Wilderness is always just a heartbeat away in Canada. The vast majority of its population lives within 200km of the USA border, leaving the rest of the Rocky Mountains, interior plains, Arctic tundra and maritime magnificence wide open and wild at heart. This is the second largest country in the world and everything comes supersized. Take Vancouver Island – an eight-hour drive from tip to tip, but only 1.5 hours away from Vancouver city. This is a place where you can hike for days, see grizzly bears, kayak in orca ocean and visit Aboriginal communities. Read our Canada travel guide for more.
Our top Canada holidays
From £33396 days inc UK flights
Spectacular viewing of British Columbia's grizzly bears
From £2999 to £319911 days ex flights
Walk, bike and canoe in the Canadian Rockies
Small group2022: 29 Jun, 27 Jul, 17 Aug, 14 Sep
Best time to go to Canada
With six time zones, two coasts, Arctic tundra and Rockies thrown into the mix, Canadian weather reports must go on for hours. It has a lot of it. So for working out when to go to Canada, rest assured that the weather varies greatly per region. Yes, it snows a lot in winter, but it depends where. The Arctic borders have winter until July and, even then, the average temperature is only 12°C. But the Pacific Coast is largely freeze-free in winter. Head to the Rockies, however, for six months of snowshoeing a year. Find out more about the best time to go to Canada.
Map & highlightsBritish Columbia, in the wild, rainforested west, is home to the Great Bear Rainforest and Vancouver Island – a craggy Pacific Coast outpost plonked right on the whale and orca migratory route. BC also marks the start of the Canadian Rockies; follow the mountains north-east as they jag over the Alberta border, into Banff and Jasper national parks. The Yukon is the crowning province, where you can go husky sledding in winter, or try frontier town Churchill for polar bear and beluga watching. Head east to French-Canadian Quebec or Ontario for the most spectacular autumn foliage. Algonquin is your best bet.
As well as being home to Banff and Jasper National Parks, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, Alberta is all encompassing outdoorsiness. It is a winter playground of snowshoeing, ice skating, cross country and dog sledding. And in summer, the walking trails are out of this world. Seeing it all on horseback really allows you to immerse yourself in both this province’s cultural and natural heritage. Calgary and Edmonton are thriving cosmopolitan cities too.
Algonquin Provincial Park
2. Algonquin Provincial Park
Of course Canada has a protected park dedicated to canoeing. Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park has 1,500 lakes and over 200km of canoe routes. So, you can paddle for days in this most serene of wild places, spotting some of the park’s prolific moose as you go. Paddle with expert naturalists to spot otters, beavers, loons and wolves too. In winter, this becomes husky sledding and snowshoeing paradise.
3. British Columbia
Known as BC which should actually stand for ‘Bl**dy Cool’. In fact, in terms of landscapes and habitats, it is down right greedy. Rocky Mountains – tick. Whale watching – tick. Grizzly bear watching – tick. Extraordinary rail journeys – tick. Outdoor adventure in Yoho and Glacier National Parks – mega ticks. And then of course, there is the ever venturous Vancouver, with its eponymous otherworldly island, Canada’s largest Pacific island.
Just south of the Arctic Circle, on the western shore of Hudson Bay in the province of Manitoba, this is considered by some to be the polar bear capital of the world. Inaccessible by road, this small port is the land of tundra buggies, or the larger polar rovers, all-terrain vehicles which enable you to view, photograph and study polar bears in safety. Like something out of Star Wars on Ice really.
5. Vancouver Island
It’s unusual for a province’s capital to be on an island, but this insular idyll is home to Victoria, just one of the island’s ‘capital’ experiences. There is nothing insular about its demographic though with aboriginal, Chinese and British cultures all shining in their own inimitable ways. Vancouver Island also boasts vast wilderness, with mountains, giant fir forests and empty coves. Where out of the blue, a whale appears.
Way up North and way out there on the wilderness scale. Especially in winter when the Yukon comes into its own. Husky adventures, or mushing, are a holiday of a lifetime and you get some serious mushers in the Yukon, with options for anything from 3-8 day expeditions, staying in lodges or toasty winter tents. In summer, swap sled for saddle to discover mountainous ridges, creeks and valleys at their most verdant, on horseback.
Canadian mountains, rivers and oceans aren’t just for looking at – they’re for hiking, snowshoeing, white water rafting and kayaking. Canadians are experts at making the seemingly inaccessible accessible, so don’t let travelling with kids or specific accessibility requirements put you off, either. Adventure holidays in Canada run nearly year-round, so you can track bears with an expert guide in spring, hike the peaks and plateaus of the Canadian Rockies in summer, kayak the orca bays of Vancouver Island in autumn, and mush between ex-goldmining towns in the Yukon in winter.
The Canadian Rockies are the 1,600km-long finishing flourish of the Rocky Mountain chain. They barge through the US border into Alberta, threading north-west through Banff and Jasper national parks, carving out glacier fields, luminous turquoise lakes and hot springs along the way. Canada is even bigger and journey times are even longer than you might think, especially on sidewinding Rocky Mountain roads, so do take your time. Most Canadian Rockies holidays last at least 10 days, so that you have time to settle into forest campsites and get stuck into full-day hikes.
We’ve thought of a more apt name for British Columbia: Bear Country. Or, as our British Columbia travel guide would have it, Bloody Cool. This sprawling province in Western Canada bundles together 900 provincial parks and protected areas, a 26,000km-long coastline that faces the whale-rich Pacific Ocean, and Vancouver Island – and there’s still plenty of room to spare. Most holidays to British Columbia focus on the wildlife that roams here, from grizzly bears, free-range elk, caribou herds and bald eagles, to sea otters, grey whales, salmon and orca.
More holiday ideas
From US $1235 to US $15454 days ex flights
Kayak with orcas and humpacks in beautiful British Columbia
Small group2021: 4 Jul, 11 Jul, 18 Jul, 25 Jul, 1 Aug, 8 Aug, 15 Aug, 22 Aug, 29 Aug, 5 Sep
From £198814 days ex flights
Two week road trip through East Canada.
More about Canada
Family holidays in Canada often head out to the wild west. Here, the jigsaw of national parks is well-supplied with kid-friendly campsites and smooth roads. You could have a tailor made holiday fitted to your brood’s requirements, but for older kids small group trips are often the best way to go. Between the campfire stories, cookouts and easy hikes, the kids will make friends for life. Plus, you’ll get a guide who can keep your children’s attention with stories about the bear forests and Aboriginal kayaking routes you’re exploring. Just be sure to stock up on trail mix and root beer for the long drives.
Many travellers seeking out critters in Canada have one beast on their mind: the inimitable bear. Wildlife holidays in Canada put you in the hands of expert guides who can search for black, grizzly and even the near-mythical spirit bear in British Columbia and Alberta. Polar bear tours in Canada are the crème de la crème. You can often see pods of belugas and narwhals on the same trip when you go to Churchill, the self-crowned “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. You’re most likely to see cetaceans on the westerly Pacific Coast, where over 10 species of whales and orca chase salmon and seals.
Types of holidays
Small group holidays to Canada put you in league with a bunch of similarly minded explorers. They’re often best for solo travellers and those on a budget, as you can choose to share rooms or tents and easily meet new people. Walking holidays are the best way to see the secretive trails originally trod by Aboriginal Canadians. And really, almost every holiday to Canada is an adventure holiday. You might begin and wind down with a few days in Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto, but in-between you’ll strike out into sky-nudging mountain terrain, bump across polar bear tundra, or sail to islands surrounded by whale-y great ocean.
If you'd like to chat about Canada or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.