One of the popular tourist destinations in Canada is Niagara Falls and summer is the perfect time to visit. Although you can also visit the American side, the Canadian one is definitely better with its popular Horseshoe Falls. Niagara Falls (the town) is also home to casinos, resorts, multiple restaurants and so many activities. Here is a list of everything you won't want to miss on your long weekend getaway.
Go behind the falls
If you're going to visit Niagara Falls, you have to see the falls from the top, the bottom, the side and you can even seem them from the back! At Journey Behind the Falls, you can go down an elevator and walk in the 130 year old tunnels carved in the cliff behind the falls. It is the closest you can get to the impressive and powerful Horseshoe Falls. You will also find signs explaining how they are stopping the erosion of the cliffs, the amount of water going down the falls every year and stories of people going over. For more information, you can visit their website here.
One of my favorite activities that we got to do on our weekend in Niagara was to go kayaking on the Niagara river near Fort Erie. It is far enough from to falls to be completely safe and the weather was perfect for a long ride. We rented the kayaks on Airbnb from a local and had a great experience. The water is absolutely gorgeous in that area and it felt good to be away from the crowds for an afternoon.
Take a boat ride to the bottom of the falls
One of the classic activities when visiting Niagara Falls is to ride a boat to the center of Horseshoe Falls. You should know that even with the very sexy red poncho, you will get wet, but it is definitely worth it! There is no view more impressive than to be surrounded by one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world.
go on a hike
Wether you love hiking or not, you will love this one! At Niagara Glen Nature Center, you can walk down the stairs to the bottom of the cliff where you will find about 5 km of trails by the river. The views are beautiful and you can also look at fossils or even climb the boulders.
visit the quaint village of niagara-on-the-lake
You know those villages in Hallmark movies where all the houses are painted different colors and have flowerpots in the windows, where there is an old bookshop next to the patisserie? That's what Niagara-on-the-Lake is like. I loved it! There are plenty of cute restaurants and a park by the water. I could have walked around the few streets of the village over and over again and still been happy because of how pretty everything was.
Go to ripley's believe it or not! museum
On Clifton Hill, in the town of Niagara, you'll find wax museums, go karts, 4D movie theaters, and lots of other activities, but one of my favorites was Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum. We spend half a day walking around the museum and looking at all of the different exhibits. From statuettes made of real human hair and teeth to life size pictures of the tallest man on earth and everything in between you definitely won't get bored at Ripley's.
visit the vineyards of niagara-on-the-lake
There are so many vineyards to visit in Niagara-On-the-Lake that we rented bikes and spent a whole day cycling from one to the other. My favorites were Trius with its beautiful different tasting rooms and many kinds of bubbly wine and Jackson Triggs where we had the best service. Let's just say, by the end of the day, both of us were pretty bubbly!
treat yourself to a fancy dinner
I think you could eat at a different restaurant everyday for six months in Niagara Falls. With all of these options, why not treat yourself to a good one? We had dinner at Table Rock with a beautiful view over the Falls and at Weinkeller which was absolutely delicious and totally worth the price! I would recommend both of them.
go see the waterfalls illuminated at night
Every night, the falls are illuminated in multicolored lights and change colors every few minutes. It's beautiful and a good place to admire the view is from the top of the Skylon Tower. You'll have a 360 degree view over Niagara.
One thing's for sure, you'll have plenty to do!
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When I discovered that I liked traveling... a lot...too much? I decided that I would start by visiting my Canada. Starting elsewhere would have felt like cheating. Kind of like taking my own country for granted. Everywhere we go, people tell us how lucky we are to live in Canada and they are right. Canada is freaking beautiful! So I left to work on Vancouver Island and spent the year visiting British Columbia and Western United States before driving across North America to go back home to Quebec City.
Then, I felt ready to explore a bit further from home. I went to Costa Rica, Morocco, Italy, and then BAM! Covid-19 hit and we weren't allowed to cross the borders for an unknown amount of time. The thing is, when you start traveling, it is kind of like a drug, it's very hard to stop once you're addicted. So I went back to visiting my old friend Canada and decided to discover a little corner that I had never explored: the Bruce Peninsula, a small strip of land separating the Georgian Bay from Lake Huron in the south of Ontario. Internet promised me Caribbean blue water, long and peaceful hikes and a ton of water activities. It's kind of hard to say no to that!
