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Family Road Trips

Find this summer’s best family road trips from Banff to Nova Scotia

Last updated 18th May 2024

Thinking about a family road trip this summer? Jennifer Merrick shares her best road trip memories and favorite routes to take with kids from Alberta to Nova Scotia.

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UNESCO World Heritage Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Summer road trips round Canada have been a family tradition since we dipped our six-month-old’s toes in the Atlantic Ocean and hiked coastal trails in Newfoundland with him in a backpack. We serendipitously discovered that the vibration of bumpy gravel roads lulled him to sleep and led to off-the-beaten-track picnic spots. We were hooked. A couple of decades later, we’re still road-tripping with our now grown-up ‘kids’. And we’re still in awe of the country we call home.

Here are a handful of family-friendly and family-tested Canadian road trips. All start with the vibrancy of an urban centre and then steer your family towards rural adventures and natural playgrounds.

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MacGregor Point © Ontario Parks

Toronto – Stratford – MacGregor Point Provincial Park: 5 to 7 days

Revel in the bright lights and stellar attractions of Toronto before venturing to the theatrically gifted town of Stratford, surrounded by fertile farmland.

Then, embrace the outdoors at MacGregor Point Provincial Park, located on the edge of the Boreal wilderness on the shores of Lake Huron. Despite the diversity of the three locations, there is minimal driving time with no more than 220 km between any of the points.

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Yurt for hire © Ontario Parks

Best road trip memories on this one

  • Getting locked up and (almost) escaping a castle tower: Castle Loma’s immersive escape room has real actors urging participants to save the day. The experience is based on the landmark’s real history, which may explain why it’s all so nail-biting.
  • Yurting at Macgregor Point Provincial Park: At the ‘the yurt capital of Ontario’, these eight-sided, 16-foot diameter structures are comfortable and come with bunk beds, table and chairs, fire pit and propane BBQ. But they are still rustic enough to have a true camping experience within the park.
  • Mapping out a chocolate trail route: The yummiest activity — after enjoying Stratford’s attractions like family-friendly theatre, the Justin Bieber exhibition at the Stratford Perth Museum and feeding swans on the Avon River — is this popular chocolatey trail. Each pass comes with six vouchers for a chocolate delight at one of 25 participating businesses.
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Bike trail, Banff National Park © Jennifer Merrick

Calgary – Banff National Park – Golden – Waterton Lakes National Park: 8 to 12 days

Explore Cowtown’s festivals, greenspaces and family attractions before heading out into the mountains. Banff is Canada’s first national park and a road trip here wows with turquoise glacial lakes, gondola views and even a walkable village.

Only 90 minutes away is Golden BC, situated in the Valley of a Thousand Peaks, which separates the Rockies to the east and the Columbia Mountains to the west. This mountain town is the ideal base for families to explore the dramatic beauty of the region with no less than six national parks within a two-hour drive: Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier and Revelstoke.

Then take scenic Highway 95 through the Kootenays to Waterton National Park, a sublime national park in the Rocky Mountains bordering Montana’s Glacier Park National Park in the US.

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Calgary Food Bike Tour © Visit Calgary

Some of the moments we’ll never forget

  • Pedaling and munching on a Food Bike Tour:  This outing took us along the Bow River and into some of the best restaurants in Calgary. Alberta’s largest city has been coming into its own in recent years with an entrepreneurial culinary scene and a growing network of bike trails that traverse its large swaths of green spaces. Both are showcased on this fun and yummy tour.
  • Hearing the screech of a bugling elk in Banff National Park: A regal-looking bull with an impressive rack of antlers sauntered in front of our windshield before emitting such a high-pitched screech, we thought perhaps it had been embodied by a banshee. The reason for such a vocal display was made clear when we saw a herd of females up ahead. Roadside sightings are common in Banff, where families can spot wildlife, like bears, mountain goats and deer.
  • Meeting Boo at Kicking Horse Resort:  This rescue grizzly bear has been making this mountain his home for 20 years and educating guests about this often-misunderstood animal.  Afterwards be sure to take the gondola up 235 metres for a view once described as an infinity pool of mountains. While at the top, be sure to grab a bite at Eagle Eye, Canada’s highest restaurant.
  • E-biking from the prairies to the mountains on the Chief Mountain Highway:  One of the unique features of the sublimely beautiful Waterton Lakes National Park is that visitors can experience both the prairie and alpine landscapes (even on one bike ride!).
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Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

Halifax – Lunenburg – Blomidon Provincial Park : 5 to 7 days

Discover the delights of Nova Scotia’s coastal capital on this road trip, before lighting out to Canada’s most famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove enroute to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luneburg.

