Canada is a vast country with endless beauty spanning many diverse landscapes. With one lake for every 18 people in Canada, there’s no shortage of pristine wilderness and outdoor adventure.
A road trip through Canada is one of the best ways to see the changing landscapes of the county. And Canada’s National Parks are the best spots to explore along the way. Let’s dive into exactly what you need to know to plan the ultimate Canada road trip—one that thoroughly explores Eastern Canada, a popular region of the country, but an itinerary to also cross Canada’s 10 provinces, taking in the best national parks along the way.
Although this road trip route runs east to west, you could also plan your itinerary to easily drive it in the reverse direction.
Canada Road Trip Itinerary
Start or end your adventure at the most easterly point in North America—Cape Spear, Newfoundland. Many people will choose to skip Newfoundland because of its distance from the mainland, but I can promise you it’s worth the extra journey. Newfoundland has its own identity that is unlike anywhere else in Canada.
Spend a few days getting acquainted with the charming city of St John’s, then start your road trip towards Gros Morne National Park. Along the way, you’ll drive through Terra Nova National Park. This is a perfect place to break up the drive, as Gros Morne is about seven hours away. Spend the night in Terra Nova, and soak up Newfoundland’s wild beauty.
Gros Morne National Park is stunning. If you love to hike, challenge yourself up 800 meters to the summit of Gros Morne mountain. This is no easy feat, as the last two hours of the hike involve climbing up steep rocks, but the views at the top are worth it.
For a less strenuous activity in the area, take a boat tour through the fjords and marvel at the beauty carved out by the work of glaciers over thousands of years.
Once you arrive on the mainland of Canada, head to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The park is home to the Cabot Trail, which has been continuously named one of the most beautiful drives in the world.
Prince Edward Island
From Cape Breton, make your way through Nova Scotia into the province of New Brunswick. If you want to see all 10 of Canada’s provinces, consider a detour to Prince Edward Island National Park. The province of PEI is connected to the mainland of Canada by a 20-minute bridge.
It’s possible to drive through PEI in one day, and it’s well worth a stop. Along the way, you’ll find beautiful sandy beaches alongside red cliffs and wind-sculpted sand dunes. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to stay a couple of days longer and soak up more of the East Coast Canadian charm and fresh lobster.
Whether you detour to PEI or not, your next stop in New Brunswick will be the Bay of Fundy National Park. This highlight of the park is the Bay of Fundy, where you can witness the highest tides in the world. The tide rises and falls 40 feet or so, twice daily. When the water recedes, you can walk around on the ocean floor and see the unique rock formations up close. During high tide, rent a kayak and go around Hopewell Rocks for an alternative view.
From the Bay of Fundy, you will continue the drive from into the province of Quebec towards La Mauricie National Park. With over 150 lakes in the park, there are endless opportunities to canoe. Or alternatively, you can take a hike to one of the park’s many beautiful waterfalls. Afterward, opt to spend a night in nearby Montreal, one of Canada’s most charming cities.
Continue your journey from Quebec to the province of Ontario. Along the way, you can stop in Thousand Islands National Park. This natural attraction is thousands of small islands spanning across the border between Canada and the U.S. Spend the night in the park, or if you’re short on time you can stop for a quick boat tour through the islands and continue on South.
Opt for a stop further South in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, where you can explore Canada’s only urban National Park—Rouge Park. Or continue driving west and your road trip will take you to Algonquin Provincial Park.
Covering over 8000 square kilometers of rugged Canadian Shield, Algonquin is home to lakes, rivers, forests, and a diverse wildlife population. It’s one of the best places in Canada to go canoeing, with over 1600 km of canoe routes that follow lakes, streams, and portage trails.
Ontario is large, so get ready for a long drive ahead to the next national park. But the scenery will continue to impress, as your road trip takes you through stunning alpine forests and some of the largest lakes in the world.
The next stop will be Pukaskwa National Park, located on the beautiful Lake Superior in Northern Ontario. Explore the backcountry coastal hiking trails, where you can walk over a Suspension Bridge overlooking Chigamiwinigum Fall. This park is also a great opportunity to see the culture and heritage of The Anishinabe First Nation.
