Rugged, unspoiled, vast and beguiling, Canada is a dream for the would-be road-tripper. It’s not hard either. Simply find a car, make your way out of the city, and drive until you find something glorious. In this article, I’ve collected my six favourite winter road trips in Canada, taking in the windy west coast, craggy Rockies, and everything in between.
(If we didn’t include your favorite road trip, let us know about it in the comments!)
Sea to Sky Highway
I know the Sea to Sky Highway isn’t exactly a hidden gem but I still think it deserves its place on the list of winter road trips in Canada. Starting from Vancouver, work your way out of the city, through Stanley Park and onto Highway 99. Once there, you point your car north and drive until you hit Whistler.
At a little over 120 km, it’s not the longest trip in the world but it’s definitely one of the prettiest. Starting at sea level, you wind your way north following the twists and turns of the Howe Sound. Watch as little islands come and go to your left and the terrain grows more mountainous to your right.
On a clear day, the Sea to Sky Gondola at Squamish is well worthwhile, granting spectacular views over the northern edge of the Sound. At the summit–916 meters–stand on one of the many viewing platforms and survey the landscape far below you.
Once you’re down and back on the road, the sea stops and the ascent into the sky begins.
Continue on your way north, flanked on both sides by snow-capped mountains and endless forests, until you reach your final destination of Whistler. Then some find somewhere cozy and enjoy your après-ski.
About 300 km north-east of Whistler lies Kamloops, which sits in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies–1,450km of often sheer shale and limestone thrust upwards in colossal geological disruption over millions of years.
The 400 km trip from Kamloops to Jasper begins gently as you wind your way through a series of small towns. However, after McMurphy, signs of civilization become less frequent and the mountains become more intense.
A short detour away, Wells Gray Provincial Park is well worth seeing with Helmcken Waterfall (Canada’s fourth highest waterfall, pictured above) particularly impressive in winter. Surrounded by ice, the frozen cone at the base often grows to 50 meters tall!
Icefields Parkway, split vertically by Highway 93, is utterly jaw-dropping in any season but it takes a lot to beat the snow-capped peaks of winter. Starting in Jasper, follow the highway south through an unbroken patchwork of national parks.
Stop anywhere along the way and you’re only a stone’s throw away from prehistoric glaciers, tumbling waterfalls and snow-rimmed turquoise lakes.
Make sure you stop at the Columbia Icefield to explore the Athabasca Glacier, which is utterly stunning in scale.
The Cowboy Trail runs north-south from Lundbreck on the US border up past the western edge of Calgary and on to Mayerthorpe about a 150 km northwest of Edmonton.
The Trail follows Highway 22 as it alternates between long northern straights and short western detours, giving it the feel of a ladder or staircase.
Coming out of Calgary, you enter a proper cowboy landscape with rolling foothills, quaint barns, and picturesque meadows. All the while, the Rockies provide a sensational backdrop 100 km to the west.
While the Cowboy Trail is usually associated with long summer days and dusky nights, it certainly deserves a spot as one of the best winter road trips in Canada. The meadows, usually blanketed with snow, make it feel like you’re on an endless snowy blanket with only the faraway Rockies anchoring your views.
Big, mysterious and blasted by an unforgiving wind for thousands of years, the Canadian Badlands make for a brilliant road trip. Dinosaurs used to roam this bit of Canada millions of years ago and it’s still easy to imagine them wandering across this craggy mountainscape.
A Badlands road trip typically starts in Calgary and winds northeast towards the Drumheller Valley, home of the famous hoodoo rock formations (above).
Make sure to stop at Horseshoe Canyon to get a real feel for the landscape and geology. The sheer cliff faces slice through millions of years of geological activity and provides an outstanding cross-section of history.
If you’re looking for bears, moose, elk or wolves, the Kananaskis Trail is for you! Starting in Calgary, the trail arcs northwest towards Kananaskis on the edge of Bow Valley Provincial Park.
As soon as you enter Kananaskis Country, the landscape changes with massive mountains tearing up through the ground and impenetrable forests drawing close around you. Big herds of wild mountain goats are not unheard of, so drive slowly and get ready to give way!
As you leave Kananaskis and head north, the roads get steeper and the views grow more spectacular. When you get to Canmore, find somewhere to park and enjoy the local outdoor activities, arts, food, and culture.
Do you have a suggestion for one of the best winter road trips in Canada? Tell us in the comments below!
About the Author
Tom Butcher is a freelance writer from the UK. He spent some time in Canada earlier this year so we thought we’d get his unbiased opinion on some of the best winter road trips in Canada. Typically he writes about finance, business, and automotive, but he’s currently helping LeaseFetcher tell the UK about car leasing.