Explore the Natural Beauty
Seeing is believing why visitors love Canada
By Toby Saltzman
From sea to shining sea, Canada abounds with wondrous places, where seeing is believing in forces that shaped the planet, where experiencing is immersing yourself in landscapes like nowhere else on earth. In a vast terrain chiseled by nature’s whims, Canada harbors some of the globe’s most treasured iconic sites. Thirty recognized by UNESCO – 15 as World Heritage Sites; 15 as World Biosphere Sites – are magnets for intrepid travelers keen on communing with nature.
Blessed with incredibly diverse charms across 10 provinces and 3 territories, Canada appeals to international travelers. If you are among the curious, free-spirited, demographic, you are among the authentic experiencers and cultural explorers who are looking for immersive, engaging experiences in Canada that combine natural beauty with sophistication and comfort along the way. You are interested in connecting with local people. Incidentally, this is not surprising, considering that Canada’s “warm, approachable, knowledgeable and witty” people rate first in the world for popularity according to the Oct. 2009 Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, which surveyed more than 20,000 people in 50 countries.
The beauty of Canada is that – with wilderness and wildlife virtually on the cusp of urbane hubs – discriminating travelers can have it all. For example, take Québec City. After imbibing French joie de vivre at every turn of the 400-year-old walled city – itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site – travelers can sail the St. Lawrence River; ski Le Massif which boasts the highest vertical drop east of the Rockies; or explore pastoral Charlevoix, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve renowned for its gourmet trail, sumptuous eateries and auberges, inspiring artists’ village of Baie-Saint-Paul, and brilliant foliage that sets photographers’ hearts aflutter.
Highlights of Canada
Coast to coast, there are myriad ways to reach for nature’s nirvana in Canada. Drive the ultimate road trip on the TransCanada Highway from St. John’s, Newfoundland on the Atlantic to Victoria, British Columbia on the Pacific. Ride the scenic VIA Rail or Rocky Mountaineer trains. Veer off the beaten path to cycle, paddle a quintessentially Canadian canoe, go flightseeing in a bush plane, or mushing in a dog sled.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site
Pure air and awesome encounters with nature await spunky adventurers at the geological marvel that is Gros Morne. Its rugged landscape carved by glaciers and thrashed by ocean waves that forged sheer cliffs and sparkling fiords in glacial valleys where herds of woodland caribou run wild, the park is renown for the Long Range Mountains – rare evidence of the earth’s uplifted bedrock mantle. On lofty trails that snake from lush wilderness to barren tundra, hikers can watch icebergs glide by, spot breeching humpback whales, and see some 200 species of seabirds soaring over the shores. Off shore, exhilarating expeditions with www.grosmorneadventures.com take people fishing, on sea-kayaking safaris to paddle among iceberg peaks, and on historic voyages to the 1000-year-old Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO Historic Site. At day’s end, chug up some cheer among friendly locals in a lively pub.
Appeals to: Active families, athletic types, artists, photographers, ecology buffs. Extreme hikers need permits to hike the fragile Long Range Traverse route.
Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick & Nova Scotia
UNESCO Bioshpere Reserve
Unique thrills and sea-life encounters are second nature in the Bay of Fundy where the world’s highest tides – rising 50 feet twice daily – sculpted stunning coastlines and flower-pot-shaped formations dubbed the Hopewell Rocks. At low tide, troll the ocean floor for fossils at the rock bases. Come high tide, kayak around the rocks’ tree-tufted peaks where peregrine falcons often perch. Immerse yourself in the tidal surge by white-water rafting on the reversing waters of the tidal bore. Rushing with nutrient-rich waters that attract some 15 species of whales, Fundy is one of the world’s best whale-watching habitats. So hop a zodiac to see minke, finback and rare right whales frolicking at sea. Explore the iconic Joggins Fossil Cliffs UNESCO World Heritage Site, where evidence of global evolution exists in towering cliffs embedded with the globe’s richest trove of 350-million-year-old fossils of the world’s first amniotes (reptiles, birds, mammals) and plants.
