As someone who grew up doing road trips across Canada and through the USA with my family, I’ve become a fairly well traveled person when it comes to hitting the open road. The last 2 summers I’ve had the opportunity to drive across the entire country of Canada from ocean to ocean, camping and exploring along the way. Through these experiences I’ve compiled a list of road trip tips that will help you have a successful Canadian road trip!
Road Tripping Along The Trans Canada Highway
If you plan on doing a road trip in Canada, chances are you’ll be driving on the Trans-Canada Highway. While you certainly don’t have to, its the main route connecting the entire country.
The mighty Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) stretches from Victoria, British Columbia on the Pacific Coast all the way to St.Johns, Newfoundland on the Atlantic. Measuring 8,030 km in length it is one of the longest highways in the world. It also travels through all 10 Canadian provinces, which is convenient if you’re driving from one end of the country to the other. The TCH even includes 3 ferry routes in order to reach Vancouver Island, Newfoundland and the province of PEI.
This highway is easy to follow as its marked with white and green maple leaf markers. As seen on the map below, there are 2 designated TCH routes through most of the country.
Driving the Trans-Canada highway from coast to coast, or even just parts of it, is something most Canadians have on their bucket list. In no particular order, here are a few tips for driving the TCH.
- Service Stations: There are always gas stations and rest stops along the Trans Canada Highway. But their availability varies depending on what province and geographical area you’re traveling through. They tend to be less common through the province of British Columbia due to all the mountains and mountain passes. When there’s a large stretch of unserviced highway approaching, there is always a sign advertising when the next rest stop is. Make sure you have enough gas to make it to the next stop!
- Cell Phone Service: Cell service is pretty much available everywhere. Keep in mind that it may be spotty in some of the more remote areas, such as interior BC or northern Ontario.
- Road Side Attractions: There are a plethora of unique road side attractions along or very close to the TCH. Whether its a giant moose, goose, lobster or over-sized nickel, these quirky stops are amusing and great locations to get out of the car and stretch your legs!
- Tourist Information Centers: When driving along the TCH, take the time to stop at the tourist info centers. There is usually one at every provincial boarder crossing along with a rest stop. These info booths offer up wonderful information on local attractions and things to see and do.
- Animal Warning Signs: Pay attention to the signs with animals on them. They warn you that the area is highly trafficked by that particular animal and they may cross the road. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled, especially for moose. In a contest of car vs moose, the moose will win!
Camping & Campgrounds
Many people opt to camp when they go on road trips. Whether you’re driving an RV or or putting up your own tent every night, camping is a wonderful way to explore Canada. Not only is it much cheaper than staying in a hotel, but you get to enjoy the outdoors too! Here are a few tips and things to think about when selecting a campground.
- Where To Camp: There are tons of camping and RV camp grounds across the country. Some are privately owned while others can be found in regional, provincial or national parks. I highly recommend using the parks as they are well run, usually follow a set standard so you know what to expect and they are often located in the most beautiful areas. Be aware that camping anywhere (ie. on the side of the road) is usually not permitted.
- Campground Amenities: Always check what the camp ground offers in terms of amenities. Do they have WiFi? Showers? Electricity at your site? Fire pits? Do they sell firewood? Picnic tables at each site? Potable water? Cooking facilities? Do they allow pets? Know what you want and what you need so you’re not in for any unpleasant surprises.
- Book In Advance: Especially during the summer months, if you have your heart set on a particular campground. While many do take last minute reservations, there’s no guarantee unless you book in advance.
Suggested App: Use Trip Advisor! Yes, Trip Advisor is used to rate and leave comments about campgrounds just as it is for hotels and activities. This app helped to steer K and I clear of some of the less desirable campgrounds while advising us of hidden gems.
General Road Trip Tips
Just a few more general road trip tips and things to consider when road tripping in Canada.
- Canada Is REALLY Big: Some people come here thinking they’ll drive across the entire nation in a few days or a week. If you try and do this you will literally be driving 24/7 and won’t have time to stop and see anything. Depending on how much time you have, maybe just pick one province or region to explore.
- Tim Hortons: Tim Bits are always a good idea! You’ll come across Canada’s infamous coffee shop chain, Tim Hortons, throughout any road trip in Canada and they make a great rest stop. While they sell your typical coffee and donuts, Tim Bits (the dough from the center of a doughnut) are great for snacking and are a staple in any of my road trips!
- Be Prepared For Any Weather: Even if you’re doing the road trip during the summer months of July and August, be prepared for all types of weather and all seasons (especially in the mountains). Last August when I was in Alberta, I woke to a snow covered world but was wearing shorts by the afternoon!
- Scenic Routes: If there’s a scenic route and you have the time, take it! It usually only adds an extra 10-20 min to your drive and it’s totally worth it. It’s scenic for a reason!
- Don’t Be In A Rush: Be flexible with your plans and allow time for unexpected road stops. While driving through New Brunswick, K and I saw a sign advertising the world’s largest axe. So of course we just had to stop and see it for ourselves! We ended up having a picnic lunch in a beautiful park that was home to, well, a very large axe!
- Renting A Car: If your renting a car, many companies will let you pick up in one city and drop off in another (at an added cost). This is wonderful if you’re looking to travel in one direction rather than driving a loop.
- Ferry Fun: Take the ferry! There are many ferry services throughout the country but you’ll find most operating on either the east or west coast. They are usually run by the provincial government and allow you to book online or by calling ahead. Not only do they provide you with a mode of transportation but they are incredibly scenic.
Suggested App: Have a good data plan with your cell phone as Google Maps is an invaluable resource! Not only did it help K and I with directions but we also used it to research campgrounds, restaurants and things to see and do along the way.
Canada was made for road tripping and its a wonderful way to see this amazing country. If you’re planning a Canadian road trip this summer, I hope these tips will help make it just an epic as mine have been!
Do you have any tips to add?