Off the beaten path: The 5 best road trips for families across Canada
Land Rover's All-New Discovery
With Canada turning 150 years old this year, there's no better time than now to explore more of our beautiful country.
And with so much to discover, there’s no need to settle for a typical touristy hotspot overrun by tour buses and selfie sticks.
Here’s your guide to the most scenic road adventures for you to discover with family and friends. To make things simple, we've provided links to the driving routes, the towns to visit and the attractions to check out.
Each of our destinations offer unique reasons to visit, whether it's an underground bunker to discover with your kids or a luxury resort to relax at with your friends.
1. Victoria to Cowichan Bay
The Cowichan Valley takes up a stunning swath of Vancouver Island. With the community of Cowichan Bay about an hour north of Victoria, you’ll want to make a pit stop along the way to discover an engineering marvel dating back to the 1920s.
On your drive up, check out the tallest remaining timbre bridge in the world, the Kinsol Trestle. Towering more than 140 feet above the creek below, the former railway bridge was a magnificent structure for its time.
Now part of the Trans Canada Trail, you can hike out to it from a parking lot, cross the trestle and then follow the snaking trail to its base before returning to the top.
After the Kinsol Trestle, it’s about 30 minutes up to the picturesque town of Cowichan Bay. As you approach this seaside village, the road tightens and twists around the contours of the coast. Drivers – don't get distracted by the views - you have the road to enjoy. Let your passengers focus on the scenery.
The cozy community along the water has a handful of delightful shops and restaurants, from a specialty cheese store to countless seafood restaurants.
There’s also a range of water-related activities for the whole family to explore the bay, from boat rentals to guided canoe tours.
What to bring:
Unlike some trails, the Kinsol Trestle is open to cyclists and hikers alike, so you can load up with the family’s bikes.
Pack some snacks to enjoy on the picnic tables underneath the Kinsol Trestle. These tables provide a great spot to recharge, where you can take in both the bridge’s engineering and the region’s natural beauty.
With the potential for water sports in Cowichan Bay, it’s a wise idea to pack bathing suits and towels.
2. Calgary to Invermere:
Go the extra distance to escape the typically touristy crowds in Banff for this road trip to Invermere, B.C., just outside the Alberta border.
This route passes through Canmore, which can be a convenient pit stop before entering two of Canada’s National Parks en route to Invermere.
Highway 93 will excite any driver's senses, snaking its way between the mountains through Kootenay National Park. The occasional truck slugging along will give you the chance to flex the muscle of your vehicle's engine when you kick the accelerator to pass.
The drive is also fascinating, as you'll come across patches of forest regenerating from fires in previous years. It's one thing to see the damage on TV, but a whole other thing to go from lush green to a forest in transition.
Invermere is a year-round outdoor playground, whether it’s on the snow-covered slopes in the winter or on the Columbia River in the summer.
If your adventure brings you to Invermere in the winter, Panorama is your main attraction: The ski resort won North American Resort of the Year at the World Snow Awards in 2016.
In the warmer months, take the family to check out James Chabot Provincial Park. A short drive from downtown Invermere, the day-use park provides beach access to Windermere Lake for soaking up the sun, building the ultimate sand castles or going for a refreshing swim. The park also has an adventure playground for the kids.
You and the family can also explore the Columbia River by renting kayaks or canoes for a scenic cruise. Some rental services even have a shuttle service to take you back to Invermere so you don’t have to paddle upstream to return, making your journey more enjoyable and relaxing.
If you decide to make this destination a weekend trip, Fairmont’s Hot Springs Resort, just south of Invermere, will accommodate you and your family in luxury.
What to bring:
This really depends on the season. Heading up in the winter? Pack your ski and snowboard gear. For a summer adventure, bring along whatever you may need to hike or swim. You may want to bring home some fresh coffee from Kicking Horse Coffee’s headquarters in Invermere.
3. Toronto to Southampton:
This town on the shore of Lake Huron offers families a relaxed getaway from life in the big city. While the downtown has shops and galleries to interest the adults, there are a couple of standout attractions to keep the kids interested too.
