The Ultimate Road Trip Across Canada: From Newfoundland to British Columbia

by | Last updated Jan 12, 2021 | Canada, Van Life | 0 comments

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Is there such a thing as an ultimate Canadian road trip? Well, you better believe it because we did it! During our van life travels, we spent 3-4 months on a road trip across Canada starting with New Brunswick, moving our way up through Nova Scotia, crossing over on a ferry to Newfoundland & Labrador, and then continuing the road trip through Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and ending it all on a sweet note in Vancouver, British Columbia. Whew!

Our road trip across Canada was an absolute blast. I still can’t believe we got to see and do so much. And there’s still so much we missed out on!

If YOU want to road trip across Canada then save this post! I’m sharing all the best things to see on a Canadian road trip from east to west including what to do and see in each province.

Here’s the ultimate road trip across Canada itinerary for must-see places!

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What to See on a Road Trip Across Canada (East to West)

van parked at viewpoint trout pond newfoundland canadaOur van in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Canada is a HUGE country, so we figured crossing it by van was our best option to get an overview of it. With that said, we had time to budget a slow-ish pace (except for the last leg of our trip). We spent 3 months road tripping Canada, starting with New Brunswick.

Obviously, you might not have 3 months to road trip across Canada, but you can still cover quite a chunk of land in 7-10 days or longer. If you’re strapped for time and have two weeks or less, I’d recommend focusing on one or two provinces only.

How Much Time Do You Need to Road Trip Canada?

Here’s my quick suggestion for the minimum or ideal amount of time to road trip a particular province in Canada if you want to explore it fully! Obviously, if you want to cover more land in less time you can! You just won’t have as much time to immerse yourself in each province.

  • New Brunswick: 1-2 weeks
  • Nova Scotia: 3-4 weeks
  • Newfoundland & Labrador: 3-4 weeks
  • Prince Edward Island: 1-2 weeks
  • Quebec: 2-3 weeks
  • Ontario: 2-3 weeks
  • Manitoba and Saskatchewan: 1-2 weeks (unless you want to go really far north!)
  • Alberta: 3-5 weeks +
  • British Columbia: 3-5 weeks +
  • BC’s Vancouver Island: 2-3 weeks
  • Yukon: 2-3 weeks

That’s how much time I’d recommend as a starting point for exploring a region. If you just want to cross over a province to get to another one, you can do that in 1-3 days driving (depending on breaks, desired driving time, and destination).

Note: We didn’t make it to Yukon, PEI, or Vancouver Island (not yet, at least!) on this particular road trip we did. 

Our Canadian Road Trip Map

Here’s the map of our road trip across Canada from start to finish! In total, we drove over 5,000 miles and for over 100 hours. Of the 14-ish weeks we spent in Canada, we only slept in campgrounds for 3 nights! It was one crazy road trip full of adventure. The furthest east we made it to is in the remote town of Burlington, Newfoundland where we celebrated Paul’s 30th birthday in a sustainable pod in the woods. The furthest west we made it to is Vancouver, British Columbia. That’s where our van is currently in storage waiting for our return!

north america map road trip canada from east to west

Cross-Canada Road Trip Essentials

I’m not sure how, but we made it across Canada in our 1990 van in one piece. The only thing that failed on us at one point were our windshield wipers during a downpour at night (of all times). I’ll never forget both Paul and I sticking our heads out the window in order to see the road as we got pummeled in the face with freezing rain!

Nonetheless, here are some things that we lived and breathed by and were so thankful to have during our road trip across Canada!

Now let’s get this road trip STARTED!!

New Brunswick 

st martin sea caves new brunswick canada

New Brunswick was our first stop on our cross-Canada road trip so it’ll always have a special place in our hearts. We entered by van from Calais, Maine into Saint Stephen, NB, Canada. Here’s what you should see on a road trip through New Brunswick!

Did you know? New Brunswick is actually a part of Atlantic Canada and forms one of the three Canadian Maritimes provinces. We knew nothing about New Brunswick before we got there. Turns out, one-third of its population is francophone, and both English and French are the two official provincial languages. As Paul is French, and I speak French, we were quite happy to find this out! Also, New Brunswick is pretty rural (like most of Canada). Actually, roughly half of NB’s population lives around the three largest cities in NB including Saint John, Moncton, and the capital of Fredericton.

Looking back now, we’re so happy we started our road trip across Canada in New Brunswick. It definitely gave us an awesome introduction to Canada and its friendly people. We especially fell in love with its small, charming towns along the coast outside of Saint John. There are gorgeous forests, parks, and coastlines to discover in New Brunswick on a road trip across Canada!

Top Things to Do on a Road Trip in New Brunswick

There are a few bucket-list-worthy things to do to add to your Canadian bucket list when traveling through New Brunswick on a road trip. Here are just a few!

