Canada is a vast country renowned for its natural beauty with oceans, mountains, wilderness, and wildlife that attract those who wish to explore the great outdoors. For a more urban experience, there are major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. There’s a Canadian destination to suit any vacation style and, with very few exceptions, visitors can enjoy any destination in Canada at any time of year. Here are my family’s suggestions for great Canadian destinations for winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Winter dog-sledding in Quebec
The province of Quebec is a fantastic winter destination for families who want to be guaranteed a snowy vacation. In both Montreal and Quebec City visitors can be immersed in French culture and language in cities that feel European. Quebec City is a particularly lively spot in February during the Quebec Winter Carnival, which runs from late January to mid February. Visitors can admire snow sculptures, view canoe races on the St. Lawrence, ride a sleigh through the Old Town, watch courageous snow bathers, and meet Bonhomme the snowman (the king of the Festival).
Downhill skiers head out of the city to Mont Tremblant for skiing and fantastic resorts but our family prefers vacationing in the Gatineau area between Montreal and Ottawa. Our favorite spot is the town of Montebello where we check into the world’s largest log cabin and fill our days with cross country skiing, dog sledding, ice skating and curling. Visiting nearby Omega Park to drive through and feed elk carrots from the windows of the car is a big hit with my kids.
Pose with a Mountie on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in the spring
The nation’s capital, Ottawa, is a beautiful place to visit during any season but is particularly attractive during the annual Tulip Festival in May when the city is blanketed by more than one million tulips. We love this family-friendly city with its abundance of outdoor activities. Kids love boating on the Rideau Canal or the Ottawa River on a pleasant spring day, particularly if it’s aboard one of the amphibious vehicles that tour city streets before diving into the river.
If the weather isn’t cooperating then we move indoors to one of the city’s many family-friendly museums and galleries. Our favorite has always been the Canadian Museum of Civilization where visitors can walk through the streetscapes of Canada Hallto experience Canadian history, marvel at the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, and collect passport stamps while globetrotting in the hands-on Children’s Museum. Shoppers and foodies will enjoy browsing the historic ByWard Market and anyone looking for the quintessential Canadian photo can usually find a Mountie to pose with on Parliament Hill. Be sure to taste one of the famous BeaverTail pastries that originate in the Capital region – even President Obama made it a point to have one while in town.
Beach-time on Prince Edward Island in the summer
One of our favorite places to visit during the summer is Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island (“PEI”), which is connected to the mainland by the 12.9km (8 mile) Confederation Bridge. The island measures only 280km (175 miles) from tip to tip and has a population of only 138,000 people, yet each summer welcomes thousands of visitors from around the globe who come to the island for a relaxing holiday. They come for the beaches, the succulent lobster suppers, or to play a round of golf on a world-class course.
Many visitors come to pay homage to a beloved literary character, Anne of Green Gables. We spend most of our time in the Cavendish area, which is known as “Anne’s Land” and is very popular with families for its red sand beaches and warm ocean waters, amusement park style attractions, and the world famous COWS ice cream. This is where you will find everything related to Anne, including the Green Gables historic site and the Village of Avonlea where visitors can interact with costumed actors playing characters from Author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s stories. Nineteen of Montgomery’s 20 novels take place on Prince Edward Island.
Kayaking, cycling, and deep sea fishing are just a few popular pursuits available for the outdoor enthusiast. Regardless of where you stay on the island you should spend a day in the city of Charlottetown where you can learn more about the founding of Canada and attend a performance of Anne of Green Gables – The Musical which has been running continuously at the Confederation Centre for the Arts since 1965.
Fall in Banff National Park in the Canadia Rockies
Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies is best known as a winter ski destination, however, we find it to be lovely at fall. Visitors to the area arrive by car, bus or via a spectacular train trip through the mountains. My husband and I stayed at the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, where you can experience Banff like the very first tourists to the Rockies did in the 19thcentury. Visitors to Banff have been coming for more than a century to “take the waters” and it’s now possible to experience the hot springs at a modern outdoor facility set against the magnificent backdrop of the mountains.
Just a few minutes from the hotel a gondola ferries passengers to the summit of Sulphur Mountain where a breathtaking view of Banff can be enjoyed while dining on an outdoor terrace. You will in all likelihood see elk and deer wandering the streets of town and you may come across bighorn sheep at the top of the gondola. About 50km (30 miles) away in Lake Louise, families with older kids can take a guided canoe tour on the emerald waters of the glacial lake (in early fall) or hike the trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House. The later you visit in the fall the greater the likelihood of a little snow to add excitement to your Banff vacation so be sure to come prepared for any weather.
Whatever the season you visit and wherever you choose to go — there’s a memorable family vacation waiting for you in Canada.
Which Canadian season/destination appeals to you most? Let us know in the comments!