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5 Hidden Vacation Gems in Canada

Beautiful, affordable and uncrowded spots to the north

Dusk at Emerald Lake, in Yoho National Park

Feng Wei Photography/Getty Images

Yoho National Park is just one of the many beautiful places to visit in Canada.

En español | Canada is a vast country, full of destinations that are just as gorgeous but far less traveled than hot spots such as Banff, Whistler and Montreal. And with the American dollar riding high, you’ll get a 25 percent bonus when you cash in your greenbacks for colored Canadian bills. Now’s the perfect time to consider visiting these wonderful, lesser-known areas of Canada.

People walking along track to start of Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

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Consider a hike in Gros Morne National Park.


I’m lucky enough to have poked around many corners of Canada, and this province is far and away my favorite. Easily reached by flights from Toronto, Montreal and Halifax (roughly three hours from Toronto, only an hour or so from Halifax) or by car ferry from Sydney in Nova Scotia (seven hours), Newfoundland is a massive piece of land almost the size of Ohio, but with only about 500,000 residents. The hiking is fantastic. Some of the best spots include the 3.3 mile Skerwink Trail (take it slow to enjoy the spectacular coastal views) near Port Rexton on the east coast; beautiful Gros Morne National Park, home to moose and caribou, on the western side of the province; and in and around the delightful capital of St. John’s.

A fun way to get a taste of Newfoundland culture is to stay at A Schooner Inn, a small B&B outside the capital. Co-owner Colette Kavanagh is a character-and-a-half who likes to get willing guests up and dancing to roaring, seagoing tunes, as well as teach them how to make fried cod cheeks, a Newfoundland specialty.

Farther north on Fogo Island, renowned as one of the four corners of the planet by Flat Earth believers, is a super-luxurious inn on a rocky oceanside plateau that was opened a few years ago by Zita Cobb, a former high-tech worker on Wall Street. The food and design at Fogo Island Inn are out of this world (whether you believe the world to be round or flat).

Canoeing on Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

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Enjoy the scenery of Banff as you canoe Lake Louise.

The Rockies of British Columbia

The British Columbia Rockies and the Kootenay Rockies are wonderful areas of this province, on the western side of Canada’s most famous mountain range. You’ll find almost the same scenery you would on the Alberta side (home to Banff and Lake Louise), but with much less traffic and tourism — and quirky, friendly little towns. Fernie has fun restaurants and a downtown you want to embrace with a warm hug. Kimberley has a bit of a German-Austrian flavor.

Your trip should include Yoho National Park (Yoho means “awe” in the Cree language), about three hours north of Kimberly and just a short drive east of Banff. It’s home to bears, cougars, mountain goats and other wildlife, plus Takakkaw Falls, a spectacular ribbon of water that tumbles 1,224 feet down a massive slab of gray stone. Also in Yoho is Emerald Lake, which is such a deep green you won’t need to photoshop your pictures. Luxurious Cathedral Mountain Lodge also offers delicious food — if you’re up for a splurge — and spectacular views of ancient, craggy spires.

You might take a leisurely hike in the mountains of Kootenay National Park (just south of Yoho) — or a drive along the park’s scenic Banff-Windermere Highway — and then soak in the natural warm water in the mineral pools of Radium Hot Springs, at Kootenay’s south entrance.  

Apartment buildings line the river in Windsor, Ontario

Brian Kennedy/Getty Images

Windsor is located in Ontario and has views of Detroit.

Lake Erie’s North Shore

A little closer to most American homes is the north coast of Lake Erie in Ontario — a quiet, pastoral kind of place with weathered old barns, engaging small towns, and long, lonely beaches. Because the lake is quite shallow, the water near shore often reaches temperatures in the low- to mid-80s in summer. The area is a great destination for a low-key road trip.

You could start a little south and east of Windsor, which is directly across the river from Detroit, in the adorable town of Kingsville. Here you’ll find handsome brick buildings and several very cool shops, including Dutch Boys Chocolate. The owners make exquisite truffles and also fashion birds, dogs and other creatures out of rich, dark chocolate. Just a few steps away is a nice craft beer spot and hotel called The Grove Hotel/Brew House, serving up tasty ales, lagers and IPAs. The hotel has a spacious front porch with rocking chairs. and rooms are done in a variety of styles. I’ve stayed in one that was decorated like a Florida beach house, while another had a wall of old license plates and a fully functioning traffic light that blinked red, green and yellow (and, thankfully, can be turned off).

You’ll also want to visit Pelee Island, a short ferry ride from Kingsville and the southernmost inhabited area of Canada, just a few miles north of the Ohio border in Lake Erie. There’s a nice winery on the island and a couple of small B&Bs. The Anchor and Wheel Inn has a funky tiki bar that plays Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley tunes, and feels like something out of Key West. 

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About four hours up the coast in St. Williams is Burning Kiln, an outstanding winery where the winemaker and almost all the senior staff are women. There’s also a glamour camping (“glamping”) spot called Long Point Eco-Adventures, where you can stay in lovely canvas tents or “wilderness pods” with electricity and bathrooms. They’ll help arrange fishing trips and kayaking (and kayak fishing) in Long Point Bay, beer and wine tours, and other fun.

You can wrap up the trip at Niagara Falls, two hours to the east. Be sure to try the Hornblower boat ride on the river, with the powerful falls thundering overhead.

Other Canadian favorites:

Prince Edward Island. PEI is best known as the home of Anne of Green Gables, but it also has two small “villages” where folks have fashioned small buildings out of old wine bottles (with a bit of cement to hold them together). The one near Point Prim, quite close to the ferry from Nova Scotia, is called Hannah’s Bottle Village. The village near Cap Egmont is quite extensive (more than 25,000 bottles) and even includes a chapel.

Eastern Townships of Quebec. This is a lovely, low-key area sandwiched between Montreal and Vermont, with beautiful old wooden inns, picturesque villages and fantastic food (Quebecers wouldn’t have it any other way). North Hatley is one of the prettiest towns, perched at the north end of Lake Massawippi. English is widely spoken in the region, and it’s an excellent area for cycling. 

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