Of all the countries I’ve visited over the years, one that really captured my heart is Canada. I’ve been lucky enough to explore the country from the Vancouver Island in the west to Prince Edward Island in the east. But with the east and west coasts tending to get most of the attention, I was keen to see what central Canada – the heart of the country – had to offer. So my sister and I took on an epic Canadian adventure, travelling by RV on a Calgary to Toronto road trip.
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Along the way we found everything we’d expect from Canada – spectacular landscapes, wildlife, great hiking and kayaking routes, First Nations history and delicious food and drink – but with a few twists in there too. We discovered Prohibition-era secret underground tunnels, learnt about local heroes, swam in clear turquoise waters and fell in love with life on the road.
Travelling from the prairies to the lakes with their contrasting landscapes it felt like two different trips in one, and gave us just a taste of the diversity this beautiful country has to offer. So if you want to hit the road across the heart of Canada too, here’s my itinerary for a two-week Calgary to Toronto road trip, taking in four provinces, three time zones, five Provincial Parks and something like 2800 miles – with what to see and where to stay along the way.
Calgary to Toronto road trip map
A note on driving times and distances: driving times are based on Google Maps estimates and don’t include stops along the way. Road conditions can vary so the same mileage can take different amounts of time in different areas. Daily driving distance/time figures cover getting from place to place and don’t include drives within the parks themselves.
You also need to factor in time zone changes along the way. Alberta uses Mountain Time (GMT -7 hours), Saskatchewan and Manitoba use Central Time (GMT -6 hours), and Ontario uses Eastern Time (GMT -5 hours). And to make it more complicated, from March–November you add an hour on for Daylight Savings – except in Saskatchewan which stays the same.
Day 1: Arrive into Calgary
Arrive into Calgary Airport and check into your hotel before heading into the city for the evening – the Route 300 Airport-City Centre bus takes around 30 minutes. Climb to the top of the Calgary Tower to watch sunset across the city skyline, and on a clear day you can see out towards the Rocky Mountains. Then head to Kensington Village for dinner, a historic village-style neighbourhood with lots of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Where to stay in Calgary: As we only had one night in Calgary we stayed out close to the airport to make things as easy as possible (especially with the jetlag). There are a good selection of airport hotels to choose from – we chose the Marriott In-Terminal Hotel which was right on the airport’s doorstep, with a pool, gym café-bar and restaurant on site.
Day 2: Calgary to Medicine Hat
Spend the morning exploring more of Calgary – take a walk along the river, visit the Glenbow Museum, National Music Centre or Fort Calgary. Then after lunch, pick up your RV or hire car. Most of the hire centres are close to the airport, and there are Safeway and Sobeys supermarkets nearby where you can stock up on supplies before hitting the road. Then start your Calgary to Toronto road trip by heading south-east on Highway 1 towards Medicine Hat.
Total driving: 185 miles/297 kilometres – approx 3 hours
Where to stay near Medicine Hat: Cottonwood Coulee Golf Course and Campground is just south of central Medicine Hat. The site is on the edge of the golf course on a grassy lawn surrounded by trees, with 15-amp power and water hookups, bathrooms and free showers.
Day 3: Medicine Hat to Regina Beach
Leave Alberta behind and cross over into Saskatchewan (don’t forget to put your clocks forward after you pass the town of Walsh). This stretch of road was where I found my classic prairie landscapes – those long straight roads disappearing into the horizon, vast fields of yellow canola flowers, wide open skies. It’s something unique to Canada with its own special beauty.
Make a stop off in the town of Moose Jaw (245 miles). This was definitely not what I expected from a prairie town – it was nicknamed ‘Little Chicago’ during Prohibition and was a favourite haunt of gamblers, bootleggers and gangsters like Al Capone in the 1920s. Today it’s still got lots of historic charm, and was one of my favourite stops along the route. Call into the Deja Vu Café for wings and milkshakes before heading back 100 years at the Tunnels of Moose Jaw.
The tunnels were used during Prohibition to produce and supply alcohol across the border, but they’re now an interactive museum. Gangster’s moll Miss Fanny took us on a trip back in time on their ‘Chicago Connection’ tour, where we posed as wannabe bootleggers, climbed through a fireplace and were chased by the police. Moose Jaw also has its own thermal pools so allow time for a relaxing soak before driving onwards, turning off onto the 641 towards Regina Beach.
