Planning A Canadian Road Trip – The Essentials You Need To Know

Canada is a massive land mass as it is the second largest in the world in terms of land area at 9.98 million square kilometres (3.85 million square miles).

Canada spans from the Atlantic Ocean in the East to the Pacific Ocean in the West and the Arctic Ocean in the North. One of the best ways to see the diverse landscapes that Canada has to offer is to take a road trip across this beautiful country.

When planning a massive road trip, such as a cross-country trip that will follow the Trans-Canada Highway, you will need to plan in advance. You will need to consider what season is best to plan a trip across Canada, what type of vehicle you plan to drive, how many days you will need to complete the adventure, and so many more that we will help you answer.

Canada road trip planning can be a simple task if you use our guide to help you. Before booking your plane tickets to Canada, let us share everything we know about driving across the vast territory known as Canada.

We cover a lot of detail in this guide so you may want to bookmark this page in your browser or save it to Pinterest for later

scenic images from around canada with text overlay planning a road trip in canada

The Basics of Road Tripping Canada

A road trip in Canada can be an unforgettable family adventure thanks to the country’s diverse landscapes and vast size. There are attractions that will interest each traveller no matter their age. Here are the basics to help you plan a successful road trip:

  • Vehicles: Cars in Canada drive on the right side of the road, so if you are from a country that drives on the left side of the road, you may want to practice on smaller streets before hitting the highway or consider hiring a guide.
  • Method of transport: Cars, Recreational Vehicles, and Trucks are all common vehicles to see on the Trans Canada Highway. If renting a vehicle, choose one based on your needs and make a reservation in advance, as it can be difficult to rent vehicles during peak season.  If you plan to explore remote areas, a 4×4 or SUV may be more suitable.
  • Plan the route: Canada has ten provinces and three territories, so you will want to plan ahead and decide which locations you want to visit and create a rough itinerary. Research how far it is between provinces and plan accordingly, giving yourself lots of extra time if traffic or weather conditions become an issue.
  • Choose the right season: Winter in Canada is harsh, and many routes may become closed or challenging to navigate. Poor weather conditions range from November to April, depending on the province, so the best time to visit is from April to October. 
  • Speed limits: Speeds are posted in kilometres per hour and are strictly enforced by radar traps and cameras. Canada also has red light cameras that take photos and mail you an unpleasant ticket if you try to run a red light.
  • Necessary documents: You must have a valid license from your home country. Check if you need a VISA prior to entering Canada, as it may take months to complete the necessary steps.

Keep reading to find further details on planning your Dream Canada Road Trip!

Canadian Climate

Canada experiences significant weather variations throughout the year, impacting the range of activities available to you. While summer offers the most favourable conditions for road trips, each season carries its own unique allure.

CA Planning a Canadian Road Trip - Canadian Climate

In the spring (April to June), temperatures are on the rise, but some provinces may still encounter cold and rainy spells. On the plus side, this season sees fewer tourists.

Summer (July to August) marks the high point of tourism, with warm weather ideal for beach visits and outdoor pursuits.

Fall (September to October) is renowned for its foliage, particularly in late September and early October. The weather tends to be cooler, and many tourist activities begin winding down after Thanksgiving, particularly in smaller Maritime towns.

Winter (November to March) presents its own set of challenges for road travel, as severe weather conditions like snowstorms and icy roads can pose difficulties.

Ideal Timing for a Canadian Road Trip

The most popular time of year to drive across Canada is in the summer, from June to August when the roads are clear and dry. However, this is peak tourist season, so it will be very busy with tourists. 

If you have some flexibility, you may enjoy viewing the fall foliage along the Trans-Canada Highway during the early Fall (September to October), or you may enjoy the awakening of nature and wildlife in the Spring (Mid April to May). 

Due to rapidly changing weather and road conditions, you want to avoid driving the Trans-Canada Highway from November until Mid April.

School Holidays in Canada

These change a little by province and territory, but the typical times children are out of school in Canada are:

  • Winter Holidays – 2 weeks (End of December/Early January)
  • Spring Break – 1 week (Mid March)
  • Summer Vacation – 9-10 weeks (Late June to Early Sept)

Be prepared if you travel during school holidays, and attractions, highways, and accommodations will be much busier and more difficult to book. However, during the Summer Vacation, we see the largest number of festivals and events especially in small towns, which can be fun to incorporate into road trips. 

