Backpacking Canada is an amazing experience.
Canada is a country filled with wonderfully friendly people, classy, diverse cities, and a diverse landscape that includes tundras, rainforest, deserts, and huge mountains.
From the icy tundra of the Yukon to rocky beaches of the east coast, the mountains of Calgary to the rainforests of Vancouver, Canada is a country that is often skipped over on many world trips. That’s such a shame. Canada is so big and makes for a wonderful road trip country!
You can spend a few months traveling around Canada from end to end.
I love my friendly neighbor to the north and believe Canada is a really underrated destination. There’s a reason everyone around the world loves Canadians. They rock. Visit their homeland and find out why.
Added bonus: It’s easy to get a working holiday visa to this country so you can stay, work, and make money here for the long term!
This Canadian travel guide will help you plan a trip to the Great White North!
Table of Contents
Click Here for City Guides
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Canada
1. Quebec City
2. Jasper and the Columbia Icefield
3. The Atlantic Provinces
Other Things to See and Do in Canada
1. Celebrate the Calgary Stampede
During July, thousands of people descend to Calgary for this multi-day rodeo, drinking event, and carnival. It’s where everyone pretends to be a cowboy for a few days. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll meet tons of people from around the world. Wear cowboy boots and a hat if you want to fit in! Save some money to sample the unique festival food, and line up for the popular tents well in advance. It’s one of Canada’s premier events.
2. Hit the slopes
The mountains in Canada offer great skiing and snowboarding during the winter. Banff is a popular mountain town known for its excellent trails. It’s quite busy during the winter months as locals and visitors alike hit the slopes. While Banff is just the most popular place to go but there are tons of other good skiing destinations in the country. Sunshine Village, Whistler Blackcomb, Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, and Mont Tremblant are just a few you should check out (they stretch from British Columbia to Quebec).
3. Visit Vancouver Island
Take a few days off from the city to explore this western island. Try the delicious seafood, go for a hike, spot some whales, shop, and lounge on the beach. This a place to just sit and relax. Since it is so close to Vancouver, it’s a popular getaway with the locals during the summer. Victoria is a quiet but gorgeous little city, and it’s actually the capital of British Columbia. From here you can also visit places like Tofino, where the bustling surf community has evolved into a fun hippie town.
4. Hike the rainforest
Hike the Pacific Rim National Park for a wonderful look at some temperate rain forests on Vancouver Island. It’s one of the most popular parks in Canada, home to Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, and Pacific Silver Fir (among others). The Long Beach area is one of the most accessible places for hiking, but the sand dunes behind Wickanninish Beach on the south Beach Trail are also worth the trek.
5. Go to Calgary
Calgary offers a selection of free and low-cost activities for the budget traveler. Have a picnic in one of its many parks, go rollerblading, dine in Kensington, or head up to the top of the surrounding peaks. There’s great hiking, kayaking, skiing, water rafting, and camping here. Rent a bike and exploring the city via its many bike paths comes highly recommended. Although it’s been long dismissed as an oil town, it’s one of the liveliest cities in Canada with a large youth population.
6. Visit the Galleries of Toronto
Toronto has some of the best exhibits in the country, so take a day or two just to admire the art of the city. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Art Gallery of Ontario are the two most famous art museums, but there are a plethora of smaller, speciality galleries too – like the Textiles Museum of Canada, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. On Wednesdays, galleries will often give a discount.
7. Take a road trip
This huge country is best explored by car. It’s the best way to find yourself in tiny little towns, majestic mountains, amazing countryside, and plenty of off-the-beaten-track places. If you have a lot of time, this is your best and cheapest option to see the country. Keep in mind, however, that weather can be unpredictable in Canada (especially in the winter months), you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, and you’ll want to be prepared for long stretches of driving without any rest stops or gas stations. It’s worth it!
8. Stroll the nation’s capital
Ottawa is a very easy city to explore on foot. Home to museums, art galleries, and plenty of shops, it’s a charming city worth a visit. You can take a tour of Parliament Hill, the historic buildings where the Canadian government operates, or cross the Ottawa River and visit Quebec. The Canadian War Museum and the National Gallery of Canada are two must-visit museums during your stay. Otherwise, simply roam around the busy Byward Market area or check out the craft breweries in Westboro. Be sure to try a beaver tail (a flaky, sweet pastry) when you’re there!
9. Get off the beaten path in Nova Scotia
The locals boast that Nova Scotia is home to the friendliest, sweetest people in Canada. They might be right. People in this province are overly nice. Nice like “we still don’t lock our doors when we go out” nice. That, combined with over 100 beaches, picturesque lighthouses, great sailing, mouth-watering seafood (this area of Canada is the main fishing region), and a marvelous coastline, makes Nova Scotia an amazing place to visit in Canada and this travel guide can help you get there. Plus, Nova Scotia doesn’t see lots of tourists.