Continue on to the province of Manitoba toward Riding Mountain National Park. This is a long drive, so opt to spend the night in the capital city, Winnipeg. Clear Lake is the jewel of Riding Mountain National Park and the heart of most activities in the area. It’s the perfect place to spend a summer day, whether it’s swimming, kayaking, or stand-up paddle boarding. The park is also a great place to go wildlife spotting, with many bison in the area.
Make your way to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan for a visit to Grasslands National Park. This park showcases the beauty of the prairie landscapes. Take a drive through the newly opened Badlands Parkway, which rises and falls along an escarpment, providing gorgeous westward views across a wild prairie expanse.
From Saskatchewan, your Canadian road trip continues west into Alberta and into the Rocky Mountains. First stop is Banff National Park, one of Canada’s most popular destinations. There is no shortage of outdoor activities to do in the park. Some of these include horseback riding, rock climbing, or white water rafting around world-famous Lake Louise.
From Banff, take the scenic way to Jasper National Park through the Icefields Parkway. National Geographic named this one of the best road trips in the world, and it lives up to its reputation. You will pass through ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and emerald lakes. The drive has many points of interests along the way including Lake Louise, Athabasca Falls, and the Columbia Icefield.
Once in Jasper, you can continue to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding Rocky Mountains. Jasper is one of the best places to visit in Alberta, and a great place to witness the Northern Lights. It’s also one of the best places to see wildlife in Canada. Bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and elk are all common in the area.
From Jasper, you can either continue your way down to British Columbia via Mt. Robson Provincial Park, or return to Banff via the Icefields Parkway—the drive is so beautiful you won’t mind doing it twice.
If you drive back to Banff, you’ll have the opportunity to drive through three more National Parks on the way to Canada’s west coast. Make your way through Yoho, Glacier, Kootenay, and Mount Revelstoke National Park. All these parks provide incredible views of the Rocky Mountains and endless opportunity for outdoor adventure.
After all the fun in the Rocky Mountains, your Canada road trip heads through BC to Swartz Bay. There, you can board the ferry to take you to Victoria Island. The island will be your last stop—Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. There, you can enjoy a completely different side of Canada. Hike through the magical rainforests, kayak with killer whales, or surf in the Pacific water.
Where to Stay
All the parks are owned by Parks Canada, which offer a number of different lodging options in each park. If you have your own tent you can simply reserve a campsite online beforehand. If you are traveling with an RV, Parks Canada also offers serviced campsites.
If you don’t have your own equipment or want to try a night of glamping, Parks Canada offers some unique options. Try renting a yurt or OTENTiks, a cross between a tent and a cabin. Check the website to see what accommodations are available in the park you’re visiting. If you’re after a more luxurious experience, many of the parks offer high-end hotels nearby you can stay in at night.
With the nature of a road trip, you will need a car to complete this journey. An economy car is fine for getting around Canada’s 10 provinces, as the roads are generally in good condition. Of course, renting a larger car or campervan will give you more comfort during the trip. Use RentalCars.com to find the best rates for your trip.
If you are looking for an alternative to driving, consider taking the VIA train across Canada. The train route goes from Vancouver to Halifax, through some of Canada’s most prime national parks.
How Long to Road Trip
While it is possible to drive across Canada in one week, if you want to stop at all these parks and enjoy what they have to offer, I recommend a minimum of three week. Ideally, the longer the better, as there is no shortage of outdoor adventure and fun to experience throughout the parks. This road trip would be the perfect way to spend a summer in Canada.
By the end of the journey, you will have gone from the Atlantic Coast to Pacific, through the Maritimes, Lakes, Prairies, and the Rocky Mountains. It will take you through almost half of Canada’s National Parks, and give you a true sense of Canada’s wild beauty and diversity. So grab a Canada National Geographic Map to to help guide your trip, then get traveling.
By Lora Pope
Lora is an adventure travel blogger based out of Toronto, Canada. Raised on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, she has a deep love for nature and wildlife. Lora has traveled to over 50 countries and is working towards her goal of visiting every country in the world, all while finding the best adventures that each one has to offer. On her blog she shares her adventures around the world and aims to inspire others to find their adventure. You can explore the world with Lora on her blog or through social media on Facebook or Instagram.