Girdled by nearly 245,000 km (152,236 mi) of shoreline, we’ve got peaks like Mt. Logan, that tickle the skies at 5,959 m (19,551 ft) and a bike trail, the Trans Canada Trail, that rolls on and on for some 22,000 km (13,670 mi). One province alone, Saskatchewan, is zippered by 10,000 km (6,214 mi) of snowmobile trails. Ontario claims 400,000 lakes and rivers to itself. Logistics alone can boggle the cockiest of travellers. Precisely why we’re here to help you focus not on the size and scope of our outdoor adventures—they’re all BIG—but one that speaks to you. Consider…
Wrangling the Range: Saskatchewan
If your favourite gear is a well-worn saddle, wranglers and ropers, this is your place. You know this is serious horse business when your steed is focused—and not on the swish of a tail in front of you. The horses at Sturgeon River Ranch in Prince Albert National Park canter like they’re on a mission. That’s ‘cause they are. With you in the saddle, they’re seeking free ranging wild Plains bison in these wooly woods. While in this Saskatchewan park, flip your saddle for a paddle and canoe to Canadian icon Grey Owl’s cabin.
Wild West: Alberta
When it comes to mastering the ways of the Wild West, Alberta gives you two main choices: buy a belt buckle, a Stetson and pony up to Calgary, AB’s 10-day Calgary Stampede or head for them thar’ hills: the Rockies. But for a more hands-on—and less crowded—adventure, get thee to dino land. Start with the Calgary Zoo’s new $1-million “Dinosaurs Alive!”exhibit where you’ll find 20 new animatronic beasts that blink, growl and scare the heebie-jeebies out of little ones, or go on a full-day dig with Dinosaur Provincial Park’s excavation expeditions.
Are you smitten with the flagged and battered pine trees that perpetually sprout out of the Canadian Shield that Canadian greats Tom Thomson, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson and other painters so aptly captured? Then pick up a paddle and canoe through the source that inspired the Group of Seven’s artistic revolution: the Ontario lakes in Algonquin and Killarney provincial parks. If you find yourself in Canoe Lake, look for the little rock cairn commemorating Tom Thomson’s last J-stroke, which many believe was here. Want to dial up the spiritual connection that so many find on these waters? Check out Northern Edge Algonquin’s shamanic retreats. In past summers they’ve hosted Tibetan monks; this July, Mandaza Kandemwa, a Bantu shaman from Zimbabwe will share healing and peacemaking with outdoorsy types. Or, if that sounds too woo woo, rove around Smoothwater’s roster of outdoor adventures. You’ll find standard canoe trips and hiking expeditions in the Temagami area, which Smoothwater staff know intimately; they too have New Age retreats (a soul-soothing five-day yoga, canoeing, painting, pilates and cooking class adventure).
Expeditions in Canada’s Arctic: Manitoba
Sure you can see the Great White North by dog sled or watch polar bears from a comfy heated tundra buggy in Churchill, MB. But why not shatter the predictable? Step out onto the spongy tundra on a Lazy Bear Wilderness Expedition that begins with a float plane flight to the mouth of the South Knife River. From there, paddle in “Huck Finn-style” rafts deep into Manitoba’s boreal forest, camping along the same historic shores that 18th century explorers à la Sam Hearne discovered. Kayaking among beluga whales and spotting polar bears from a jet boat caps off the eight-day Arctic expedition.
Whales and icebergs: Newfoundland and Labrador
What the eastern-most shores of Canada—the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador—see every summer are whales, ’bergs and birds. Some 5,000 humpback whales somersault past 10,000-year-old icebergs and somewhere in that blur of numbers, you’ll find the largest colony of Atlantic Puffins in North America, some 500,000 of them. Want to probe past these Maritime icons? Take a walk on the wild side: the Earth’s Mantel (the layer just below the surface of the Earth) on the Tableland Mountains in Gros Morne National Park. Go caving on the west coast of Newfoundland or wreck diving in Conception Bay with Ocean Quest Adventures.
Family adventures: Prince Edward Island
Family travellers often look here first with good reason: carrot-topped Anne Shirley dishes an astounding variety of fun, from touring Green Gables Heritage Place in Cavendish, to feature-length plays in Charlottetown. Seaside cottages and B&Bs are as abundant as kiosks of COW’S ice cream, as are mellow bike loops along the Confederation Trail. For a gentle family-friendly sea kayak tour, cross Malpeque Bay to Ram Island, and then reward yourself with a bucket of fist-sized oysters.
