Canada goes green – here are the best holidays on offer there

·10 min read
Montage of Canada's travel highlights - Getty
Montage of Canada's travel highlights - Getty

The old saying that good things come in small packages does not apply to Canada. Because Canada is, in all senses, a very big deal.

It is the world’s second-largest country (only Russia eclipses it); a geographical behemoth that faces three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic); a titan whose terrain ebbs all the way from the US border and the leafy lanes of New England to the cold depths that lap at North Pole ice. It has mountains and rivers, tundra and prairie, small coves and huge harbours, shining cities on Great Lakes and Inuit villages in hidden bays.

But this is a good thing – not least when it comes to holidays. For here is a travel quilt stitched into 13 huge patches: the 10 provinces that make up the country’s lower half and the three immense “territories” that form the upper. Within them, you can enjoy just about every conceivable adventure – from gourmet dining in Toronto and Vancouver to scenery in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland; high-peaks skiing in Alberta, cowboy capers in Saskatchewan and dalliances with polar bears in Nunavut.

Happily, it is now very possible to do any or all of this. The latest update (August 26) to Britain’s travel traffic-light system saw Canada promoted to the green list of countries that can be visited without the need to quarantine on return, even if you have not been fully vaccinated. Better still, Canada has turned the key in the lock, and replaced the welcome mat on the doorstep - announcing that, as of early next month (September 7), it will be open to doubly jabbed tourists from the other side of the Atlantic. This sets up the prospect of autumnal road trips as New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island turn gold, but also journeys in the seasons beyond: to a Yukon where the Northern Lights shimmer; to a Quebec where the French connection lends intrigue in summer and winter; to a British Columbia that thrills all year, whether you’re on the pistes of Whistler or whale watching off Vancouver Island.

You can find more details on Canada’s entry policy for the fully jabbed at canada.ca/en/public-health and gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/canada, and plenty of suggestions on the country as a destination at canada.travel. The 20 holidays listed below cover all 13 patches in the national tapestry – from east to west, hot to cold, sun to snow, and sea to sky.

EASTERN GIANTS

A cooler side to Toronto, gateway to Niagara Falls

Canada’s largest city is the easiest and most obvious gateway to the country as a whole – but is sometimes damned by a reputation for dullness that is neither accurate nor merited. Toronto has an unheralded cool that plays out in the bars of West Queen West, the thrift stores of Kensington Market, and in the Art Gallery of Ontario (from Rubens to Warhol; ago.ca). It can be a launch pad as well – for road trips to the national capital Ottawa (250 miles north-east) or the splash and crash of Niagara Falls (80 miles around Lake Ontario).

A week at the five-star Ritz-Carlton Toronto, leaving Heathrow on September 18, starts at £1,595 per person, with British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787; ba.com/holidays).

Niagara Falls on a sunny day - Chris Lauer/iStockphoto
Niagara Falls on a sunny day - Chris Lauer/iStockphoto

Great Lakes and moose-filled forests

For many tourists, Ontario begins and ends with Toronto and Ottawa. But a province of 415,000 square miles – that runs north to the lip of Hudson Bay, and far enough south to lock horns with Detroit – has more to offer than gargantuan (CN) towers and parliaments.

Original Travel (020 3958 6120; originaltravel.co.uk) has a 15-day “Comprehensive Ontario” road trip that starts in Toronto, but rolls north into the moose and bear-filled forests of Algonquin Provincial Park – and on to Manitoulin Island, where Sheshegwaning First Nation life thrives amid the tides of Lake Huron. From £5,000 per person, including flights.

A French fantasy in Montreal

Canada’s largest province is always an alluring travel proposition thanks to the alliance of French and North American culture that informs the day-to-day existence of its two most famous cities. Both Montreal (where the “Old Montreal” district is home to an inevitable Notre-Dame Basilica) and Quebec City (whose most famous building is probably the Gothic Revival pile of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac) ring with echoes of the Gallic world.

Luxury Gold (0800 206 1468; luxurygold.com) runs an eight-day “Indulgence in Eastern Canada” group break that visits both cities. From £2,995 per person, excluding flights.

Last Gaspé with St Lawrence

Quebec’s enormity means that it extends far beyond its cities. Not least on to the Gaspé Peninsula – which is partly shaped by the St Lawrence River’s collision with the Atlantic.

Discover North America (0800 246 1241; discovernorthamerica.co.uk) sells a 15-day “Splendid Nature of Quebec” road trip, feasible in September, that forges east to the peninsula. Stops include Land’s End village Percé, and Gaspésie National Park – where the Appalachians hit the last leg of their trek to the Atlantic. From £825 per person, excluding flights.

montreal - Getty
montreal - Getty
ATLANTIC CANADA

A date with the little Prince

For all its size, Canada does do “little”. The smallest piece of its jigsaw, (the province of) Prince Edward Island, would fit into the largest, (the territory of) Nunavut, 370 times.

