The Best Autumn Drives & Road Trips in Canada
A Guide To The Best Autumn Drives In Canada To See Fall Colors
Wondering where to see the best fall colors in Canada? Our guide to the best fall drives in Canada lists the best routes to enjoy the gorgeous colors in autumn.
As August fades into September, days get shorter and the air becomes infused with that telltale crispness that means that fall is on its way. Autumn in Canada doesn’t last very long, with snow falling in the colder places as early as late October. However, with its bright, warm bursts of colour, long temperate days, and crisp evenings, fall in Canada is one of the most
beautiful times to visit our country.
Whether you are planning a Canadian vacation in the fall to avoid the summer crowds or to do some leaf-peeping, the sights that await you here in the autumn season will not disappoint. The best way to appreciate the Northern fall to its fullest is to take an Autumn road trip in Canada. Here are our favourite places to visit in the fall.
1- Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia
Connecting Vancouver city to the beautiful town of Pemberton, the Sea to Sky highway is one of the best road trips in Canada at any time of year. In fall, however, the tall mixed forests of deciduous and conifer trees change from solid green into a flashy mix of yellow, orange, green, and red.
The best time for a fall road trip in Canada’s West Coast region is in September when leaves have begun to change but the weather is still mild. From October 1st to April 1st, winter tires are required on all vehicles driving the Sea to Sky. This should give you a clue about possible conditions there. Aim to go earlier to experience a Northwestern Autumn in all its glory.
Before setting out on the Sea to Sky highway, be sure to check on the weather conditions and visibility. The West Coast’s signature heavy rains and fog can complicate drives on this winding coastal highway. Plan to go slow (even if the locals are speeding) and check your wipers and headlights before you leave.
Along the Sea to Sky, interpretive signs are located at lookouts and historical points of interest. These signs will give you information about the Squamish and Lil’wat first nations that call this area home. For more in-depth learning, take a look around the Squamish cultural centre. The displays here will as you pass through this pretty town on your Autumn road trip
through Canada’s Sea to Sky highway.
September is the perfect time to enjoy awesome outdoor activities without the crowds. Stop off at Whytecliff park at low tide to rock hop all the way to Whyte Island. For swimmers, take a dip at Alice Lake, a favourite stop for the summer crowds which you are so sneakily avoiding. Pull into Porteau cove to book a sea kayaking excursion at this beginner-friendly kayaking destination. The Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish will give a birds-eye view of Howe Sound. It also offers treats at the top ranging from cafe fare to gourmet dinners. For a relaxing time, take a round trip on the gondola. If your legs are in need of a stretch, you can
also earn your treats by hiking to the top.
Dotted along the length of the Sea to Sky highway are amazing hikes and stop-offs to admire the natural beauty of this region. In Garibaldi provincial park, hike up to Garibaldi Lake. Here, you can to enjoy blue glacial colours and alpine beauty. The Brandywine, Alexander, and Shannon falls are all located near the highway. All three offer sightseers views of beautiful, multi-tiered cascading waterfalls. Stop off for a hike at Stawamus chief, to kick your adventure up a notch and book yourself in for a crash course in rock climbing on its famous granite walls.
Wherever you choose to sightsee, and adventure, the Sea to Sky highway is one of Canada’s top autumn road trips. It will not disappoint.
2- The Shushwap Region, British Columbia
Shuswap lake and its surroundings are a favourite Canadian road trip destination throughout the summer and fall. With its dense red cedar forests and huge expanses of tranquil water, this area is one of the most beautiful places in Canada. In the fall, however, this place holds a particular magic.
At the beginning of September, the waters here welcome the sockeye salmon. These enormous fish run thick in this region in their quest to spawn future generations. In dominant years, the rivers here host millions of fish all single-mindedly swimming upstream to pursue their purpose. Do your research to come at a time when there will be more fish for you to see.
To make the most out of your Canadian fall road trip in this region, visit the Tsútswecw provincial park. This park boasts aboriginal cultural displays of the local Secwepemc people, as well as preserved historical sites. It also has extensive hiking trails. Enjoy a jaunt through the thick forests which riot colour throughout September and early October.
Best of all, the Adams River, which lies inside the park, is one of the top salmon run viewing destinations in Canada. Come to watch the salmon run, as well as the bears, coyotes, wolves, and other animals feast on the plentiful fish. To maximize the wildlife’s safety as well as your own, come armed with binoculars and telephoto lenses. That way, you can appreciate the salmon run from a safe and respectful distance.