My friend wasn't very hard to convince and a month later, we were on our way to Ontario on a 10-hour drive from Quebec City to this new adventure. I'm pretty sure the pictures will make you want to visit this area of Canada, but just in case you need more convincing, here are 6 reasons you should head to the Bruce Peninsula.
1. the beauty of the landscape
Let's start with the easiest reason, but gosh can this landscape get any better? I have been back from this road trip for a while now and still can't get over it. You see it on pictures and you have a hard time believing the water can be this blue in real life, but it totally is. Not only is it a bright turquoise, it is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom even when it is meters deep. All along the coast, you discover little bays that are all prettier than the last. Hiking trails will lead you past viewpoints where you can admire the from the top of cliffs, rocks covered in green moss, clumps of colorful mushrooms, fields of wildflowers, etc. And let's come back one more time to the color of the water because it deserves to be mentioned a second time. My friend and I spent the whole time saying it looked like we had just been transported to the Seychelles, or the Caribbean, or an island in Thailand. The fact that this is in Canada just blows my mind!
2. the number of activities on offer
For someone who loves the great outdoors, there is plenty to do in Bruce Peninsula. Kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling and diving (yes there are two shipwrecks where you can dive and many underwater grottos), hiking, beach days, sailing, swimming, there is something for everyone. You can also go on a boat ride with a glass floor around the islands, go fishing, camp, etc.
3. the hikes
The peninsula is almost completely part of the Bruce Peninsula National Park which means there are lots of hiking trails that are well maintained and mostly well indicated. For experimented hikers, the Bruce Trail is a more than 800 km trail from Tobermory, at the end of to peninsula, to Niagara. It offers incomparable views on the Georgian Bay and its islands. Beginners can do parts of the Bruce Trail or one of the many others on offer in the park. There are also trails suitable for families with strollers or people with a handicap that lead to easier to reach viewpoints. For most parts of the trail, I recommend good hiking shoes and to bring a map with you. There can be some steep hills, but it is totally worth it.
4. the simplicity of the destination
Traveling in your own country is of course always easier as you don't need to worry about insurance, exchanging money and things like that, but even for people from other countries, the Bruce Peninsula would be an easy destination. It can be reached by bus from Toronto and you don't need reservations years in advance or to make tons of research. I recommend making reservations for your accommodation once you find out the days you will be traveling, but we booked just a few days before our trip which was during a long weekend in the first summer of Covid when Canadians from the cities flocked to national parks and we didn't have trouble finding a place to stay or booking activities on site. It's a pretty stress free vacation since there are always many other options if what you wanted to do ends up being full.
5. the number of visitors
Like I said earlier, the year we visited was particularly crowded because of Covid, but even then, we found once we started hiking, we were totally alone and barely crossed paths with a few other people. The park is so huge and there are so many different areas that, if you feel like it's crowded where you are, you can just go a little bit further down the path and you'll be completely alone. The only place that we found crowded was the grotto, but even that, the parking lot is so restricted, it never really gets busy. I think that even in high season, it would be a good destination if you need some time surrounded by nature without the distraction of other humans.
6. the sunrises and sunsets
Sunrises and sunsets are moments that I talk about often and that I try to plan for while on vacation. I organize my schedule to make sure I will be in a good spot to watch at the exact point in time where the sun meets the horizon. I loved the fact that, being surrounded by water, the peninsula offered both great sunrises and sunsets over the water of Lake Huron. We were lucky enough to get a full on spectacle every morning and every night during our 5 day trip.
So wether you are looking for breathtaking landscapes, activities to do with your friends and family or if you want to spend some time in nature, the Bruce Peninsula is waiting for you. Enjoy your visit!