From this quintessential fishing village drive 125 km to the peninsula’s opposite shore to experience the Bay of Fundy tides and Acadian history and culture.

This mini maritime road trip gives your family three distinct experiences with minimal time in the car.

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Lunenburg Nova Scotia © Jennifer Merrick

A few unforgettable road trip experiences

  • Finding a record of the ship that brought the kids’ grandparents to Canada: The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 explores 400 years of immigration history and tells the stories of newcomers’ contributions and impressions of their new home.
  • Admiring the majestic Bluenose II: At full mast, with the backdrop of the colourful historic homes that dot its waterfront, it’s a sight to remember.
  • Gazing at the red sand that stretch out endlessly:  From a 180-metre look out point at Blomidon Provincial Park you can see the Fundy Bay tides, the highest in the world.  It’s also a surreal experience to walk on the beach at low tide among the mud flats and the rocks.
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Québec City boardwalk © Jennifer Merrick

Québec City –Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux – Rivière-du-Loup: 7 to 10 days

Vivre the old-world charms of Québec City – North America’s oldest walled city – before motoring north to the edge of the Saguenay fjord, the southernmost navigable fjord in world.

After enjoying this natural playground, road trip south and cross the mighty Saint Lawrence, where the saltwater meets the fresh and some of the best whale watching in the country.

With an impressive waterfall and restaurants with outdoor patios, the small town of Rivere-du-Loup is an ideal base for families to explore the beauty of the region.

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Fjord du Saguenay © Charles David Robitaille

Our family’s favorite road trip memories

  • Promenading on the Terrasse Dufferin:  This boardwalk looks out at panoramic views of the Saint Lawrence River and the historic city.  Also at this spot, on ‘Cap Diamond’ cliff, is the Chateau Frontenac, Fairmont’s landmark hotel and the country’s most recognizable ‘castle’ giving a fairy-tale feel to the lively ambiance of the promenade.
  • Sleeping in a tree house perched high among the evergreen boughs at Cap Jaseux: This park in the midst of a 453-acre forest offers quirky accommodation like suspended spheres along with more traditional log cabins and tenting. But there’s something magical about a treehouse for kids.  Also enchanting are the guided sea kayaking excursions on the Saguenay Fjord at sunset.
  • Observing seals lounging on the rocks at Bic National Park: Located in the St. Lawrence Estuary, this 33.2 km protected wilderness reserve showcases the coastal landscape and ecosystem. Harbour and grey seals were among the 15 species of mammals that make this park their home, along with 226 species of birds.
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Kayaking, Rock Island Lodge © Jennifer Merrick

Sault-Ste. Marie – Rock Island Lodge – Thunder Bay: 11 to 14 days

Immerse yourself in the wilderness that inspired Canada’s artists in Sault Ste. Marie before jumping on the Trans-Canada highway to appreciate just how vast Canada is.

This superior road trip takes your family along the shores of the largest and most pristine of North America’s great lakes through the Boreal Forest and very few populated areas until you hit the northern city of Thunder Bay.

Be sure to spend a couple of days exploring its natural attractions before continuing an epic road trip by circumnavigating Lake Superior south of the border.

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Agawa Canyon train tour © Jennifer Merrick

What we’ll never forget about this road trip

  • Riding the rails on the Agawa Canyon Train Tour: This one-day excursion begins in Sault Ste. Marie, and descends into the Agawa Canyon, one of the oldest rock formations in the world, created 1.2 billion years ago.  Breathe the fresh air, and walk to the impressive Bridal Veil Falls, and then take the Lookout Trail for a panoramic view of the canyon — worth every one of the 372 steps.
  • Paddling the Michipicoten River: Rock Island Lodge offers guided kayaking tours that follows the canoe route of the Voyageurs and then stops at the scenic Silver Falls, where kids can scramble onto the rocks to enjoy some hot chocolate.
  • Rock hounding for treasure at Amethyst Mine Panorama: This site has the largest deposit of Ontario’s official gemstone and families can hunt for their own sparkling purply gemstones to take home.

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