From the TS Editors: The following guest post comes from our super friends and partners in travel, Kim Gray and Jennifer Twyman of ToqueandCanoe.com. Canada is their beat and they’ve got it covered.
Ah, Spring in Canada. How do you write about where to travel in our country during practically everyone’s favorite season when weather and geography vary so dramatically from coast to coast? We’re based in Calgary, Alberta, where, only last week, we woke to a city blanketed in snow while on the West Coast in cities like Victoria and Vancouver, the streets were littered with cherry blossoms and folks were wearing shorts and flip-flops. But that’s the awesome thing about Canada in that given the distinct weather patterns and diverse terrain, there’s a wide range of experiences to be had. After much thought and investigation, we singled out some of our own original recommendations. When all is said and done, it’s a big country so these are just a sampling of what’s available. Enjoy!
One of Canada’s hottest destinations right now is the Great Bear Rainforest, a swath of temperate rainforest on Canada’s West Coast that spans from the tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska panhandle. Having already been to the area twice (to a wild grizzly bear sanctuary known as The Khutzeymateen in the northern corner of the region), we can vouch that this is a trip of a lifetime. If you’re looking for an epic nature inspired adventure involving everything from fishing to grizzly bear viewing to touring by boat through rugged coastal waters, this is it. What do we remember most from our spring visits here? Quietly watching from the safety of our boat, mother grizzlies and their cubs do what they’ve done for thousands of years – swiping at sedge grass with their powerful forelimbs, wrestling it from the ground and wolfing it back. Then standing on their hind legs to scratch their backs on a tree and swaying hula-style in the most satisfied fashion before cooling off in the sea, surprisingly graceful swimmers that they are.
As for the resident bald eagles? They’re impressive too. We’ll always remember them – masters of the sky, precise and athletic and sometimes flying so close to us we could almost feel the wind off their magnificent wings.
And while we’re on the subject of the West Coast, we can confidently say that if cities are more your thing and you’ve got time (and a little money); spend a few days in Vancouver, B.C. This world class beach town offers a rich and authentic experience during the spring season. Here’s how to do it. Start by booking a room at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, one of the oldest hotels in the city and an accommodation that just won, for good reason, a prestigious ‘best historic luxury hotel in the world’ award. You’ll be centrally located – directly across the street from the Vancouver Art Gallery – and within walking distance of just about everything, including Stanley Park where you should promptly rent a bike and cycle around the sea wall. Or perhaps venture across the nearby Lion’s Gate Bridge. Be sure to stop in the middle so you can soak up the spectacular ocean view.
You’ll definitely want to eat at Hawksworth Restaurant (listed recently as Canada’s number one restaurant), conveniently located inside the hotel and where you’ll taste sable fish that will rock your world! Of course, there’s a spa onsite, too. Let’s just say it boasts divine ‘zero gravity’ chairs designed by NASA scientists and we’ll leave it at that. Touring the town is a cinch; just contact Jim, the hotel’s Bentley driver, who’ll not only escort you anywhere you want to go (hint: he’ll accept a nice tip) but will also fill your head with great tales about Vancouver’s storied past. Be sure to have him take you to the nearby Granville Island Market as it’s one of the country’s top farmer’s markets and its offerings – enjoyed by the locals as much as the visitors – are rich in every way.
If a snowy spring adventure is on your mind – along with a little exercise – then we recommend heading to the mountains of Western Canada.
Every year, both in British Columbia and Alberta we have ourselves a pile of fun skiing family friendly mountain resorts everywhere from Mt. Norquay in the Banff vicinity (stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs or at the smaller Juniper Hotel & Bistro) to Kimberley Alpine Resort, Panorama Mountain Village and Fernie Alpine Resort. We tackled the more challenging Kicking Horse Mountain Resort this spring which featured killer vistas and on a sunny day, just can’t be beat. Given that the resort’s mascot is a rescued Grizzly bear named Boo makes Kicking Horse that much more interesting.
If you’re looking for some cross-country as well as alpine skiing, do yourself a favor and book the Post Hotel and Spa in Lake Louise (challenging trails, excellent dining and great value) or Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ historic Emerald Lake Lodge (outstanding location with a winter wonderland feel and very romantic).
Then again, maybe you’re a big mountain skier seeking the adrenalin rush that comes from being dropped onto a mountaintop by chopper only to tackle dizzyingly steep vertical slopes cloaked with untouched pillows of fresh powder. In that case, we recommend Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) – one of the region’s oldest and most reputable heli-skiing operations. The operation has actually launched something called Powder University, designed for skiers of all levels, male and female, who are ready to take their skiing adventures to the next level.