Total driving: 300 miles/480 kilometres – approx 4 hours 40 mins
Where to stay in Regina Beach: The Happy Camper campground is 25 minutes from Regina and 5 minutes from Regina Beach, one of the area’s most popular beaches during the summer with its sandy beach and clear waters for swimming. The site has 30-amp power hookups, washrooms and coin-operated showers. And don’t miss nearby Sweet Pea’s Homemade Pies and Jams – their tasty Saskatoon berry jam was one of my top souvenirs of the trip.
Day 4: Regina Beach to Winnipeg
Make an early start so you’ve got time to stop in Regina. Our trip coincided with Canada Day so we joined in the city’s celebrations, watching First Nations dancers and homemade plywood boats race across Wascanal Lake, and stuffing ourselves with poutine. Other things to do in Regina include visits to Saskatchewan’s legislative building, the Royal Saskatchewan natural history museum and the RCMP Heritage Centre – home to Canada’s famous Mounties.
Carry on east and around halfway you cross into Manitoba (a good time to stop and stretch your legs – I could never resist a photo at the welcome signs for each province), where you may need to put your clocks forward if it’s Daylight Savings. This stretch of road follows the Canadian Pacific train tracks, and I lost count of the number of carriages on the trains running alongside us. Turn off onto Highway 100 just before Winnipeg and take the 59 to Ile-des-Chênes.
Total driving: 408 miles/657 kilometres – approx 6.5 hours
Where to stay near Winnipeg: Arrowhead RV Park is about 10 minutes south-east of Winnipeg. It’s a popular spot, especially at weekends when it’s a good idea to book in advance. There are 30- and 50-amp powered sites, which are mostly pull-through, with full hookup for water, drainage and power. There’s also wireless internet, a laundry, bathrooms and showers.
Day 5: Winnipeg to Aaron Provincial Park
Head into Winnipeg (16 miles) to spend the morning getting a brief taste of the city. You can visit the impressive Canadian Museum for Human Rights to find out more about human rights in Canada and around the world, explore the area’s past at the Forks National Historic Site or visit the polar bears at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Then it’s time to get back on the road, following Highway 1 across into Ontario, where clocks go forward another hour.
What really struck me on this section of the route was how quickly the landscape changes, swapping the wide, flat open spaces and long straight roads of the prairies for twists and turns, ups and downs as we navigated our way past lakes and forests to Aaron Provincial Park. It’s a quiet spot on the banks of Thunder Lake with sandy beaches where you can take a dip. Just before reaching the park you pass through Dryden where you can stock up on food and fuel.
Total driving: 218 miles/350 kilometres – approx 3 hours 45 mins
Where to stay in Aaron Provincial Park: Aaron has just one campsite which is located alongside Thunder Lake. Around a third of its 100 pitches have electrical hookups and there are bathrooms, showers, a laundry and a small park shop on the site, where we stocked up on firewood for our all-important nightly campfire and marshmallow toasting sessions.
Day 6: Aaron to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
Continue south-east on the Trans-Canada Highway, driving 16 miles past your final destination at Kakabeka Falls first off for a journey into the past at Fort William Historical Park. The park is a living history recreation of an 1815 fur trading post, so we got to wander around the buildings and talk to a diverse cast of local characters, from trappers to native Cree elders and the town governor, making it a really fun, interactive way to learn about the area’s history.
Then head back to Kakabeka Falls for the night (15 miles). At 40 metres high they’re Ontario’s second largest falls. And although they might not have quite the height of Niagara, they’ve got a much more peaceful, laid-back feel without the high rises. The Kaministiquia River thunders over the edge, uncovering some of the world’s oldest fossils in the rocks below. Boardwalk pathways leads around the falls, with clouds of spray creating rainbows everywhere we looked.
Total driving: 192 miles/308 kilometres – approx 3 hours 15 mins
Where to stay in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park: Kakabeka Falls has three campgrounds, all a short walk from the falls. Riverside and Fern’s Edge are both non-electrical but Whispering Hills, where we stayed, has electrical hookups for almost all pitches, with some pull-through sites. There’s a park store on site plus bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities.
