North America’s top 10 drives
“Please, which direction do I go from here?” asked Alice during her adventures in Wonderland. When it comes to planning the perfect road trip, you don’t need to ask directions, merely let your curiosity – or your passion – be your guide.
Whether it’s food and wine, nature photography or spending time with your grandchildren, here are ten suggested excursions. Some are familiar, some take the roads less traveled. They are all more about the journey than the destination.
Best drive for autumn splendour:
- Klondike & Dempster Highways, Whitehorse, Yukon, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Trip length: 1,222 km.
The first place-and some say the most spectacular-to enjoy fall colour in all of Canada is the Yukon. Plan a trip for the end of August with the proviso that leaves can change quickly and unexpectedly.
The two-lane Klondike is paved, while the Dempster is well-maintained gravel and shale. Allow at least two days each way to appreciate the vastness of the land.
En route bonuses: mountain vistas, sweeping plateaus, caribou, bears and, at the end of the road, tundra.
For planning and an on-the-roaduide, The Milepost is considered to be the bible of northern highway travel.
- Vancouver to Pemberton, British Columbia. Trip length: 134 km.
From Vancouver, Hwy. 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) runs north 134 kilometres through Cypress Provincial Park to Squamish, a windsurfer’s haven, on to Whistler, a skier’s Eden, and then to Pemberton, the gateway to B.C.’s logging and ranching community.
The road hugs coastal mountains, offering up vistas of towering rock faces that plunge into the sea, rivers that cascade off sheer cliffs and deep emerald forests. S-shaped twists and turns in the road provide spectacular photo opportunities.
In Squamish, the Stawamus Chief, a great gray hunk of granite, is a mecca for mountain climbers or for photographers with a telescopic lens. They can vicariously enjoy the experience from the picture windows at Quinn’s Restaurant and Patisserie.
Season: Year-round spectacular but winter roads can be hazardous
Wine lovers’ tour:
- Southern Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Trip length: 250 km.
B.C.’s fruit-growing area has ripened into an exciting wine region that is well worth exploring. Hwy. 97 meanders through the Valley from Penticton to Kelowna, alongside Lake Okanagan, past orchards, fruit stands and vineyards, bordered on either side by a string of beautiful mountains.
You could drive it in an hour, but plan to spend three to four days. That gives you time to visit the B.C. Wine Information Centre in Penticton, meet some of the dynamic young winemakers who are shaping the area, enjoy cellar tastings, sample a leisurely patio lunch overlooking a vineyard and stay at a restful lakeside lodge.
Also, take a detour to the east side of the lake to Naramata, home of several interesting boutique wineries.
Once in every Canadian’s lifetime:
- Icefields Parkway, Alberta. Trip length 287 km.
Along the Continental Divide, from Banff to Lake Louise and Jasper, Banff and Jasper National Parks offer up an astounding natural beauty. It is considered by many to be the all-time, most spectacular drive.
Feast your eyes on mountains capped with year-round snow, glacier-fed turquoise lakes, tumbling whitewater rivers, alpine meadows and herds of elk, big horn sheep, grizzly and black bears.
And, the icing on the cake, this year’s new attractions at the Columbia Icefield (about halfway between Lake Louise and Jasper) include heli-hiking, heli-fishing, even heli-weddings!
Visitors must purchase a park pass to travel the route, which takes four hours to drive-stops not included.
A gourmet’s best bet:
- Quebec City to Tadoussac, Quebec. Trip length 225 km.
For food lovers, route des saveurs (Flavour Trail) of Charlevoix County offers an exceptional gastronomic experience. Tourists can visit individual farms, sample and purchase local products, then enjoy the same products freshly prepared in local restaurants.
Follow Rte. 136 east from Quebec City, taking a delightful little detour by ferry from Baie Saint-Paul to pastoral Ile aux Coudres. Return by the same route, or along the south shore, crossing the Saint Lawrence by ferry from Saint-Siméon to Rivière du Loup.
Start and end your trip in the gastronomic capital, Quebec City.
Season: May to October
A little backroad romance:
- The Bridges of Kings County, New Brunswick.
Covered bridges were intended to keep snow off the roadways. While they did that, they also allowed for some private sleigh-ride romancing, thus their sobriquet of “kissing bridges.”
Covered bridges provide a reassuring link to the past amidst the pastoral landscape, rolling fields, wild flowers and quiet country roads of New Brunswick’s Kings County.
The Sussex Visitor Information Centre at the end of Rte. 890 provides detailed back-road route maps. Bicycle rentals are available for those interested in “an intimate covered bridge experience.”
A leisurely two-hour car ride in the Sussex area takes you through five bridges where tradition demands you lift your feet off the floor as you cross the bridge and make a wish.
Season: June and September-October
For craft aficionados:
- South Shore, Nove Scotia. Trip length 175 km.
Nova Scotia is a mecca for artisans, and the scenic drive from Peggy’s Cove to Lockeport along Rte. 3 offers a fertile hunting ground for collectors.
In quaint towns such as Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg and throughout the quiet countryside, there are galleries, gifts shops, studios and craft markets featuring the work of local craftspeople.
Arm yourself with The Studio Map – A Year Round Guide to Art and Craft Studios in Nova Scotia and Buyer’s Guide to Art and Crafts in Nova Scotia available from local tourist offices.
Season: Summer. If you don’t like crowds spring or fall is a good time to visit. The beaches are almost deserted during these seasons.
A healing journey:
- Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona, Arizona. Trip length 37 km.
Two-and-a-half hours north of Phoenix and just south of Flagstaff, Hwy. 89A is a two-lane road that twists and winds alongside the crystal clear waters of Oak Creek beneath a deep blue desert sky.
Red rock walls seem to vibrate with energy as you drive through the canyon toward the delightful town of Sedona, population 10,000.
Sedona is a centre of electromagnetic convergence, where people feel increased energy and a sense of well-being. The vortexes here are regarded by some as places of healing and spirituality.
Art galleries, handcrafted jewellery and pottery outlets as well as a brimming resort community feed off the “cosmic” energy. A great place to recover from stress and to connect with the universe.
Treat the grandkids:
- Miami to Key West, Florida. Trip length 245 km.
Take your grandchildren on a wild kingdom adventure along the Overseas Highway (U.S. Rte. 1) from Miami to Key West. A total of 42 two-lane bridges connect the necklace of islands that comprise the Keys.
Snorkel or scuba dive at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, swim with the dolphins at one of five venues such as the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key and explore the only living coral barrier reef in North America at Key Largo or Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Families can enjoy kids’ camp activities at one of several resorts, such as Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada.
Peak season: December 15th to Easter
When you must go down to the sea again:
- Downeast Drive, Maine. Trip length 350 km.
U.S. Rte. 1 takes you 350 kilometres from Kittery, Maine, north to Eastport, through the well-touristed towns of Oqunquit, Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor, the wooden boat school in Brooklin and dozens of other Maritime attractions such as the 1791 Portland Head Light – one of 64 coastal lighthouses along the route.
Catch a glimpse of the all-important lobster industry at Portland’s Fish Exchange and enjoy the succulent crustaceans fresh off the boat in lobstering communities such as Stonington and Boothbay Harbor.
Country roads take you to tiny fishing villages such Lubec, once home to 19 sardine factories, now the site of the Old Sardine Village Museum.
Ellsworth to Eastport is truly a road less travelled with a chance to savour the crashing surf at Acadia National Park.
Season: April through October (reservations essential in July and August)