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The next day, we were driving to Jasper in the same weather, only to get to the village where it was snowing like Christmas Eve. Our plan of camping was quickly thrown out the car window and we were lucky to find a room in an airbnb in the village. When we woke up the next morning, there was still snow on the ground and we still could not see the mountains as we made our way to Five Lakes trail, but at least it wasn't snowing or raining anymore. During our walk along the trail, as the wind shifted the clouds, we could see the silhouette of the enormous mountains surrounding us, but still no luck seeing the summit or getting a clear view.
It turns out that we worried all for nothing as the very next day, as we were driving through the Icefield Parkways on our way to Banff, the sun finally came out and we enjoyed two days of clear blue sky and enough mountain views to last me a few years.
The Hôtel de Grace is the only hotel made entirely out of ice and snow in America. It is built every year starting in November and it is open to the public from the beginning of January to the end of March. One of a kind, it has been blowing guests away by its ephemeral beauty since 2001. If you haven't seen it yet, here are 20 pictures to convince you that it is worth a trip.
Every year, around 40 rooms make up the Hôtel de Glace, half of which are sculpted according to the theme chosen for that year.
The hotel also contains a chapel for weddings, a slide, a grand entrance hall and a bar where you can select one of the winter themed cocktails served in an ice glass.
Guests can stay overnight like in any regular hotel. Of course, the rooms are not heated, but the heavy duty sleeping bags work like a charm.
If you are interested in spending a night in the Hôtel de Glace, check out how I survived my experience here.
Have you visited an ice hotel before? Let me know in the comments!
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Have you ever seen an activity that people were doing and thought in your head: "I could never do that" or "you would have to be crazy!" On my list of crazy things I would never do there is: swim in shark infested water, jump from building to building, spend more than a week at a time in a place with no electricity, etc. Well sleeping in the Hotel de Glace, was also on my list and it seems I need to stop making a list of things I would never do and switch it to a list of things out of my confort zone. (Maybe jumping from building to building is a bad idea though.)
Last winter, I got a new job working as a receptionist for Hotel Valcartier, a beautiful brand new hotel just outside of Quebec City. What I didn't know since I wasn't in Quebec last winter, was that the Hotel de Glace is now owned by Valcartier. So all winter, I got to check-in people that would sleep in Hotel Valcartier and people who would get the chance to sleep in the exclusive Hotel de Glace. The experience is not for everybody as you sleep in below freezing temperature in a room with no window, but as I saw everyone trying it and giving it a chance, the desire to try it for myself grew. And at last, at the end of March, one week before it was set to be destroyed for the season, I convinced one of my best friends to experience it with me!
What exactly is the Hotel de Glace
The Hotel de Glace is an hotel built entirely out of snow and ice. It takes a few months to build every year and it has been open from the beginning of January to the end of March for 18 years now. This year, 45 rooms were built, half of them themed suites. Every year a different theme is chosen by the team and the hotel is decorated with the most impressive ice sculptures representing the year's theme. This year, everything was about the circus. One room had sculptures of clowns, another, magic tricks or wild animals, all of them made out of ice or snow and accentuated by coloured lights. The end result is always breath-taking and magical.
How do you prepare for a night in the Hotel de Glace
Although the hotel is outside in the cold Canadian weather, the air inside is maintained between 0 and -5 degrees Celsius as the snow acts as insulation and regulates the temperature. You are also provided a sleeping bag created to keep you warm in -30 degrees Celsius temperature. So you don't need to wear four sweaters and 12 pairs of socks, just a light layer of comfortable clothing preferably made of synthetics or wool so it doesn't retain humidity. Bring extras so you can change right before bed and be sure to wear dry clothing. It is important to eat a good meal at dinner and not to drink too much as you don't want to have to get up to use the bathrooms during the night. Also, bring a bathing suit and flip flops so you can take advantage of the Arctic Spa which can help increase your body temperature before going to bed. I think the most important part is not to stress yourself out. It can seem intimidating and scary, but the experience is well organized and has been tested over the last 18 years: you'll be fine!
what it was like
We arrived pretty late as I was working during the day, so we started by having dinner at a pub close by and then made our way to the Ice Bar to participate in the activities organized by the night guide. It was fun to get to know the other participants as we would all experience a night in below freezing temperature at the same time. For those interested, you could also get a cocktail in an ice glass or a bottle of champagne to celebrate the special occasion. I also tried my hand at ice sculpting and it is even harder than it looks. I tried making an elephant and it ended up looking more like a koala. I guess I better stay at the front desk because they wouldn't hire me as an ice sculptor.
