• Nova Scotia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia

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ROAD TRIPS

We criss-crossed Canada to find your favourite summer journeys. These routes won't break the bank and were designed with kids in mind. So pack up the car, get on the road and make some memories together—it's a great way to see the country.

  • Nova Scotia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia


SOUTH SHORE LIGHTHOUSE ROUTE

BY LOLA AUGUSTINE BROWN, MOM OF TWO

The Lighthouse Route along Nova Scotia's South Shore will have you checking out local MLS listings before you get home. The first time I visited, back in 2008, I fell for the area so hard that I decided to move here from Vancouver with my daughter, then 18 months old. She's seven now, and we repeat various legs of the trip annually. Last summer, with my new husband and baby son in tow, we went all the way down the coast, and it was magical—an old-fashioned family road trip that showcased the best of the province.

Start at Peggy's Cove (the site of Canada's most famous lighthouse), less than an hour southwest of Halifax, and drive along Highway 333. Winding roads hug the rocky coastline through quaint fishing communities, with brightly painted houses and stacks of lobster pots in their front yards. The roadside restaurants serve up some of the freshest seafood you'll ever taste, at low, local prices.

In Lunenburg, famed for its storybook gingerbread houses, check out the indie boutiques and businesses. There's a great playground overlooking the ocean and plenty of places to stop for ice cream. You'll find adultrefreshments at Laughing Whale Coffee Roasters, and craft booze at the Ironworks Distillery—in a former marine blacksmith's building. (The owners are happy to demonstrate how the still works for your kids—my daughter loved this.) Visit the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, with displays about whaling (like a massive whale jaw bone and a harpoon to climb on). There's also a small aquarium with touch tanks, and a team of retired mariners who share sailors' yarns to accompany the exhibits. Stop at the boatthemed play area outside, too.

Carters Beach, an hour and 15 minutes southwest of Lunenburg, is stunning. Its three bays are safe for swimming and so clear and blue, you'd swear you were in the Caribbean (if only the water were a little warmer). The white, sandy beaches are ideal forbuilding sandcastles, and kids will love splashing around in the fresh water stream and lagoon behind the beach, too.

One hour inland, at Kejimkujik National Park (locals just call it “Keji”), Parks Canada offers guided canoe tours for $15/person, but families should book early. Bookings open May 19.

*Total trip cost (food, lodging and activities included)

  • Nova Scotia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia


ST. LAWRENCE NORTH SHORE

BY KARAN SMITH, MOM OF THREE

"I said bonjour to the emus!" said my three-year-old, as we peeked around a barn full of ostrich-like birds in Saint Urbain, Quebec. They looked at us with huge eyes, their long necks bobbing over the pens. The scene at Centre de l'émeu de Charlevoix is just another typically unique road-trip stop in Quebec. Unlike the box-store landscape of many Canadian highways, Quebec makes memorable pull-over-and-park experiences easy. (Always important when travelling with kids.) Driving northeast from Montreal, along the St. Lawrence River to Baie-Sainte-Catherine, feels like a trip into the past, when troops defended Quebec City and wooden schooners plied the St. Lawrence.

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It's also what makes this journey into La Belle Province perfect for a young brood. My three children—ages three to eight—like to be in motion. And no one sits still for too long on this trip; it's an itinerary that can be done in three to five nights.

Quebec City was our first overnight stop. The kids clambered up the ramparts and counted cannons.

In the Charlevoix region, north of Quebec City, active stops abound: climbing inside beached boats at the Maritime Museum in Saint-Joseph-de-la- Rive; wading and picnicking at Saint-Irénée beach; burning off fresh blueberry ice cream on the lawn beside the Laiterie Charlevoix dairy farm in Baie-Saint-Paul (fromagescharlevoix.com). The emu farm is less than 30 minutes from Baie-Saint-Paul (the location of our second hotel), and the itinerary's end point, Baie-Sainte-Catherine, is two hours further north. There, at the confluence of two rivers, boats bring tourists out onto the water to look for beluga and humpback whales. (Try Croisières Dufour, $36 to $75 per person, dufour.ca. They also offer a family price of $200 for a family of four for the bigger boats, 2 adults + 2 children under 12).

Road trips mean a lot of time spent buckled in, within pinching distance. But our family vacations differ from my own cross-country journeys with my sisters years ago. For one, my dad's Anne Murray cassettes have given way to my kids' obsession with Minecraft parody songs. And after years of roughing it, we've traded sleeping bags for hotels. But I love watching the memories being made as my youngest spent her souvenir budget on an accordion busker and my son savoured made-that-morning cheese curds (or "squeakies," as he calls them).

