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

Ski and Snowboard All Year Round at These Destinations

If you are an avid skier (like me), wouldn’t it be great to ski and snowboard all year round at these destinations? Namely Whistler, Canada; Hintertux, Austria; Las Lenas, Argentina; Keystone, United States. (COVID-19 disclaimer: some resorts, like Las Lenas have announced that they are not opening this season due to the pandemic). What skier isn’t dreaming of that next ski vacation? Ski resorts have always focussed on safety, but this year are doing everything they can to keep you safe. Enhanced safety measures and procedures are in place to deal with COVID including mandatory face coverings, advanced reservations, lift restrictions and more. Physical distancing is a natural with ski and boards and lots of room on the hills. If you’ve pushed off your ski vacation, it’s time to start thinking ahead to ski and snowboard all year round at these destinations.  

Winter Skiing in Whistler, Canada

Every skier or snowboarder in Canada either dreams of going to Whistler or dreams of going back to Whistler. While there are other great ski destinations in Canada, (Lake Louise, Big White and Mont Tremblant come to mind), Whistler is consistently ranked as #1. You have got 2 distinct mountains with Whistler and Blackcomb side by side and connected by the memorable Peak to Peak Gondola. With over 8,100 acres of skiable terrain, you could spend days on either Blackcomb or Whistler Mountain without getting bored in the least. And with an average of 460 inches of snow each year, there’s plenty of the white stuff. The top of mountain temperature and bottom/valley temperature vary greatly as one would expect. At the peak, you can ski the glacier and stay up top for some bowl skiing. At the end of your day, make sure you leave plenty of energy to ski down the mountain. The Peak to Creek run is 7 miles long.

Spring Skiing in Austria

Hintertux Glacier Ski Resort is Austria’s only year-round ski resort (yes, 365 days per year). Hintertux is in Austria’s Tirol Region, a warm and welcoming area that is my favorite and the real heart of the Alps. In winter, one lift pass, the “Ski- und Gletscherwelt Zillertal 3000”, gets you access to interconnected resorts like Finkenberg and Mayrhofen with 60 km of terrain. 72% of Hintertux’s ski pistes are Intermediate which makes this glacier more manageable for groups and the average skier.  The mountains of Tirol have many more ski resorts available during ski season (including Kitzbhuel, St. Anton, Zugspitze and more) as well as other activities like hiking, swimming, and mountain biking. Innsbruck is nearby and offers great Austrian hospitality, food, and culture when you are finished with the ski portion of your trip to Austria.   

Skiers and snowboarders on the slopes of Austria
Pumuckel42, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Summer Skiing in Argentina

The highest mountain in the Andes is Las Lenas, Argentina. Las Lenas is very much about the skiing. Its projected opening date is around June 6th with closing in early October. With 30 runs (80% intermediate/advanced), it is not big by any means, but the skiable terrain and vistas draw rave reviews. It is not fancy and does not offer many alternatives for days a way from the slopes. But it’s a bucket list destination for skiers – skiing in South America and skiing in summer. After the skiing is done, it’s time to head to Buenos Aires or neighbouring Chile to experience more of South America.

A view of Las Lenas Ski Resort in Argentina

Fall Skiing in Colorado

Skiiing in the fall can be “hit and miss” due entirely to unpredictable snowfall. Keystone, Colorado is the top candidate (normally open in early November) followed by Lake Louise, Canada and Mammoth Mountain, California. Keystone Resort is a short drive from Denver and covers 7 miles across 3 mountains along the Snake River. There are 3 villages with restaurants, bars, and accommodation slope side and in the villages. Keystone is a top-rated family-friendly resort that is more about skiing than extras and wild après ski. With 130 trails, 20 lifts and night skiing, there is no shortage of terrain and time to ski. You’ll enjoy some the longest runs in the State of Colorado.

Summary – Ski and Snowboard All Year Round at These Destinations

There’s a quick list of ski areas to get too year-round. You are not restricted to skiing and boarding in traditional winter or Q1 of each year, especially this year. For the average skier, these are bucket list destinations. Get ready and prepared for some big terrain, great views and a world class ski experience. And don’t forget your travel insurance and extra insurance coverage for COVID-19. I’m ready for a ski tour of these great destinations. It is time to dream and plan that next great ski trip!