Once the activities were over, it was time to go put on our swimming suits and go for a relaxing dip in the hot tub. We put on our robes and walked in the snow in our flip flops to our private hot tub and sauna, courtesy of Valcartier (thanks to the management team for the upgrade in the Deluxe suite. It was definitely appreciated!) This was my favorite part. The hot tub and sauna are located in a small open room connected to the suite. The snow walls make you feel disconnected to the outdoor world as it is completely silent and you can look at the stars above you and just relax. We enjoyed a nice glass of wine and talked for hours while enjoying the bubbling water and the warmth of the sauna.
Once our fingers were wrinkly and we were feeling at peace and relaxed, it was time to dry off and go to sleep. Putting on the sleeping bag is a challenge as you need to take off your winter gear and stand on the bed to put it on and then tighten the collar so the cold air can't get in, but once you are settled, the lights are closed and you finally drift off, it is the best sleep of your life. I don't remember having ever slept that well. We both slept through the night... and through our first wake up call! Although we went to bed late and were woken up early, I woke up feeling energized and ready to take on the day. Until about 5 PM when I was ready to go back to bed.
Would I recommend it
Definitely! Like I said earlier, it is not for everyone, but I think it's an experience to try at least once. It was way easier and more confortable than I thought it would be as I am not a winter person. I hate being cold and I don't get all excited for the first snow, but this was a wonderful experience. The hotel looks like you've stepped in an ice palace and every little part is beautiful so although it is not the most glamorous destination as you are still kind of camping, the location makes you feel like you are in wonderland, or maybe Elsa's castle.
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First, I think I need to explain what the Odyssey Program is. It is a government-sponsored program offered to Canadian citizens to promote our national languages: French and English. It works similarly to an exchange program since people from French speaking provinces go live in English speaking provinces and vice-versa. So I, being a francophone from Quebec City, had the chance to go live in Comox, British Columbia. But contrary to regular exchange programs, where you go study in a different country or province, the Odyssey Program is also a job. For a whole school year, you become a language assistant and work 25 hours/week to promote your language (French or English) in a school with children from different grades depending on the school you work at. It is a difficult, but fun and rewarding job, where you also get to learn and travel. But before you embark on this journey, here are a few things you should expect.
1. the interview process takes several months
You applied months ago and still haven’t gotten an answer? No worries! The whole process takes time. You can apply as early as September for the next school year, but the truth is, applications are open until January and the interviews aren’t until March, so no one hears back before February. After the interviews, it will take a few weeks to find out if you were selected and which province you will be working in, but you won’t know in which school or city before May! Don’t get discouraged though, good things come to those who wait.
2. you could live in a big city or a small town
While you do get to list your three favorite provinces to work and live in, the school you will work in is the province coordinator’s and school directors’ decision! So yes, you could work in Toronto or Vancouver, but you could also work in a small town you have never heard of before. While it can be scary to leave for a year in a town that doesn’t figure on your map of Canada, this country doesn’t know ugly. No matter where you end up, it will be full of beautiful scenery. It’s Canada after all! And you might just discover a place you love that you would have never known existed otherwise. I know I had never heard of Comox before, but as soon as I got there, I fell in love with the little town and discovered how lucky I was to have been placed there.
3. There will be obstacles and challenges
Just like in every work abroad program, life on the Odyssey Program is full of ups and downs. Getting used to a new home and new city, finding friends and making a new routine in all these changes can be hard and scary at first and no, not every day at school will be fun and easy, but you have to give yourself time to get used to a new life and learn to enjoy all the good times. Once you are settled, you will never want to leave!
