As travellers, we can at times fall into the habit of dreaming that the travel grass is greener across a border or in a distant land. Adventures in far-flung parts of the world are incredible, filled with unknowns, new landscapes and people eating strange foods and speaking in strange tongues.
But what if we can find those things closer to home?
Well, of course we can. Alongside other nations, Canada holds its own and more on the scale of natural beauty, room to roam, unique experiences and traveller health and safety. Now is the time to discover or rediscover the wide open spaces of the great white north. These great Canadian microadventures offer something for everyone, whether you’re keen to bike through rolling vineyards, hike in alpine meadows or build a shelter in the woods. Create your own bucket list of amazing microadventures in Canada with these curated suggestions from a host of travel experts.
What is a Microadventure?
The term microadventure originated with Alastair Humphreys, a British traveller named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his promotion of “fulfilling, challenging and worthwhile” adventures for people to enjoy on a smaller and more local level.
The trend towards smaller-scale adventures isn’t just for hardcore outdoorsy types. Jasmine Goodnow, Tourism Researcher and Associate Professor at the Department of Health and Human Development at Western Washington University has focused a great deal of her research on the study of microadventures. A key finding confirms a trend recognized by members of the travel industry: that the new normal will see an increase of microadventurers emerging from a population of cautious travelers seeking transformational experiences to stay closer to home. Get ready to get local!
13 Spectacular Microadventures in Canada
Banff to Yoho National Park
Exploring Canada’s incredible National Parks makes for an unforgettable outdoor microadventure. If you are spending time in Banff, Alberta, and wish to extend your trip, Yoho National Park in British Columbia is the perfect option to continue an epic microadventure in the Canadian Rockies.
Banff to Yoho is only about an hour’s drive away. And all along the way you will be mesmerized by stunning scenery, pristine lakes, and mountains.
Yoho National Park is home to the gorgeous Emerald Lake and the mighty Takakkaw Falls. From Banff, stop by the scenic Kicking Horse Spiral Tunnels before making a way to the Falls. Go on a short hike or photograph the Falls. From there embark on a beautiful Natural Bridge that spans the Kicking Horse River. It is an easy walk and completely accessible if travelling with children or older adults.
End the day with a stay at the magical Emerald Lake Lodge, on the shores of turquoise glacial lake. The lake is perfect for canoeing or to enjoy short walks and hikes nearby. If you’re looking to rough it, book camping in Yoko National Park or walk-in to the well-situated sites near Takakkaw Falls. From Mayuri at Canada Crossroads.
Distance: 100 km. From Calgary: 225 km
Calgary to Banff
As one of Canada’s most iconic tourist destinations, the town of Banff and Banff National Park is on every Canadian bucket list. Known for its snow-capped mountains, colourful lakes, iconic wildlife and outdoor activities, Banff is truly magical. Best of all, it is spectacular in any season you visit. In the colder months it is a winter wonderland of snow and ice, and in summer, a vast wilderness to explore.
Start your visit with a walk down Banff Avenue. For the summer of 2020, nearly the entire stretch of street will be pedestrian-only. Surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, the town is postcard pretty and inviting to exploration. A trip up the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain will give you great views over the town site and the surrounding lakes and mountain ranges.
Rent a canoe, kayak or SUP in town for a jaunt down the Bow River or out onto the Vermillion Lakes. If you want to get out on the water a different way, drive up to nearby Lake Minnewanka where you can take a boat cruise. Along the way, keep your eyes open for wildlife, including bears, deer, mountain sheep, goats and even moose. The Minnewanka trail is a great short hike for all abilities. End your day by soaking your aching muscles in the Banff Hot Springs, followed by a leisurely dinner at one of Banff’s excellent restaurants. Want to pitch a tent and camp in Banff National Park? Here’s how.
If you are looking for more active outdoor pursuits, rent bikes and head out on the Legacy Trail towards Canmore, hike Johnson Canyon or take the Sunshine Gondola and hike Sunshine Meadows which is gorgeous, especially in wildflower season. Book a stay at the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel to fully appreciate the beauty of the mountain landscape alongside the luxury of first-class hotel service. From Dawn at 5LostTogether.
Distance: 126 km
Calgary to Drumheller
Often overlooked as a Calgary microadventure, Drumheller, Alberta, is a very worthwhile trip. This is particularly true for families with dinosaur-obsessed kids or adults. Known as the Dinosaur Capital of the World, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the activities in and around Drumheller focus on dinosaurs, or more importantly, their fossils and bones.
One of the best things to do in Drumheller is visiting the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the most important paleontology museums in the world. You can easily spend an entire day here, as there are many interesting fossil exhibits and a lot to learn within the museum.
