Oh Canada! Scenic ways to explore the beautiful north
Fancy taking in some of the world’s most incredible landscapes? Tim Jepson explains how best to do it by rail, road and on foot
1 A MASSIVE MOTORHOME ADVENTURE Offering freedom and flexibility, a motorhome holiday is hard to beat when it comes to exploring the peerless scenery of Canada’s spectacular wild west. Canada is big, and you could spend a lifetime criss-crossing the country in a motorhome or recreational vehicle (RV), as they are known in North America. Head west for the ultimate itinerary, starting with time exploring the city of Vancouver. Then make your way through southern British Columbia, through the majestic Coast Mountains and the lakes and vineyards of the Okanagan. Spend several days in the Kootenays, one of the region’s lesser-known gems, driving through more spectacular scenery to quaint little towns such as Nakusp, Nelson, Kaslo and New Denver. Next head north, taking in Kootenay and Banff national parks. Pause in Lake Louise and see Moraine Lake, then take a detour to Yoho National Park. Backtrack and drive to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, which runs through some of the Rockies’ best scenery and rates as one of North America’s most awe-inspiring roads. From Jasper, wind back towards Vancouver via Highway 5 and Wells Gray Provincial Park, the Fraser Canyon and the ranching country of the Cariboo. YOU’LL NEVER FORGET… The freedom of not bothering with hotels and the thrill of the open road – an open road which, in British Columbia and the Rockies, offers some of the most scenic drives and amazing vistas anywhere in the world. INSIDER TIPS Prices for rental vary greatly depending on the age and size of the vehicle. Reckon on around CA$1,000-$1,200 (£585-£700) per week to rent the average Class C, 25ft RV, one of the most popular vehicles. Longer rentals are usually proportionately cheaper. HOW TO DO IT Canadian Affair (canadianaffair.com) can tailor-make RV itineraries but also offers off-the-peg tours, notably a Best of Canada’s West trip from £1,276 per person, including flights, 14 days’ RV hire with 1,250 miles, and a hotel night in Vancouver. A 13-day Roaming the Rockies itinerary starts at £898. 2 WALKING IN THE ROCKIES From easy lakeside strolls to multiday mountain treks, some of the finest hiking in the world can be had among the majestic landscapes of the Canadian Rockies. WHY IT’S SPECIAL How many places have you visited with high expectations, only to be disappointed? That’s not going to happen in the Canadian Rockies, where all the superlatives barely do justice to the extraordinary majesty and scale of the landscape. Many other parts of the world have lakes, mountains and rivers, but somehow none combines them so beautifully or so accessibly. Much of the region is wilderness, open only to the experienced trekker, but the best scenery is protected by four national parks – Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay – and in these there is a huge network of trails with walks for everyone. Better still, even the easiest strolls – an amble around Banff ’s Moraine Lake, for example – rewards you with breathtaking scenery. And this being Canada, the parks are superbly organised, making visits – and hikes – remarkably easy to plan. Be warned though: hike in the Rockies and you’ll be spoiled for life. YOU’LL NEVER FORGET… The sheer grandeur of the mountains, lakes , rivers and forests. You will quickly see why the Canadian Rockies are billed as one of the greatest landscapes in the world. INSIDER TIP Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson (Summerthought) is the best guidebook for hikers in the mountain range, but park rangers at visitor centres can offer expert on-the-spot help. For more information, see the excellent Parks Canada website (pc.gc.ca) HOW TO DO IT Fly to Calgary with WestJet (westjet. ca), British Airways (ba.com) or Air Canada (aircanada.com) and pick up a hire car for escorted tours. KE Adventures (keadventures.com) offers a selection of the Rockies’ best day hikes and a taste of the longer Iceline Trail on its 13-night Canadian Summit Scramble trip from £2,765, excluding flights. 3 ACROSS CANADA BY TRAIN Canada offers some of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world – none better than the epic transcontinental trip from Toronto to Vancouver. WHY IT’S SPECIAL Canada lends itself to travel by train – long distances, inspiring itineraries, sublime scenery. Banff or Jasper to Vancouver through the Rockies is one of the country’s most celebrated rail journeys, but it is short – just two days – as are other outstanding itineraries such as Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert; and Montreal to Halifax. For an unforgettable experience, take the classic transcontinental trip aboard “The Canadian”, bookended by two wonderful cities: dynamic Toronto and beautiful Vancouver. Covering 2,771 miles in just under four days, the trip takes you across the prairies, past fields of gently waving wheat; through the pretty towns and ranching country of Alberta; then past the glaciers, forests and snowy peaks of the Rockies. The comfortable, modern train offers fine dining, showers and viewing carriages. YOU’LL NEVER FORGET… The superb and ever-changing scenery – not least the views of Mount Robson, the Rockies’ highest peak (12,972ft). INSIDER TIPS It’s a long journey, so be prepared for it, especially if you are travelling in economy. Alternatively, book the trip in segments, with visits to cities such as Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton. The Canadian stops at Jasper ( jasper. travel) in the Canadian Rockies (pc.gc.ca), a particularly worthwhile stop for two or three days. HOW TO DO IT Visit VIA Rail’s website (viarail.ca) where there are often early-booking deals, with discounts of up to 20 per cent. Travellers over 60 may qualify for discounts. Economy fares from Toronto to Vancouver start at CA$444pp (£260). Great Rail Journeys (greatrail.com) offers several options, including a 17-day trip aboard The Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto and onwards via Québec aboard The Ocean to Nova Scotia, from £4,195pp.