4. you will meet friends for life
In every work abroad program, you will meet wonderful people and make new friends, but the best part about Odyssey is the length of the program. Working or traveling with people for a whole year makes your friendship stronger and connections deeper. After sharing laughs, cries, hard times at work, Harry Potter addictions, nachos, a few bottles of wines and a regular amount of craziness, you just can’t help but stay friends, even after the end of your program. While you do have to leave these wonderful people behind at the end of the year, it is always possible to stay in touch and you will still have learned and grown from the friendship that you shared. I never expect to make lots of friends whenever I move to a different place, but maybe I am lucky and go wherever all the right people are or the right people have a way of finding me, but I have met the most wonderful friends in my work abroad programs.
5. you will get to travel and explore your region
The work schedule during the Odyssey Program makes it easy to travel during the year. Since you work at a school, you only work on week days and only 25 hours every week, meaning you end your day early and can leave for a new destination on Friday afternoons. You have all of your weekends free to travel around your host province or even further. Some schools also have two weeks of spring break. I spent my year traveling all around Vancouver Island and also went to Seattle and Vancouver as well as California for my two-week spring break. I was literally somewhere new every two weekends.
6. you will love the kids you work with
Even though the kids can make your job extra hard sometimes, you literally get paid to organize activities and play with children. So yes, sometimes they don’t listen or don’t follow the rules, sometimes your activities don’t work like you thought, but there will be those moments where they tell you how much fun they had playing with you and how much they liked the activities you created and there will be at least a thousand hugs and it totally makes up for it.
7. you will miss it everyday once it's over
A few weeks after going home, you will start missing your program. You will miss your coworkers and the children. You will miss the town that you considered home, but isn’t really anymore because you don’t live there any longer. You will miss all the little things that made your program so much fun.
I learned so much about teaching, French in other provinces and mostly about myself during my time on the Odyssey Program. Although I will not be doing it again as I want to try new things and explore new regions of the world, I loved my time in Comox and wouldn’t change it for the world. If you are thinking about applying, just go for it! You never know, you might end up loving it so much you never want to leave!
If you have questions about the program or about my personal experience with Odyssey, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below or to send me an email. And for all of you applying, I wish you the best of luck in your odyssey!
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Vancouver is a city that I got to visit multiple times in the last year. Unfortunately, all of these trips were on weekends and lasted less than 3 days. How do you visit such a big city in just three days do you ask? The answer is, you probably won’t see everything, but get a walking map right now and start highlighting what you really want to see. And if you are not sure what you should see, here is a short list of what not to miss in Vancouver.
Canada Place is a huge white building and dock where the cruise ships anchor while in the city. It is also a conference center. If you are not attending any of the conferences, it might seem pointless to visit, but you will also find Fly Over Canada, a 4D movie where you get to see all of Canada’s best sights, as well as the Vancouver Olympics medals and podium. And if all of that doesn’t interest you in any way, it is also one of the best spots to take pictures of the mountains and the bay on a clear day.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Located in Chinatown, the garden is an escape from the traffic and noise of the city. Part of it is open to the general public, but you can also pay a small fee for a guided tour of the whole garden and learn about the tradition of Chinese gardens and their meaning. If you get the chance, go during the Chinese New Year and see it all decorated with lanterns.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a 140m bridge that rests 70m above the Capilano River. The park is located approximately 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, but free shuttles depart from Canada Place every 15 minutes. Although entrance to the park is pretty expensive (43 CAD) it includes the suspension bridge, hiking trails in the rainforest, the treetops adventure where you can walk on bridges from tree to tree, history and nature tours and, if you visit during the holidays, the park will be decked out in Christmas lights. For more information, visit the official website here.
Stanley Park is a huge metropolitan park (about the same size as the downtown area of Vancouver). It is surrounded by water and has a great view of the city, the bay and the mountains. Its main attraction is the seawall, a 10-kilometer pathway that surrounds the park and attracts thousands of tourists and locals each day. The seawall is so popular that it was extended to 22 kilometers and now continues to Kitsilano Beach, way outside of Stanley Park. The park also features hiking trails, beaches, lakes, the Vancouver Aquarium and many view points.