Some of the busier holidays in Canada

  • Canada Day – July 1st
  • Easter Weekend – Easter is observed on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Easter must be on a Sunday after a Full Moon. 
  • Victoria Day – Last Monday of May before May 25th to honor the Queen
  • Labour Day – First Monday of every September
  • Civic Holiday – First Monday in August 

What does the busy (peak) season look like in Canada? If you are looking for a hotel or motel, it can be fully booked about 6-12 months in advance in popular major cities. You may need to book rental cars, accommodations and even some attractions far in advance to guarantee you can enjoy your vacation. Especially during Canadian Long Weekends (Victoria Day, Civic Holiday, and Labour Day) you will fund increased amounts of visitors and tourists to attractions.

If you prefer to “go with the flow,” you will want to travel during the shoulder season in the Spring (April-June) or Fall (Sept-October) when children are back in school so fewer people are travelling. This will allow you to make day-to-day decisions rather than plan months in advance.

Nature Experiences in Canada

Some seasonal events or activities to be aware of include:

Hiking: West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, the Fundy Footpath in New Brunswick, the Bruce Trail in Ontario, or Banff and Jasper National Parks offer the best hiking routes in Canada.

Whale Watching: Quebec’s Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait, or Newfoundland and Labrador’s Bay Bulls are the best locations to see various whale species, including humpbacks, orcas, and belugas.

Bird Watching: Consider visiting Point Pelee National Park in Ontario or the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick 

Wildlife: National parks like Algonquin in Ontario. Banff or Jasper offers the best locations to see wildlife.

Canoeing and Kayaking: Paddle through Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, the Bowron Lake Circuit in British Columbia, or the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.

Rock Climbing: Take yourself to new heights with climbing destinations like Squamish in British Columbia, the Bugaboos in the Kootenay Rockies, and Gros Morne in Newfoundland.

Winter Sports: Popular destinations include Whistler in British Columbia, Tremblant in Quebec, and Banff in Alberta.

CA Planning a Canadian Road Trip - Nature Experiences in Canada

Scenic Drives: The most scenic locations to drive through in Canada include the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, and the Pacific Coast Highway in British Columbia.

Your Canada Road Trip Itinerary Plan

The first decision you have to make is how much time you have to explore the beautiful country of Canada, as this will directly impact the routes you take.

Truly Understanding Distances

Heading to the West:

  • Toronto to Vancouver – It is a long journey from Toronto to Vancouver as you will drive the Trans Canada Highway for approximately 4265 km, passing through 3 provinces. This takes 42 hours if driving straight.
  • Banff, Alberta to Vancouver – The distance from Banff to Vancouver is 850 km (approx. 530 miles) and takes 10 hours to drive if you are going to drive straight from one location to the next.
  • Calgary, Alberta to Vancouver – The distance from Calgary to Vancouver is 1057 km (660 miles) and the fastest route is 12 hours.

Heading to the East:

  • Toronto to Halifax: The distance is 1455 km (approx. 904 miles), and it takes 16-20 hours to drive if you are going to drive straight from one location to the next.
  • Toronto to Quebec: The distance from Toronto to Montreal is 542 km (approx. 337 miles). The drive time is approximately 6 hours to drive if you are going to drive straight from one location to the next.

Even with a month to explore Canada, you will just scratch the surface of the amazingly beautiful landscapes that Canada has to offer from province to province. 

Which Route Should You Take In Canada?

One of the best ways to truly experience the country is to go road-tripping across Canada from one side to the next, exploring all the hot spots along the way. 

CA Planning a Canadian Road Trip - Which Route Should You Take

We have created a list of the Best Canadian Road Trip Ideas to help you get behind the wheel and discover some of the most beautiful roads in Canada and all the unique scenery that you will encounter along the route. We have included 11 popular routes:

  • Cabot Trail – Nova Scotia
  • Bruce Peninsula – Ontario
  • Calgary to Jasper – Alberta
  • Sea to Sky – British Columbia
  • Fundy Coastline – New Brunswick
  • Eastern Townships – Quebec
  • Journey to Churchill – Manitoba
  • Prince Edward Island Coastline – PEI
  • Badlands Parkway – Saskatchewan
  • Viking Trail and Gros Morne – Newfoundland

Equipment for Road Tripping in Canada:

If you are staying at a campsite or even hotels along your journey, you will want to pack the following items to make your trip more comfortable:

