Nothing beats a fall color road trip in Canada. Traffic is light. Temperatures are still mild. There are no bugs and best of all, Canada’s fall colors rock!
Here are six fall road trips worth traveling for …
G took this amazing shot on a lonely stretch of highway between Jenner and Suffield in southeastern Alberta. This corner of the province doesn’t make many fall color lists but we think it is one of Canada’s best roadtrips. An incredibly photogenic landscape that locals have coined the Canadian Badlands with virtually no traffic, an enormous sky and an abundance of wildlife. We saw antelope, Mule deer, coyotes, Bald and Golden eagles, owls and hawks.
If you go, map a route following one of the river valleys – either the Red Deer, Bow, South Saskatchewan, Oldman or Milk Rivers. All five have badlands but the Red Deer’s are the most impressive. The river valley is littered with dinosaur fossils. Some are in the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, east of Calgary. Many more are still waiting to be discovered in Dinosaur Provincial Park, a World UNESCO Heritage Site two and a half hours further east. Ghost towns dot the route we took to the park. We stayed in one called Dorothy south of Drumheller. Rub shoulders with Alberta cowboys on the local rodeo circuit or experience a bit of their cowboy lifestyle with a stay on a working cattle ranch. Our favourite was Western Uplands, two hours north of Medicine Hat.
This Ontario Parks Blog post shares some lesser known provincial parks with brilliant fall colors like Restoule pictured above. By far, the most popular Ontario park for colors is Algonquin, but avoid it on fall weekends if you don’t like crowds. Try mid-week instead when hiking trails, yurts and Algonquin’s three historic lodges are less busy.
Ontario’s Madawaska Highlands
Another good alternative to Algonquin is the Madawaska Highlands just east of the park. Ride the Highlands is a good source for roadtrippers headed to this region. We discovered Foymount on one of the quiet backroads through here. The sleepy little town is on the highest point of land in Eastern Ontario so the drive up is worth the 180 degree view of the surrounding countryside. NORAD had a big radar station here in the 1950s-60s. Most of the old NORAD buildings are now abandoned, which gives Foymount an eerie feel. On our way back down into the valley we passed the ghost town of Brudenell. In the late 19th century it boomed, catering to men who worked the lumber camps in the area. Business dried up when the railway line through town moved but Brudenell’s old Costello Hotel still stands. It was once the ‘Sin Bin’ of the Opeongo Line, one of Ontario’s oldest roads. We drove part of it to the Town of Wilno, Canada’s first Polish settlement, and home of the Wilno Tavern, a favourite place for lunch or dinner. Another interesting find is little Quadeville and its old general store. We discovered both while hunting down Al Capone’s former Canadian hideaway. The old cabin is now a geocache just outside of town.
Quebec’s Backroad to Tremblant
We loved this backroad to Mont Tremblant in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains. Our road trip began with a Pointe Fortune ferry ride, off of Highway 40 (TransCanada Highway) west of Montreal. The ferry crosses the Ottawa River to Carillon. From there, we headed for the Town of Lachute and then continued north to Mont Tremblant. We passed little towns, lots of lakes and dense forest filled with brilliant reds and golds contrasted by spruce, white and red pine. ‘Casse croutes’ (snack bars) like Bingo’s in Pinehill are popular road trip stops along the way but if you want finer dining, wait ’til you get to St. Jovite near Mont Tremblant which offers good food without Mont Tremblant prices.
New Brunswick’s Fundy Coast
Some call New Brunswick, Canada’s drive-through province. We’ve never understood why. A couple of years back, four of us spent a week roadtripping its Fundy coast. We began our trip in St. Andrews by-the-Sea with a stay at a seaside cottage. My sister-in-law still talks about the cottage deck and its magnificent view. Six days later, our trip ended in the City of Moncton, 460 kilometres or 286 miles east. Highlights included driving the Atlantic Ocean floor to Minister’s Island where railway baron Sir William van Horne’s farm still stands. We loved the island of Grand Manan and its friendly folk, especially in tiny Seal Cove. Fundy National Park near St. Martin’s was fun to hike and we stocked up on great food finds at the city market in St. John. On our final day we visited Hopewell Rocks at low tide. It may be the most photographed place in New Brunswick.
Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail
Every Canadian oughta see the Cabot Trail before they die. I drove it for the first time two years ago and I’m going back taking family with me. One of the world’s best marine drives, the Cabot Trail is a superb road trip at any time of year but come fall, it’s hard to beat. The leaves turn color later here than Ontario or Quebec and driving the mountainous trail is one vista after another. My trip highlights included the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck. Man, Bell was a genius, inventing far more than the telephone in his lifetime. If you love to hike, try the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It takes you to dizzying heights high above the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. We watched a pod of mink whale feed on mackerel from a small zodiac boat operated by a Pleasant Bay tour operator and enjoyed fish soup and hot bread out of the oven in the Acadian town of Cheticamp, I loved our room at the Keltic Lodge. Another fun stay was Glen Breton Distillery. Besides superb single malt whisky, Glen Breton has nice cabins for rent that sit high in the highlands and have great fall views. But perhaps the strongest impression the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton left me with is the love of music that all Cape Bretoners seem to share. It’s celebrated in style every October with Celtic Colours, a nine-day festival featuring live concerts all over the island.
ROAD TRIP TIPS …
Get a provincial road map.
Call us old school but we never road trip without a printed road map in the car. Provincial road maps are the best. These are available free or for a small charge at provincial tourism centres located at provincial borders. Local tourism organizations produce maps that often feature backroads not found on provincial maps.
Rent a cabin, cottage or yurt at many of Canada’s national or provincial parks. Mid-week is best for availability. This Roadstories’ cross-Canada camping post provides you with links to park sources.
Scour local farmers markets or ask a local for good regional food finds.
That’s how we discovered the Oka Cheese factory makes fresh curd from its famous smoky cheese and sells it by the bag from its factory store in Oka, Quebec (I’ve never seen it sold anywhere else). And the Sandbar Lounge in Prince Edward County serves Prince Edward County wines by-the-glass at the Isaiah Tubbs Resort.
Avoid traveling at night.
You’ll miss the fall colors but more importantly, hitting a moose or other big wildlife on a lonely stretch of highway at night is definitely going to ruin a good road trip. For the best wildlife photo ops, try early morning or late afternoons, especially on less traveled routes.