Day 7: Kakabeka Falls to Lake Superior
Drive on through Thunder Bay – where there are a few supermarkets if you need to stock up – making a brief stop at the Terry Fox Memorial (26 miles). With a panoramic view of Lake Superior, the statue commemorates Terry Fox, who lost his leg to cancer and planned to run across Canada on a ‘Marathon of Hope’ in the 1980s to raise money for cancer research. He made it through 143 days before having to give up in Thunder Bay when his cancer reached his lungs, but the annual Terry Fox Runs set up in his memory have raised millions of dollars.
Carry on towards Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park (44 miles), which makes a good stop for lunch. The canyon cuts a dramatic slice through the landscape, stretching across 150 metres wide and 100 metres deep. We followed a kilometre-long boardwalk path right onto the canyon edge and peered down into the depths. It’s so deep it has a separate microclimate, with alpine flowers growing at the bottom which are usually found 600 miles to the north.
Then follow the Trans-Canada Highway as it hugs the shoreline of Lake Superior. Ontario has around 250,000 lakes, but this is a lake on a serious scale – straddling the US/Canadian border and covering the same area as Austria, it’s the world’s largest freshwater lake and even has its own tidal system. On a sunny day it was like being by the ocean, with sandy beaches and the water stretching out in front of us – a really peaceful spot to spend a couple of nights.
Total driving: 365 miles/588 kilometres – approx 6.5 hours
Where to stay in Lake Superior Provincial Park: The park has two campgrounds – Rabbit Blanket Lake and Agawa Bay. We stayed at Agawa Bay, adjacent to Highway 17, which turned out to be my favourite of the trip. Pitches are set among towering pine trees and stretch out along two miles of Lake Superior shorefront. So it’s only a few minutes from the beach – perfect for a sunset G&T. The site has electrical hookups, bathrooms, a laundry and visitors’ centre.
Day 8: Lake Superior Provincial Park
Start the morning with a dip in the lake if you’re feeling brave – on a sunny day we couldn’t resist, but with temperatures averaging 17°C (63°F) even in summer it’ll definitely wake you up. Then spend the day exploring the park. There’s a mix of things to do, with a hikes at different levels of difficulty, as well as canoeing, fishing and boat trips. We decided on the peaceful 4-mile Crescent Lake hiking route, which runs through an ancient Yellow Birch forest.
The park isn’t just known for its natural beauty, it’s also a site of cultural importance. The Agawa Rock Pictographs are Canada’s best-preserved rock paintings, painted by the Ojibwe people to record their dreams and stories. You’ll see snakes, people and mythological creatures like the spiny-horned Misshepezhieu painted on the rockface. Though they’re right on the water’s edge so getting there’s an adventure, involving clambering along rock ledges holding onto a chain.
Day 9: Lake Superior to Killarney
Follow the road south towards Sault Ste. Marie on the border with the US – this is said to the most scenic stretch of the whole Trans-Canada Highway (but I’ll have to take their word for it as it was blanketed in thick fog the morning we drove it…) so factor in extra time for photo stops along the way if the weather’s good. Then the route heads inland, passing Espanola and Sudbury, where you can refuel, before looping around back towards the coast.
Unlike our other Provincial Parks, Killarney has a town nearby (7 miles), which started as a 1820s trading post and now has a LCBO (off licence), general store and a couple of places to eat – Killarney Mountain Lodge Resort and Herbert’s Fisheries. So if you don’t fancy cooking you can head out for dinner. I had some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten at Herbert’s Fisheries, freshly cooked and eaten on the dockside where you can sit and watch the boats come in.
Total driving: 330 miles/530 kilometres – approx 6 hours
Where to stay in Killarney Provincial Park: Killarney’s campground is close to Lake George, and was the only site we visited without electrical hookups, so make sure your power is charged up if you’re RVing. The site has bathrooms, showers and a laundry. The campground does have bears, so be aware if you’re hiking, and make sure not to leave any food out or drop any litter.
Day 10: Killarney Provincial Park
Killarney’s beautiful landscapes were made famous by the Group of Seven artists, a group of 1920s Canadian landscape painters who were inspired by the pink and white colours of Georgian Bay and the La Cloche Mountains. When one of the artists, AY Jackson, heard the area was going to be logged, he petitioned the Ontario government and got them to make it into a park.