Gastown was the original settlement that evolved to becoming Vancouver. It is the oldest part of the town and is now a National Historic Site of Canada. Today, Gastown is a neighborhood full of trendy boutiques, cute restaurants, technology companies, art galleries, etc. all in the original buildings to preserve the architecture. It is also the location of the Gastown Steam Clock, a popular landmark of the neighborhood. It uses the city’s heating network to power the clock’s mechanism and whistles.
whistler and road 99
If you have time for a little road trip while in Vancouver, I recommend going to Whistler. Even if you aren’t really into skiing, you will love the city of Whistler and its free-spirited community. While driving to Whistler, make sure to stop at every viewpoint to take in all of the beautiful scenery of this area.
The city of Vancouver was one of my favorites of the last year. I loved how it offered all the activities and services of a big city while still being close to nature and having hiking trails, mountains and free water easily accessible. I am not usually attracted to cities and often feel overwhelmed in them, but I would love to live in Vancouver.
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Last year, I lived in Comox, British Columbia. I spent the whole year working, traveling and having the time of my life. Unfortunately, when June came around, my contract also came to an end and it was time for me to say goodbye and go back home to Quebec City. Goodbyes are always hard, but nothing helps more than a brand new trip to take your mind off the old one. So instead of driving straight to Quebec, I took the long way home and brought a friend along. And that is how our 26 days of driving through North America started. It was a trip full of ups and down, but we saw the most beautiful places where you should definitely stop while on a road trip through North America.
First stop, Vancouver. Of course, the first stop always depends on where you start, but in our case, since we started on Vancouver Island, the city of Vancouver was our first stop. Vancouver is the third biggest city in Canada and probably the most breath-taking. Its location right by the Pacific Ocean and next to a magnificent mountain range makes it the perfect mix of nature and city life. Check out my article on What Not to Miss on a Short Trip to Vancouver to see the different activites you should plan for your trip to VanCity.
2. The okanagan
The Okanagan Valley is a wide region of the South East of British Columbia. It is located on lake Okanagan and includes multiple cities like Kelowna and Pentiction. If you want to thoroughly explore this area, plan for at least a couple of days as there is a lot to see and the distances between the different activities are long. The area is renowned for its wineries and if you are looking to taste some good wines during your stay, I suggest going to Naramata. The little village will transport you to Tuscany while you drive through winding roads and walk in the orchards with a beautiful view of lake Okanagan. The tastings are affordable, the wine, delicious and the ambiance, irreplaceable.
3. the rockies
You can’t drive through North America and not stop in the Rockies. If you thought the mountains were beautiful in Vancouver, prepare to be blown away by this mountain range that stretches way further than you can see in every direction. And once you start getting used to the mountains, the colour of the lakes astonish you by their blue hues that range from baby blue to teal to a bright electric blue. For a more complete look at the Rockies and the different National Parks of this region check out The Canadian Rockies: from Mount Robson to Waterton.
Yellowstone was the first national park ever created in the United States, but also the first in the world. It was created in 1872 to protect the biodiversity of the area and its many geothermal features. The park is home to bison, elk, grizzly bears, wolves and hundreds of other species of mammal, birds, fish and plants. Half of the world’s geothermal features are kept safe in the park and you can spend days checking out lava flows and different coloured geysers and lakes, but a visit to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without an eruption from Old Faithful. The geyser is very predictable and erupts approximately every 90 minutes. I was so impressed that we stayed a complete 93 minutes to see it erupt a second time.
5. mount rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an emblem of the United States located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sculptures represent presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. It took fourteen years and four hundred workers to complete the sculptures, but the results, although a little creepy from up close, are impressive and show true talent from sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
6. badlands National Park
Badlands was one of the surprises and highlights of my trip. I had come across the website while researching for things to do in South Dakota and thought it looked pretty cool, but the pictures really didn’t do it justice. I had very low expectations since I had never heard about it before, but the warm and dry air, the little prairie dogs and the endless buttes and spires charmed me. The sunset was absolutely breath taking and the open hiking policy allows you to really explore the park.