The drive to Southampton is a calming cruise north, away from the typical Highway 400 grind toward cottage country.
Located along the sandy western side of the Bruce Peninsula, Southampton has its share of historic lighthouses to explore.
In addition to the lighthouses on shore, the one you’ll really want to check out is on Chantry Island. Accessible only with a pre-booked tour, visitors board a boat to the island before climbing 106 steps to the top of the lighthouse tower. Kids can see what it would’ve been like to live on the island by exploring the restored keeper’s house.
Just south of Southampton you can check out the nearby Bruce Power nuclear plant, which is the largest in the world. At its visitor centre, kids can see what it’s like to be a nuclear operator while using a replica control panel. There’s also an exhibit that offers a simulated walk through a reactor.
Hungry? There’s an assortment of small restaurants in Southampton. One of them is the relaxed Elk and Finch, which has a covered patio for refuge from the sun on hot summer days.
What to bring:
Chantry Island is also a bird sanctuary, with more than 50,000 birds calling the island home during breeding season. If you’d like to capture the beauty of these birds, bring along your good camera because a smartphone won’t cut it.
4. Ottawa to Merrickville:
While the main destination is the quaint town of Merrickville, this road trip makes a stop in Carp, Ont., to explore a Cold War-era bunker.
However, it's not all about the sights. The winding roads around Merrickville can give drivers the chance to connect with the athletic side of their vehicle.
About a half hour west from Ottawa, your first stop should be the Diefenbunker in Carp. It’s an historic bunker that’s been around since before your kids (and maybe you) were born.
Completed in 1961, the 100,000 square-foot underground complex could house key members of the government and military in the event of a nuclear attack. The bunker was decommissioned in 1994, but it now operates as a museum that offers daily tours to the public.
After your brush with espionage, pull up Merrickville on your navigation system and pop down to the quaint village about an hour south.
This is a good spot to stroll around and pop into the small shops and restaurants in the area. If you really need to stretch your legs or burn off your kids’ energy, the village also has a trail system to take advantage of.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you can hop in your car to explore the backroads around the area. The region was once home to an international rally race, and the twisty routes hint at why the area can be a driver’s delight.
Otherwise, Highway 43 is a majestic and fun drive back toward Hwy. 416 and Ottawa. The route even has its own car club named in its honour.
What to bring:
This is a fairly lightweight road trip for the family, so there’s nothing in particular to bring along for the ride. Who knows, you or your kids might buy something from a small shop along the way and bring it back home.
5. Montreal to Montebello
Known for the luxury Chateau Montebello resort, this town is about an hour and a half west of Montreal and offers up a range of family-friendly activities.
Once you leave the outskirts of Montreal, this trip will take drivers along the scenic Ottawa River toward their destination.
The Montebello Stables provide activities for children aged six and up. Its Equestrian Connection program, which runs from the spring to the fall, provides children with an introduction to horseback riding around the Chateau Montebello and along the Ottawa River. Wagon rides and sleigh tours are also available depending on the season.
For lunch you can grab a table at one of the many dining rooms inside the Chateau - which is also the world’s largest log cabin.
For families wanting to get a little closer to nature, be sure to check out Parc Omega, a Canadian safari just north of Montebello.
Before heading out on your adventure, make sure to prepare for success. The Land Rover Discovery is the perfect companion for any road trip with luxurious spacing and advanced technology to support everything from off-road driving, towing capabilities and, most importantly, USB connectivity for all.
Visitors can get up close with a range of animals, from elk to caribou, as they venture through the trails from within their vehicle.
With all of the outdoor activities available, Montebello may be the perfect place for a capable sport-ute to pull its weight, from the woodlots to the waterfront.
What to bring:
Dress according to the weather, as many of the activities in Montebello are outdoors. If the kids aren’t coming along for the trip, or if you’ve found a few hours’ worth of activities for them, bring your clubs along to take advantage of the world-class course at the Chateau. Checking out Parc Omega? They suggest you bring some carrots to get the animals’ attention.