Such a large country with so few people is bound to have its fair share of hidden travel gems. And once travelers go beyond the large cities straddling the American border, the true expanse of Canada opens up to sparkling coastlines along the west coast and the Maritimes to the east, expansive forests and parkland in every area that isn’t frozen over, abundant wildlife, quiet rivers and streams and even a desert. Of course, with so much land to traverse and so few people, it’s nice to have some pointers on where to go. So check out these five hidden travel gems in Canada.
The French explorer Jacques Cartier first planted his wooden cross on the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula way back in 1534, earning today’s town its honorific title as the "Cradle of French Canada." These days Gaspé is known as one of Quebec’s first-rate adventure holiday destinations, with an outdoors offering that’s second to none. While many visitors come to sample the rugged cliffs and soft Atlantic beachfronts, others seek hiking and biking trails through the mist-covered conifers or the salt marshes of the Forillon National Park. Gaspé is also widely known as the kingpin of one of Canada’s premier fishing regions, and the city boasts great access to three of North America’s most prolifically populated salmon rivers. What’s more, with almost half a millennium of history to unravel it’s also not surprising that Gaspé is a great place for budding culture vultures, and between the WWII memorials and quirky windmill factory, there’s plenty more to see.
Positioned right on the border between Ontario and Michigan, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is twins with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, located across the St. Marys River. In the large scope of things, SSM seems like small and modest city (the third largest in Northern Ontario, after the similarly-sized Sudbury and Thunder Bay), but, historically, this sleepy area has played a tremendous role in Canadian trade and was once called "The Meeting Place," calling inhabitants from Aboriginal communities all over Europe and North America. Visitors who come with a curious ear for history will certainly pick up quite a few more topics of discussion after a wander through SSM’s many museums, including the huge Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, while everyone else is simply drawn to the area for its lush wilderness and rugged shores along the Agawa Canyon, sandy beaches, and twisting rivers feeding into two Great Lakes and the majestic Canadian Shield. Perfect for fishing and even more for excellent photo ops, hiking, skiing and any other outdoor sport one can even imagine, Sault Ste. Marie is an ideal place to get away in any weather.
Osoyoos oozes small-town charm and big-time culture. From the outset, it looks like a sleepy lake retreat, but the climate and the passion of its inhabitants have helped make the area one of the most underrated beach resorts in Canada. Reputed to have the hottest weather in Canada, Osoyoos actually lays claim to the only true desert in the country, and Lake Osoyoos is known for its warmth. In the shadow of the Cascade Mountains to the west, protected from winter storms by the Columbia Mountains to the east, blessed with long, hot summer days and cool nights, mild winters and very little rainfall, the sleepy little area of Osoyoos is home to a great number of impressive vineyards, including North America’s first First Nations owned and operated winery, Nk’Mip Cellars. Most of the restaurants have a mandate towards local, organic sustainability without compromising full flavor and the hotels even have private beaches.
Once the beating heart of the great Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City remains a patchwork of rustic wood cabins and strip-mined geology that oozes with an authentic frontier charm. Sightseeing opportunities abound right from the start, and visitors are encouraged to enter town from the "Top of the World" or Klondike highways, where dramatic panoramas of Yukon’s Alpine valleys dominate on every side. Today the town’s historical pulls are the major draw, and favorite activities include wandering the boardwalk pavements or following in the footsteps of Dawson’s first inhabitants by panning for gold in the cool Yukon streams nearby – Claim #6, one of the original discovery spots of gold, still invites hopeful prospectors to its streams to this day. But appearances can be deceiving, and amidst the timber-clad saloons and cowboy cabins, there’s an elusive energy to this town that manifests itself in a lively local nightlife scene, year-round festivals and a variety of worldly eating spots.
There’s an entire world to discover just off the shores of Tofino, a tonw on the westernmost edge of Vancouver Island. In the winter, the storm rages deep and turbulently from the heart of the Pacific Ocean, offering excellent views for winter storm watching (find out more on storm watching from Tourism Tofino); and in the summer, Tofino has the best surfing in all of Canada. Marine animals splash around the water, and people chill out in the cafés and restaurants, taking in the local flavors and the laidback Vancouver Island vibe. Tofino offers cheap outdoor thrills and highbrow luxury at the famous Wickaninnish Inn. No matter where you look, there’s something beautiful in the horizon – patches of forest against looming mountain peaks only faintly perceptible through heavy mist and snow. The kind of people who get the most out of a visit from Tofino are nature fanatics, campers and whale watchers, fishers and surfers, and, of course, seafood lovers.