The island’s compactness (153 miles from tip to tail) means that, realistically, it should be combined with a second province. Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386 474; abercrombiekent.co.uk) does this in its “Discover Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island” break. This 14-day tour spends three nights in the capital Charlottetown (where the seeds of the Canadian state were planted at the Charlottetown Conference of 1864), and steps into the dunes of Prince Edward Island National Park. From £2,095 per person, including flights.

Explore a champagne super Nova

By contrast, Nova Scotia is large enough to support a holiday of its own. Halifax, its capital, is the biggest city on the Canadian coast other than Vancouver, standing proud behind the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (pier21.ca), and the culinary scene of its trendy North End. Cape Breton Island, conversely, is wild and windswept where the Cabot Trail clings to its flanks as one of North America’s most dramatic road-trip routes.

Canadian Sky (01342 395 185; canadiansky.co.uk) sells a 13-night “Nova Scotia & Maritime Treasures” road trip that dissects the province from £2,249 per person, including flights.

Fall for leafy New Brunswick

Talk of autumn road trips in North America tends to focus on the forest-framed highways of the USA’s north-east. But New Brunswick – which shares a border with the uppermost state of New England, Maine – is just as flamboyant in its autumn colours.

Bon Voyage (0800 316 3012; bon-voyage.co.uk) sells a 14-night “Atlantic Canada: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island” road trip. New Brunswick stops include the pretty port of St Andrews, and Hopewell Rocks, where the Bay of Fundy paws at sandstone monoliths. From £1,995 per person, including flights.

new brunswick - Getty
new brunswick - Getty

In Viking footsteps on Newfoundland

The final segment of “Atlantic Canada” is arguably the wildest. Together, Newfoundland and Labrador make up one province. But it is the first half of the equation – an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence – that is most prey to the ocean’s moods, jutting into the Atlantic as the easternmost part of both country and continent. So far east, in fact, that L’Anse aux Meadows, at the north tip of Newfoundland, is the near-certain site of the first European landing in North America – Viking navigators coming ashore 500 years before Columbus.

The 15-day “Authentic Newfoundland Fly-Drive” sold by Wexas (020 8125 4187; wexas.com) charts the province in detail – wandering north to L’Anse aux Meadows via the mountains of Gros Morne National Park. From £2,360 per person, including flights.

CENTRAL GROUND

Saddle up in Saskatchewan

Few nations deliver an air of seemingly endless space quite like Canada. Saskatchewan is arguably the epitome of this feeling, reaching for the horizon in swathes of bare prairie, and it would be remiss to view the province as blankly uninteresting.

Trailfinders (020 7084 6500; trailfinders.com) canters out deep into the grass with “Mounties & Cowboys of Saskatchewan” – a 14-day road trip that enjoys mornings of riding out at La Reata Ranch on Lake Diefenbaker, and 6,000 years of indigenous Northern Plains culture at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. It also calls on the provincial capital Regina – the main training base for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. From £1,999 per person, including flights.

Bear necessity on Hudson Bay

There is far more to Manitoba than its most famous attraction (not least the forests and grasslands of Riding Mountain National Park and Grand Beach Provincial Park). But for many, the reason to see the province is the outpost town of Churchill, high up on Hudson Bay, which revels in the nickname “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. These beautiful, fierce animals gather here in number in autumn, and can be seen at close quarters, and in safety, from special “tundra buggies”.

Wildlife Worldwide (01962 302 086; wildlifeworldwide.com) offers an eight-day “Hudson Bay’s Polar Bears” group trip to Churchill – from £8,995 per person, including flights. Two trips are scheduled for late September.

polar bears - Getty
polar bears - Getty
THE WILD NORTH

Silence is golden in the Yukon

The “smallest” of Canada’s three territories is one of the planet’s least densely populated places. Just under 36,000 souls are scattered across the Yukon’s 186,000 square miles – 25,000 of them in the capital Whitehorse. The result is a region of rivers, mountains and back-trail tranquillity where you can walk, fish, camp and kayak – far from any hint of a crowd.

Canada As You Like It (020 8742 8299; canadaasyoulikeit.com) offers “Yukon Explored: Touring and Hiking”, a 14-night trip that goes to Kluane National Park (where Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan, hits 19,551ft/5,959m), and Tombstone Territorial Park, where grizzlies lope in sight of the Alaska border. From £2,485 per person, including flights.

Lights in the sky above Yellowknife

Canada really begins to wear its cloak of unfathomable vastness in the Northwest Territories – an area that, were it to declare independence, would instantly join the list of the world’s 20 biggest countries (in 19th place – smaller than Mongolia, larger than Peru). Here is a realm of winter darkness, free of light pollution (the capital Yellowknife is the only real dot on the map) – which offers incredible chances to glimpse the aurora borealis.