Another fun activity is climbing the World’s Largest Dinosaur, located in the city center of Drumheller. This 25-meter-tall T-Rex is hard to miss and from its beak you can admire Drumheller and the beautiful Badlands around it.
Which brings us to the next activity on your Drumheller agenda. Do take the time to explore the surrounding Badlands and its unique landscape. Good places to admire this peculiar type of landscape are Horsethief Canyon and Horseshoe Canyon. If you have time, I actually recommend visiting both as they are equally beautiful.
For a short but fun ferry ride, hop on the Bleriot Ferry across the Red Deer River, one of the last cable-operated ferries in Canada and don’t forget to take a picture at Orkney Viewpoint before heading back to Calgary. From Lotte at PhenomenalGlobe.
Distance: 84 miles
Calgary to Lake Louise
The road distance from Calgary, Alberta to Lake Louise in Banff National Park Alberta is 184 km. I suggest flying into Calgary, hiring a vehicle and driving to Lake Louise via Banff. Another popular way to access this famous glacier fed lake, is the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer Train from Vancouver.
Many people visit Lake Louise just to look at the turquoise lake with snow clad peaks in the background, others to stay in the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, walk by lake shore or experience it by canoe.
An easy and scenic 2km walk from the Chateau, beside the lake extends to a 5.6 km medium difficulty walk to the Plains of the Six Glaciers Tea House. The Teahouse built in 1927 opens June 6thin 2020, although you may find fresh avalanches on the trail that early in the season.
Sitting on the Teahouse veranda with the glaciers lined up across the valley is magical. The Teahouse serves light lunches and take cash only. We enjoyed a hot chocolate and scone just before closing around 4pm.
Nearby Morraine Lake is well-worth visiting and my favourite half-day trip from Lake Louise is to the spectacular Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. If Lake Louise itself is still frozen early in the season you may find Emerald Lake, being at a lower altitude, is not. The drive down through Kicking Horse Pass is not to be missed. From Jan at BudgetTravelTalk.
Distance: 183 km
Calgary – Waterton Lakes National Park
Located just 260 km from Calgary is Waterton Lakes National Park. Bordering Montana’s Glacier National Park in the USA, where the Alberta prairies collide with the Rocky Mountains, this stunning park is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s also the world’s first International Peace Park.
In contrast to other towns in the Rocky Mountains, such as Banff and Jasper, Waterton stills feels relatively undiscovered. The park was first established in 1895, making it the fourth Canadian National Park to be created. The town of Waterton sits within the park and is absolutely charming, characterised by a handful of streets and family-run businesses.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Waterton but one of the main draws is the hiking. There are plenty of hiking options and serious walkers should try Crypt Lake Trail, the most famous walk in the area.
Other activities include cycling (including e-bikes), wildlife watching and wildflowers. The annual wildflower festival is held here in June, when the landscape is carpeted in brilliant blooms.
And of course, you can’t visit Waterton without staying and having tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. This enormous Hitchcockian hotel dates back to 1927 and was originally designed and built for the Great Northern Railway company. These days it’s a great place for enjoying tea and cakes with stunning views over Waterton Lake. From Katja at Globetotting.
Distance: 260 km
Edmonton to Jasper
Jasper National Park is a great choice for a scenic, nature-focused microadventure from Edmonton, Alberta. At 365 km from central Edmonton (about a 4 hour drive), Jasper is within reach for weekend getaway.
Known for being the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper is home to over 11,000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness. Within the park boundaries you’ll find mountains, waterfalls, turquoise lakes, glaciers, canyons, forested trails, a ski resort, hot spring, and plenty of wildlife.
With so many beautiful places to visit in Jasper, it can be hard to decide what to see and do. Hiking is definitely a highlight no matter which trail you choose, but the Valley of Five Lakes and Cavell Meadows are two hikes that should not be missed.
Some other must-see spots include the postcard-worthy Spirit Island and Maligne Lake, the roaring Athabasca Falls, and the Columbia Icefield’s most famous glacier, the Athabasca glacier.
Jasper’s relaxing atmosphere and stunning scenery will be hard to leave, but time among the majestic mountains is always well-spent. From Rhonda at TravelYesPlease.
Distance: 365 km
Halifax to the Annapolis Valley
The agricultural heart of Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley is only an hour from Halifax and is one of the most popular places to visit.
It is a fantastic day trip, although day trippers often regret not staying longer as there is so much to do.
Hikers love the views of the Bay of Fundy from Cape Split and Blomidon Provincial Park has some spectacular opportunities as Cape Blomidon perches high above the Minas Basin.
The Harvest Moon Trail is popular with cyclists. Over 115 kilometres long, this former rail line stretches from historic Annapolis Royal through to Grand Pre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But “The Valley” is becoming quickly known as an emerging wine region. The warm temperatures, ocean breezes and experience in farming the land make ideal Nova Scotia wine. This region has the only appellation wine in North America. Tidal Bay wine is a crisp white wine that reflects the cool climate and is a perfect pairing for local seafood. With climate and soil similar to the French Champagne region, it is also quickly becoming known around the world for its award winning sparkling wine.