New Brunswick is an awesome province to explore, especially if you love outdoor activities, small towns, and natural wonders!

Quick Tips for Visiting New Brunswick

Best time to visit: New Brunswick has four distinct seasons so visiting year-round will offer a new experience. Spring/summer is great for outdoor activities, festivals, camping, beaches, and more. If you plan on road-tripping across Canada then the spring/summer and early fall are the best times anyway!

Local delicacies: You must try the candied maple syrup salmon or the smoked salmon while in New Brunswick. You can find all types of regional specialties at places like Saint John in the North Market or in the smaller towns. The guys at Red Rock Adventure in St. Martins offers fresh salmon snacks on their kayaking trip. Sooo good!

Nova Scotia

cabot trail viewpoint nova scotia

Nova Scotia is one of our favorite provinces in Canada because there’s so much to see here! Whenever I think back to Nova Scotia I think lobster rolls, beaches, yellow rain jackets, lighthouses, waterfalls, and trendy cities like its capital of Halifax!

During our road trip in Nova Scotia, we made Halifax our base from which we explored the smaller coastal towns, parks, and beaches. The most adorable town we visited (and where we experienced Hurricane Dorian) is none other than the colorful and historic town of Lunenburg.

The province of Nova Scotia, meaning “New Scotland” definitely evokes a more Scottish charm especially in its smaller towns (not to mention that lovely Nova Scotian accent). From chasing waterfalls to road tripping the Cabot Trail, to delving into the province’s indigenous Miꞌkmaq heritage, to chowing down fresh lobster rolls, there’s so much to see in Nova Scotia on a road trip across Canada!

What to See in Nova Scotia on a Road Trip Across Canada

We ended up staying over two weeks just around Halifax and the South Shore. There are so many towns to discover along the coast! Also, Lunenburg was definitely the highlight of our trip to Nova Scotia. If you go you have to try the homemade cheddar scones at No. 5 coffee bar!

Quick Tips for Visiting Nova Scotia

When to visit: Nova Scotia has beaches that are best enjoyed during the warmer summer months. There are lots of fresh seafood festivals happening in the summertime as well. Autumn in Nova Scotia (September-October) is ideal for a Canadian road trip though, especially around the Cabot Trail when the forests light up in all shades of yellow, orange, and red!

Must-try foods: Definitely lookout for some of these Nova Scotian culinary dishes when traveling around! Try lobster rolls, haddock, clam chowder, hodge podge, oatmeal cakes, and more!

Newfoundland & Labrador

mountains and water in gros morne newfoundland | bucketlist briCan you spot me?

Newfoundland (pronounced new-fin-land) and Labrador make up Canada’s easternmost province. On our road trip across Canada, we decided to make the extra effort to come here because there was a lot I wanted to check off on my Newfoundland bucket list. And we’re so glad we did!! We took a ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland (the island part, not mainland Newfoundland and Labrador). It took around 6-8 hours crossing the sea with our van in tow while Paul and I tried to calm our bouts of nausea! (Read more about our trip in our Newfoundland van life journal).

But wow – the minute we got out and drove not even a mile into Newfoundland were we absolutely blown away. The landscape changed dramatically from what we had seen in NB or NS. Newfoundland felt truly wild – as if we’d stepped out into Iceland or somewhere. I’ll never forget that feeling of being so remote and free to roam!

Exploring for two weeks along the west coast of Newfoundland was by far one of the highlights of our entire road trip across Canada. The province has so much to offer – nature, wildlife watching, cute towns, icebergs, fjords, incredible hikes, and more! If you love dramatic, rugged coastlines, nature galore, and quaint fishing villages, then go to Newfoundland!

Things to See in Newfoundland & Labrador 

Though it was cold (we went late September – early October), Newfoundland has forever left a special imprint on our adventurous hearts. I would absolutely love to come here during the summer to see the icebergs and catch the humpback whales in season. We also didn’t make it over to the east coast of Newfoundland – so we missed out on Jellybean Row in St. John’s and seeing the puffin birds too.

Quick Tips for Visiting Newfoundland

How to get there: Newfoundland island is easy to get to from Nova Scotia but it’s not cheap. There are two ways to get there: 1. by ferry to the southwestern tip and 2. by plane to St. John’s on the east coast. Of course, flying into St. John’s means if you want to see Gros Morne and the other points of interest on the west coast, you’ll need to rent a car to cross the island (6-8 hours drive time).

Driving in Newfoundland: Newfoundland is mostly rural land so watch out for wildlife (wandering moose, especially) when you’re road tripping.

Culinary specialties: Newfoundland features dishes with fresh seafood and wild game among their other creative foods. The Newfoundland heritage comes from the English, Irish, French, and Paleo-Eskimo and other indigenous groups, so modern-day dishes in Newfoundland reflect that history. There’s also the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company in St. John’s that actually makes their brews from collecting the glacial run-off from 10,000-year-old icebergs!

