, but you’d need gear and this park isn’t has built up as Killarney, so this might challenging, and I’m trying to keep this post focused on road tripping.
The final leg of this portion is the drive to Thunder Bay (about 3 hours and 45 minutes). If you need to shorten the trip, my preference would be cutting out one park. By trying to hit them all but only spending one night in each, you won’t have enough time to absorb the environment and you’ll burn out quickly.
If you’re looking to continue your journey across Canada, my next post will be going from Thunder Bay across the prairies and into Banff and Jasper National Parks (maybe the most iconic parks). Otherwise you can either drop off a rental car in Thunder Bay and fly back to Toronto, or drive back to along another route (maybe I’ll do another post about this later on).
I hope this gives you some ideas! As always, contact me if you have questions.