Wondering how to plan a road trip in Canada? Well, this step by step guide has you covered. We got everything from road tripping through cities, towns and parks in Canada, plus essential tips and mistakes to avoid.
We are also sharing our road trip style. So here’s the ultimate Canada road trip planning guide.
How to Plan a Road Trip in Canada – Step by Step Guide
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Decide where you want to go
Canada is full of stunning destinations, and they are AMAZING for road trips. From coast to coast to coast, there are hundreds of routes to choose from – from one-day trips, weekend getaways, to weeks or even month-long trips.
So, your first step is to make a bucket list of places you want to see or the route you wish to embark on for your Canada road trip.
Use the following resources to start planning
- Browse through our Canada destinations category for inspiration
- Pinterest is a great option to curate a bucket list. Here is our Pinterest profile/boards
- Prefer Instagram instead? Use that to create a list of scenic spots to discover on your road trip
- Lonely Planet Guide books
Our top pick for Canadian road trips
- Canadian Rockies Road Trip: The Canadian Rockies from Calgary to Yoho National Park, road tripping through Banff National Park, Lake Louise, and Yoho National Park
- A weekend road trip from Edmonton to Jasper National Park
- Or Banff to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway, one of the most scenic drives in the world
- Edmonton to Vancouver, with stops at Kelowna, Vancouver Island in British Columbia
- Road trips in Saskatchewan, starting in Saskatoon to Grasslands National Park, Qu’Appelle Valley, Cypress Hills
- Or opt for an all-city road trip from Regina with stops in MooseJaw, Yorkton, Prince Albert
- Head across the province from Saskatoon to Winnipeg in Manitoba for a full day drive, stopping along the way in many border towns – get the road trip itinerary here
- In Ontario, drive the scenic routes leading to many national and provincial parks from Algonquin to Blue Mountain and the Niagara Falls from Toronto
- Enjoy quick drives from Halifax to Peggy Cove, and beyond in Nova Scotia
- Coastal drives on the Maritimes Prince Edward Island, Cabot trail
From western Canada to the northwest territories to the east coast, there are tons of options!
When are you planning to travel for your road trip
Whether it is a city bound road trip or a journey through our national/provincial parks, it is important to make note of the seasons. Seasonality will determine if road accessibility will be smooth, or if accommodations and attractions will be crowded.
Here are some quick tips to remember
- Spring and fall – These are off season months in Canada. Finding accommodation in cities and small towns this time will be easy, minus fewer crowds. Fall is our favorite time to visit as the weather is still warm, and attractions not too crowded. Spring is a tricky situation for visiting Parks, as many of the sightseeing spots may not be open.
- Summer – Summers are a great time to embark on a road trip. We recommend choosing the country-side to escape the crowds. If you are hitting the popular national parks like Banff (from Calgary or Edmonton), ensure you start early to beat the traffic rush. When we drive back to Edmonton from Banff on the weekends, there is traffic! Being a peak season, book campsites, hotels and other tours/attractions ahead of time.
- Winter – Driving in winters can be tricky, so ensure you follow winter driving regulations. Although winter is not a peak season, some of the destinations (that are popular winter vacation spots in Canada) can be all filled up really quick from international visitors.
Winter Road Trips
As we mentioned winter driving in Canada has its challenges. Think slippery road surfaces, unpaved lanes, blowing snow to name a few. This is not to disencourage you, but after having traveled (for pleasure and work) in Canadian winters, here are some useful tips.
- Winter tires – Super important to have winter tires on, all-seasonal ones are a no go.
- Winter windshield fluid – Don’t forget car fluid!
- Slow down – While driving in the winter, drive slow, maintain distance. Be very careful when you drive in residential areas or make turns
- Packing – Keep woolens in your car to stay warm, in case you are stranded. In winters you might face road closures (due to accidents or natural disasters), so it is important to keep warm clothes and some snacks in the car
- Check local news before you start – Check the weather and local news to ensure it is safe to embark on road trips, and the route is clear. Any forecasts about the weather and road conditions will help you determine if additional travel time is required
- Travel time – Add extra travel time to your road trip duration
Accommodation: Hotels, RV, Campervan, Camping
When you are road tripping in Canada, there are tons of options for accommodation. Let’s start the obvious,
- Hotels & Lodges: Whether it is a country-side, city or national park, you can book a hotel, lodge or a cabin for your accommodation. Book them ahead of time, especially during peak seasons. Also hotels in popular destinations like Toronto or Banff could get expensive, if you book last minute.
- RV & Campervan: One of the popular ways to explore national parks in Canada is on a campervan or an RV. Almost every city will have an RV renting place, from where you can book an RV and save money on hotel accommodation. It is also a nicer alternative if you do not own a lot of camping gear.
- Camping: If you are planning to camp overnight, ensure you reserve camp-sites when bookings open for the season. And of course, ensure you carry the right camping gear for your trip. You do not need to reserve for day camp sites (like picnics as part of your road trip), especially in provincial parks.
