Author: Pamela MacNaughtan

10 Secret Canadian Destinations You Should Visit Now

While Canadians may be crying over a weak dollar that makes many vacation ideas more expensive, the rest of the world is slightly excited about it and many are seriously thinking about moving Canada up on their bucket list.

Which, frankly, is a damned good idea.

Even Canadians can take heart, there are still a number of destinations that are a great value for their flagging currency.

Everyone knows about cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, Calgary; and tourist hotspots like Banff, Whistler, Niagara Falls, and Québec City. And while I recommend visiting each one of these places, sometimes it’s nice to escape the tourist hoards and discover different parts of Canada.

Here are 10 Canadian destinations (in no particular order) you don’t know about, but should:

Churchill, Manitoba

canada churchill
Located in northern Manitoba, there are two ways to get to Churchill: fly or take a two and a half day train ride from Winnipeg. I recommend the train — Manitoba landscapes vary from city to lakes (there are over 100,000 in the province) to boreal forest to arctic tundra.

A small outpost town situated along the Hudson Bay and the mouth of the Churchill river, Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world. From October to November each year thousands of polar bears gather around Churchill as they await for the Hudson Bay to freeze over so they can go hunting. While this is the best time to see polar bears, they are always some stranglers and it’s possible to run into one at any time of year — so it’s best to exercise caution and never walk around town alone, especially at night.

“Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world.”

In July and August, thousands of beluga whales migrate to the Churchill river; giving visitors a chance to observe them from the comfort of a zodiac boat, or squeeze into a wetsuit and snorkel with them. Beluga whales are quite possibly the friendliest whales on the planet.

Waterton, Alberta

canada waterton
Situated along the border of Alberta and Montana, Waterton is a small mountain town popular among southern Albertans, who prefer to stay away from the tourist hoards that race to Banff every year.

The town is small. filled mostly with restaurants, hotels, and a few boutiques. Along with herds of deer and big horn sheep who seem to forget that the town is for humans, not animals. There is nothing quite like hearing hooves outside your second floor room, opening your door, and finding a couple of big horn sheep walking around the second floor balconies.

If you’re an outdoor lover, Waterton is the place to be with plenty of mountain hikes and serene camping spots. Consider the 8-hour hike to Crypt Lake (one of the best), trek along Red Rock Canyon, or take the boat to Goat Haunt, Montana and spend the day hiking in Glacier National Park — yes, there is a very small customs hut in the middle of nowhere that you’ll need to pass through!

Île Quarry, Québec


Located along Québec northern coast (Côte Nord), not many people, including Québecers, make the journey to Île Quarry or the other islands of the Mingan Archipelago. While it’s possible to fly to Sept-Îles and drive three hours to Havre Saint-Pierre where you’ll catch a boat to Île Quarry, I highly recommend the two-day drive from Québec City along HWY 138.

Exploring the unique flora to fauna on the islands (there are 40) that make up the Mingan Archipelago is the perfect way to disconnect from the digital world and get back to nature. Of course if you’re going to go all the way up there, you may as well spend a night or two, and I suggest doing that on Île Quarry.

“I highly recommend the two-day drive from Québec City along HWY 138.”

Camping is not for everyone, so if pitching a tent is not your thing, consider renting an Otentik which is a wooden a-frame hut with a thick tarp-like roof and walls. On the inside you’ll find bunkbeds, and a dining area, the porch comes complete with a BBQ, there is a fire pit nearby, and an outhouse. By day you can explore the island, and at night there is a chance you could be the only person camping on the island — which is equal parts fun and freaky.

Whitehorse, Yukon

canada whitehorse
The only city in the Yukon, and therefore the capital city, Whitehorse is a charming town that still radiates a frontier-like feeling — late 19th century architecture and all.

In the summer days feel as though they will never end, which is partially due to the sun never truly dipping below the horizon. In the winter the sun never truly rises. Needless to say, the sun, or lack there of, can mess with your eternal clock. So why should you visit Whitehorse or the Yukon in general? Simple: it’s pure nature porn.

Visit the McBride Museum and what remains of Sam McGee’s cabin, devour fried fish at Klondike, or venture into the mountains to go hiking and/or camping. Or, visit Oct/Nov to experience the magic of the Northern Lights.

Îles de la Madeleine, Québec

canada magdellan
A collection of islands off the coast of Prince Edward Island, Îles de la Madeleine are a must-see destination that few know about outside of Québec. While most many residents do not speak English, there are quite a few who do, which make it easier to navigate.