*Total trip cost (food, lodging and activities included)

  • Nova Scotia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia


ALGONQUIN PARK

BY HEATHER GREENWOOD DAVIS, MOM OF TWO

If it's a summer Friday in southern Ontario you can count on this: Parents everywhere are trying to sneak out of the office and pack up the kids to join the convoy of cars slowly inching their way north—it's a treasured tradition. National Geographic recently named the Muskoka region one of the “100 places that can change your child's life.” Head north to Algonquin Park for a very Canadian family-camping vacation — canoes, marshmallows and moose-sightings included. In less than four hours you and your kids will be surrounded by pristine water and sky-high pine trees, and city stress will melt away.

Skip the road rage and frustrated backseat-ers by leaving on any day but Friday, or by taking a more local route to avoid all the traffic. If you hop on Highway 48 instead of the 400 (before joining Hwy 12 over to Hwy 11), you'll avoid the logjam and be rewarded with scenic Lake Simcoe views. Stop for an ice cream treat in the village of Jackson's Point at the bubble-gum pink Maple Leaf Dairy Bar.

Algonquin—Ontario's largest provincial park—offers as much adventure as your family can handle. There are more than 2,000 kilometres of canoe routes and portages (including beginner level), walking trails as short as one kilometre (great for little ones), and three backpacking trails. Print or pick up a trail guide before you go and hand it over to the kids so they can lead the family on the walk of their choice (algonquinpark.on.ca). We left iPads and touch-screen games at home for the weekend and responded to any whining with old-fashioned suggestions like rock skipping and collecting sticks.

After setting up at Mew Lake Campground, your ultimate Algonquin destination, catch the sunset. Close the night with a campfire, roasted marshmallows and sticky smiles.

On day two, get a better sense of Algonquin's history at the Visitor's Centre. Sign up for in-park programs like birdsong workshops, painting classes or night walks, while the kids get a kick out of the animal dioramas. The free Wi-Fi (shhh) means the grownups can sneak a quick checkin, too. Don't miss the nearby Algonquin Logging Museum and Trail, which is an easy 1.3-kilometre loop. There are historic logging artifacts along the way, including a caboose camp and a steam-powered tug for kids to climb on.

*Total trip cost (food, lodging and activities included)

  • Nova Scotia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia


INTERLAKES REGION

BY TIMOTHY SAWA, DAD OF FOUR

If your kids are anything like mine—they jump with delight (not horror) at the sight of a snake scooting across a prairie highway—wait until they see the Narcisse Snake Dens. The largest congregation of snakes in the world gathers here twice a year, usually in May and early September, 90 minutes north of Winnipeg (and it's free!). Picture tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes (don't worry, they're not poisonous), coiled in tangled balls.

If you're squeamish about snakes, maybe this isn't the stop for you. But Narcisse is only the start of a two-day Manitoba road trip into the province's Interlakes Region, where you'll also find sunny beaches, Icelandic donuts and a 15-foot-tall Viking.

Pack snacks and water bottles and head north from Winnipeg on Highway 17. On most sunny days in May, the snakes venture out of their winter caves to do what animals do in the spring, before moving on to nearby marshes for the summer. In September, catch the snakes again as they return to their dens. The on-site guides will even show you how to pick up and handle a garter snake safely, if you're brave. Before you go, check the park website for den-by-den updates.

Spend a few hours exploring the walking trails and snake dens. In Inwood, about 20 minutes south of Narcisse, keep an eye out for “S-s-sam and S-s-sara,” a roadside statue of two huge intertwined garter snakes. Another hour east on Hwy 229 brings you to Winnipeg Beach. Then turn north and head for Gimli, where you'll spend the night.

Gimli, a historically Icelandic town, is a family favourite. The area comes alive in summer, when ice fishing is replaced by windsurfers and sailboats, a waterfront film fest July 26 to 30, and an Icelandic heritage festival during the August long weekend. Check out H.P. Tergesen & Sons, an old-style general store that's been operated by the same family since 1899 (beware, there's a toy section).

Adventurous eaters in your crew should try the panfried pickerel cheeks—a local delicacy (we like Beach Boy Restaurant on 1st Ave.). Or try the “kleinur”—sugared donuts—at Reykjavik Bakery.

After a day or two of wearing yourselves out on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, head south. You'll be home in 90 minutes— plenty of time to scrape the pretzel crumbs and apple cores from under the car seats.

*Total trip cost (food, lodging and activities included)

  • Nova Scotia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia


DRUMHELLER & THE BADLANDS

BY LISA KADANE, MOM OF TWO

“I found a dinosaur bone!” my daughter, Avery, then seven, called out during a hike in the Alberta badlands. After inspecting the evidence, my husband and I concurred: Our budding palaeontologist had indeed discovered fossilized remains from one of the giant reptiles that roamed our province 69 million years ago. “Maybe it's from a T. Rex or a triceratops! Maybe there are more!” she exclaimed.

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This easy, 1.5-kilometre walk along the gravel interpretive trail outside the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller became much more interesting once the kids were on dino patrol, anticipating fossil specimens around every hoodoo and coulee (a.k.a. rock spire and small valley). The region's unusual geography of domed sandstone formations and winding canyons was created by wind and water erosion—the same forces of nature that help to reveal new dinosaur discoveries, like Avery's, every year.