Discover The World (01737 214 250; discover-the-world.com) offers a five-day “Aurora at Blachford Lake” trip – available between January and April – which slumbers in a rustic lodge that can only be reached by boat-plane. From £2,260 per person, including flights.

Reindeers in the North

The Northwest Territories were even larger until 1999, when its northernmost extremities were broken off into a new territory. Nunavut immediately became the largest piece of the Canadian jigsaw – a stretch of land mass so gargantuan as to be roughly the same size as Mexico. It pushes its barren, frozen soul high up into the Arctic Circle and the Arctic Ocean, almost bumping elbows with Greenland, and because of this, is home to wildlife galore.

Best Served Scandinavia (020 8125 3192; best-served.co.uk) dips into Canada with “Caribou Migration at Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge”. Spend nine days watching these hardy beasts as they cross the landscape in September. From £7,745 per person, including flights.

aurora borealis - Getty
aurora borealis - Getty

Unleash your inner explorer in A Passage to Canada

Nunavut is true explorer territory – not least because its upper limits are defined by the Northwest Passage, which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in (very) indirect fashion.

Exodus Travels (020 3553 6240; exodus.co.uk) will run a decidedly long-range trip next summer (August 1-17 2022). “Northwest Passage: In The Footsteps of Franklin” will trace the journey attempted by British navigator Sir John Franklin in 1845 – albeit without disaster. Franklin and his 128 men died as their ships became mired in ice. This new trip will take 17 days to forge from Kangerlussuaq on Greenland to the Inuit hamlet of Resolute in Nunavut, on Arctic vessel Ultramarine. From £12,100 per person, excluding flights.

WESTERN PROMISE

Glaciers in the Rockies

There will always be roars of protest at the suggestion from the other side of the US border, but Alberta probably has the most picturesque section of North America’s rugged spine. Indeed, almost every mile of the 140-mile “Icefields Parkway” through Banff and Jasper National Parks is a photo opportunity – whether it be the hard ridge of Castle Mountain living up to its name or the Athabasca Glacier inching along its ancient groove.

The “Spectacular Rockies and Glaciers of Alberta” escorted trip sold by Insight Vacations (0808 271 5293; insightvacations.com) drives the length of the Parkway as part of a nine-day itinerary, from £3,050 per person, excluding flights. Eight tours are on sale for 2022.

Downhill delights in Banff

Of course, Jasper and Banff are also options for winter holidays; their mountainsides strafed with ski runs. The latter is particularly popular because, in straddling the Continental Divide, its Sunshine Village resort (skibanff.com) is a banquet of reliable snow cover, with a season that can stretch from early November to late May.

Inghams (01483 938 223; inghams.co.uk) has a week in December at the four-star Caribou Lodge in Banff from £951 per person, including flights.

Canada with kids on the Vancouver shore

Just as California gleams on the west flank of the US, so British Columbia is the magnet that draws visitors to Canada’s Pacific Rim. Vancouver is the inevitable starting-grid; a stylish city alive with bars and restaurants in increasingly chic Yaletown and Gastown. But there is a near-inexhaustible wealth of wonders to a province that is the same size as Tanzania.

British Columbia is viable for a break with children. Explore (01252 883 762; explore.co.uk) sells a 14-day “Family Canadian Adventure” that kicks off in the city, then tackles a treetop ropes course by the Capilano River, and canoes on Clearwater Lake. Two trips will run next summer. Prices from £2,599, including flights.

Vancouver skyline - Feng Wei Photography/Moment RF
Vancouver skyline - Feng Wei Photography/Moment RF

Whales and wolves on an island paradise

Vancouver is not the British Columbian capital. That role falls to Victoria. Which, confusingly, is on next-door Vancouver Island – just a little larger than Belgium. It sprawls out in a north-westerly direction, with whales breaching in the Strait of Georgia, which divides it from the mainland; wolves howling in the trees swaddle its upper reaches.

Audley Travel (01993 662 542; audleytravel.com) offers a 19-day “Canada’s Western Wilderness & Wildlife Self-Drive” which spends six nights on the island, including at Tofino in the rainforested shadow of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. From £3,995 per person, including flights.

Away from it all in First Nations Canada

If the top of Vancouver Island is remote, the archipelago that dots the ocean a further 180 miles north-west might be the end of the world. The Haida Gwaii islands are an essential corner of indigenous Canada, administered by the Haida people who have called it home for 14,000 years – a Canada about as far removed from Toronto as you can get.

The 12-day “Culture & Wildlife in Haida Gwaii” holiday sold by Steppes Travel (01285 880 980; steppestravel.com) admires the islands in depth, dipping into the Gwaii Haanas Reserve, where bears and deer haunt the forest. From £7,400 per person, flights extra.

Read more: Telegraph Travel's complete guide to the best hotels in Canada.

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