Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hey, remember when we did that national parks road trip across Canada?

“Well, Wasagaming campsite is the most popular,” said the ranger at Riding Mountain National Park's welcome center. He peered into our backseat cluttered with camping gear and duffel bags that reeked of campfire smoke. “But judging from the looks of you guys, you want Lake Audy. It's a bit more... rugged."

We thanked him and headed northwest to our temporary home for the next few nights. As we set up our tent lakeside and settled in to watch the sunset, we agreed that he couldn't have been more right.

Lake Audy
( just before the awesome thunderstorm that trumped the sunset)

Portland, Oregon may be just a few hours' drive from the Canadian border but other than a few long weekends in western British Columbia, we hadn't seen much else of our northern neighbor. An extended vacation was the perfect excuse to remedy this so last April we embarked upon a cross-continental road trip coupled with farmstay learning opportunities along the way. Over the next four months we would see 11 unique parks, sleep under stars (and sometimes rainclouds) at 12 amazing campsites, and hike over 120 miles... er, 200 kilometers of gorgeous trails.

we managed to have just a little bit of fun, too

When we left Portland I had never heard of Riding Mountain or Forillon National Parks, and no amount of money would've enabled me to find Kouchibouguac National Park on the map (or pronounce it or Pukaskwa, for that matter). Honestly, before our departure I had no idea where the entire province of Saskatchewan was on the map. We had naively expected to drive about 5500 miles... er, 8850 kilometers coast to coast. Final count after all our meandering? Just under 16,800 kilometers!

The scenery was unbelievable. Gorgeous bays and beaches welcomed us in Pacific Rim, Pukaskwa and Forillon. Stunning mountain vistas and cold temperatures challenged us in Yoho, Banff and Waterton Lakes. Impressive lakes, rivers and waterfalls greeted us in Kouchibouguac and Fundy.

pretty in pink(ish) -
the aptly named "coastal" hike in Cape Breton

cold, tired, happy - 
snow hiking to Little Beehive lookout in Banff

conquering Mt Galwey
in Waterton Lakes

And the wildlife! Bears crossed our path in Riding Mountain; eagles soared over our campsite in Cape Breton; free roaming bison caused a traffic jam in Grasslands. Throughout our journey we also encountered bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, coyotes, deer, porcupines, quail, caribou… and of course, mosquitoes and ticks (possibly our only beef with Canada).

bear-o-rama in Riding Mountain
(photo credit: very good zoom feature)

skritchin' break in Grasslands

Our Oregon license plates drew many stares and “long way from home, eh?” comments in the parks, especially as we got further and further east, and we got some wonderful recommendations as a result. In fact, Riding Mountain National Park hadn't even been on our radar until a backpacker with years of experience touted it as the most rugged land he'd seen. He couldn't have been more right either. And friendly park rangers often stopped to share their RV adventures to the southern U.S. during off-season, giving us plenty of food for thought for our return journey.

This cross-continental trek was the start of a longer-term journey to several continents and we wanted to keep our expenses down. The Parks Canada Discovery Pass turned out to be one of our best investments. Entrance fees to all National Parks, as well as admission to National Historic Sites and National Marine Conservation Areas, were all covered under the Discovery Pass. Although our primary agendas were camping and hiking, we also enjoyed visits to Saskatchewan's Fort Walsh and Nova Scotia's Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site.

our jar fund finally paid off!

Which park was our favorite? That's an impossible question! From the rainy west coast, through the snow-capped Rockies, across vast plains, and into the lush and green eastern highlands, we got a taste of everything – and it was all amazing.

Wapta Falls in Yoho,
just one of several dozen waterfalls along our trip

We do agree that Grasslands was one of the more unexpectedly beautiful parks. Some people might not call endless kilometers of prairie "beautiful", but we were absolutely mesmerized and the free roaming bison increased the park's magical factor by at least ten.

pondering in the Grasslands prairie

We started too early in the season to enjoy Glacier, Mount Revelstoke and Jasper, and we didn't have time to venture farther north or explore many other familiar and lesser-known parks across the country. But as we crossed the U.S. border into Maine at the end of our journey, I smiled knowing that I'd seen more of Canada than most Canadians will see in their lifetime.

The gorgeous sunny days and star-studded nights were truly awesome but the rainy days and nights tested our patience, flexibility, creativity, and endurance - all of which have come in handy as we continue our journey around the world. Thank you for everything, National Parks of Canada - we'll definitely see you again!

This was posted on the one-year anniversary of our entry into Canada, the kickoff to our ongoing round-the-world adventure.  The fine folks at Parks Canada have graciously offered to share it with their Twitter and Facebook followers in hopes that it will encourage everyone to get out there and explore!  

What are your favorite nature spots in Canada?  Tell us YOUR story in the comments!


  1. i'm not allowed back in Canada / =

    1. Sorry to hear that. There's great fishing there.

  2. This looks so fun! I really want to do a national parks tour of the US and Canada. I need to add all of this to my list!

    1. Erin - thanks for reading! We really, really, really loved our Canada NP road trip and we are really looking forward to the next few months where we check out the southern and western US NPs. Do it! :)