Split your time between the six small communities, each with it’s own character. Visit in May for the lobster festival as the season begins, or venture down to a wharf and buy lobster from the boats as they return to the dock. Take a cooking class, visit the brewery and enjoy a beer so strong it will knock on your arse — thanks to a strong fermentation process which includes the curing of barely and malt in the same smokehouse as the herring.

On the islands life is a mixture of relaxation and adventure. You can spend days on the beach collecting sand dollars or kayak around the red cliffs. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy.

Eastern Newfoundland

canada newfoundland
While there is not a public transportation system that connects the various cities and hamlets in Newfoundland, don’t let that dissuade you, this is an island that begs to be explored. Rent a car in St John’s when you arrive, then set out to explore Eastern Newfoundland.

Set a course for Bonavista and make plans to stop along the way. Newfoundland has hundreds of fishing hamlets tucked away in small bays. Pull off the main highway (there is only one that goes to Bonavista) whenever you see a sign saying a town is 16km, or less, away. Points for finding towns like Tickle Cove, and Duntara. Bonus points for driving down roads until they end as they sometimes lead to a small community with colourful saltbox houses spread between craighs of rock, a small wharf, general store, and hand-written road signs.

“Newfoundland has hundreds of fishing hamlets tucked away in small bays.”

On your journey be sure to make time to go to Upper Amheryst Cove, a small community, which is also home to one of the best restaurants in Newfoundland, the Bonavista Social Club. It’s a meal you are not likely to forget, it is that good.

Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

canada haida gwaii
Also known as the Queen Charlotte islands on the North Coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is west coast nature porn at it’s very finest. Take a ferry from Prince Rupert or Vancouver, and plan to get in touch with mother nature — and leave your phone at home!

Haida Gwaii is rich with native history and massive totem poles can be found throughout the islands. Activities on the islands include: deep sea fishing for halibut, kayak, camp, surf, or explore on foot. Wander hemlock forest, or go in search of colourful starfish that cling to rocks in the shallow crystal clear creeks and rivers. Make time to learn about the Native American culture of the islands and make time to admire the varies forms of art on the islands: wood carvers, weavers, painters, glass-blowers, and more.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

canada charlottetown
There is nothing quite like east coast charm, and Charlottetown, the capital city of the small island of Prince Edward is no exception. Established in the late 18th century, Charlottetown played a key role in the establishment of the Canadian Confederation (the talks about the Maritime Union and the Canadian Confederation took place in Charlottetown).

Today Charlottetown is the perfect city for an east coast getaway with gourmet restaurants, historic monuments and activities, cycling, fabulous theatre productions, charming boutiques, and so much more.

When planning your trip to Charlottetown, consider renting a car and venturing around the island — go see the house from the Anne of Green Gables series or have a lobster bake along a beach.

Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

canada moose jaw
First of all, who doesn’t want to check out a city named Moose Jaw?! Sure, Newfoundland the is king of wacky town names, but this city in Southern Saskatchewan has a unique history that sets it apart from the rest.

While the city may not look like much today, it was once the go-to place for those looking to liquor-up during prohibition. In fact, the Chicago mob were regular visitors to Moose Jaw, where the tunnels (which were built years earlier by Chinese immigrants who were hiding from the government) held everything from booze to gambling houses to stores of illegal weapons.

“In fact, the Chicago mob were regular visitors to Moose Jaw…”

Curious about the tunnels? You can do one of two tours of the tunnels: one talks about prohibition and rumours of Al Capone visiting, the other talks about the plight of the Chinese immigrants who worked on the railway.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon

canada st pierre
Okay, technically speaking the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon belong to France, not Canada, but there are only a short ferry ride away from Newfoundland. How often can you travel to Canada and France in the same day without getting on a plane? You simply have to go.

“How often can you travel to Canada and France in the same day without getting on a plane? “

It’s possible to do the islands as a day trip, or you can stay overnight. You’ll be going to France, so you’ll need a passport and some Euros stuffed in your pockets for spending money while you’re there. Wander the streets, sit at a café, go shopping, treat yourself to French cuisine.

This is a destination that begs to be bragged about!

Where you do like to go when you visit Canada? Tweet us @bootsnall.


Photo Credit: Parks Canada / E. Lajeunesse