An Insider’s Guide to Canada

Riding on a boat on a lake in Canada

Canada is a big country, and you will find a ton of information on it in blogs and articles, but sometimes you need a quick rundown of the best bits to give you a rough idea of where to go and what to do. That’s the intention of this Insider’s guide to Canada. Since the summer is fast approaching and folks are starting to make their vacation plans, an insider’s guide can give you a reliable overview of the highlights to help your planning along. Here goes:

Niagara Falls

Most people have heard of Niagara Falls; they are regularly classed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. And sometimes they are included in the official eight wonders of the world. That’s not surprising; they are the largest waterfalls in North America.

If you decide to visit this iconic natural wonder, fly into Toronto and take the 90 minute drive down the highway. Watch this wonder before you, or get closer with a Maid of the Mist boat tour. In addition to the falls, there’s lots to see and do in the Niagara Falls area.

Whistler Mountain

Canada is known for its Rocky Mountains, and no wonder, with such a special landscape spanning much of Western Canada. But perhaps, one of the more famous mountains is Whistler. Whistler Mountain is located 125km north of Vancouver and is well known for its winter skiing and outdoor activities.

But Whistler Mountain has much to offer in the summer months as well. The mountain is 2,182 meters high, and there is almost always snow at the higher elevations, even in the summer sun. You don’t have to hike the whole way to have an incredible experience; just do what feels comfortable.

Quebec City

Quebec City is the capital of French-speaking Canada. It was established in 1608, making it one of the oldest cities in Canada and North America. The original Old Quebec City is a walled city and is home to some amazing historical architecture.

If you decide to travel here this summer with your partner or your family, you are in for a magical experience. The city offers a wealth of culture and cuisine you won’t find anywhere else. If you are visiting Canada, this is what happens after an eta application.

St. John’s

If historical cities are your thing, then take a visit to St. John’s in the northeast. St. John’s pre-dates Quebec City by around 100 years. It was established in 1497. It doesn’t have the same medieval feel as Quebec City; in fact, as a coastal city it has a distinct Maritime feel.

St. John’s is known as the San Francisco of the north because of its pastel-colored houses and artistic sensibility, but it has more to offer besides. Off the coast of St. John’s, there are Atlantic waters perfect for whale-watching, and you can take a trip to see icebergs as well.

Tofino

People don’t always realize how much Canada has to offer. It has the Rockies, of course, the wildlife, the cities, and the great lakes, but it also has something more exotic – an island paradise. Yes indeed.

Where is this island paradise then, you ask? The answer is Tofino on Vancouver Island off the west coast. Tofino is primarily a beach location that looks onto the pacific. It offers some incredible sunsets, excellent surfing, and much more besides.

Looking over the water in Tofino, British Columbia

Churchill

Canada is home to many famous places and landmarks that you could spend a lifetime visiting and getting value from, but it’s also how to some lesser-known places that can offer big wins in terms of value-adding, life-enhancing experiences.

Churchill is one of those places. It sounds a bit stuffy, like the top-hat wearing Prime Minister from the 1940s, but it’s way more interesting than that. This is polar bear country, and if you visit, there will definitely be a chance to see one of these towering giants – eat your heart out Churchill.

Old Montreal

If you love Quebec City, then you will also love Old Montreal. It dates back to around the same time as Quebec City, established in 1642. And like Quebec City, it can be found in the heart of the city. Montreal is a very culture rich and authentic place to visit.

Travel to Montreal if you want a continental experience within the Canadian borders. You will find plenty of historic buildings, nightlife, and seasonal events to keep you and your family entertained. This is the cosmopolitan Canada that will appeal to everyone.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park is a gateway to the Rockies and perfect if you have all the gear but lack some experience of hiking. Banff National Park is located around some natural hot springs and gives you the best of both worlds.

Spend some time hiking in the surrounding wilderness, following the well-trodden paths to low summits where you get the best view of the landscape. Absorb it all, then return to the springs for a well-earned relaxer.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park in Vancouver is a bit like Central Park in New York. It’s an extensive city park that is in all seasons and is famous for all the right reasons. Stanley Park is where many of the romantic fall walks in TV shows and the movies are filmed, even ones set in NYC.

Stanley Park is a big place, and there are tons of things to keep you occupied and entertained. You can spend all day at the park and take a leisurely walk, going hiking, lay on the beach, visit native totem poles, and drop by the lively aquarium.

Okanagan Valley

If you’re in Western Canada, and you’re in Vancouver, then you are a short flight or 4-hour drive to the Okanagan. Take full advantage of this and head northeast to the Okanagan Valley. Here you will find the Okanagan Lake and plenty of sunshine and native wine.

