Canada, eh? So vast, so beautiful and so varied, it’s a place I am proud to call home. Admittedly, I’ve always been a destination traveler. Europe, South East Asia, Caribbean, the States – I’ve missed out on a lot of what is in my own “backyard.”
One of my bucket list items is to travel cross-Canada one day. Start East, head West, stay West. But since I haven’t done that just yet, for now I can tell you about my two favourite places in Canada so far: Thunder Bay, Ontario and the Rocky Mountains, Alberta.
It’s no secret that those of us from Thunder Bay have an insane amount of pride about it. Why? I’m not exactly sure because a lot of us have left, haha, and also because there is a lot not to be proud of. But in leaving is also where I discovered this incredible union of T-Bayers all over the country, and even further around the world.
A certain patriotism exists unto this mighty Northern town, and it’s something I really came to appreciate, but only after-the-fact (watch this – it expresses my sentiments exactly, and this video just never gets old for me).
In the words of many, there is a lot to say about why Thunder Bay “sucks,” but let me tell you about why it’s great:
- The great outdoors. You’re on the tip of Lake Superior and you never forget it. The city itself isn’t much to write home about (though our restaurant scene is getting better), but the true star of the show up here is life outside the city, or at camp.
Camp – [noun] a permanent or seasonal place of residence on or near a body of water, specifically referred to by North Western Ontario-ans. Otherwise known as cottage, cabin or lake-house by Southern Ontario-ans and/or other provinces.
Not to be confused with Camping – [verb] the act of tenting out in the woods or at a campground.
- The people. Okay, here I am biased because I was born and raised in this city and some of my closest friendships are still bundled into the 100,000 person-population, but the people here are really just one of kind, and generally so kind at that.
- The pace. I live in Toronto, so it goes without saying that what I miss so much about home is the pace. To be able to drive anywhere (including camp) in max 25 minutes, I mean, it can’t be beat. The daily grind that tears you down in the big cities just doesn’t exist here, in a good way.
And now for a place that to me, feels like home…
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
Have you been? It’s jaw-dropping, breathtaking-ly beautiful.
Alberta, to me, feels closer to home because you get access to big cities (Calgary/Edmonton for example) without the congestion and bustle of Toronto. If anyone isn’t Canadian reading this right now – come visit, you’ll see what I mean.
I’ve referenced this before, but truly the mountains changed me. When I went for the first time, I couldn’t believe what I had been missing out on, and I’ve spend the last 4 years traveling at least once or twice a year to make it to the mountains and seek a level of peace I simply have yet to find anywhere else in the world (okay that, and to go get my two-step on at the Calgary Stampede).
The best places I’ve been so far, and trust me I have BARELY scratched the surface on all the hiking, scrambling and camping there is to be done here, but in no particular order I give you the following hit list (be still, my heart).
- Kananaskis Country. The options are endless and the views are unparalleled. Pocaterra, East of Rundle, Sarrail ridge – so many hikes, so little time! I hiked Ha Ling Peak in January a few years back and although I wouldn’t classify this as a “winter hike” (she’s steep), it was amazing to be rewarded by the snowy views at the top, and bonus, I was completely alone the whole way.
If you’re going hiking in Kananaskis, I’d recommend to stay in Canmore, and visit Banff (vs. staying in Banff) because you’ll get a bit of a slower, more laid-back vibe here. Also – check this list out before you go.
- Banff/Lake Louise. Obviously, right? Moraine Lake, I’ve heard, has become the most photographed body of water in the world (or something like that – don’t quote me exactly). But rightfully so. This is my happy place. My most favourite photos to look back on, and my most fond memories of Alberta begin with Moraine.
Hiking up to Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass will take you through 3 or 4 different levels of terrain and scenery, with a few sneak peeks of Moraine’s turquoise-blue water on the initial ascent. Stunning.
This winter I visited Lake Louise, and the highlight here was a hike up Abbot Pass Viewpoint (via the Plains of Six Glaciers), ending with a steep climb to the Big Bee Hive/Lake Agnes which was just everything. Happiest day of my life? Maybe.
- Jasper. Insert heart eye emoji here. The city is sweet, the views are unreal, the hiking, amazing. The drive here alone was a highlight unto itself – ripping down the Icefields Parkway with my windows down and music turned up – just bliss. It’s about 6 hours from Calgary, so you’ll have to plan for this one more-so than Canmore/Banff or Lake Louise.
These places can all be really (like really) touristy, so I don’t visit them every time – but I had to include them here because they’re iconic for a reason. Just be respectful folks. The beauty here is so far beyond us that we have to be grateful, and treat our surroundings with care and gratitude.
TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT TRIP!
When to go: Yah, you want to come!? Do it. Thunder Bay is best if you know people who can tour you around, but if not, I’d say stick to the warmer months unless you’re a glutton for punishment (think -40 in the winter).
How to get around: Rent a car. Taxi service is completely unreliable, the buses are not familiar to me, and most places you’ll want to see will require you to drive there anyways.
Overall recommendation: Thunder Bay is a gem. With the biggest Finnish population per capita (outside of Finland) we’re known for our pancake + sauna houses, which are a definite must-try if you’re passing through.
Hiking to the Cascades, or Silver Islet (the Sleeping Giant) or on Mt. McKay are great to get your steps in, and you can treat yourself to some local beer or grub afterwards at a number of local hot spots.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
When to go: Well, like I said, I do love winter hiking but I know it’s not for everyone. Summer or Fall is good and just make sure you bring bear spray (and respect the signs where trails are closed because of Grizzlies #arrivealive).
How to get around: Rent a car. This is always best for me, but there are bus services here that are more reliable. If you’re hoping to get to particular trail heads though, and not just the access points from the hot spots like Lake Louise or Banff (shuttle services are a plenty here), get yourself a set of wheels to be free on the open road.
Overall recommendation: Just do it. I use All Trails to help me find details on each hike that I want to tackle, so I’d suggest to download the app to help in your search efforts to find the perfect hikes that work best for you.