Québec

The region of Québec in eastern Canada offers a whole new vibe. The French Canadian culture is what sets Quebec apart from the other provinces. While the province of Quebec is enormous, there’s only a couple of major cities and towns that are ideal stops on a road trip across Canada.

First, if you’re coming from Atlantic Canada you’ll leave New Brunswick and follow the St. Lawrence River down to the mouth of Quebec City. Quebec City is the oldest city in Canada and has a myriad of historical and cultural attractions to visit.

Spend at least one day in Old Quebec to soak up its Europeanesque charm and culture! After Quebec City, make your way to the trendy city of Montréal!

Places to Visit on a Road Trip in Quebec 

I wish we had more time on our road trip in Canada to explore the great outdoors of Quebec. There are all kinds of activities and natural wonders to enjoy!

Quebec has a ton of natural sites, history, and culture to discover. The contrast between the cultures of Atlantic Canada or in the Maritimes is stark (at least to me). It’s like you crossed borders into a new country, not just scurried over province lines.

Quick Tips for Visiting Quebec

English/French tips: French Canadians speak French but it differs a lot from the French one hears in France. Even for native-French speakers, it can be difficult to fully understand and communicate with the Quebecois. Should you try to learn French on your trip to Quebec? Sure! But know that mostly everyone speaks English. Unless you voyage out into rural towns you shouldn’t have a problem with the language.

Best time to visit: I’ve heard nothing is better than Quebec in the summer. But I’ve also heard the same things about Quebec in the fall and winter. Truth is, the seasons all offer something different. But again, if you’re road-tripping across Canada then ideally you’ll go in the summer or fall anyway. We went to Quebec City right in the midst of autumn and the colors of the trees in the city were a glowy orange. It was beautiful (also cold!)

Ontario

road trip across canada ontario with fall leaves

Most people are familiar with the province of Ontario. It’s home to the famous Niagra Falls and upbeat metropolis’ such as the provincial capital of Toronto and the national capital of Ottawa. It’s also where most of the population in Canada resides (38%).

Ontario is one of the places in Canada we want to return to. During our road trip, we didn’t have time to stop in the cities. We were merely crossing in order to reach the east coast before winter hit (and it was close behind).

Ontario seems to have it all. I’ve heard the countryside was a truly wonderful place to explore, especially in the summertime. We’ve also heard about the amazing music festivals and indigenous experiences to have there. There’s also history, urban adventures, food, outdoor escapes, LGBTQ parades and events, and more!

What to See & Explore on a Road Trip in Ontario

Ontario is loaded with national and provincial parks (as you can see above). If you’re on a road trip across Canada don’t forget to carve out at least 1-2 weeks to explore the hidden gems of Ontario beyond the cities.

Manitoba – Saskatchewan 

grid images nature manitoba and saskatchewan canada

images via Canva

I’m combining Manitoba and Saskatchewan because we didn’t get to see much of these provinces on our road trip across Canada. They’re also what I refer to as the “flat zone” of the road trip.

Driving across the provinces takes a while and most people traveling cross-country just take the Trans-Canada 1 and go straight.

But I didn’t want to brush these places over because they’re both full of things to do worth seeing (if you have time) beyond their rolling prairies and abundant farmlands.

What to See in Manitoba on a Road Trip Across Canada

  • Pembina River Valley
  • International Peace Garden
  • Turtle Mountain Provincial Park
  • Souris Swinging Bridge
  • Riding Mountain National Park
  • Brandon
  • Winnipeg (capital)
  • Get the Manitoba road trip itinerary here

What to See in Saskatchewan on a Canadian Road Trip

  • Regina (capital)
  • Grasslands National Park
  • Prince Albert National Park
  • Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park
  • Lake Diefenbaker
  • Wanuskewin First Nations Heritage Park
  • Saskatoon
  • Here’s a family-friendly southern Saskatchewan itinerary

Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan aren’t necessarily on many people’s Canadian bucket lists – at least not in comparison to the Rockies in the west or the Maritimes culture in the east.

Nonetheless, if you want a true cross-Canada road trip then you have to cross these provinces anyway. If you have time, try to check out the above points of interest! There are loads more to see which is especially ideal for getting off the tourist trail a bit.

Alberta

snowy mountain rake turquoise lake alberta canada road trip

Alberta is a province in western Canada and it’s one of the most popular places to spend time on a Canadian road trip. Mountains, badlands, forests, lakes, cute towns – Alberta seemingly has it all.

It’s home to the Rocky Mountain National Parks and Columbia Icefields that makes this province such a bucket list destination. The region has over 600 lakes alone, some of which are Insta-famous for their dramatic turquoise-rich color.

