As some of you may know, New Zealand is my favourite country in the world but Canada has to come in as an incredibly close second. From its vast landscapes, an abundance of national parks and some of the most instagrammed locations in the world, Canada is a country that I want to keep going back to.
To help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, their government has offered free admissions to the parks if you apply for a Parks Pass. So really, there never has been a better time to visit and explore!
Based on my road trip through BC and Alberta last year, I’m going to share with you my favourite spots along the way.
Flying into Vancouver from Sydney, I really couldn’t have arrived in a friendlier city. Staying in a cute Airbnb in Kerrisdale, I found myself in the type of neighbourhood that I have dreamed of. Lavish houses and tree lined streets, it reminded me of every childhood North American movie that I had watched. Arriving in October, I was lucky to visit at a time when the leaves became golden and without it being too cold for this Australian to venture out for hours. I think I spent my first day walking around all the streets around this area and taking photos (but unfortunately most didn’t survive the trip).
Vancouver is like any big city, which personally isn’t normally my type of scene but I loved all the little neighbourhoods that were inside it. I spent a few hours hanging around Gastown and eating brownies at an awesome café called Purebread, before heading into Downtown and Stanley Park. As someone that has never been to Central Park in NY, I liked to think that this was kinda similar and you could easily spend the entire day walking around and chilling out. Attached to the park in the Lions Gate Bridge which will take you over to the North side of Vancouver and into the mountains if you keep driving. Not far from the bridge exit is Lynn Creek which has an awesome suspension bridge (much like the Capilano Suspension Bridge but free) and some walking trails. It can get quite busy, so be sure to get in early if you want to try and get a secluded selfie on the bridge!
Other locations that you could turn over in a day would be crossing the Bridge from Yaletown which takes you over to Granville Island Public Market. Arrive mid morning so you have time to wander around the little shops before finding your way to the food market to pick up some lunch. From here, you can easily walk around to Kitsilano, which is more of an upmarket location but has some great food and coffee shops.
I love parks and botanical gardens, so I try and visit these in as many locations as possible. I was extremely lucky to photograph the VanDusen Botanical Garden during their Christmas Lights Festival and the place looks magical. I can only imagine it would be just as lovely during the day. You can walk over to Queen Elizabeth Park while you are there, which has great views of the city, especially at sunset. Another nice spot to spend the afternoon is in Steveston, which has more of a port town feel and you can walk around the boardwalk and grab a coffee.
After a week in Vancouver, I hopped on a Greyhound bus and made the long (13hr!) bus journey to Banff. I didn’t not enjoy this ride in the slightest, I don’t think many people do but it was the cheapest mode of transport to get to where I needed to be. Previously having made friends with 2 girls on Couchsurfing, I was so excited for the next few days that we were going to spend together. The plan was to hire a car and see as much of the Rockies as possible. I think out of every trip that I have done, this period was one of my favourites. The climate was noticeably colder than back in BC, with the snow season soon arriving. In Banff I stayed in the Samesun hostel which was inundated by young travellers who were planning to move here for the ski season. Their days were spent looking for work and accommodation, I did not envy them one bit!
Banff is a cute little ski town and has a gondola that you can ride up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, so that you can view the town and the surrounding parks in all their glory. Also not far from Banff is another small town called Canmore. This is worth a visit to check out and there are some really nice walks that will lead you to some stunning lakes and viewpoints.
The Rockies is nature on overload. Everywhere you look there are mountain ranges, wild animals, lakes and forests. The beauty of this place is one of the best natural locations that I’ve been to. Due to the location of the lakes, you are able to visit multiple spots in one day. We were able to see Lake Louise, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and Emerald lake, Lake Minnewanka in 2 days, with plenty of time to spend at each. Lake Louise was my favourite, its look changed dramatically during the time that I was there. We walked in as it was snowing and covering in thick layers of cloud but as the morning progressed and the sun came out, the clouds cleared and the lake became this amazing fluorescent blue that created amazing reflections of the surrounding mountains. I really wanted to be able to check out Moraine Lake, which isn’t too far away but unfortunately at that time of year (late October) it was closed to the public.
Banff and Jasper National Parks are connected by the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), which is one of the most beautiful drives that you will take. Although everything was covered in snow and ice and many activities had closed for the season, we were still able to enjoy its beauty. If you are able to brave the cold, you can walk out to the Athabasca glacier or if you are visiting at a time when tours are running, Brewster Travel Canada, offers some amazing activities for you to try out (www.brester.ca).
Like Banff, Jasper has many natural locations to keep you occupied. Again, everything is in pretty close proximity if you have a car, so you only need to allow for a few days in the area. Some must see locations are the Athabasca Falls, Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake, Medicine Lake and Sunwapta Falls. I love that most places that I have visited and mentioned so far, are easily accessible. So you don’t need to worry if you aren’t incredibly fit or up to climbing mountains!
I think in total I only spent about 5 days in Alberta. Although I was able to see almost everything that I had wanted to, I would have liked to have double the amount of time so that I could spend a bit longer at each location. But in saying that, if you are time poor, it can definitely be done!
I travelled back to Vancouver on Halloween, very sick and tired from many days spend out in the snow without sufficiently warm clothing but luckily an incredibly generous friend was driving back from Calgary so I was able to hitch a ride (as well as some accommodation in his attic, THANK YOU AGAIN). I was so mad that I was missing out on my first Halloween experience but a couple of days of rest was just what I needed. Remember to listen to your body when you are constantly travelling, it is more important than ever!
From Vancouver you can easily make the boat ride over to Vancouver Island, one of my favourite places which I definitely recommend you visiting! I only had enough time to visit Victoria, the capital of BC, and I fell in love with its beauty, old world charm and the friendliness of the people. I treated myself to a night at The Parkside Hotel and Spa and it was one of the nicest hotels that I have ever stayed in (and definitely worth it after weeks of staying in hostels and couchsurfing!). Ideally I would love to go back to Vancouver Island and spend about 2 weeks there, travelling around and seeing everything that it has to offer, especially to Tofino which I have heard great things about.
Also easily accessible from Vancouver and what could be done in a day trip from the city, is visiting Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, located in Pemberton, just past Whistler. The hike comprises of a steady walk to 3 lakes – lower, middle and upper, with each more impressive than the next. At times the incline is steep but the turquoise water views make up for it and each lake is a great spot for a rest or some lunch.
It’s been over 6 months since this trip ended and due to how much Post Travel Depression I had when I returned home, I have recently booked another trip back! In October into November I will be travelling across the country, starting in Vancouver and finishing in Toronto. I haven’t been this excited in a long time and I can’t wait to see so much more of the country. If you have any places that you think I should check out, please let me know!!