Appeals to: Families, active types, cyclists, golfers. In winter: snowmobilers, x-country skiers. Curious folk will enjoy following the Glooscap Trail to learn about Mi’kmaq culture and their legends of the tides.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
The Niagara Escarpment is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve
Rainbows in the mist over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls lure photographers galore to its thundering magnificence. Feel its force by taking the Journey Behind the Falls, or sailing into the swirling waters below on the historic Maid of the Mist. For aerial panoramas of the Falls and Niagara Gorge, fly the Niagara Helicopter. Try ice-skating on the Rink at the Brink when winter’s Festival of Lights illuminates frosty formations with kaleidoscopic hues. For all its fame, Niagara Falls is the gateway to the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve of precious flora and fauna that runs 450 miles north along the hiker-friendly Bruce Trail to the Bruce Peninsula. It includes the Niagara terroir that nurtures Ontario’s award-winning vineyards. The area is popular with oenophiles who follow the Wine Route to winery tastings and restaurants, as well as for culture buffs who frequent the Shaw Festival Theatre presentations in historic Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Appeals to: Families, couples, cyclists, hikers, culture buffs, food and wine lovers, photographers, golfers, fishing enthusiasts.
Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site
Kick off dino discoveries and eco-adventures with a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. Home to the world’s richest, most important trove of dinosaur fossils, Royal Tyrrell shines new perspectives on the creatures that roamed the park some 75 million years ago, and explains how glaciers, wind and water sculpted the desolate Badlands terrain with strange hoodoos, coulees and deep canyons. Search for fossils on the Dinosaur Trail that runs to the Drumheller Valley, where hardy hikers can trek over rocky hurdles into the Horsethief and Horseshoe canyons. The park is an ecological paradise that begs exploring and photographing. Canoe along the Red Deer River, stopping at riverside trails that lead to cottonwood groves bustling with birds and other wildlife. Or test your mettle at the Dinosaur Trail Golf Club: its back nine holes are reputedly North America’s toughest.
Appeals to: Families, adventurers, hikers, photographers, golfers, science buffs.
Rocky Mountains, Alberta and British Columbia
UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site
Canada’s Rocky Mountains take travelers to new heights with infinite options for seasonal delights. The UNESCO-designated terrain straddles the contiguous National Parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, Mount Robson, and Provincial Parks Mount Assiniboine and Hamber with diverse attractions. Settle in the comfort of a domed train aboard Via Rail or the Rocky Mountaineer to view wildlife amid dazzling scenery. For incomparable panoramas of snow-kissed peaks, glistening glaciers, waterfalls cascading through pine forests, and Lake Louise sparkling like an emerald gem, join a heli-hiking or heli-skiing expedition. See breathtaking views of glaciers along the 143-mile Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper; stop at the Columbia Icefield for a slippery walk on the Athabasca Glacier. At day’s end – whether ice climbing or soaking in mineral-rich hot springs – tuck into plates of hearty Rocky Mountain Cuisine brimming with regional tenderloin, bison and fish.
Appeals to: Families, skiers, hikers, golfers, photographers, artists, spa-enthusiasts, extreme sportsmen. For heli-skiing charters contact:
Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territory
UNESCO World Heritage Natural Site
Eager adventurers seeking ultimate bragging rights will experience peerless thrills in Nahanni. Nahanni’s wild geology is globally unique, its mountain ranges sliced by deep canyons and marked by waterfalls, limestone caves, hot springs, and karst terrain considered precious for its caves, rock towers and arches. The wilderness is home to wood bison, moose, bears, mountain goats, Dall sheep, plus myriad bird species including falcons and swans. Hence, activities are controlled by reservations. Fort Simpson is the hub for float and bush planes embarking on flightseeing tours over the Nahanni River and spectacular Victoria Falls, which at 295 feet is twice as high as Niagara Falls. The ultimate adrenalin rush comes with white-water rafting on the mighty Flat or South Nahanni Rivers, or heli-hiking the Nahanni Range or the Nahanni Karst. At day’s end, relax in a mountain lodge that caters to hikers and fishermen, or mingle with local characters in a charming communities nestled at the foothills of the Nahanni range.
Appeals to: white-water thrill-seekers, hikers, fishermen, photographers.
