By Tim Johnson
Get the map out, pack up the kids and load in the suitcases — it’s time for a hallowed summer tradition: the family road trip. Living in Canada means that you’ll never lack for a great destination. Whether you use up all of that banked vacation time and hit the whole list on a monumental cross-country adventure or choose the one closest to you for a fun weekend getaway, each of these spots features world-class attractions, plus plenty to fascinate and entertain young travellers.
TOFINO, BRITISH COLUMBIA
With top-ranked hotels, restaurants and services, Tofino is a jewel of refinement surrounded by the untamed Pacific Coast wilderness. The town site is smack dab in the middle of the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve, which includes soaring mountains, rugged beaches and towering stands of ancient rainforest. Play on white sand dunes and spot seals, sea lions and whales at the Pacific Rim National Park or catch a water taxi to the geothermal marvel of Hot Springs Cove, where the whole family can soak in beautiful little rock pools before the soothing waters tumble into the ocean. Then head back to the Ancient Cedars Spa at the renowned Wickaninnish Inn for a hot stone massage.
For more information, call 250-725-3414 or visit Tourism Tofino.
A stay in Canmore puts a Rocky Mountain playground at your fingertips. Travel just five minutes west of town to visit world-famous Banff National Park or explore the rugged beauty of the surrounding Kananaskis Country, which includes a number of provincial and wilderness parks. Don’t miss the Canmore Nordic Centre, which was used as a site for cross-country skiing and biathlon competitions in the 1988 Winter Games — rent mountain bikes and even hire a guide to follow trails once reserved for Olympians. And in Canmore, you needn’t even leave town to experience the wonder of the Rockies. The town is encircled by majestic peaks, and you can take advantage of more than 60 kilometres of trails right within the city limits — including light hikes perfect for little legs — then cool off in the clean, cold waters of Quarry Lake.
For more information, call 866-CANMORE (226-6673) or visit
PRINE EDWARD COUNTY, ONTARIO
Just two hours from Toronto and three from Ottawa, the pastoral pleasures of “the County” are only a short drive away for many big-city dwellers. Visit the giant dunes and rolling waves of Sandbanks Provincial Park, where you can play on the golden beach for the afternoon and camp for the night (or, for those whose perfect night doesn’t include midnight trips to the outhouse, bed down at one of the cottages, resorts and picture-perfect little inns nearby). Swing by a roadside stand for fresh fruits and vegetables, pedal down a scenic tour route, paddle down an idyllic waterway or charter your own vessel for a day of boating out on the Bay of Quinte or Lake Ontario.
For more information, call 800-640-4717 or visit the Prince Edward County Chamber of Tourism and Commerce.
A world-class city showcasing the best of la belle province, Montreal has much to offer families. Stop by King-Edward Pier at the city’s Old Port and visit the Montreal Science Centre and its IMAX theatre, then amble down the historic cobblestone streets of Old Montreal for an alfresco lunch at a sidewalk café. Experience four natural ecosystems and their native wildlife (including an adorable colony of penguins) at the Biosphere or head next door to view creepy-crawlers (both living and dead) from around the world at the Insectarium. Those feeling squeamish can get some fresh air at the nearby Botanical Garden, one of the largest in the world. For a thrilling change of pace, take a wild jet-boat ride and blast the Lachine Rapids on the St. Lawrence River.
For more information, call 877-BONJOUR (266-5687) or visit Tourism Montreal.
SIDE TRIP: EASTERN TOWNSHIP OF QUEBEC
For a great day trip or an extension to your Montreal vacation, the picturesque hills and quaint villages of Quebec’s Eastern Townships are less than an hour away. And there’s certainly no better time to visit than during Bromont’s FÃªte du Chocolat (May 19-21 and 26-27), where (happily) sampling is encouraged.
For info, call 800-355-5755 or visit Tourism cantons.
CAPE BRETON, NOVA SCOTIA
From rugged beauty to historical gems, Cape Breton offers a rich variety of experiences on one relatively compact island. Travel back in time at the Fortress of Louisbourg, where interpreters recreate 18th-century life in this French-fortified town. Drive the world-famous Cabot Trail, a 300-kilometre loop that swings around dramatic curves, clinging to the side of mountain slopes that plunge to the ocean below. Part of the trail weaves through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, so stop and go for a hike — there are both short and long trails, plus several beaches. You may spot some of the park’s wildlife, which includes moose, harbour seals and pilot whales. Then end your day at the Glenghorm Beach Resort, located right off the trail, which features sweeping ocean views and a bonfire every night.
For more information, visit Cape Breton Island.
A man with a passion for road trips, Tim Johnson has hit the highway and visited nine provinces and 47 of the 50 states and has explored 22 countries on three continents. As a child (and sometimes even now), he liked to read Rand McNally road atlases and hotel directories, just for fun.