Cycle, surf: Nova Scotia
Take your time in easy-going Nova Scotia, where you can cycle windswept Cape Breton Island, join a surf camp from Eastern Canada’s first women-owned and run surf school, tag a lobster on a research-based expedition with Lobsterman Tours; all that’s required is that you like salt in your hair!
Kite surf and kayak: New Brunswick
You’ve likely seen travel posters of iconic Hopewell Rocks, and we know that New Brunswick is home to the highest tides in the world—one of the reasons the Bay of Fundy (between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) is on the shortlist to be one of the New7Wonders of the world. But what’s beyond the tried and true? For starters, try Canada’s only stop on the Kiteboard Pro World Tour in 2009. Located at Petite Lamèque, NB is Club Wind & Kite, one of the leading schools for kite surfing in Canada. Not as extreme, perhaps, is Fresh Air Adventures’ multi-day sea kayaking trips that paddle the raw and rugged Fundy National Park coastline to Goose River, where you can whale watch or gawk at the tides as they enter the estuary.
Paddle the wild: Northwest Territories and the Yukon
If your vacation fantasy includes a whitewater paddle down Canada’s most legendary northern river, the Nahanni, welcome to this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the wild, stunning Northwest Territories. If you’re here for the water, trips on the Yukon’s 70 most famed rivers, from the Snake to the Wind and the Teslin, are other waterfed dreams; as are some of Canada’s most remote hikes: the 100-km (62-mi) Donjek Glacier route; the 85-km (53-mi) Cottonwood Trail; the 53-km (33-mi) Chilkoot Trail; the Dena Cho Trail; the Ridge Road Trail. If you’re looking for a hiking trip with a twist, try hiking with huskies or heli-hiking.
Trekking extraordinaire: Quebec
Some say the best parts of Quebec are the tantalizing food, the seductive French language and the Euro-influenced shopping. But veer beyond the urban edges, and you’ve got one of the country’s top skiing, climbing and canoeing destinations. Never mind the 4,000 km (2,485.5 mi) of bike trails, known as the Route verte (Green Route), that loop all over la belle province. The Chic-Chocs and McGerrigle Mountains are crisscrossed with easy day trips. But for a flat-out hiking epic, hoof the 100-km (62 mi) trek through these peaks, staying at alpine huts along the way. Other high points in Parc national de la Gaspésie creep up on you—like herds of woodland caribou, dainty Arctic plants and tundra underfoot.
Bike, ski, kayak: British Columbia
If your favourite gear to pack includes fat tires, skis and a collapsible kayak, British Columbia is your province. Jammed with some of the best outdoor adventures, try: a canoe trip along the Bowron Lake canoe circuit, heli-hike or heli-ski in the interior with Canadian Mountain Holidays. Go “glamping” on the Sunshine Coast. Cycle the abandoned Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Kayak amongst totem poles and sea lions in Haida Gwaii. Hike the epic West Coast Trail (experienced hikers only, please). Like most of Canada, this province is so effortlessly in tune with nature, these trips are guaranteed to prove your grit and along the way, repair your soul.
Exotic high Arctic, “as wild as it gets”: Nunavut
Adventure travellers often look north, way north, for good reason: round-the-clock sunshine in the summer in Nunavut means you can wake up in a sweat (tents get hot) at 3 am and be watching a walrus scratch and snort its way across an iceberg by 4. Canada’s newest and largest territory is home to all of 30,000 people (85% are Inuit), so humans play second fiddle to the thousands of migrating caribou, musk-ox, narwhal, walruses and wolves that move across these wilds. A handful of exclusive companies like Whitney & Smith probe far into these remote regions where they tailor exploratory trips across glaciers and fjords: to places completely untramelled, except by time. Dogsled and winter camp amongst the Peary caribou on Baffin Island, visit seal pups by an outpost camp or kayak in the summer on Ellesmere Island; these places are arguably as wild as it gets.
But “wild” comes in many guises—and can be found in all four of Canada’s distinct seasons. For a wild ride through winter, buckle, harness, clip or snap into these adventures