The Trans-Canada Highway: Canada’s Route 66

by Gray Cargill on August 17, 2010

I have had a lifelong love affair with Canada.  This may be due in part to my heritage (I am 1/8 French Canadian) or the country’s neighbor status with Vermont.  I do feel as though I’ve missed out on much of Canada’s beauty, though, since my travels have only taken me to the Quebec Province.  Today’s guest blogger, Pamela MacNaughtan, shares with us the ideal itinerary for seeing all that Canada has to offer via the Trans-Canada highway.  Solo road trip, anyone?

Nat King Cole hasn’t written a song about it, but in Canada, driving the Trans-Canada Highway from end to end is a dream.

In 1980, Terry Fox–who lost a leg to bone cancer–embarked on a journey across Canada. His goal was to run from St. John’s to Victoria to raise money and awareness for cancer research. I was 5 years old at the time. Terry ran for 5,373 kilometers before it became too much for him. The cancer in his body was spreading. He had no choice. Unfortunately Terry died June 28, 1981. This hit Canada hard. He was an amazing man, with a noble quest–to run across Canada for cancer. For me, Terry is a part of the highway.

In the summer of 1986, Rick Hansen (a paraplegic) returned to Canada after wheeling across 34 countries on his Man in Motion Tour.  Rick spent the next 6+ months wheeling across Canada. It was the final stretch in his Man in Motion Tour. Rick wheeled through the Prairie Provinces in the dead of winter–an incredible feat. When all was said and done, Rick’s tour had raised $26 million for Spinal Cord Injury research, $16 million more than his original goal.

lake louise

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

The Trans-Canada Highway (or Trans-Canada HWY 1) is the world’s longest national highway. It stretches 7,821 km from Victoria, British Columbia to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I’ve driven many highways in my life. I couldn’t tell you the names of them all. They’re highways. Why would I remember a highway? In contrast, I can remember each and every time I’ve driven the Trans-Canada Highway.

I remember when I moved to Alberta from Ontario. Driving west towards Calgary, I squealed with excitement at the sight of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. They’re like a present sitting under the Christmas tree the night before Christmas. You just want to be there. Now.  The Rocky Mountains are your reward for hours of Prairie scenery. I cried. No lie.

The terrain is as diverse as the cultures found within our borders. Crags of rock, lush green forests and hills, prairies full of wheat and canola, cattle ranches, horse farms, rocky mountains, lakes, rivers, oceans and more.

An ‘ideal’ cross-country road-trip on the Trans-Canada Highway

*Note: Driving times are estimates. They will change depending on traffic, weather and other factors.

Day 1| Victoria to Vancouver (4-6 hrs)

It’s a short day of driving, but you can’t just drive right through Vancouver without stopping to experience it. Driving from Victoria to Nanaimo takes about 2 hours. The ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay will take another 2 hours. Once you’re in Vancouver, find yourself a hotel or hostel and check out the town!

As a photographer, it’s hard for me to drive through British Columbia without stopping to take an obscene amount of photos.


Day 2| Vancouver to Kamloops (5-7 hrs)

British Columbia is the Province of Mountains and occasional mudslides.  The drive is crack for the eyes. Yummy green forests, massive Rocky Mountains, bears, moose, hot loggers in plaid shirts. . . .(Oops, wrong post!)  The highway skirts around mountains and lakes and is not meant to be a raceway.

A stop in Chilliwack for some fresh BC-grown fruit is essential. I go gaga for BC cherries. Mmmm nummy.

From Hope to the Rocky Mountains, the Trans- Canada Highway takes on a whole new look. There is nothing like mountain driving. This is a busy section of highway almost any time of year. As someone who has driven this road in both summer and winter, I highly suggest summer.  Driving through Roger’s Pass at night when it’s snowing is scary as hell.

Kamloops is such a great name for a city! The drive from Vancouver to Kamloops is one of the most beautiful sections of the Highway. The Fraser Valley is fabulous and serious eye candy. Take your time, enjoy the scenery, drive with your windows open, and use Mother Nature as your soundtrack.

Day 3| Kamloops to Banff (6-7 hrs)

Be sure to stop in Lake Louise on your way to Banff. It’s a really busy spot, and for a reason. The lake is gorgeous and worth fighting the crowds. End your day in Banff. There are a lot of hotel and hostel options in town and some great restaurants. I recommend a reservation at Giorgio’s Trattoria. Expensive, but fabulous!

In many ways, Alberta has a very prehistoric feel to it, and it should. Alberta is home to one of the largest dinosaur deposits in the world (in Drumheller).



Day 4| Banff to Moosejaw (7-8 hrs)

Moosejaw is another great city name. It’s also a great place to hang out for a night. But if it’s not your cup of tea, Regina is about an hour East along the highway.

Crossing the border into Saskatchewan, your eyes are treated to open skies and fields of wheat. There is something peaceful about driving through farmed land, rather than the barren feel of Manitoba. Saskatchewan is a province that wants to be different. It has its own time zone (Central), which never changes. What I mean is that they don’t observe daylight savings. It’s always the same. Saskatchewan is also home to great town names like Swift Current and Moosejaw, both of which are located along the Trans-Canada.

Day 5| Moosejaw to Winnipeg (7-8 hrs)

A good meal is necessary before driving across the prairies.  The Prairie Provinces require more prep than the stretch of highway in Ontario. Why? They’re flat. That may not sound bad, but if you’re tired, it can be tedious.  Winter in the Prairie Provinces can get pretty scary, so if you’re going to traverse the Trans-Canada Highway, I suggest spring through fall.