From Tsútswecw provincial park, head over to Shuswap lake herself. Here, enjoy views of colourful forests and warm waters. Swim and soak in the early September sun. Even better, rent a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard to enjoy the calm waters of this enormous lake. Scuba diving enthusiasts can even book an excursion to explore shipwrecks and come face to face with some of the salmon during their time here. A trip into the pretty town of Salmon Arm offers something for everyone. Poke around local shops or walk on Canada’s largest inland wooden wharf. Here, you can view birds and wildlife all year round thanks to the protective sanctuary that allows them to thrive here.
Soak in more scenes of pristine nature with a hike through the Herald Provincial Park Forest. This park is a delight to leaf peepers thanks to the deciduous understory and the black cottonwood trees that punctuate the cedar forests with their bright yellow fall leaves.
From Salmon Arm, head out to visit Sicamous and the Monashee mountains. Here, mountain bikers can rent a bike and enjoy the famous Monashee trails. Hikers can enjoy the scenery on foot with a hike or a walk through this quaint tourist town.
A fall road trip through Canada’s Shuswap region offers something for everyone. From nature and adventure to relaxation and luxury, this area has it all. Spas and hotels line the lake shores. Foodies can enjoy treats from lakeside pubs dotted throughout the area. Wine tastings and beer tours are available for the connoisseur. For a truly Canadian experience, stop at the After Dark Distillery in Sicamous. Tour the Monashee Mountain Moonshine Distillery, whose roots harken back to the days of prohibition. Be sure to book a night in Sicamous after this experience to sleep off the day’s libations. You will want to be well-rested to enjoy this top fall road trip in Canada.
3- Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
Summer hangs on a little longer in Eastern Canada, making late September to October the best time to head out. This is the perfect time for an iconic Canadian fall road trip on Highway 60 through Ontario’s Algonquin Park.
This area is home to over 34 species of trees, only nine of which are evergreen. Throughout the fall, a huge variety of colours will greet road trippers eager to experience the beauty of Canada’s Autumn.
From mid-September to early October, the sugar maples and red maples turn the park a brilliant red. From early to mid-October, the so-called “yellow encore” has the brilliant golden fall leaves of the birch and poplar trees adding colour to the mix. In mid to late October, Tamarack, the only species of conifer to change and shed its needles, turns a brilliant yellow as well.
Peepers who want an insight into which trees are changing can check out Algonquin’s Fall Colour Report. This resource was made especially so that fall road trippers can plan their trips to the park.
Throughout Algonquin, beautiful campgrounds allow visitors a place to rest and a base from which to enjoy the many hikes of the park. The Lookout Trail, Centennial Ridge, Two Rivers, Jack Pine, Ragged Falls, and Hardwood Lookout trails are all popular with visitors. They range in length from under one kilometre to just over ten. Days end earlier in the fall, so remember to take the time and plan your hike so that you are back before sunset.
If hiking isn’t for you, Algonquin Park is also considered one of Canada’s best sea kayaking and canoeing destinations. Rent a boat and enjoy the sights and scents of fall from one of the many lakes or rivers inside the park. Fall road trips in Canada are a great way to see wildlife, as animals tend to be more active at this time of year. Watch out for moose, a very common sight on fall road trips in Algonquin Park. Keep an eye out for black bears, as they rush to eat the last berries before their long winter hibernation.
On your Autumn road trip to Canada’s Algonquin park, be sure to spend one night camping. Fall is the best time to hear the park’s resident wolves howling- an experience you won’t want to miss.
4- Laurentian Mountains, Quebec
If you are looking for a fall road trip in Canada that is full of history, nature, and a little luxury, the Laurentians are the perfect place to visit. A short drive from historic Montreal, the Laurentians are full of things to see and do.
September and October bring autumn colours to the area, which sees fall earlier than surrounding regions in Quebec thanks to its higher elevation and gorgeous maple foliage. If you are a foodie, then opt for your Canadian road trip to begin in September. Gatineau’s famous Gourmand Festival will keep your mouth watering with local delicacies. Sample locally made cheeses, wines, and gourmet dishes while enjoying this historic town at the foot of the Laurentians. Take a stop at one of the Nordic Spas in the area to relax and digest all the food you’ve sampled before continuing on to more adventures.