Neil Hartling at Nahanni River Adventures: www.nahanni.com
Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis
The night air may be a chill -40 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sensation is hot when the Northern Lights start their enthralling dance, sashaying across the universe in luminous swaths of purple, red and green. The show is destined to get flashier: according to the sun’s activity, the Aurora Borealis will be most spectacular best starting around 2012. Several places in “Canada’s North” – which includes the Northwest Territory, Yukon Territory and Nunavut – offer excellent views. See the hues from the steamy warmth of a hot tub at a luxe northern lodge. Let the lights illuminate your path on a romantic dogsled or snowmobile ride across the frigid tundra. Combine night lights with daytime viewings of polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, where tundra buggies and sleeper cars maximize viewing opportunities: www.frontiersnorth.com and www.tundrabuggy.com . Or view the celestial performance from a Cruise North Expeditions ship (www.cruisenorthexpeditions.com) bound for cultural and terrestrial adventure in Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit.
Appeals to: Anyone.
Terrific Packages for Exploring Canada
Tauck World Discovery’s 8-day Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Tour loops from Halifax. It includes Peggy’s Cove, Lunenberg (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Charlottetown with Anne of Green Gables attractions, 2 nights at Digby Pines Golf Resort & Spa overlooking the Bay of Fundy and a whale-watching expedition. www.tauck.com 1-800-468-2825
GOGO Worldwide Vacations offers an 8-day trip from Montreal that takes in Québec City, Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, a cruise of St. Lawrence Islands National Park, and a visit to Toronto before taking a scenic cruise at the swirling base of Niagara Falls. www.gogoworldwidevacations.com/tours/globus-tour-view-details.jsp?TourCode=NCC
Tauck World Discovery’s 7-day “Best of the Canadian Rockies” tour loops from Calgary with 1 night at Delta Lodge at Kananaskas, 1 night at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, 2 nights at Fairmont Banff Springs. Activities include visiting the Columbia Icefield and whitewater rafting on the Athabasca River. www.tauck.com 1-800-468-2825
Adventure Canada's 10-day "Newfoundland Circumnavigation" by expedition ship tour runs from St. John's. It coordinates with naturalists, local guides and a Canadian Geographic Magazine program. It includes UNESCO World Heritage Sites Gros Morne and L'Anse aux Meadows. www.adventurecanada.com 1-800-363-7566
Climate: With four distinct seasons and temperatures varying across the country from hot summers to frigid winters, Canada’s year-round appeal suits sporty types from swimmers to heli-skiers, snowmobilers, and Arctic adventurers. Gros Morne and Nahanni adventures are limited in winter. The Northern Lights shine all year, but the spectacle is most beautiful from August to April.
For current weather visit www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/canada_e.html or
Time: Canada encompasses six time zones. All Canada (except Saskatchewan) observes daylight saving time from the 2nd Sunday in March to the 1st Sunday in November. The easternmost time zone is Newfoundland Time, which is 4 ½ hours ahead of Pacific Time.
For up-to-minute details, visit
Getting there: There are numerous direct, charter, and scheduled flights from the US. Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat as well as American Airlines, United and Continental are among airlines flying to many parts of Canada including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebéc City, St. John’s and Halifax. Smaller airlines such as CanJet, First Air and Air North also connect to destinations across Canada.
Getting Around: Canada is eminently accessible by planes, trains, buses, ferries and cruise ships, with bush planes and tundra buggies reaching remote northern enclaves. Rental cars are widely available. Navigating across Canada is a breeze on the excellent network of roads, local highways and the Trans-Canada Highway.
Red tape: The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) makes valid passports or NEXUS cards mandatory for US citizens.
Geography: Canada’s diverse geography encompasses maritime seascapes, dense forests, prairies, mountains, tundra and Arctic terrain on a vast mass spanning from
North America’s easternmost tip where Newfoundland’s Cape Spear stretches into the Atlantic, to the west where Yukon’s Mt. St. Elias sits at the Alaska boundary, to Cape Columbia on Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island, the largest island in the Arctic archipelago.
Canada’s official tourism website: http://www.canada.travel