Okanagan Valley has it all. Food highlights include chef prepared outdoor farm to table dining experiences for small groups. The lake is clear and sparkling, the sunshine is pretty much continuous, and you can visit many orchards and vineyards.

The mountains of British Columbia

Best places to experience the true spirit of Canada

a Canadian flag and mountain ranges

The Canadian natural and urban landscapes are undeservedly neglected in many travel plans. However, if you are looking for the best places to experience the true spirit of Canada, you have stumbled upon a guide that will list and explain why the home of maple syrup (among other things) should definitely be on your travel horizon.

Essentially, this is a big country that boasts one of the most mesmerizing and impressive landscapes in the world. On the one hand, you can encounter lakes, mountains, and other natural sceneries of indescribable beauty. On the other, Canadian cities are a perfect starting and finishing point on your trip. They offer you a chance to experience incredible architectural gems in a progressive and liberal society. Read on to find out more about the most breathtaking and exciting places in Canada you should visit on your next trip to the Great White North.

Toronto

If you are looking for the perfect city to start your Canadian journey, Toronto is the place for you (and my hometown). It is one of the largest and culturally most important cities in this country. Toronto’s distinguishing landmark is the CN Tower which you must have seen if you have ever received a postcard from Toronto.

When it comes to its tourist potential, Toronto’s transportation system makes movement through the city impeccable, with a network of subways, street cars, and roads. However, if you get bored with Toronto’s bustling urban energy, you can always take the ferry across the harbour to the nearby Toronto Islands.  

a Toronto skyline with skyscrapers and CN Tower
The famous CN Tower dominates the Toronto skyline

Banff

If you are looking to visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Banff is a great resort town to start your hiking, biking, or skiing journey from. It is located in the Banff National Park, the first national park established on Canadian soil. As for what it can offer to its visitors, Banff is a town that is brimful of small, local cafes, restaurants, art galleries, shops, and other tourist amenities. You can find the beautiful Mount Norquay towering over this little town and the famous Lake Louise just an hour away from Banff.

Icefields Parkway

Icefield Parkway is a world-famous 144-mile double-lane highway drive between Jasper and Lake Louise. What makes it so epic is that this road offers an incredible overview of the Canadian Rocky Mountains while taking you through orchards, waterfalls, lakes, and other intact natural scenery. This route is fantastic for those who enjoy hiking and camping in breathtakingly beautiful Canadian nature.

a big lake at the foot of mountains in Canada, symbolizing the best places to experience the true spirit of Canada
Canada is home to supreme vistas and natural sceneries.

Vancouver

Vancouver is another big Canadian city that should be on your priority list, especially if you are visiting western Canada. This city is famous for its multiculturalism and green living. Around 50% of its citizens speak languages other than English, making it a truly inspiring and eclectic city. As for what you can do besides the essential sightseeing around the city, Vancouver is a well-known stop for any serious skier given its nearby world-renowned ski resorts such as Whistler Blackcomb. The local city council continuously strive to achieve the best living standard by pioneering and incorporating green design ideas into the city’s infrastructure.

In fact, a rising number of US citizens are moving to Vancouver and other Canadian cities to pursue a cleaner, more humane way of living. If you are considering moving to Canada from NYC, be mindful that you might need to hire an international relocation company to help you get here from NYC, with the necessary vehicles and equipment.

Cape Breton

Cape Breton is a unique part of the province of Nova Scotia located on the east coast of the country. It is one of Canada’s most beloved road trip destinations because of its amazing landscapes that line the famous Cabot Trail – a 186-mile route through the Cape Breton National Park. You will be able to see fantastic nature from Cape Breton’s lookout points, picturesque fishing villages, and one of the most breathtaking scenic routes in the world. A drive through Cape Breton is one to not be missed.

Prince Edward Island

This lovely eastern province and island is famous for its green hills, red cliffs, and amazing seafood everywhere you go. Also, given that most locations in Canada are oriented towards active vacations such as walking or hiking, this island is the perfect getaway where you can relax and enjoy the island scenery. This island is also huge in the golfing world due to its many golf courses available for play. Beside these luxurious, upper-class amenities, the island is also famous for its seal population – as many as four different species of seal inhabit its shores throughout the year.

Niagara Falls

colorful waterfalls and a tree
Niagara Falls are an incredible sight any time of the year and the best place to experience the true spirit of Canada

And, last but certainly not the least, the amazing Niagara Falls. There is hardly a person who has not heard of this collection of waterfalls on the United States and Canada border. The Niagara Falls are indeed a natural wonder that merits at least a day of your attention, especially if you are staying or moving to Toronto in the future. 