If you want your epic fall road trip through Canada to include some local history, opt to visit the town of Chelsea. Here, the carefully preserved Mackenzie King estate is located. Once home to Canada’s eccentric and longest-serving Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, the estate boasts early 1900-style architecture. It has stunning gardens and grounds, and interpretive historical displays. The forests surrounding the estate are particularly stunning in fall, making this a perfect- and very Canadian- stop to take on your fall road trip in Canada.
The Laurentian Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in the world, with precambrian rocks dating back to over one billion years ago. On your road trip, don’t miss hiking to get up close and personal with the unique nature and geology of the region. The Doncaster River loop near St. Adele, Liberator Harry trail, L’Envol, L’Assomption, and Mont Ouareau areas are all favourites for hikers in this beautiful area.
The jewel of the Laurentians is definitely Mont Tremblant. Here, you can zipline through the forest to enjoy the leaves. If high speed isn’t your style, ride the gondola to appreciate views above the canopy. Hikes on Mont Tremblant wind downhill through the woods and are suitable for most hikers. If you want a truly unique experience, take the Tonga Lumina trail. This dramatically lit nighttime trail is full of beautiful scenery and stories to discover.
Plan to spend a day or two of your epic Canadian fall road trip appreciating all that Mont Tremblant has to offer!
5- Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
In October, the Cabot Trail comes alive with colour, making this scenic route one of Canada’s best autumn road trips. Best visited in early to mid-October, the Cabot trail features views of Cape Breton’s highlands.
Along the trail, there are lots of activities and attractions for the whole family to stay entertained. Cape Breton is ripe with culture, and the Cabot Trail passes through some of the best of it.
Visitors who stop by in mid-October (the best time for fall travellers) can attend the Celtic Colours festival, based out of Baddeck. This International festival features music, traditional dancing, food, and fun. It celebrates the Celtic roots of Canada’s East coast settlers. Though based in Baddeck, the festival has events happening all through Cape Breton.
There are even special guided interpretive tours of some of the parks, offered by Parks Canada. History buffs taking a fall road trip in Canada will love learning about Eastern Canada’s unique Acadian culture. Les Trois Pignons cultural museum and the Centre de la Mi-Carême both celebrate Acadian culture and folklore. Both centres hold special events during the Celtic Colours festival as well.
For folks looking to eat local, the Cheticamp farmers market is famous for its delicious fare and for its East coast flavours. Be sure to try some of our famous Atlantic Cod, Lobster, or one of the many delicious seafood dishes that Canada’s Maritime region is known for. Hikes along the Cabot trail are plentiful, and the views are spectacular. The Mica Hill trail leads you up through Acadian mixed forests to plateaus with 360-degree views of coastal villages, rugged fault lines, and sparkling outcrops of mica and quartz.
The Cape Smokey provincial park has a six-hour return hike to take you to the top of Smokey mountain for more great views of the Atlantic sea and surrounding coastal villages. If you are a birder, take a jaunt down the Jigging Cove trail, where migrating birds pass by, as well as other varied wildlife.
For history buffs, the Lone Shirling trail is protected from the elements and rewards hikers with a life-sized replica of a Scottish Crofter’s hut at the hike’s turnaround point.
Any road trip in Canada’s East Coast would not be complete without taking to the water. Book in for a whale watching or puffin tour while you are in the area to enjoy some of Canada’s beautiful marine life and to connect with locals who can regale you with tales of the sea.
Our Favourite Fall Drives and Autumn Road Trips in Canada
No matter where you decide to take a fall road trip through Canada, you are sure to be rewarded with breathtaking scenery, delicious food, and memories to last a lifetime. Pack up your favourite sweater, a thermos for a warm beverage, and hit the road to discover the Autumn beauty of the Northern wilderness here.
Think we missed something in our guide to the best fall drives and autumn road trips in Canada? Tell us your favourite tips and places to see in the comments below!
About The Author
Jamie Pratt is a freelance writer based in Edmonton, Alberta. When she is not writing she guides for Fresh Adventures, showing many lucky visitors some of her favourite places in the Rockies. During winter you can find her somewhere deep in Patagonia, Chile, guiding hikers through the gorgeous wilderness with her partner.