Plan it on Google Maps
Google Maps are an amazing tool to plan and plot your road trip itinerary. You can create the map on your Google account (on the desktop/laptop) and then view it on your phone. Ensure you have offline maps enabled, as sometimes cell tower connectivity in parks and country-side may not be that great.
To plot the itinerary, open Google Maps, then save your starting point. Use the ‘direction’ option to get from road A to B, and go from there. Repeat these spots to keep adding all the places you want to visit on your Canada road trip.
Also, add your hotel, any attractions you wish to visit inside a city or national park. When you click the location on your phone or computer, you will see the opening hours, reviews if any.
On your phone, ensure you have GPS settings on. (Settings > Google Maps > Location > select “Always”)
Again, download offline maps on your phone. Once you have the Google Maps downloaded on your phone, search for the route you have created on the desktop.
Getting Ready: Checklist prior to your trip
Just before you start for your road trip, preferably a few days prior, ensure you do a quick run-through.
- Clean your car prior to your trip
- Get it to the servicing center
- Ensure your license/registration has not expired
- Inform friends/family about your trip
- Don’t forget navigation systems/Google maps
If you are renting a car, the rental company usually takes care of the car maintenance. But it is your responsibility to take note of any dents/scratches to report to the company later, plus record the mileage.
Road Trip Packing Essentials
While preparing for a road trip to Canada, it is essential to pack the right things (and pack them!). Don’t overpack, but ensure you have the essentials to get you to the road trip and back.
We love to travel light, and our road trips are no different. However we do not compromise on the required items. Of course, if you are on a campervan or RV on rent, the list might be slightly different.
So here’s the list
- Clothes – Pack essential clothing for the trip. If it is a 2-day road trip, pack 2 sets of shirts/tops, one pant, underwear, light jacket
- Comfortable shoes – Wear comfortable shoes. It is helpful while you are behind the wheel or taking rest stops (for a stroll) or out and about exploring
- Pair of flip flops – Flip flops are useful inside the hotel or at the beach
- Warm clothes (for winter) – While driving in Canadian winters, don’t forget warm clothing from jackets/ parka, warm socks, gloves, to beanie
- Hand warmers are great little items to keep inside the car. They are cute little pouches that heat up upon friction. Click to buy hand warmers here.
- Travel Mug – Coffee and tea lovers, pack your travel mug, and refill it on the go!
- Water bottle – Super important, carry your water bottle. Stay hydrated!
- Healthy snacks – LOVE this care package, and they are healthy snacks to carry on your road trip. Munch them if you are hungry, whilst feeling light!
- Sunglasses – The sun can be a little harsh while driving in Canada, especially in the afternoon or evenings. Carry and wear your favorite sunglasses. I LOVE my Rayban Ericka and Aviator, which are made of polarized glasses
- Sunscreen – Summer or winter, sunscreen is a must.
- Hand cream – We keep a hand cream inside our car, cause summer or winter, our hands get super dry on the roads in Canada. Pick up a nice hand cream with your favorite fragrance
- Flashlight – Super handy if you are camping or even driving overnight
- Emergency car kit – An emergency car kit is essential should things happen on the road. You can create one from scratch or buy one pre-pack from Amazon. Here is an emergency car kit from the Canadian government site. Either way, ensure you carry it on your road trip.
- Emergency first aid kit – Check the first aid kit inside the car (check for expiry dates). If you don’t have one, here is one that you can buy from Amazon.
- Dashboard mount for phone or GPS – Go hands-free while you are driving. Use a dash mount to keep your phone or GPS for navigation.
- GPS or navigation system – Don’t forget navigation systems or Google maps (offline) on your phone. Prepare it with your routes prior to your trip. It is also important to keep TomToms (or any navigation system) up-to-date.
- Charging cables – Unless your car has cable-free charging, it is important to pack one for your road trip. We do have wireless charging in our car, but it can only charge one at a time, so we also carry charging cables (to charge the second phone and to charge inside the hotel). Click to purchase yours
- Playlist – No road trip is complete without an amazing playlist. Save it on iTunes, or your iPod. Radio is also a good option for entertainment but it is tricky in certain parks and you may not get a consistent frequency.
- Camera – We always carry our camera on our trips. Our Sony mirrorless camera is usually the one that comes with us on our quick road trips. It is small, compact, and lightweight to carry around. You can also snap photos from the car (passenger duty!). Click to view our mirrorless camera.
- Cell-phone – Don’t forget your cell-phone. Stay connected with family, let them know where you are heading. Store the hotel or campsite contact information, plus roadside assistance number for emergencies.
- Car freshener – Refresh your car, using refresher. I LOVE vanilla or lavender based fragrances, super yummy (smells pretty haha). View car refreshers here.
- Small pillow – Salil never forgets to pack a small pillow for me! And I love it, nice when you want to relax whilst soaking in the views. Click to grab your travel pillow!