10. Tour around Toronto
Toronto is often considered the most multicultural city in the world, as over half of the city’s population is foreign-born. While this isn’t my favorite spot in Canada, it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area to hit the many museums and enjoy delicious Asian food. It’s no Vancouver but it’s a pretty awesome, hip, and artsy city!
Go where the Canadians spend their vacation. Warm in the summer and mild in the winter, this glacial valley has some of the best weather in the entire country. There’s a marina and few golf courses, and the Okanagan Valley is home to Canada’s best vineyards and wineries. In the summer months, Canadians rent fancy houseboats complete with waterslides to vacation on the nearby Okanagan Lake. Befriend a local and convince them to take you with them!
12. Churchill, Manitoba
This might be a small town in the middle of nowhere, but it also happens to be the Polar Bear Capital of the World, the Beluga Whale Capital of the World, and one of the best places to view the Aurora Borealis. You can ride in a tundra buggy (a special bus raised on giant wheels to keep you out of reach from polar bears) and head out on the open plains to watch polar bears in their natural habitats. Mother nature is alive and thriving here.
13. Niagara Falls
This is one of the most highly visited attractions in the entire continent. You never imagine how big it is until you see it up close and you never envision so much mist either. I really enjoyed seeing it. You can hop on a boat tour and head out into the waterfalls, but be prepared to get soaked! The town is a touristy, cheesy dump, though.
14. The Yukon
The Yukon is the perfect place to get your nature fix. The chances of seeing a bear, elk, or deer are incredibly high (or you can tour the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, where you’re guaranteed to see them). Go hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park, soak in a mineral hot pool at the Takhini Hot Springs, or swing by the Sign Post Forest wit its unique collection of over 77,000 signposts. Hardly anyone ever visits the Yukon as visitors tend to stick to the major cities in the south of the country. But definitely consider visiting because you’ll find yourself and nature in perfect harmony.
For more information on specific cities, check out these guides!
Canada Travel Costs
Accommodation – Rates can vary a lot depending on what city you’re staying in. On average, you’ll wind up paying about $30 CAD ($22 USD) for a dorm room at a hostel while you should expect to pay around $65 CAD ($48 USD) for a budget hotel room. Expect prices to rise drastically in larger cities (notably Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa). Airbnb is available across the country, rivaling budget hotels for price and convenience. Expect to pay an average of $30 CAD ($22 USD) per night for a shared room, while entire homes/apartments will cost you around $80 CAD ($60 USD). Just keep in mind many smaller towns won’t have many options, though they will usually have locally-owned hotels or motels that are generally quite cheap.
If camping is your thing, you’ll have plenty of options all across the country. Prices will vary depending on the grounds but expect to pay between $10-30 CAD ($7-22 USD) per night for a basic pitch. Many of the major campgrounds will sell out early, so be sure to book in advance during the peak season (June-August).
Food – Food can be inexpensive as long as you stick to cooking for yourself or hit pubs. Conversely, a meal out at a restaurant will cost you around $20-35 CAD ($15-26 USD)! Cheap sandwich shops and fast food are your best bet and will be less than $13 CAD ($10 USD) per meal. If you are going to cook your own food, expect to pay between $50-75 CAD ($27-55 USD) per week.
Activities – Canada has a lot of outdoor activities – kayaking and canoeing, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, white-water rafting are just some of the many options available. No matter what part of the country you are in, and no matter the season, there is always something to do. Costs range from $20 CAD ($15 USD) for simple trail access permits to over $100 CAD ($73 USD) depending what you are doing and if you need a guide. Museum and historic site entrance fees start around $15 CAD ($11 USD).
Backpacking Canada Suggested Budgets
How much does it cost to visit Canada? Well, it’s complicated. How much you spend largely depends on where in Canada you’re going to visit. For example, Canada’s biggest cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver are considerably more expensive than the smaller ones (like Halifax, St. John’s, and Quebec City). The rural areas are even cheaper, but getting around will cost you more.
On a backpacking budget, you should plan to spend $70-80 CAD ($52-60 USD). This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel dorm, eating fast food occasionally but mainly cooking your own meals, using public transportation, and participating in basic activities like visiting museums.
On a mid-range of budget of $180 CAD ($133 USD) per day you can stay in budget hotels, take buses between destinations, eat fast food, and do more excursions.
For a luxury budget of $470+ CAD ($345+ USD) per day you can afford to stay in nice hotels (including scenic lodges), hire a rental car, do some guided tours, and eat out for every meal.