Chicago is the third most populated city in the United States and is home to the second busiest airport in the world. Let’s just say, it is big and there is lots to do! Just in the downtown area, there is Millennium Park with its silver bean (Cloud Gate), Navy Pier, a dozen museums, Willis Tower and its Skydeck, boat tours on Lake Michigan and, before you know it, you have been there for a week and haven’t seen everything yet! I loved the view of the city from Lake Michigan. The lake is so big and blue; it feels like the city is right on the ocean.
Whether you go East to West or North to South, you will find plenty of surprises and natural beauty in North America. I hope one day I will get the chance to see all of the Canadian provinces and all of the American and Mexican states.
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Everyone has heard about Banff and Jasper, and for good reasons, both parks are absolutely magnificent! But the Canadian Rockies also have other areas that are just as beautiful. And since there are still four months to explore Canada’s National Parks for free, I thought I should give you a little peek at the Rockies. I haven’t gotten the chance to explore all of them, but my last trip through North America allowed me to experience most parks both in British Colombia and Alberta.
Mount Robson Provincial Park
Mount Robson was the first park that we experienced when we arrived in the Rockies. Although it is not a National Park like the others, there are no entrance fees and it is just as well organized and maintained. Better than that, it is the highest peak in all of the Canadian Rockies! Even if I never got to see the whole mountain because of the rain and clouds, it was still an impressive sight.
We had a whole day to spend at the park and I really enjoyed the hike that we did to Kinney Lake, even with the heavy rain. It was our first time seeing an electric blue lake and the sight literally gave me chills (it could also have been the cold, but the lake definitely had something to do with it). Of course, this was not the only hike available. The most popular hike at Mount Robson is the one to Berg Lake, which is a 23-kilometer hike that has to be done over the course of several days.
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is right next to Mount Robson Park, but in Alberta instead of British Colombia. It was established in 1907 and is the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies with almost 11,000 square kilometers. There are so many things to do and see in Jasper that we didn’t get to experience all that it has to offer, especially since the snow still covered most of the hiking trails when we were there in June. It even snowed while we were there!
My favorite parts were the Five Lakes trail (it is a short 1 hour trail where you can see five different colored lakes and sit on the iconic Parks Canada red chairs), the Miette Hot Springs (the view of the mountains from the Hot Springs is beautiful and the hot water was amazing after hiking in the cold and snow all day) and the Icefields Parkways (you can actually walk on a glacier and learn all about them at the Icefields Center). We also got to see some pretty cool neighbors while we were there, like bears, mountain goats, eagles and deer.
If you plan on staying in Jasper, check out stayinjasper.com for affordable home accommodation. This website saved our lives (alright, more our budget!) when we decided camping in the snow was not our idea of fun and that the hotels in Jasper are all on the (very) expensive side.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is right next to Banff, but on the British Colombia side. It is home to beautiful Emerald Lake and if canoeing in the Rockies is on your Bucket List, I suggest to do it there as it will cost you at least 50$ less than in Banff and it won’t be as crowded. It’s also a 20-30 minute drive to Yoho from Lake Louise, in Banff, so if you are looking for affordable accommodation in Lake Louise, you might want to consider driving a little further to Yoho, which is a less popular park with beautiful campgrounds and cabins. We also enjoyed stopping at Natural Bridge on our way to Emerald Lake. It’s impressive what nature can do!
Banff National Park
Banff National Park, established in 1885, was Canada’s first National Park. It is also the most popular, and for a very good reason: it’s glacier water, bright blue lakes. Most of you probably know Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, but there are also Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Waterfowl Lake and so many more! And they are all a different shade of turquoise that is so impressive and beautiful and awe-inspiring. I mean, the hiking was fun too… but the lakes!!
Be prepared for everything in Banff to cost you twice what it would normally cost anywhere else in Canada, so you might want to bring your own food and skip the restaurants and little grocery stores.
Waterton National Park
Waterton National Park was the last of the Canadian Rockies National Parks that we visited. It is also the one with the cheapest activities and, since we were getting tired of hiking, we decided to explore it on horseback. Waterton looks like a weird mix of mountains and prairies at first, but it has some of the most beautiful wildflowers that the horses loved to munch on.