Local tour operator Grape Escapes runs group and personalized tours from Halifax for day trippers. For those staying overnight, the Magic Winery Bus is only $50 and visits 5 wineries, each with a complimentary welcome glass and winery tour. It’s popular with locals so it’s best to book well in advance. From Ayngelina at BaconisMagic.
Distance: 159 km
Montreal to Mauricie
Away from the urban rush of Montreal‘s metropolitan area in Quebec, nature is close at hand in the region of Mauricie. Dotted with trout-filled lakes, dense boreal forests and Nordic spas, the Mauricie is an area of stunning natural beauty between Montréal and Quebec City. It’s also home to La Mauricie National Park, a wonderland for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, cycling, camping, canoeing, watersports and observing wildlife.
The primarily French speaking region offers a wide variety of active and soft microadventures centered on the enjoyment of its lakes, rivers, forests and first-class eco-resorts. Nestled in the heart of the forest and overlooking the majestic Sacacomie Lake and its 42 km coastline, the imposing white pine log structure of the Sacacomie Hotel is a perfect blend of comfort and rustic charm. In addition to interpretive hikes and spa soaks, guests can enjoy paddling on their own or with others in a rabasaka, a large First Nations canoe.
The countless lakes of Mauricie supply prime fishing opportunities, and Pourvoirie du Lac Blanc is one of the most famous outfitters in the region. An expert fishing guide supplies the tackle and knowledge of lakes and spots where speckled and rainbow trout are plentiful. Successful fishing ventures are followed by a fresh-catch al fresco Shore Lunch in the woods among the tall pines.
At Le Baluchon Eco-Resort, gastronomy and adventure combine to create memorable dining experiences alongside activities like paddling, hiking, horseback riding and of course, Nordic spas. The healthy practice of hydrotherapy combines a cycle of heat, cold and relaxation to reinvigorate the mind, body and spirit.
Distance: 180 km
Toronto to the 1000 Islands
Ontario’s 1000 Islands region is a sprawling natural area covering the space where Lake Ontario narrows into the St. Lawrence River. It is also a border zone between Ontario, Canada, and New York in the United States. The 1000 Islands are a popular trip destination from Toronto. It takes 2.5 hours to reach Kingston and less than three hours to Gananoque via Highway 401.
The 1000 Islands make for a perfect microadventure from the big city. There are many things to do and see. The first is to take a river cruise. You can choose from several companies, starting points, as well as trip duration. Popular are river cruises to the US side to some of the islands, especially the one with Boldt Castle. Make sure you bring your passport because without one you won’t be allowed to board. Lovely are dinner cruises where you can enjoy a nice dinner with sunset views of dozens of picturesque islands.
If your cruise started in Kingston or Gananoque, after the cruise head to the centre and explore the cities. Kingston is one of the oldest Canadian cities, it offers plenty of historic buildings and lovely lakeside for exploration. Gananoque has a nice small-town feel with lovely downtown and great dining.
For the best views I suggest you drive to Hill Island where you can take a lift ride up to the viewing platform on top of the 1000 Islands Tower. Up there you’ll understand where the area got its name. From Slavka from On2Continents.
Distance: 290 km
Toronto to Windsor-Essex
Windsor-Essex County, located roughly 400 km southwest of Toronto, is home to a surprising wine region. Dotted with local wineries, breweries, distilleries, and restaurants, Windsor-Essex provides a lovely culinary microadventure for anyone in need of a weekend getaway.
The region is home to 17 wineries, which can be easily accessed by bicycle. Stop at local favourites Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery and Oxley Estate Winery. For amazing wood burning pizza, make sure you make a stop at Muscedere Winery and have pizza on their outdoor patio.
If you’re interested in trying some unique spirits, a stop at Wolfhead Distillery is a must. They have a wonderful onsite patio restaurant, and unique flavoured spirits that range from caramel whiskey to grapefruit vodka. Not into spirits or wine? The region is also home to family-owned brewery GL Heritage. With a great outdoor patio space, they offer a range of beers to suit any palette. And you can opt for a flight of beers to find your favourite.
For accommodations, either opt to a cottage along the lake, or get a room at local favourite Iron Kettle B&B. Make sure you take some time to stop into the town of Kingsville and visit the local shops in the charming town centre. From Madeline at Madeline Rae Away.
Distance: 400 km
Vancouver to Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island is the largest of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia that separates Vancouver Island from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. On Salt Spring, you’ll find an incredible combination of natural beauty, outdoor activities, and a culture of creativity that makes it a perfect microadventure getaway from Vancouver.
