The nip in the air in Western Canada has me thinking about the best places in Canada to enjoy the beauty of autumn. Most people think they need to visit northeast USA to see the fall foliage, but we have our own fantastic destinations right within our borders that will blow you away.
In Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains sugar maples and golden birch trees are plentiful and the red, yellow, and orange leaves are best seen in September and October. The rolling hills and mountains, rivers and provincial parks provide numerous opportunities to enjoy nature. Mont Tremblant, most famous for its ski resort, is only a day trip from Montreal or Ottawa. The area is known for its outdoor activities, such as hiking, golfing, fishing, and canoeing. The best way to the top of the mountain is the Panoramic Gondola. The eight-minute trip provides breath-taking views of Lac Tremblant, the Laurentians, and the surrounding valleys. At the top are numerous hiking paths and a birds of prey exhibit. This year, due to covid, the gondola is only open until the middle of October but usually the ride is open year-round. The last week in September is the Symphonie des Couleurs in Saint-Donat, just a short distance from Mont Tremblant. There are many activities for both the young and old to enjoy celebrating the season.
I imagine that Kitchener-Waterloo is not top of mind when considering fall destinations. But the unique German Canadian heritage of the area has led to the largest Bavarian festival in Canada and second largest in the world. If you are not able to get to Germany for Oktoberfest during the pandemic, Kitchener is the next best option. The nine-day festival begins on the Friday before Thanksgiving. The best-known draws are the beer-based celebrations, but there are other cultural and entertainment attractions throughout the week. The largest celebration is the parade held on Thanksgiving Day. As they like to say, “raise a stein, enjoy delicious Bavarian cuisine from our local restaurant partners, polka around and toast all that we love about Bavarian Culture and our communities.”
Fall is when Cape Breton comes alive. I know I wrote about the Cabot Trail in my summer destinations blog, but it is also one of the best ways to take in Cape Breton’s coastal fall colours. Drive, ride a bike or hike as much or as little as you want. If you are a golfer, fall is the best time to visit the island with three of Canada’s top ten golf courses and a stunning array of fall foliage. Hiking is also a great way to see the autumn colours. Cape Breton has dozens and dozens of hikes that vary in length and difficulty. Plus, there are waterfalls all over the island to visit. Visit in October and you can take in the Celtic Colours Festival, a nine-day festival celebrating Cape Breton Island’s traditional culture. The festival is one of Canada’s premiere musical events and a Celtic highlight for the visitors from many different countries. You won’t be able to walk past a building without hearing a fiddle somewhere.
As the summer season ends, the air becomes crisp, leaves change, and the grizzly bears become more active. They are almost non-stop foraging for food, as they need to fatten up for hibernation. They also begin to dig dens in the sides of hills. The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is one of the best places in Canada to see grizzly bears. This area is approximately 400 kilometres long, spanning from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan Panhandle. One of the easiest ways to get there is to fly from Prince Rupert to Khutzeymateen Provincial Park. This provincial park was the first area in Canada to be protected specifically for grizzly bears and their habitat. Besides grizzly bears you may also see brown bears and the elusive spirit bear, which has naturally white fur. Other activities in the area include sport-fishing, heli-hiking, and canoeing. I would also recommend a stay at Spirit Bear Lodge, which is owned and operated by the local First Nations band. Many of the staff members have lived in this remote part of the country their whole lives and are adept at knowing the best locations to see the bears.
Alberta’s Rocky Mountains are another destination that is even more stunning in the fall. The weather in September and October is relatively warm and dry, and since summer is over, most of the crowds have left. Fall can be fleeting here though, so be prepared in case the weather changes. The best way to see the area is to drive the Icefields Parkway from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park, or vice versa. It is one of the best spots for fall foliage. Here, the golden larch trees are spectacular. Visit Moraine Lake with some of the bluest water but arrive early to make sure that you get in before the parking lot fills up and the rangers close the road. From here hike the Larch Valley to Minnestimma Lake. I recommend stopping at Lake Louise and hiking up to the Lake Agnes Tea House for beautiful views over the lake. Enjoy a walk down main street in Banff, do some shopping at the boutique shops and enjoy ice cream before visiting the candy shop for some gifts to bring back home. Wildlife roams freely throughout the area, so bring your camera and some noisemakers, just in case.
Even though winter is coming, take the time to enjoy one of the most beautiful seasons in Canada. In this day and age, you cannot go wrong enjoying a vacation in your own backyard!
Text by Heidi Lawrie, B-Side Travel