Yes, Alberta has beautiful mountains and scenery in Banff, but our kids will tell you that their favourite summer road trip is driving east from Calgary about 90 minutes to Drumheller, ground zero for all things dinosaur in Canada. From an early age, both Avery and our son, Bennett, played with dinosaur toys and books. To fuel their reptilian-obsessed imaginations, we drive directly to the dino-source every few years.

Our kids love looking at the skeleton replicas inside the “dinosaur museum” (the Royal Tyrrell Museum). If you can, sign the kids (ages seven to 12) up for a 90-minute Jr. Dig Experience ($20 per child). They also love climbing to the top of the World's Largest Dinosaur in downtown Drumheller, while my husband and I prefer photographing the otherworldly scenery and prickly pear cacti during hikes in Horseshoe and Horsethief Canyons (canadianbadlands.com/cbl/tours).

The Drumheller Valley has a rich mining history, too— visit the Atlas Coal Mine to experience that part of Alberta's past. Geologist Joseph Tyrrell (after whom the museum is named) was exploring coal deposits in 1884 when he discovered the Albertosaurus skull that would put Drumheller on the dinosaur map.

We never did find out what kind of creature Avery stumbled across. You're not allowed to take fossils home, so we left it for another family to discover.

*Total trip cost (food, lodging and activities included)

  • Nova Scotia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia


THE PACIFIC RIM LOOP

BY DAVID LEACH, DAD OF TWO

The wild west coast of Vancouver Island is where our nation's blacktop finally ends, and lush coastal rainforest collides with the Pacific Ocean—the last gasp of big waves rolling in all the way from Japan. The route from the Lower Mainland to Pacific Rim National Park packs the best of BC into a six-hour drive: big mountains, big trees, big beaches, big fun.

Catch a multi-level car ferry (with a restaurant and kids' zone) from either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen. (About $110 for a family of four. Reservations are a good idea on long weekends.)

Put away the gadgets for the two-hour trip and play “I Spy” from the upper deck, watching for eagles, seals and orcas as you pass the Gulf Islands. Disembark in Nanaimo and drive north to Parksville. This stretch of Vancouver Island's east coast has wide, shallow beaches that reveal their wonders at low tide. (My kids found enough sand dollars to feel like millionaires.) Parksville is also home to two big minigolf courses. We chose Paradise Fun Park for the bumper boats with water cannons ($50 per family, paradisefunpark.net). As I hopelessly steered a giant purple saucer, my son soaked anyone who came near us— he's never laughed so hard.

Follow the Pacific Rim Highway westward across Vancouver Island. In Cathedral Grove, my kids improvised balance beams and obstacle courses from the fallen massive Douglas firs and Western red cedars.

When you smell the salt breeze, you'll face a tough decision. Drive north toward Tofino, home to hippies and surfers? Or head south to Ucluelet, a logging community turned tourist village, with access to the coastal Wild Pacific Trail? You can easily explore both towns, a 30-minute drive apart. The Kwisitis Visitor Centre is a good first stop in Pacific Rim National Park. Sign up for a geocache treasure hunt or a walking tour with First Nations guides.

Last, steer back south all the way to Victoria. The Garden City might conjure images of tea-sipping grannies waving the Union Jack, but BC's capital city is full of fun for kids. Peacocks roam Beacon Hill Park, with a splash park and petting zoo ($3 to $4, beaconhillpark.ca).

*Total trip cost (food, lodging and activities included)

ROAD TRIP BINGO

CLICK the items you spot from the car window. If you get four in a row (down or across) shout "Bingo!"




CAR GAMES KIDS LOVE

ONCE UPON A TIME Take turns telling a tale, line by line. Let the youngest make up the first sentence. Go clockwise through the car, with each person adding a new twist. Use a smartphone to record the fun—you might end up with a new family classic!

BEGINNING TO END Using road signs, licence plates and billboards, look for letters of the alphabet. Begin with the letter “A.” Once you find it, move on to “B” and so on. Try and do the same thing with numbers. Too easy? Tell the kids to start at “Z” and work their way backwards.

GIDDY-UP This is the perfect game for a country drive, but you’ll need a sharp eye and a quick tongue. The first person to see a field of horses and call out “HORSES” gets one point per horse. If there are too many to count, use the honour code and guess (parents can help the younger kids). But watch out: The first one to see a cemetery and call out “Graveyard! Bury your horses!” wipes out the other players’ scores.

IMAGINE THAT As you travel, pick an object or sight you can see from the car and have each member of the family take turns coming up with different uses for it. For example, a silo could be a rocket ship, a huge crayon or a baby bottle for giants. If there isn’t much happening outside the window, get creative with items that are lying around inside the car.

KARAOKE MASTERS Before you leave, create a playlist with your family’s favourite, easily recognizable songs. Play the first few seconds of each tune, then pause it and give everyone an opportunity to guess which one it is. Whoever correctly identifies the song gets to sing along.