To get there you’ll need to take the picturesque Gulf Islands Ferry from Tsawwassen BC Ferries terminal for a two and a half hour ferry ride (which includes a transfer at Swartz Bay) to Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring. Once you’ve arrived, there are plenty of activity options to choose from, whether you’re a foodie or adventure lover.
Take a guided kayaking tour to explore the hidden bays and small islands along the coast, and make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the local wildlife, like harbor seals. Lace up your boots for a hike to the summit of Mount Erskine at sunset for a spectacular view of the surrounding islands and lush Douglas-fir covered forests.
Culinary adventures abound on Salt Spring. Stop in at Salt Spring Wild Cider, the perfect place for a lunch of farm-style tapas alongside fantastic hard cider made from locally grown apples. Cider not your thing? Wine lovers should head to Garry Oaks Estate Winery to try some local wine, while beer lovers shouldn’t miss Salt Spring Island Ales.
Explore a local farm and fromagerie at Salt Spring Island Cheese, where you’ll be able to taste (and take away) handcrafted cheeses made from goat’s milk. Take a stroll through the scented fields of Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm, which grows 60 different varieties of lavender. A visit in early summer ensures views of fully blooming purple lavender in all its glory, with related products for purchase at the farm store. From Matt of WheatlessWanderlust.
Distance: 106 km
Vancouver to southern Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is the largest island on the Pacific Coast of North America. Covered in old-growth forests with beautiful rugged shorelines and endless beaches, the island offers an amazing range of microadventures, including hiking, diving, snorkeling, surfing and camping. Travellers can get to Vancouver Island via floatplane or by car on BC Ferries to Victoria or Nanaimo. The trip by car and ferry, or bus and ferry, takes about 4 hours each way from downtown Vancouver.
Vancouver Island offers some of the best cold water surfing in Canada. The village of Tofino has a thriving surf culture, with several surf schools offering lessons (and wetsuit rentals) for those interested in mastering the waves. Chesterman Beach is a great surf spot, while campers and hikers will enjoy a stay and stroll along Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park south of Tofino’s townsite.
For hikers, Vancouver Island has incredible multi-day coastal trails, including the famous and arduous West Coast Trail. The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail between China Beach, close to the town Sooke, and Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew is 47 km long and takes four days. As the trail has several trailheads, it’s possible to divvy up sections for day hikes or shorter backpacking and camping trips which can be done from Parkinson Creek, Sombrio Beach or China Beach, each with car parking. The trail is challenging but the amazing coastal views and chance to spot animals like orcas, whales, dolphins and black bears is well worth it.
The cold coastal waters off of Vancouver Island are populated with myriad sea creatures, including orcas, octopus, dolphins, porpoise and playful harbour seals. Snorkeling with these curious marine mammals and interacting with them in the water is an amazing experience, easily booked with diver operators in Nanaimo or Victoria. From Campbell of StingyNomads.
Distance: 114 km
Vancouver to Whistler
The resort village of Whistler, British Columbia, is practically built for microadventures. From skiing, riding, and snowshoeing in winter to hiking, camping, canoeing and more during the summer season, Whistler has outdoor activities for every adventure seeker at every level.
The summer months are a perfect time to explore the backcountry trails of Whistler and the Garibaldi Mountain Range. Using the village as a base, ride the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola between Whistler Blackcomb’s mountains and start from the top. Two of the best advanced routes are the 2 km Decker Loop and 10 km High Note Trail. Decker is a steep ascent 440 feet up to the Garibaldi Provincial Park boundary ridge, then down a boulder field with stunning views of Overlord Glacier at the trail junction. This is a great spot for lunch among the wildflowers.
The High Note is Whistler’s highest trail, with an elevation gain of 846 feet. This is an epic day hike, crossing water, valleys, and traversing the mountain with spectacular vistas throughout, including the Black Tusk spire.
For a more relaxing pursuit, ply the calm waters of Alta Lake on a stand up paddle board, or SUP for short. Whistler is surrounded by lakes, making SUP an easily accessible and fun activity for the whole family. Or paddle down the River of Golden Dreams in a canoe or kayak. Maneuver your way across Alta Lake, through the Whistler Wetlands and down a glacier river, ending in beautiful Green Lake.
Up for a thrill? Descend Whistler Mountain on a white-knuckle mountain bike ride in Whistler Bike Park. Every level from beginner cruisers to double-black bike runs is available in this mecca for mountain bikers. If you’ve never mountain biked before, rent bikes and gear and book a lesson with a pro. Your body will thank you when you’re back relaxing in the pool or hot tub at your hotel in Whistler village.
Distance: 120 km
No matter what microadventure you choose, Canada’s wide open spaces offer a respite from city life and a chance to discover and reconnect with nature.
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