The park’s really popular with canoeists, with a network of 50 lakes. We headed out for a morning paddle on George Lake, exploring the shoreline and learning about the park with our guide from Killarney Outfitters. The water’s an amazing clear green (and another good spot for a dip), contrasting with the pink granite rocks and white mountains. There are also plenty of hiking routes, including the Granite Ridge Trail (1.5 miles) for views out over the park, and the Chikanishing Trail (2 miles) which leads down to Georgian Bay on the shore of Lake Huron.
Day 11: Killarney to Algonquin
The last big journey of our Calgary to Toronto road trip leaves the Great Lakes behind and heads inland. Stop off along the way at the French River Trading Post’s Hungry Bear restaurant (53 miles), for one of its famous butter tarts – a Canadian speciality with a gooey filling made of butter, sugar, syrup and eggs in a pastry case. Then turn off the Trans-Canada onto Highway 141 just after Parry Sound, passing Huntsville where you can stock up on fuel or supplies.
Algonquin is Ontario’s oldest and largest Provincial Park, with a mixture of maple-covered hills and rocky ridges as well as 1500 lakes to explore. Algonquin’s proximity to Toronto made it the busiest park on our route, especially at weekends, but as it covers a huge 2950 square miles it’s not to hard to find your own space. Highway 60 runs through the park so it’s easy to get in and around, and there’s a visitor’s centre, restaurant, logging museum and art centre.
Total driving: 215 miles/346 kilometres – approx 4 hours
Where to stay in Algonquin Provincial Park: Algonquin has 12 campsites, mostly set along Highway 60, eight of which are suitable for RVs. We stayed at Rock Lake, which is 5 miles south of the highway, accessed via a bone-shakingly bumpy unsealed road that had half our food bouncing out the RV’s cupboards. The site has electrical hook ups for over half its 100 pitches plus bathrooms, showers, laundry, a visitors’ centre and two lakefront beaches.
Day 12: Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin is another popular spot for canoeists, with over 1200 miles of canoe routes. We took a peaceful paddle through the lily pads on Costello Creek with a guide from Algonquin Outfitters, who’d just come back from seven weeks canoe touring through the park without seeing another person! Along the way we bird-watched and kept our eyes out for bear, beavers and moose.
But when I finally saw my first Canadian moose it wasn’t from a canoe or on a hike, but out of the RV window on our way back to the campground. We stopped to watch her munching on greenery, totally unphased by the audience. Algonquin has so much to do it’s hard to narrow down just a day’s worth – we walked the Lookout Trail (1 mile) with views out over the treetops, but there are tons of hiking routes as well as mountain bike trails and trout fishing.
Day 13: Algonquin to Toronto
Leave Algonquin behind for the last drive of the trip, following Highway 11 south past Lake Simcoe to Toronto. We dropped our RV off outside the city at Cruise Canada’s offices in Bolton and took a taxi into Toronto, or if you have a hire car you can drop it off at the airport and take the Union Pearson Express train which reaches downtown in 25 minutes.
Swap park life for Toronto’s city streets and spend the afternoon exploring. There’s a wide range of different things to see and do depending on your interests – culture lovers can try the Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario, foodies the St Lawrence Market and the Steam Whistle Brewery, or sports fans the Rogers Centre and Hockey Hall of Fame.
Total driving: 180 miles/289 kilometres – approx 3 hours 15 mins
Where to stay in Toronto: The Thompson Hotel is a boutique hotel in the smart neighbourhood of King West Village, with stylish, light, modern rooms. But it’s its rooftop pool and bar which really make it worth staying at, with panoramic views out across the city skyscrapers. After a cocktail on the roof, head to the Distillery District for dinner, an area of restored Victorian red-brick warehouses that’s now a hub for independent bars and restaurants.
Day 14: Toronto
Spend the morning seeing more of Toronto. One of the city’s must-dos is the climb to the top of the CN Tower where you see can as far as the US on a clear day – and hang off the edge on the Edge Walk if you’re feeling brave. We decided on a slightly less adrenaline-fuelled adventure with a boat trip to the pretty Toronto Islands, a group of 15 islands just offshore. Then it’s only 25 minute by train back to the airport and the end of your Calgary to Toronto road trip across the heart of Canada, where I’m sure you’ll have fallen just as much in love with it as I did.
Visitors to Canada need to purchase an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) before buying their tickets to Canada. An eTA costs $7.50 – anyone charging more than that is not the official Canadian government site.