The waterfalls – Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls – make up an astounding six million cubic feet of water that splash downward every minute. This makes the word wonder in the phrase “natural wonder” a literal description of what experiencing the Niagara Falls is like.

All in all, we hope this short guide has helped you visualize the best places to experience the true spirit of Canada. Of course, there are many more amazing spots which you can visit, especially if you enjoy spending your holiday in the great outdoors. Don’t forget Quebec, Newfoundland and the other provinces and territories (coming in a future post). Whatever your favorite places are, we are confident you will love every minute spent in this beautiful country. Just make sure you stay safe and healthy during your travel.

How to Avoid Common Mistakes On The Mountain

A great day of skiing
Photo by Melvin Wahlin on Pexels.com

As a ski patroller and veteran skier, I’ve seen more than my share of mistakes on the mountain. And there is a theme with common mistakes – not being prepared and/or not skiing smart. Here’s how to avoid those common mistakes on the mountain:

1. Be prepared for a Workout

Skiing and snowboarding are great workouts. A day on the slopes requires stamina, a strong core and leg muscles. If you plan on hitting a big mountain with long runs, skiing will be harder still. If you have a decent fitness level, you’ll have a good base for your day on the slopes and adjust easier to the demands of skiing and boarding. A regular fitness routine will help you to ski or snowboard better and longer.

2. Avoid heading straight to the Black Diamonds

A skier on a black diamond run
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Start out easy at the beginning of the day. Experienced skiers always take it easy for, at least, the first few runs before heading off to the diamond runs. Warm up and get your focus on movement, turns and technique before you crank it up on more challenging stuff. Gain confidence with easier runs before moving to diamond runs. Work your way up to the more serious, advanced, narrow, thrill rides.

3. Use common sense

There is something called the Alpine Responsibility Code which many skiers know, and many don’t. It’s typically posted on a yellow sign at the bottom of most lifts. It’s a combination of safety rules and common sense for skiers and snowboarders. For example, always stay in control; do not stop where you obstruct a trail, before starting downhill or merging onto a trail, look uphill and yield to others, etc. Follow these rules (ski smart) and you’ll stay safe and avoid the common mistakes of others.

4. Pay attention to lifts

Walking back to the chalet after a great day of snowboarding
Photo by Visit Almaty on Pexels.com

Getting on and off lifts is prime for accidents. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll quickly find that the chairlift is unforgiving. High speed chairs pick you up slowly, but then move fast. Be ready, line up with skis pointed forward and poles in hand. Getting off a chairlift can be a challenge for novice skiers and boarders. At the offloading area, simply stand up and let the chair push you. T-bars or other vintage lifts are completely unknown to new or young skiers, so ask for help from the lift operator or ski patrol if you need it.

5. Don’t think you can ski all day (with no break)

If you only ski while on a ski vacation, you’ll need to pace yourself for a full day on the slopes. As a Canadian Ski Patroller, I’m on shift all day and break the day into parts: a few hours of skiing and then take a break. Back out again for a few more hours then take a lunch break. After lunch, I’m back out again with a break in the afternoon. Don’t over do it and your last run will be as good as your first run.

6. Avoid borrowing your Dad’s old equipment

2 skiers taking a break from skiing
Photo by julie aagaard on Pexels.com

Chances are your Dad’s equipment is old, worn out and/or doesn’t fit. Take a pass. If you don’t have your own equipment, rent from a ski shop where they will provide decent equipment based on your skill level. Boots need to be comfortable. Bindings should be set so that they will release your skis when needed. Tuned up skis make it easier to hold an edge and get down the hill. Helmets are very much in style and should be mandatory for their obvious protection. A helmet can’t prevent a concussion, but it could reduce the severity of one. Use quality equipment that fits you and your level of ability.

7. Not Layering Up

I’ve become a bit of an expert at dressing for winter. Wearing the wrong type of clothes can result in a not-so-happy ski day. For example, don’t wear cotton socks and a cotton shirt as your base layer. You will not be warm. The best way to layer up for skiing is to have three high-quality layers: a thin base layer (long johns); an insulating mid-layer (fleece or ski sweater) and then ski pants/ski jacket. Keep active, take rest breaks and keep nourished (your body stays warmer with fuel intake). If your clothes get wet, change them.

Get ready for a great day on the slopes! If you are going on a ski vacation, check out my TuGo post – What to Pack for a Ski or Snowboard Trip. And don’t forget your travel insurance if you travel outside your home province or Canada. Have fun, stay safe and enjoy the great outdoors!