Canada Road Trip – driving on paved roads
A Canada road trip is nowhere as challenging as you might think. At least not if you do it the gentle way.
Roads and highways in Canada
The gentle way means travelling mostly on paved roads and highways that are in good condition.
A road trip is the best way to appreciate the dimensions and size of Canada, the second-largest country in the world. You will get to see the most spectacular scenery and an abundance of wildlife along the way.
Canada has 1,042,300 km of road, of which 415,600 km are paved (according to Wikipedia). No surprise when you look at the map and the distances between places. Many roads are needed to connect sparsely populated remote communities in the northern parts of Canada.
Plan your road trip
Make sure to remember the enormous size of Canada during trip planning.
Expect to burn lots of gasoline during your Canada road trip, no matter what type of vehicle you drive. If you travel with a huge RV make sure to adapt your budget accordingly. Try to fill your car with friends to split the costs, you might be glad you did when you drive the long and lonely stretches of road.
For any big road trip in Canada, you have to prepare well for it. Towns are far apart and so are services. It’s important to take along the right gear. What you have to pack depends largely on how you travel and whether you camp along the way. It may be helpful to use a Road trip planner and adapt it to your needs.
Paved roads and highways are generally in good condition, especially the main routes. Still, expect potholes on smaller roads as well as cattle guards if you venture onto a side road. Also, be prepared to come along road construction sites. Always follow the markings and keep the speed limit.
Once you get to remote regions, especially in Canada’s north, the roads may be less well maintained. Many highways in the Northwest Territories and Yukon are gravel. Plan your travel route accordingly if you don’t want to drive on gravel roads. Always check with local authorities about road conditions before heading out.
There are a number of toll roads and bridges in Canada. Here is a list of the main toll roads in the country:
- Autoroute 30, Quebec
- Confederation Bridge (linking New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island)
- Ontario Highways 407 and 412
- You will also have to pay a toll for each border crossing into the United States and back into Canada
In winter after a snowfall, highways and main roads get cleared quickly in populated areas. Still, winter driving in Canada can be nerve-wracking at times. Expect driving in snow and icy conditions if you travel during the winter months.
Five most popular road trips
The following road trip suggestions anyone can do. The roads are well-travelled and it’s easy to find campgrounds or other accommodations along the way.
1. Trans-Canada – Highway 1
The main Canadian highway is the Trans-Canada which connects east and west.
With approximately 8,000 km in length, the Trans Canada highway is the longest highway in the world. It follows a fairly direct course across the country, stretching from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia.
For most of its length, you can take alternative highways to make your trip more challenging and more scenic. All the additional roads would add another couple of thousand kilometres to the length of the Trans-Canada highway.
Three ferries are also part of the official Trans Canada highway:
- Between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo in British Columbia.;
- Port-aux-Basques in Newfoundland to North Sydney in Nova Scotia;
- Cariboo Nova Scotia to Woods Island Prince Edward Island
Another highlight of the Trans Canada highway is the Confederation Bridge linking PEI to New Brunswick, and the Canso Causeway, connecting Cape Breton to the mainland.
How long will it take to drive the Trans-Canada highway?
It depends. If you’re stopping at roadside attractions and enjoying breaks along the way, plan to travel 300 km to 400 km a day. Aim to arrive before 6 pm so you don’t miss out on any scenery. At that pace, you can cross Canada (one way) in two weeks.
2. Trans Canada Highway 1 – Revelstoke, BC to Lake Louise, Alberta
The spectacular 220 km portion through the Canadian Rocky Mountains includes the Selkirk Mountain Range and the Glacier National Park in British Columbia. Your final stop is Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta.
3. Icefield Parkway, Alberta – Highway 93
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic highways in the world. It takes you through wild and remote portions of Banff and Jasper national parks, Alberta, past lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers. This drive is on every traveller’s list.
4. Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia
The spectacular Sea to Sky Highway is approximately a 150 km portion of Highway 99 north.
It connects Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver to the mountain town of Whistler, British Columbia. The drive takes you through narrow valleys with snow-capped mountain views, past lakes, and inlets. This scenic drive takes approximately 2-hours.
5. Pacific Rim Highway, British Columbia (Highway 4)
Parksville to Tofino on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
The 150 km, partly steep twisting road takes you straight across Vancouver Island to Tofino, a small charming town on the Pacific Ocean.
For more road trip ideas check out the Travel Guides.
What else you should about road-tripping in Canada
Always stop at the Tourist Information Centre when you arrive in town.
Most towns in Canada have a Tourist Information Centre that provides free brochures and maps with circle routes and scenic drives for specific areas.
On all highways, you will find roadhouses along the way where you can fill up your car and have a meal. The distances between roadhouses can be quite a stretch, depending on where you are. Always make sure you have enough fuel and water to make it to the next one.
Some towns shown on the map are pretty small and all that’s there is a gas station with a couple of buildings and maybe a small campground. You will always find a place to park your camper when you’re stuck somewhere.
As you see, it doesn’t need much special knowledge or equipment to venture on a great road trip across Canada. The most important is a good set of wheels, which brings me to the next point.
Is your car up to it
If you are on the road with a rental car, you shouldn’t have to worry about any mechanical issues. Rental cars are in good condition and reliable and the rental usually includes road assistance service.
If you drive your own car, make sure it is up to the job with a service and oil change before departure.
Most highways see plenty of traffic through the summer month and people will help if you break down. Still, breakdowns are a big hassle and interfere with your travel plans.
Always keep in mind that you could be a long way from anywhere. Even if you do find a mechanic, it will cost you a fortune. There is no guarantee that there will be someone in the next town who can fix your car. And how long would you want to stick around for that spare part to arrive?
Make sure your vehicle is reliable and carry a least one good spare tire. Learn how to change it, and check it before you leave for the trip.
I suggest joining drivers’ clubs such as CAA, to reduce the stress of possible breakdowns.
I was on the way to Vancouver with a friend a couple of years ago when the transmission on our truck went. No, we didn’t turn around to go home. As members of BCAA, we got towed the rest of our trip, about 3oo km to Vancouver, where we got the car fixed.
- As you know by now, the driving distances in Canada are enormous, in some parts the roads go on forever with not much to distract the eye and keep you awake. Have frequent breaks and swap drivers if you are not on your own. Don’t just push on.
- Driving at dusk and dawn is especially risky. That’s when the wildlife is out and you have to watch out for deer, moose, bears, and others. There might be cattle on the road in some parts of the country, or wild horses.
- Having an accident because of wildlife, especially Moose, is very common in Canada and can be extremely dangerous. The best way to avoid this risk is to stop driving at dinnertime and get on the road again after breakfast.
- Some roads are only open during the summer months. Between November and April, highways might be closed because of avalanches. Always find out at local gas stations or roadhouses about road conditions before you leave.
- Always drive according to the conditions to be safe during your Canada road trip.
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