Last summer, I achieved a lifelong goal. I drove from Toronto to Vancouver. Seven days. Six nights. 4,772 km. One of the best experiences of my life.
When I was researching to prepare for the journey, I didn’t find very many recommendations on the internet for how to do this trip. However, just about everyone I know has either done this drive before or wants to do it, so I thought my little bit of road trip experience might be useful to you, dear Internet. Here you are.
We did the drive in a week at the end of July. It was beautiful weather in every province, so I was quite satisfied with our timing. The sun is also up for a good 15 hours per day this time of year, so we didn’t have to drive in the dark at all.
By the way, I didn’t do this trip alone. When I say “we”, I mean my friend Matt and I. Matt is an angel who left his job for a week to help me fulfill my dream of moving across the country. Yay, Matt!
This Google Map gives you the rough route we took. It took us seven days and six nights in total. You could definitely make the trip longer or shorter, depending on your preference.
We bought actual physical maps of Canada in case we had a cell service issue, but in the end, we didn’t use them. We were able to complete the trip using Google Maps, although you should definitely familiarize yourself with offline mode.
Here are some estimates for the amount of driving we did each day.
Oakville, Ont. (where I grew up) – Manitoulin Island, Ont. = 6 hours driving + 1 hour and 45 minutes on the ferry
Manitoulin Island, Ont. – Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ont. = 12 hours driving (eek!)
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ont. – Winnipeg, Man. = 6 hours driving
Winnipeg, Man. – Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, Sask. = 8 hours driving (with a stop in Estevan, Sask.)
Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, Sask. – Banff National Park, Alta. = 8 hours driving
Banff National Park, Alta. – Revelstoke, B.C. = 3 hours driving (some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip!)
Revelstoke, B.C. – Vancouver, B.C. = 6 hours driving (we made it!)
I would also note in terms of route that we made regular stops for food, sightseeing and gas. So, we were on the road for a bit longer per day than just the driving time.
The Best Eats
I committed a great blogging sin on our road trip – I forgot to photograph my food. I was famished after a four hour drive from Manitoulin Island. When we arrived at the wonderful Breakfast Pig in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., I wolfed that brunch down.
The Breakfast Pig felt like a hidden gem in the Soo, packed with locals, cheese and delicious carbs. I honestly don’t remember what I ordered (another blogger sin, I know!), but I know it was super tasty and left me feeling prepared for the mammoth trek ahead through Northwestern Ontario.
Favourite Camping Site
We wanted to spend the majority of our trip outdoors and camped for four out of six nights. For our night in the Thunder Bay area, my friend Emma recommended Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and I’m so glad she did.
The name of the park comes from a series of hills that look exactly like a giant who fell asleep. Our Sleeping Giant brochure included a fascinating Ojibwe legend explaining how the giant came to find his final resting place. Our campsite was right on Marie Louise Lake, perfect for a refreshing swim after a long drive.
Sleeping Giant also has many hiking trails of varying difficulty. Due to time constraints, we opted for a short trail through a moose habitat. Unfortunately, we encountered thousands of mosquitos and no moose, so I can’t recommend that trail specifically, but I’m sure many of the other hikes in Sleeping Giant are lovely.
If you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing park in the Thunder Bay area, I would definitely recommend Sleeping Giant.
The Surprise Highlight
While we hugged the Trans Canada Highway for the majority of our trip, we made one small detour on the recommendation of a friend. The detour has a name — Estevan, Sask. and it is a small town full of prairie brilliance. We stopped for a hearty lunch of pub food at the Tower Cafe and went for a short walk around the historic buildings on 4th street. We particularly enjoyed a local mural, showing how bustling Estevan may have looked 50 years ago.
If you want to get the real Saskatchewan small town experience off the beaten track, I would definitely recommend Estevan.
Our detour to Estevan had the added benefit of taking us through smaller Saskatchewan highways where we really experienced “the land of the living skies”. This was probably the most relaxed driving of the trip — empty neverending roads are one of the things Saskatchewan does best.
The Cutest Buffalo
So, the contest for cutest buffalo is a little unfair as we only saw on herd of buffalo on our trip and that was in Buffalo Pound Provincial Park. However, they were really cute!
This peaceful park features grassy rolling hills, wetlands, a lake and of course, the eponymous buffalo. It was a great spot for us to catch our breath and relax in the middle of our trip.
The Tourist Trap I Never Wanted To Leave
If you google ‘Canada’, you’ll get a picture of Lake Louise and there’s a reason for that. It’s friggin’ beautiful.
When Matt and I started planning this road trip, we knew that one of our camping nights had to be in Banff National Park. My mom studied at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity when I was a kid. She sent back postcards covered in mountains and stories about encounters with caribou. Ever since, I have always wanted to visit Banff.
Banff did not disappoint.
There are crowds. There are line-ups. There are cartoonish statues of moose wearing mountie uniforms and endless shirts that say ‘Canada, eh?’. But it’s so worth it.
Banff is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Our campsite was absolutely picturesque — a little plot of land halfway up a mountain surrounded by humongous pine trees.
Whether we were hiking or mingling in the small town, it was like we were surrounded by people fulfilling their dreams. There were couples celebrating their 40th anniversary, people spending hours staring out at the endless skyline and big families singing by the campfire.
Banff is a special place to many, many people. So, I would come prepared to share the experience with strangers, but I would also say it is definitely worth the trip.
The Best View
There are beautiful views aplenty along the Trans Canada Highway and it is tough to choose a favourite. For me, one of the most memorable views came on the last morning of the trip. We woke up and climbed Mount Revelstoke. Alright, the word “climbed” is a little misleading. We drove to the summit of Mount Revelstoke, hiked for a short half hour up a road and found ourselves faced with an absolutely incredible view.
This was our first full day in British Columbia. Looking out at fields filled with wildflowers, the glacial waters of the Columbia River and snow-capped mountains piercing the horizon, I felt so much pride and joy to know that this province would be my home.
This trip took quite a bit of planning, organization and coordination from Matt and I. I’ve tried to include the key details that I think would be helpful to someone who is planning something similar. That being said, feel free to pose your road trip-related questions in the comments. I know there are others out there who share my dream of driving through this beautiful land. It is a life-changing experience and something I think every Canadian should have the opportunity to do.