Canada Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Given the size of Canada, there are plenty of ways to save money when you travel Canada but it varies a lot by region (as I’ve been repeating a lot). The general tips below can help you but for more specific tips, visit our city guides!
- Use coupon sites – If you know your stops ahead of time, monitor sites like Living Social and Groupon for local deals and saving. There are always good listings on some top restaurants and attractions.
- Couchsurf – As Canada is not the most budget-friendly destination, you’ll be able to cut down on your costs by couch surfing. While not huge in many smaller towns, you won’t have a hard time finding a host in any of the major cities. Just be sure to book ahead during the summer, as that is prime tourist season.
- Outdoor summer festivals – Since Canadians are stuck indoors all winter, they love to make the most of hot days by packing in lots of festivals into the short summer. Many of these, like Heritage Days (Edmonton), Kits Days (Vancouver), and Caribana (Toronto), are free. Check out upcoming events online in every city you visit.
- Outdoor activities – A vast country with a relatively minuscule population leaves lots of potential for outdoor exposure here. Rent a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes in the winter, enjoy the free use of many trails (versus expensive downhill lift passes), bike, hike, kayak, or canoe in the summer. The cost of most equipment rental will be under 80 CAD for a day, and you can explore many areas at no further cost.
- Take the Megabus – Megabus runs in Ontario and Quebec (with connections into the US). You can find tickets for as little as $1 if booked in advance. This is the most affordable way to get between Toronto and Montreal (or into America).
- Use ride-sharing services – If you are going to be traveling between cities or provinces, keep an eye out for people sharing their vehicle. Craigslist, Couchsurfing, Kangaride, and Facebook all have ride-share pages for most major cities. If you can find someone traveling in your direction you can tag along and share the cost of gas.
- Eat street meat – Every major Canadian city will have plenty of street vendors selling hot dogs and sausages (and veggie dogs!) for as little as $2.50 CAD ($1.80 USD). You won’t find a cheaper lunch!
- Take a free walking tour – Most major cities offer free walking tours. They are a great way to explore and to get a feel for each location and its history. Most last a few hours and don’t need to be booked in advance.
- Buy gas on native reserves – If you are driving around the country, keep your eyes peeled for native reserves — they are the cheapest places to buy gas in Canada. With lower taxes, you’ll find gas prices significantly cheaper than anywhere else. They are also great places to stop and experience the vibrant cultures of Canada’s First People.
Where To Stay in Canada
Hostels are surprisingly not all that plentiful across Canada, but generally they’re high quality and clean. Here are my recommended places to stay:
How to Get Around Canada
Public Transportation – Within city limits you’ll find great public transportation networks. Toronto and Montreal are the only two cities in Canada with subway systems (although Vancouver has SkyTrain), but even the smallest Canadian cities will have extensive bus routes. It costs about $2.50-3 CAD ($1.80-2 USD) for a one-way ticket.
Larger cities will have passes designed for tourists to make the most of the metro system as well. For example, in Toronto you can get a weekly pass for unlimited travel for $43.75 CAD ($32 USD).
Taxis are metered but they’re not cheap, starting around $3.50 CAD ($2.60 USD) and then an additional $1.75 CAD ($1.30 USD) per kilometer. Uber is available in a handful of Canadian cities, like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, and Quebec City.
Bus – With Greyhound moving out of Western Canada, there’s no longer a singular country-wide bus system. Instead, regional operators vary per location. Megabus is the cheapest option when it comes to traveling between cities in Ontario and Quebec as fares can be as low as $1 CAD ($0.75 USD) if booked in advance! Greyhound also operates in Ontario and Quebec, while Red Arrow is primarily an Alberta coach line. On the east coast, Maritime Bus is the main coach company (except in Newfoundland where it’s DRL Group).
Toronto to Ottawa will cost you about $40 CAD ($30 USD), while Ottawa to Montreal is just $24 CAD ($18 USD). A longer ride – like the 13-hour drive from Calgary to Vancouver – will cost you up to $150 CAD ($110 USD).
Train – There is a train service (VIA Rail) that runs from coast to coast and is very scenic, though not cheap. It’ll take you 14 hours to get from Halifax to Ottawa, and it’ll cost you $160 CAD ($117 USD). On the other hand, shorter routes like between Montreal and Quebec City are more affordable and will cost you just $30 CAD ($22 USD).
You can also purchase a Canrailpass, starting with 7 one-way tickets for $822 CAD ($605 USD). Unlimited passes are $1,543 CAD ($1,133 USD).
Flying – As your last alternative, you can fly, but since the country has only two major airlines (WestJet and Air Canada) prices are often very high. Flights from Toronto to Vancouver usually start around $200 CAD ($150 USD), while Ottawa to Calgary is around $270 CAD ($200 USD).