A Canadian road trip just isn’t complete without visiting this part of Canada!

Must-See Places on a Road Trip in Alberta

  • Banff (Located inside the Banff National Park)
  • Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Two Jack Lake, among others!
  • Jasper (Jasper National Park)
  • Calgary
  • Edmonton (capital)
  • Icefields Parkway
  • Maligne Canyon
  • The Canadian Badlands
  • The Bow Valley Parkway
  • Here’s an 8-day itinerary for Alberta

We had a crazy time in Banff, Alberta. We sped through Calgary to make it beyond the Rockies before the winter could beat us to it. Alberta is best enjoyed in the summer when snowstorms aren’t common (but not impossible).

Quick Tips for Visiting Alberta

When to go: Most of the trails and lakes close by mid-October and snow tires are required beyond October 1st normally. So if you want to take advantage of all the breathtaking hikes and lakes, summer is the best time to road trip across Alberta.

British Columbia

vancouver skyline dusk british columbia

British Columbia is the final stop on your ultimate Canadian road trip. (Unless you want to go on up through the Yukon!) Like Alberta, it’s hard not to fall in love with British Columbia. On top of the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia has the Pacific Ocean which creates milder temperatures especially in cities like Vancouver and along the coast. (Hence why we raced across central Canada to make it here before winter).

Vancouver Island is also a part of BC and the historic, charming city of Victoria on the island is actually the capital of the entire province. There are infinite things to do and see in British Columbia to finish up your Canadian road trip! Here’s just a few:

Top Things to See & Do in British Columbia on a Road Trip

  • Vancouver + surrounding area
  • Glacier National Park
  • Whistler
  • Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99)
  • Vancouver Island
  • Pacific Rim National Park, Tofino (Vancouver Island)
  • Victoria (capital)
  • Okanagan Valley

We are actually supposed to be road tripping around BC and Alberta in Canada right now, but because of the current crisis, we are changing plans. 🙁

There is so much to see on a road trip across Canada! I can still hardly believe that in 3-4 months we got to see so much yet so little. I can’t wait to pick back up where we left off!

Before you go, here are some last-minute tips for staying safe on the road.

Canadian Road Trip Safety Tips

watch for moose sign road safety

image via Canva

Road tripping across Canada is a bucket list adventure, but like with any adventure there are always “bumps in the road”. Here are some tips on how to stay safe on a road trip across Canada!

Wildlife

Most of Canada’s population resides in the major metropoles and along the US-Canadian border. Meaning, most of Canada is rural and wildlife is bound to jump out on the roads. Bears, moose, coyotes, bobcats, foxes…! On our road trip we saw:

  • a red fox cross the road in front of us at night in New Brunswick
  • a black bear run across the highway in Newfoundland
  • dead moose on the side of the road in Newfoundland

Wildlife is abundant in Canada and it’s likely you will see them on your road trip. That said, please be careful! Follow the safety guidelines and be sure to avoid driving at dusk/night when possible and adapt your speed when you see road warnings for high-risk areas of collision.

Weather

As you cross into different provinces on your road trip through Canada you’ll likely experience stark changes in weather. Rain, fog, snow, sunshine – Canada experiences it all. The best time to road trip across Canada to avoid icy conditions is obviously during the summer. But even then, the Rockies are known to have abrupt ice storms even late in the season. Always monitor the weather in Canada before you hit the road.

Rural Roads

Most of our trip happened on the Trans-Canada Highway 1 which crosses all of Canada. But when we explored off the main highway we ended up on small backroads, some of which have enormous potholes. There was even a time when our van almost blew a tire because of a missing portion of a small road (which was actually the main road) in Newfoundland. I was driving and couldn’t slow down in time and our heads almost hit the roof! Poor Paul, he was taking a nap at the time too (lol!).

Boondocking

Free camping in your van or car is a must when driving across Canada. Otherwise, get ready to spend $35-50 per night at a campground! Because our van was self-sufficient we could free camp almost anywhere without needing a hookup. This saved us SO much money. We wouldn’t have been able to road trip Canada if we couldn’t camp for free in our van.

TIP: Wal-Marts across Canada allow 1 free night in the parking lot and they are life-savers when you just can’t find somewhere to park (especially around the cities).

One tool Paul and I used every day during our road trip across Canada was the iOverlander app. Created by past overlanders and van lifers, this app is the all-knowing tool you need. It shows you locations where you can camp for free, activities nearby, and shows you where you can fill up on water, propane, gas, and dump your grey tanks (if you’re traveling in your camper van or RV).

Finally, road-tripping across Canada will require you to have a full camera battery because WOW – Canada is a breathtaking country to road trip in and you won’t regret filling up your SD card (or 2 or 3).

Which province in Canada would you want to road trip in first? Have you ever crossed Canada before? Drop your comments and questions down below!

 

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.