With the first official long weekend of summer around the corner, Canadians are looking forward to getting behind the wheel, hitting the open road and exploring our country’s many hidden treasures. And, while road trips have long been a Canadian summer staple, this year’s family vacation may look a little different. With a desire to stay a bit closer to home, the day trip has emerged as this summer’s new preferred getaway, according to a national survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Toyota Canada.
While only a quarter (24%) of Canadians saying they’d feel comfortable taking a plane at the moment, the majority (70%) feel comfortable travelling by car outside of their city or town, and almost half (49%) are planning at least one day trip over the next two months.
This year, though, Canadians are looking for closer-to-home destinations to explore, with less than half (42%) comfortable venturing out of their own province. Of those planning to hit the road this summer, most are opting to stay within a 100km radius of home, making day trips the new preferred excursion.
But so many Canadians aching to get out of the house, places like Whistler, Banff, Jasper and Lunenburg are bound to be overrun by tourists over the next few months.
The good news? Even if avoiding crowds is a priority for you this summer, there are still a number of less crowded places to visit across the country.
So what are you waiting for? Pack up the vehicle and avoid the crowds at these lesser-known, but packed-with-fun day trip destinations!
- Cypress Falls Park – Why drive all the way to Whistler? Although it’s just a 20-minute drive from Vancouver, Cypress Falls Park offers hiking through forests with 300-year-old red cedars and Douglas firs - not to mention rushing waterfalls.
- The Backyard Farm – A foodie’s paradise can be found at the end of the beautiful “Golden Mile”, just outside of Oliver, B.C. After exploring the surrounding wine country, head to this two-acre hobby orchard property and farmhouse-turned-Chef’s Table surrounded by vineyards, old growth heritage fruit trees and garden beds. Offering menus and culinary workshops inspired by seasonal bounty, you must try the Chef’s Table for an unforgettable experience.
- Harrison Hot Springs - Less than two hours from Vancouver, the tranquil Harrison Hot Springs is wildly popular with health enthusiasts and intrepid travellers alike – with hot springs that are amongst the most mineral-rich in the world due to their particularly high sulphur concentrations. Fill up your day by exploring the picturesque marina nearby, catching an art festival or taking a stroll through Sasquatch Provincial Park.
- Big Horn Falls – Near Sundre, Alberta, Big Horn Falls in Ya-Ha Tinda, is known as one of Alberta’s best kept secrets. Get wet with an adrenaline-fueled rafting trip down the Red Deer River and enjoy hiking, exploring water falls, and droping by the outdoor Pioneer Museum - which houses buildings like a ranger station and blacksmith shop - to get a glimpse of what life was like in the early 1900s.
- Kananaskis - Found on Highway 22, just off the Trans-Canada Highway, Kananaskis Country (or K-Country) is like the best of Banff without the crowds: think pristine lakes, incredible hiking trails, and frequent sightings of wildlife like bears, moose and bighorn sheep.
- Millarville - Only 35 minutes southwest of Calgary, Millarville offers plenty for families to do. The Saturday Farmers Market features food, art, and other items that are at least 80% grown, made and sourced in Alberta. Add to that family-friendly rodeos, horse racing, art galleries, a winery, unique local artisan studios and a whole lot of western culture, and Millarville is a hit.
- Gimli - Gimli - a community established by Icelandic settlers back in 1875= - still maintains a strong connection to Iceland and Icelandic culture. Unleash your inner Viking at Islendingadagurinn, the annual Icelandic Festival in August, or enjoy Gimli Beach all summer and finish your day enjoying art galleries and sampling local seafood.
- Roadside Attractions – Too much traffic heading West out of Winnipeg this summer? Take the route up Highway 6 and through the Lake Manitoba Narrows to the Parkland region for a collection of beautiful scenery and a wide range of quirky and historical Insta-worthy roadside attractions, such as the World’s Largest Curling Rock, Leggy the Lovebug, Amisk the Beaver, the Grandview Train and more sites kids (and grown-up ‘kids’) will love.
- Birds Hill Provincial Park - A farm-filled day of fun awaits with several farms all within 15 minutes of each other. From horseback riding, to getting up close with the animals, to sampling local food, you can easily spend the day enjoying all the area has to offer.
- Elk Island National Park – This national park maintains a pretty low profile compared to Jasper and Banff, so it could be a great hidden gem to explore this summer! Spread a blanket and gaze at a starry sky free from city lights, or follow the footprints of a bison and learn how this magnificent animal was brought back from near extinction. In addition to being an important refuge for bison, elk and more than 250 bird species, Elk Island National Park is also an oasis of calm for day picnickers and overnight campers alike.
- Devon – Just 40 minutes from Edmonton, you’ll find the under-the-radar town of Devon. Here, you’ll find friendly folks without the hustle and bustle of more touristy towns, and plenty to do, from riding the trails at Riverview Bike Park, exploring an adorable array of cafes and shops, and more.
- Pembina River Tubing - Enjoy breathtaking views of the Pembina River Valley by taking a leisurely float down the Pembina River. During your float, you’ll be able to admire the 62-metre gorge and different kinds of wildlife while bathing in the sun.
- Balls Falls Conservation Area – Brave the throngs in Niagara? Psh. Set within the breathtaking Twenty Valley, this award-winning LEED Gold certified facility offers spectacular scenery and natural beauty, as well as interactive exhibits and displays focusing on nature, conservation, and culture in the context of the area’s history, the Niagara escarpment, and the watershed.
- Greig’s Caves – While everyone else heads to the Flower Pots, Greig’s Caves may be the Bruce Peninsula’s best kept secret! Greig’s Caves offers rugged hiking through forested trails and, of course, spectacular natural limestone caves.
- Big Tub Harbour – Or just keep driving right past the national park… Tobermory – has tons to explore - from quaint galleries to natural wonders - and is home to two breathtaking harbours, lovingly named Little Tub and Big Tub Harbours. The cool, crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay behold some of Canada’s best-preserved shipwrecks - many dating back to the mid-19th and early 20th centuries - many of which can be explored by snorkeling and scuba-diving!
- Remic Rapids Park – Looking for an alternative to the Parliament Buildings? Once a popular trading and rest area for Indigenous peoples and early explorers, Remic Rapids Park is situated on the shore of the Ottawa River. This site provides stunning views of the river, is home to countless species of plants and animals, and is a significant zone for migratory birds. Visitors can also explore the unique rock sculptures along their way.
- Bonnechere Caves - An adventure at Bonnechere Caves is an exhilarating trip for the whole family! Explore a fun, safe, educational and stunning experience as the staff takes your family on a fun tour through the natural beautiful trails through caves, waterfalls and fossils!
- Merrickville - Merrickville is tiny little town less than an hour from Ottawa, and it’s perfect for a relaxing day trip. The main street (St. Lawrence) is full of independent shops that sell clothing, artisan soaps, garden decorations, and beautiful glass pieces, along with unique restaurants to satisfy any palate. Merrickville is along the Rideau River, and the Merrickville Ruins - on a small island across the bridge - can be explored as well.
- McNabs Island – Dubbed Halifax’s best kept secret, McNabs Island, an island at the entrance of Halifax Harbour, is only a short boat ride from Halifax or Eastern Passage but feels like a world away with its colourful past and unspoiled natural beauty. Families can enjoy the rich heritage of the island park with guided tours to learn more about its early history from the Mi'kmaq to the French and the British, who built several forts to protect the Port of Halifax. Learn about the rich coastal island environment and the impact that climate change is having on our coastline.
- Hubbards – Peggy’s Cove? Lunenburg? Nah. Hubbards and Chester are SO CLOSE to Halifax, but they feel like a million miles away from the city. Enjoy beach-hopping, dining and sampling local wares at the Hubbards Farmers Market, located in a converted barn. And continue on to the Chester Vic, one of many re-purposed old train stations that also rents kayaks during the summer months.
- Lawrencetown Beach - Just 25 minutes away from Halifax, Lawrencetown is the perfect summer day trip for those looking to hit a world class beach. This south-facing cove feels like the perfect beach day location, with several surf schools and gear rentals nearby. The beach park connects to a walking trail on a former railbed and is part of the larger Cole Harbour-Lawrencetown Coastal Heritage Park System.
- Sucrerie de la Montagne - This Quebec Heritage site is open year-round, and as authentic and true-to-history as sugar shacks come. There is a general store, Quebecois restaurant, and bar on site, with year-round activities such as horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides and musical entertainment.
- Au Diable Vert - Enjoy a number of fun activities here, including the epic 45-minute VeloVolant, where you can pedal bikes ‘through the sky’ on a cable line, and catch a bird’s eye view of wild ravines, rivers, waterfalls, and mountains. Cool off after on waterslides and explore the quaint local shops and restaurants when you stop near Sutton and Abercorn.
- The Laurentians – Sure, the Laurentians can’t really be called a “hidden gem”, but there’s plenty of space here to escape the crowds. Make the most of your vehicle and take the take the Chemin du Terroir, a gorgeous sign-posted route that winds through the country roads of Basses-Laurentides and Argenteuil. Here, you can taste locally-produced beers and ciders and meet the friendly farmers. Get out and stretch your legs on the banks of the glittering lakes or explore the woods on a foraging expedition.