It’s no surprise that Europeans make up a huge chunk of CMH’s clients – diehard powder hounds who’ve dreamed of skiing Western Canada’s picturesque and challenging mountain ranges.
If it’s the Yukon that’s calling your name this spring and you’re more into bikes than skis, you may want to consider the epic Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay that takes place every year at this time. June is a fantastic month in the Yukon when Canada’s smallest territory not only hosts this world famous cycling event but also the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Parks Canada’s ‘Weekend on the Wing’ Birding Festival, the Dawson City Motorcycle Ride, National Aboriginal Day, a Midnight Sun Golf Tournament and the exciting Yukon River Quest Canoe Race which draws paddlers from around the globe.
Hang around a little longer until Canada Day (July 1) and you can take in the Yukon Gold Panning Championships in Dawson City, a destination itself given that it’s synonymous with the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. When we were in ‘the land of the midnight sun’ last spring, we met a gold nugget loving miner named Jim Archibald who has been panning gold in the region since the 60’s. He let us hold a small leather pouch that contained about $23,000 worth of solid gold nuggets – never taking his eye off the prize. Can you say ‘really heavy’?
No question about it … the Yukon’s got something. On the one hand, it’s a destination packed with history and opportunity but it’s also a place of fierce beauty where you can feel that rare I-am-but-a-speck-in-the-wilderness feeling. Now if you ask us, that’s rich.
Given that we live in Western Canada, spring adventures on the East coast are definitely on our bucket list. Exotic trips that include iceberg and wild puffin viewing in Newfoundland & Labrador – which boast an estimated 18,000 km of pristine coastline – haunt our imaginations. Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours out of Newfoundland is our pick for a best bet in May and June. Guests depart from St. John’s by boat and head out into the Atlantic sailing through waters that are home to, yes, magnificent icebergs, but also to the world’s most concentrated humpback whale population.
Gatherall’s Puffin and Whale Watch also comes highly recommended – particularly their visits to puffin colonies that are protected in ecological marine reserves. Reached at her home in Newfoundland, Rosemary Gatherall, whose family has lived in the region since the 1700’s, runs the family business that launched 25 years ago. “Marine biologists tell us this is the best place in North America to view humpback whales. It’s pretty touching to see them – and to see the puffins, especially with their young,” says Gatherall, adding that Newfoundlanders have a big attachment to the sea. “I’ve actually seen people cry. They come to us from all over – Hawaii, Australia, Europe and Brazil. There’s a mystical feeling about this place. People are quite overcome when they visit.”
Of course, if you’ve traveled this far, you must make your way to Gros Morn National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of unparalleled natural beauty. Just Google photos of the area and you’ll see what we mean.
We know, what’s with more bears? Hey, this is Canada and if it’s one thing we do have, it’s bears. Polar bears in this instance. The thing about the north is that whether we’ve been or not, it’s in our blood. And whether you’re Canadian or not, a lot of you dream of seeing this part of the world. So, just as we’re hankering to get to the East Coast to find ourselves some icebergs and puffin colonies, we also have a firm eye on the north – land of polar bears, incredible national parks and beluga whales in the Hudson Bay that you can actually swim with.
Manitoba’s Churchill Wild outfitters come with a Canadian Tourism Commission “Signature Experience” endorsement, which means they’re the real deal so you can’t go wrong with these guys. We first heard about “swimming with beluga whales” in Hudson Bay during our trip to the Yukon. The well-traveled guy who told us about it was an Australian TV host who claimed that his time in Churchill where he swam with wild belugas was, hands down, the coolest thing he’d ever done. We’re not sure which outfitter took him out on the bay, but he did say he was wearing a dry suit and was being slowly and carefully dragged behind a boat. The whales swam beside him and at one point, when he started sinking a little, a whale swam beneath him, lifting him closer to the surface. “I was practically riding him. It was like he thought I needed help, that I was drowning,” the journalist told us – clearly stoked by the experience. “It was remarkable. And when I hummed beneath the water, the whales sang back to me. Belugas are considered to be the canaries of the Hudson Bay.”
Further north, Nunavut’s Arctic Kingdom offers a “best of arctic spring” package which includes dog sledding, Igloo building, Arctic Char fishing, snowmobiling and northern lights viewing. “If conditions present themselves”, the company also provides opportunities for the especially adventurous to swim with narwhals – medium-sized whales known for their unicorn like tusks.
And you thought swimming with belugas was exotic.
Where to Learn More about Our Favorite Canadian Experiences:
Great Bear Rainforest
Spring Skiing in Western Canada
Newfoundland & Labrador
Canadian Tourism Commission