  • Cooler – This will keep your drinks and food cold even on the hottest days as you drive from one destination to another. A cooler can come in handy even at hotels as some don’t have hotels, so this way, you can keep leftovers from meals.
  • A tent – you may want a tent if you plan to do any camping or if you find yourself without a hotel option
  • Navigation System – You will want a GPS system if your vehicle does not have navigation 
  • A spare charger and a power charger bank – You don’t want to find yourself without power to your phone or other electronics, so you will want to make sure you have backup options.
  • First aid Kit
  • Blankets or Sleeping Bag
  • Insect repellent and SunScreen
  • Hiking Boots and Outdoor Clothing
  • Food and Snacks

Where to Buy Canada Road Trip Supplies:

If you are combining hotel stays with camping, you can buy excellent camping gear at Canadian Tire across the Country, and another good option is MEC Outdoor Gear. 

What Sort of Vehicle is Best for Road Tripping in Canada:

The type of vehicle you choose will depend on your specific travel plans, budget and personal preferences.

CA Planning a Canadian Road Trip - What sort of Vehicle is Best for Road Tripping in Canada

Weather:

  • If travelling in the winter, many provinces require snow tires, so you will want to select a vehicle with four-wheel drive (4WD) for safety
  • In the summer standard, all-wheel drive or two-wheel-drive will be perfect for most road trips

Terrain: 

  • Most of the driving will be on the Trans Canada Highway so a car or SUV will be better for fuel efficiency
  • If you plan to explore rugged or remote areas with gravel roads, you will want to choose a SUV or 4×4 truck

Group Size:

  • Depending on the amount of travellers and the amount of luggage will determine if you choose the more cost-effective car, or higher-priced SUV that offers more space

Comfort and Amenities:

  • Since this will be a longer drive you may look for premium features like comfortable seating, entertainment systems, navigation systems and climate control to make your journey more comfortable

Cargo Space:

  • If you are travelling with a lot of luggage, then an SUV is the way to go for ultimate comfort. If you need a lot of space, you may consider an RV (recreational vehicle) as it provides more space, transportation and accommodation, which is ideal for a road trip.

Canada Driving Tips and Tricks

Before hitting the road, ensure you are familiar with Canadian road signs and rules to ensure you obey Canadian driving laws. Be sure to carry your vehicle registration, insurance documents and driver’s license at all times.

CA Planning a Canadian Road Trip - Canada Driving Tips and Tricks

Vehicle Safety and Driving Laws

  • As mentioned, you will be driving on the right side of the road. If this is unfamiliar to you, I suggest practicing before driving on the highway.
  • Road limits are clearly posted on road signs in kilometres and will also show on GPS. They are strictly enforced, and some speed traps can even mail tickets after the fact, so be sure to obey the rules.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good condition before starting your trip, and perform regular checks during the journey, including tire pressure, wipers, and windshield wiper fluid.
  • Carry an emergency kit with items like flashlights, blankets, food, and water.
  • Be aware of the size of the tank you are driving and fill up when you can as sometimes gas stations can become far and few in between.
  • There are some toll roads in Canada, so carefully plan your route if you don’t want any hidden surprises.
  • Seatbelts are required for all passengers, and Canada has very strict car seat laws for children. 
  • There are no border crossing points between provinces, just signs that state you have entered a new province.
  • If you are driving an RV or a slower vehicle, try to leave the left lane open for passing.
  • Cell coverage can be limited in some remote areas of Canada, so be prepared to consider getting a local SIM card or arrange an eSim for better connectivity.

Roadside Assistance in Canada

Should the worst happen and you find yourself in a collision or with a broken down car, the major automobile clubs you can call for support are:

Be sure to make sure you have valid car insurance that applies in Canada; otherwise, you may consider purchasing additional insurance to avoid issues on your journey. Check your credit cards, as some provide additional car insurance. 

More Resources for Planning Your Road Trips in Canada

Respect the Wildlife:

  • Canada is home to lots of diverse wildlife that freely roams along roadsides so be aware and pay attention at all times to avoid collisions with animals

Respect the Environment:

  • Follow the Leave No Trace Rule – meaning try to minimize your impact on the environments you are visiting (be sure to leave no garbage behind and follow signs to stay on pathways) in natural areas

Stay Informed:

  • Check weather forecasts, and road closures ahead of time
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