We also had some visitors at our campground while we were in Waterton! It is written everywhere in the parks not to leave food unattended and we understood how much it was important that night when we found two deer on our campground just looking around in the fire pit and under the table for forgotten food.
The only park we didn't visit during our stay in the Canadian Rockies was Kootenay National Park. If it is like the others, it is probably a beautiful park that I am sorry I missed out on, but there are so many fun things to do in the Rockies you would need several lifetimes to experience it all! Who here as visited one or multiple of those parks before? Please comment your favorites. I really want to know! And for those of you preparing their first trip: be careful, stay far away from the animals so they stay wild and alive, but most of all, have fun and enjoy it as much as you can! Also don’t hesitate to send your questions my way if you have some. It will be my pleasure to answer them if I can.
Mystic Beach is part of the Juan de Fuca trail on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It is located approximately two hours North West of Victoria. This beach is only accessible via a 2 km trail from China Beach, but it is a quite easy trail, although it can get muddy. And believe me, the walk is totally worth it. Once you get to the beach, you will be welcomed by a beautiful sandy beach, turquoise water and, if the weather is clear, a view of the mountains of the Olympic National Park in Washington State. Once you start wandering on the beach, you will discover a waterfall coming down from the cliff and into the ocean as well as a rope swing over the water. I could have stayed for hours just looking at the view and having fun on the swing! Now, it has to be one of my favorite places on Vancouver Island.
Long Beach is located between Tofino and Ucluelet, on the West Coast of the island. It is one of the best surfing spots in Canada and one of the largest and longest beaches I have ever seen. It’s called Long Beach for a reason! It is a 16 kilometers long sandy beach with rugged islands that you can climb on at low tides. You can walk for hours in any direction while staying on the sand or you can rent a wetsuit and jump in. Just watch out for the waves and currents!
Cathedral Grove, part of Macmillan Provincial Park, is located on Highway 4, 16 kilometers East of Port Alberni. It is a pretty small park, but it is filled with gigantic 800-year-old trees. As soon as you enter the park, you feel like you have been shrunk to the size of a tiny bug. You would need 5 people holding hands to go all the way around some of these trees, which makes the park one of the most impressive parts of Vancouver Island. For more information and pictures, check out my article on Port Alberni right here.
Butchart Gardens is a private garden in the suburb of Victoria owned by the Butchart family. It was originally a limestone quarry until Jenny Butchart gradually transformed it into a garden starting in 1904. It is now a designated National Historic site of Canada. The garden has 6 different areas filled with flowers and decorations of different origins. The Mediterranean climate in Victoria allows for a wide variety of flowers and trees so there really is some of everything. There is a Japanese garden, rose garden, Italian garden, Mediterranean garden, fountains, light displays for Christmas Time and an array of activities year-round. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours, as there is so much to see and do.
I haven’t really explored the Malahat region, but I make it a mission to stop at all the viewpoints every time I come back from Victoria. The Malahat is… I don’t think you can call it a city or a village, but it’s an area on Highway 1, about an hour North of Victoria that is pretty elevated so you have an amazing view of the Saanich Inlet and the islands surrounding it. There are two different viewpoints from the highway that give you breathtaking views over the mountains and the islands and I make sure to stop at both of them, even though they offer similar views, because I just can’t get enough!
I don’t know if Downtown Victoria is absolutely gorgeous or if it just reminds me of Old Quebec which makes me like it more, but I just love that part of the city. The buildings look like they have so much history and there are castles and the parliament building is huge, plus, it is right on the water! And, there is a beautiful view of the mountains from the city. Honestly, I think the pictures kind of speak for themselves. For more pictures, check out my article on Victoria right here.
Meares Island is located right next to Tofino on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The island is home to a campground and hostel; you can also rent paddleboards, kayaks and canoes or hike the Lone Cone, a mountain in the center of the island. My favorite part of the island is the beach where you can have a campfire and watch the sunset on the Pacific Ocean.
Know any places you think should have made this list? Write them in the comments below so I know what to check out on my next trip to the island, but for now it’s off to the mainland for me! I’m so excited about my next adventure! Follow me on Instagram @myjourneytoadventure as I make my way across North America.
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