- Blanket – An emergency blanket is included in the kit/s mentioned above. This is completely optional and you can pack a proper blanket. We always pack one. I am always cold while the A/C is on, so it is super handy for me.
- Day pack or weekender bag – A day bag or a weekender bag is useful to carry your clothing, day hikes, or sightseeing needs. Or something to store road trip essentials. Here is a 25L day pack.
- Road trip games – License plate, sing-along, card games (for kids)
- Camping essentials – If you are camping, carry essentials for your overnight stay
- Hiking essentials – Dayhikes essentials list, here is a handy list from MEC Canada
- Travel insurance – Car insurance is essential, so is travel insurance if you are traveling from overseas. For the car, you can also secure insurance with the rental company when you pick up the vehicle.
Pack a Hygiene Kit
Keeping in mind, with today’s new normal, it is important to carry a hygiene kit. This is something that you have to create itself, as there is no pre-made ‘hygiene kit’ available to purchase. Here is what you should have
- Reusable face masks – Carry a few reusable face masks, depending on the number of passengers in the car and the duration of the trip
- Hand sanitizer
- Disposable gloves
Always maintain 2 metres distance while embarking on sightseeing or walks at local parks. Check local news, to ensure the parks and sightseeing attractions are open, and that there are no restrictions in terms of movement or quarantine regulations.
Driving in Canada Basic Tips
The most common cars on the road in Canada are left hand drive vehicles. The steering wheel is on the left side of these vehicles as the cars are driven on the right side of the road.
Things to remember:
- Ensure you have a valid driver’s license (Canadian, US, or International)
- Must be at least 21 years of age to rent a vehicle
- Get car insurance
- Canada uses kilometres and metres to measure the distance (unlike miles used in the USA). 1 mile = 1.609 km
- The typical speed limit in most provinces is 100 km/h (62 mph) or 110 km/h (68 mph).
- Statutory speed limits for school zones tend to be 30 or 40 km/h (19 or 25 mph) in urban areas and 50 km/h in rural areas.
- 120 kilometers per hour is the fastest you can go on Canada highway. The province of Ontario is especially strict, with a maximum speed of 100 kph.
- When you are driving to national parks speed limits will differ, depending on major routes (90 km/hr max.) and secondary routes (60 km/hr max.)
- Be mindful of wildlife corridors and posted wildlife signs along the highways
Mistakes to avoid while road tripping in Canada
1. Not taking ample breaks
It is crucial to stop and take breaks on your road trips. In Canada, there are gas stations, convenience shops, and rest-stops where you should stop by to take a break. Washrooms are also free to use in gas stations here.
2. Rushing, and not allowing enough time
Road conditions are good in Canadian highways, but it is a good idea to enjoy the trip and go slow (of course no speeding and adhering to traffic rules). Soak in the views, stop if needed to take a break. Eat, stretch your legs, enjoy – that is the fun part of embarking on road trips.
3. Follow a loose itinerary – don’t plan everything to the T
To enjoy a road trip to the fullest, don’t plan everything to the T. Have a rough idea about the route, attractions covered, but don’t be afraid to stop at a place longer if you like.
4. Not booking hotels or camp reservations in advance
Imagine embarking on a road trip with high spirits (and gear/bags) and when you arrive at the city or park, you realize that a hotel or camp-site is not booked. You might be able to find a hotel, but room rates could be expensive. Campsites are hard if you don’t reserve ahead of time.
5. Not grabbing snacks or good music
Healthy snack items are a good idea if you are not planning for a meal stop on your road trip. Don’t forget water! And a good playlist is key!
Typical Road Trip in Canada: Our version
We LOVE taking road trips in Canada – that is our favorite way to explore cities, small towns and national parks here. We start pretty early on our trips. Here is how we do it
Few weeks to a month
- Decide where, and when we want to go. Usually, we opt for long weekends (or Friday + long weekends)
- We book hotels, attractions or camp reservations
- If you are traveling from overseas, reserve car rental around the same time
A week prior to roadtrip
- Mayuri: Ready with her weekend bag, all packed 🙂 Starts plotting Instagram spots for photography
- Salil: Takes the car for servicing, prepping for the road trip
A day before the road trip
- Salil: Fills up gas, and packs his backpack. Checks weather.
- Mayuri: Doesn’t sleep, she is super excited about the trip. Does her nails, finishes small tasks around the house
- We start as early as possible. During summer/autumn months, we start around 5:30 am or 06:00 am
- Stop by Tim Hortons for coffee/tea (SUPER IMPORTANT)
- We take breaks every hour or so. Stop by attractions.
- Have brunches together
- Late evening, we check-in to our hotel. Wander around the national park or the city
- Repeat, next day (2,3,4….)
- We return the day before, we have to start for work, preferably by late afternoon/evening. This way we have enough time to prep for the next day, or relax at home
This is how we like to do our road trips, and have been doing it together since 2011. Having lived in 3 different provinces in Canada, we are lucky to see such gorgeous landscapes year after year, without going too far.
We hope you found this guide to planning a road trip in Canada useful. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below!