Manitoba is quite different from most of the Prairies; it’s a Province of rivers and lakes. North of Winnipeg is an experience like no other, sparse towns, lots of water and wildlife.  Southern Manitoba is flat as a pancake and almost as interesting.

Buy lots of fresh fruit and water. This part of the drive is the tedious part. I’m sure you’ll create a music playlist for your road trip before leaving home. Make sure you have some that will keep your blood jumping. This is where I listen to metal music. It gives me the extra push I need.

Day 6| Winnipeg to Thunder Bay (9-10 hrs)

I love, love, love driving in Northern Ontario and you will too!  Why?  The towns in Northern Ontario are very spread out. A stop at the diner just off the highway in Kenora (on the way to Thunder Bay) is a must.

Day 7| Thunder Bay to Sudbury (12hrs)

I love the crags of rock that border the highway. Mix those with lush green vegetation and the occasional sightings of moose and you have the perfect drive.  It’s a LONG day of driving, but worth it. Sudbury is famous for two things, Science North and the Big Nickel. Both are worth a visit.

Day 8| Sudbury to Ottawa (10-12 hrs)

Traffic will play a huge role in this portion of your drive. You may not be able to make it all the way to Ottawa if you’re stuck in rush hour in Toronto. You may wish to stop in Toronto for the night and do your big driving push the next day.

Quebec City

Quebec City

Day 9| Ottawa to Quebec City (6 hrs)

This is a short day’s drive. Quebec City is one the oldest and most historical cities in Canada. If you have the time I highly recommend you stay for more than one day in Quebec City.

Day 10| Quebec City to Fredericton (6-7 hrs)

Welcome to the Maritime Provinces! They’re beautiful, cozy and full of wonderful people, music and food.

Day 11| Fredericton to North Sydney (6-8 hrs)

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are beautiful Provinces. The drive is coastal and gorgeous.

Day 12 | Ferry ride from North Sydney to Port aux Basques (4.5 – 6 hrs)

The ferry from North Sydney to Port aux Basques costs $28.75 per adult and $81.50 per vehicle. Day crossings take 4.5 – 6hrs. Night crossings take 4.5- 8hrs. (Night crossing will cost extra if you want a berth, rather than a seat on the ferry.) St. Christopher’s Hotel offers amazing ocean views!

Day 13| Port aux Basques to St. John’s (10-12 hrs)

Newfoundland is beyond beautiful with lush vegetation and cliffs surrounded by the ocean, friendly people, great folk music, and more. Yes, you can drive from Port aux Basques to St. John’s in a day, but if you have the time, do some camping along the way. You won’t be sorry!

Canada is a misunderstood country with diverse landscapes and people.  Sure, we’re only 147 yrs old, people make fun of the Prime Minister (okay, we make fun of him as well), and our army is … wait, we have an army?  We’re quiet, but we’re proud.  Just check out the music video for Oh… Canada by Classified. It’s hilarious and irreverent and embodies how Canadians feel about our country.

Pamela MacNaughtan, author of Spunky Girl Monologues and Knocking Around Canada, is a solo traveler and spunky woman who has given up her job in retail to travel.

Photo credits: rainbow and Lake Louise by Pamela MacNaughtan; Kamloops by Robert Nyman; Riders on the Storm by Tegan Barr; Quebec City – Governor’s Park & Chateau Frontenac Hotel by David Paul Ohmer.

Pamela August 27, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Thanks! You’ll LOVE Canada- seriously!

Strauss August 23, 2010 at 6:05 am

I may give give you a bow for this post giving me all the info related to the most erotic destination of the world. After reading your post i have change my vacation destination and planning to come this october in Canada.

Thanks for post!!!

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 1:24 am

A camel? Really? Fascinating. Wonder how that got there?

Anonymous August 23, 2010 at 1:24 am

Yay, another partial Canadian! LOL.

LeslieTravel August 23, 2010 at 12:51 am

Beautiful photos! Especially Moosejaw– I’d love to see that view in person. I am 1/4 Canadian (out of Nova Scotia)– perhaps that is why I like this post? lol

Tom August 20, 2010 at 3:58 am

In 1974, I bought 3 tickets on the Canadian National Railway for about $150 ($75 for me and $37.50 for each of my kids) and traveled from Vancouver to somewhere in New Brunswick near the Maine border. The railway route nearly parallels the Trans Canada Highway. On our trip we stopped overnight at many of the locations you highlighted even taking a spur line up the Rockies to Edmonton. Thanks for reminding me of the many wonderful memories and the strong connection forged with my northern neighbors many years ago.
A friend from California

Boomergirl August 19, 2010 at 8:45 pm

What a gorgeous pic of Moose Jaw area!!! And the dinosaur fossils extend well beyond Drum. Dinosaur Park is where some of the biggest finds have been. Also along the Milk River. Latest finds in southern Alberta include, a camel.

Anonymous August 18, 2010 at 10:54 pm

You too, huh? 🙂

Andy Hayes August 18, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Glad someone else has a love affair with Canada 🙂

Candicewalsh August 17, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Pam, I can’t think of anyone better to write about cross-Canadian trips than you, awesome!

Corina August 17, 2010 at 7:55 pm

As a prairie girl, I would like to recommend that you stick around for a sunset. You will never see a more beautiful sight than our massive glowing orange orb of a sun setting over the vast prairies. The sunsets last forever too, unlike in the mountains where the sun is out of sight before you realize it’s dusk.

Alouise August 17, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I’ve always wanted to drive across Canada on the the Trans-Canada and this post is just making me want to go even more. I’ve only driven it around Vancouver.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: