If you really want to get a taste for Canada, you have to start with Indigenous cultures. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to immerse in Indigenous experiences both in urban centers and further afield.
Only a three-hour flight from Los Angeles is the urban oasis on the edge of nature, Vancouver. The city is home to Talaysay Tours, which is owned by members of the Sechelt and Squamish First Nations. On their Talking Trees Tour, guides will show you how to uncover the hidden medicinal and culinary uses of everyday plants found right in urban Stanley Park.
Offering even more adventure is the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, a 12,079-square-foot rugged landmass that hugs the shoreline of British Columbia and is known for its skyscraping trees, some well over 250 feet tall. On the 29-mile Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, hikers can often spot orcas, bald eagles, sea lions, and grey whales, which frequent the waters in March and April during their migration from Mexico to Alaska. Coastal towns like free-spirited Ucluelet and the surfer haven of Tofino are perfect jumping-off points for exploring teeming tidepools and partaking in Indigenous-led tours.
From Tofino, it’s a 35-minute boat ride to the Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, a tented safari resort and spa, where cedar boardwalks wind through ancient forests and lush beds of fern. As a guest, you can try salmon-fishing, canyoning, or horseback riding, while keeping your eyes peeled for black bears and sea otters.
For those seeking dramatic views, it’s hard to beat the jewels of Alberta’s Banff National Park: Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Head to Calgary on a direct flight from Houston and drive about one hour to the Canadian Rockies to find these glacial-fed icons. These alpine lakes get their otherworldly milky-turquoise complexion from a substance called rock flour, finely ground stone particles that become suspended in the water and reflect the light. Be warned that the water in Lake Louise rarely gets warmer than 41 degrees Fahrenheit; it’s so chilly, in fact, that it hosts a polar bear dip on Canada Day—July 1st!
Atlantic Canada has long served as an entry point for new arrivals. On Fogo Island, off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, you may find yourself chatting with locals that have a perfectly preserved Irish brogue; many of their ancestors arrived pre-famine, but the relative isolation in rugged fishing villages has allowed them to hold on to their accents and traditions, creating something uniquely found in Canada.
Further down the Atlantic coast is Prince Edward Island, where you’ll find another colorful trick of geology, the tiny province’s red-sand beaches, which get their rosy hue from an abundance of iron left behind by eroding sandstone. As the iron oxidizes, it turns to rust! Equally unique are the Singing Sands of Basin Head Provincial Park, where a high concentration of silica and quartz causes the beach to squeak underfoot as you walk the shore. Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island is also among the best places to play golf, regardless of skill level. More than 25 courses are available on the island, so it is always possible to play more than one course per day.
In Nova Scotia, meanwhile, Cape Breton Island feels like a little slice of Scotland, complete with Glenora Distillery, which produces Scotch-style single-malt whisky, and plenty of residents who still speak Gaelic. During your visit, try to get yourself invited to a “kitchen party”—or ceilidh in Gaelic—where locals bust out fiddles and folk songs and often dance into the wee hours of the night. Or plan your visit around the Celtic Colours International Festival, one of Canada’s premiere musical events. From the smallest of halls to the largest arenas, world-class musicians share the stage with the island’s finest singers, dancers, players, and storytellers.
And at New Brunswick’s Village Historique Acadien Provincial Park, visitors can learn about the Acadians in an interactive open-air museum. Many of these French-speaking colonists eventually settled in Louisiana, where they came to be known by a name you might recognize: the Cajuns! But like the West Coast, the true beauty of the Maritimes can best be seen through the lens of the Indigenous peoples who have called this area home since time immemorial. Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site is home to one of the largest collections of petroglyphs (or rock carvings) in eastern North America, and its 500-plus specimens—from canoes to traditional clothing—offer a window into the culture of the Mi’kmaq. Come nightfall, the park’s status as a dark sky preserve means that, when you gaze up at the constellations, it will look just as it did hundreds of years ago, without any light pollution to block this awe-inspiring view of the heavens.
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland and Labrador
For pure wow factor, few moments beat your arrival at Fogo Island Inn, located off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The hotel’s starkly modern design rises up from the island’s jagged rocks. And you might spot a whale from the floor-to-ceiling windows in any of the 29 individually designed rooms and suites.
Anne of Green Gables Museum, Prince Edward Island
In her 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery introduced one of Canada’s most indelible literary creations, the adventure-loving orphan Anne Shirley. Offering a peek into the author’s life, this museum is set in what she called “the wonder castle of my childhood,” an 1872 house built by her aunt and uncle that’s now brimming with memorabilia.
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