Incredible Outdoor Experiences Less Than 3 Hours from These Canadian CitiesBy Lucas Aykroyd
As the world’s second-largest country, Canada abounds with remote natural wonders. But what if viewing the aurora borealis in the Northwest Territories or visiting the Athabasca Sand Dunes in Saskatchewan isn’t feasible for you?
Happily, you can have incredible outdoor experiences near major Canadian cities. From whale watching and river rafting to rock climbing and hiking, it’s time to explore the inspiring options within easy driving distance (mostly two hours or less).
And as always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
Just under an hour away, in Banff National Park, the ultra-blue, glacial-fed Moraine Lake dazzles with one of Canada’s most-photographed vistas for hikers.
Indulge your inner Indiana Jones with Canmore Cave Tours, rappelling six stories down beneath Grotto Mountain and viewing stalactites and stalagmites. It’s a little more than an hour west of Calgary.
Minutes from downtown, Scarborough Bluffs comprises 11 parks, with lake swimming, butterfly-watching, sculpture gardens and sunset views from the cliffs.
Go to the Cheltenham Badlands, an hour outside the city center, to view an extraordinary landscape of red-rock ridges and gullies. Nearby, you can explore the forest canopy via Tarzan swings and suspension bridges at Brampton’s Treetop Trekking.
In Spruce Woods Provincial Park, two hours west of the Manitoba capital, Spirit Sands offers an easy hike amid the province’s only sand dunes. Keep your eyes peeled for rare nonpoisonous reptiles like the hognose snake and northern prairie skink.
In Vancouver, cycling around the Seawall in Stanley Park — a 1,000-acre oasis of huge Douglas firs and Western red cedars next to downtown — is just a starting point. Head to nearby Granville Island to take a Prince of Whales whale watching tour, spotting orcas and sea lions from a 12-passenger boat in the Salish Sea.
On Vancouver’s North Shore, Grouse Mountain awaits. Reach the summit, 4,100 feet above sea level, via the Peak Chairlift. Or take the Skyride aerial tramway or hike the thigh-burning Grouse Grind trail to the Peak Chalet, at 3,700 feet of elevation.
Then go zip lining or paragliding or check out grizzly bears in the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife.
An hour drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway, you can go rock climbing on Squamish’s Stawamus Chief, one of North America’s biggest granite monoliths.
For fans of water sports, there’s nothing quite like the Lachine Rapids in Montreal. This popular whitewater stretch of the St. Lawrence River features jet-boat tours, river-rafting, canoeing and more.
The adjoining Île aux Hérons Migratory Bird Sanctuary covers more than 1,500 acres, with opportunities to spot great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds and yellow warblers.
On a rainy day, the tranquil Muttart Conservatory beckons with 700-odd plant species, from orchids to pomegranate trees, inside four glass pyramids.
Halifax has a famous seafaring history, which you can learn about at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where more than 120 Titanic victims were laid to rest. Getting out in nature provides a deeper understanding of the Nova Scotia capital’s relationship with the ocean.
Create buoyant memories for yourself with a sea kayak outing around Peggy’s Cove with East Coast Outfitters.
Or bike along the largely flat, 74-mile Rum Runners Trail from Halifax to historic Lunenberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll soak up coastal views while passing through fishing villages and pausing to devour freshly caught lobster. From coast to coast, Canadian nature never disappoints.