Flying is worthwhile only if you really want to see specific cities and have limited time to do so. For shorter routes (like Montreal to Ottawa) you’ll save a lot of money if you just take the bus or train.
Car Rental – If you’re going between provinces or staying a while in the country, consider renting a car for between $35-80 CAD ($25-58 USD) per day. This is one of the best, most convenient ways to get around the country – especially if you’re interested in getting out of the cities and into Canada’s wilderness.
Ride-Sharing – If you are going to be traveling between cities or provinces, keep an eye out for people sharing their vehicle. Check these websites:
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Canada is common and very safe, and it’s legal. Be prepared for long bouts of no pick-ups, especially if you’re traveling through more rural areas. Pack plenty of water and a light meal or two, like sandwiches and fruit. Hitchwiki.org is an excellent resource.
When to Go to Canada
Since Canada is such a large country, climate and temperature change drastically from coast to coast. Canada has very defined seasons, and winter can be harsh and long in some places. For example, winters in the Northern Territories begin early and end late, and places like Newfoundland and Labrador can experience snow until late May.
On the other hand, winter in the Canadian Rockies is epic, and people from all over the world flock to British Columbia and Alberta to hit the slopes around Whistler, Banff, and Revelstoke. Prepare for cold temperatures, though. In some places, like on the prairies, it can get as cold as -40°F (-40°C).
Summers in Canada are a beautiful thing, but it’s also the busiest time of year. June to the end of September is the main tourist season, so you’ll see inflated prices and large crowds. On the other hand, the temperatures are always lovely – often in the high 70s°F (20s°C). There are music festivals galore and all the cities celebrate winter’s end. It’s a great time to hike, bike, and hit the Great Lakes.
Shoulder season is also a fantastic time to visit Canada, although spring (March-June) can be quite wet. Fall (September-December) is highly recommended, as temperatures are still warm and the autumn foliage is really something special. Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces are well worth an autumn trek.
How to Stay Safe in Canada
Canada is a safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks tend to be confined to certain areas (especially where drug and gang violence are a problem). You may encounter petty crime, like theft, especially around popular tourist landmarks. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times, especially while taking public transportation.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Canada. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
Note: Canada’s new cannabis legalization has a whole lot of rules and restrictions. The CBC has a great outline on everything you need to know if you’re thinking of consuming cannabis while in Canada.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Canada Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Canada. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings! (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Hotwire – This is probably the hotel site I use most. I really enjoy its blind booking process. They essentially say “we have a super rate on a 3-star hotel in New York’s Times Square,” and you book it without knowing the hotel name. While that sounds scary, I’ve never ended up in a bad hotel and have saved a ton of money in the process. Highly recommended.
- Priceline – I like this website because it allows you to bid on hotels and save a lot more money than by booking directly. When used in conjunction with the bidding site Better Bidding, you can substantially lower the cost of your hotels — by as much as 60%.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Canada, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Canada Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Canada Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden
As amazing as Canada is, like most other colonized countries its history is steeped in violent, bloody conflict…especially with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. This book takes place in the wilderness of 17th-century Canada, following the lives of a missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior of the Huron Nation. The Huron have always battled the Iroquois – but now the tribes face the threat of settlers from Europe. It’s a jarring, graphic read and you won’t be able to put it down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. He’s like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson. This travel memoir is about Ferguson’s three years crisscrossing Canada, with adventures as far flung as the subarctic to the Underground Railroad. He goes coast to coast from the colorful neighborhoods of St. John’s to the idyllic streets of Victoria, encountering interesting people and offbeat attractions along the way (yes, there’s a place called Moose Jaw).
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje
Considered a true Canadian classic, In the Skin of a Lion follows Patrick Lewis as he arrives in Toronto in the 1920s where he earns his money searching for a disappeared millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. His life intersects with other special characters along the way, giving us a smart, passionate story that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
You can’t have a Canadian reading list without some Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for the murders of her employer and his mistress (also the housekeeper). However, Grace has no memories of these vicious murders, and so an expert in mental illness steps in to seek a pardon for her. He listens to her story as it gets closer and closer to the day she can’t remember. This book is disturbing but completely captivating, especially if you’re already a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
This is a beautiful book (and a really great movie too). A Pulitzer Prize winner, this story follows Quoyle, a newspaper hack who gets thrown out of his regular, mundane life when his wife dies. He moves back to his stark and remote ancestral home of Newfoundland with his two young daughters, where the local delicacy is cod cheeks and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than by car. This book reads like poetry. It’s beautiful, and although it’s fiction it gives you plenty of insight into the uniqueness of Canada’s easternmost province.
Canada Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Canada travel and continue planning your trip: