Destin-Nation Canada: Adventure with a Capital Eh

If Mexico is America's backyard, fenced in places and cluttered with the remains of yesterday's projects, Canada is the front lawn: The north country is green, welcoming and perfect for a roll in the grass.
If Mexico is America's back yard, fenced in places and cluttered with the remains of yesterday's projects, Canada is the front lawn: The north country is green, welcoming and perfect for a roll in the grass.

In the popular imagination, Canadians are guileless and affably naive, but in reality they must be a cagey lot. All those Bullwinkles have squirreled away more than their fair share of natural beauty. Bookended by New Foundland and Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island in the west, Canada is Choc-A-Bloc with mountains, forests, prairies and tundra, most of which are both accessible and empty.

In the winter months Canada offers myriad skiing, skating, tobogganing, luging, tubing, ice-climbing and snow ball fighting options and there is no less to do come summer, when adventurers can head to the coasts for water sports or make a stab at various and sun-dried peaks.

And the place could not be more accessible. Make a wrong turn in New Hampshire: Hello Canada. Turn right at Seattle: Welcome to Canada. Board an American or Alaska Airlines flight from New York or Chicago to Vancouver: Boom, Canada.

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Destin-Nation Canada: Adventure with a Capital Eh

Whistler Blackcomb is one of the best loved ski destinations in North America, and for good reason: It's huge. Not only do the mountains boast the longest vertical drop of any slope on the continent--5,280 feet--but more than 8,000 acres of terrain that varies widely from powdery bowls to pined glades. Skiers willing to wake up early will be rewarded with lonely runs and sweeping views even though, thanks to the 2008 Olympics, Whistler now sits squarely in the middle of Canada's beaten path. 

Unfortunately, popularity leads to higher prices and a 15 day ski pass costs 899 Canadian Dollars, which are currently more valuable than U.S. Dollars though that relationship is prone to frequent changes. The cost is worth it however as nothing short of the Alps can really compete with these mountains. 

Getting There: Whistler sits about 2 hours and 70 miles north of Vancouver and 5 hours or 210 miles north of Seattle so travelers willing to rent their own cars have an advantage in terms of choose flights. Alaska Airlines offers the most, and generally the cheapest, flights to Seattle from the midwest and New York. Air Canada offers roundtrip service from NYC to Vancouver for a little over $300.

The water may be cold, dark and choppy, but diving off of British Columbia offers the relentlessly amphibious a chance to swim with dolphins and seals while listening to whales carrying on nearby. Puget Sound contains fairly healthy ecosystems and tremendous biodiversity thanks to kelp forests. While visibility isn't wonderful most of the year, what divers do see is singular: massive octopi, six-gill sharks and huge anemones. 

There are a number of outfitters on Vancouver Island and some in the city itself, but two of the best are Suncoast Diving and Langley Diving, both of which are located in mainland towns just north of the border.

Getting There: Fly into Seattle or Vancouver.

The most popular route up this two-towered peak runs along the mountain's southwest ridge and can be covered in one day by an efficient hiker. The Goodsir Towers are clad in glacial white year round and look out of Yoho National Park, a particularly pristine piece of British Columbian forest. The taller Goodsir is roughly 10,700 feet high and its twin is only slightly shorter so the air at the top is thin, but not hard to breath.

The massive massif can be dangerous - rocks are known to become rock falls in a hurry - so even adventurous types would be wise to stick to the path. Wanderers can satisfy themselves by bushwhacking through the forest at the mountain's base, looking for caves and waterfalls. Yoho is a removed enough park that explorers will likely find themselves alone with their thoughts and/or bears.

Getting There: Yoho is a two hour drive from Calgary on the TransCanada Highway.

Drumheller would seems like little more than a quiet town in central Alberta's Red River Valley if it wasn't for the 86-foot tall Tyrannosaurus towering over main street. Welcome to the Jurassic: Drumheller is in the badlands, the dino-fossil capital of the world, and home to the Royal Tyrrel Museum of Palaeontology, a massive museum devoted exclusively to the extinct giants. The museum has an excellent field program that allows visitors to dig for bones at nearby excavation site. The dirt-averse should stay away, but adventurers who don't mind getting a little bit of Canada under their nails may very well find the bones of Hadrosaurs. 

Yes, fossils would make terrific souvenirs, but what happens in Dinosaur Provincial Park stays in Dinosaur Provincial Park - for the sake of scientific progress.

Getting There: To visit Drumheller, travelers will need a rental car. The closest city is Calgary, which sits 85 miles away. Calgary is only an hour and a half flight from Seattle on Alaska Airlines or Air Canada. The tickets retail for about $400.

During frigid Canadian winters, skaters glide by a river bank dotted with parliament buildings, historic sites and refreshment stands. This serene, European-like surrounding isn't your average ice rink - it's a canal. The Rideau Canal is a functional waterway for recreational boats during the summer months, transforming into a romantic setting for skaters in the winter. The skating rink provides a unique way to see the heart of the city. In addition to views of the grand Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel, the canal offers an outdoor art gallery on ice and toasty rest areas for tired skaters along the skateway. Every February, the Winterlude Festival also brings activities such as a Winterlude Triathlon and ice sculpture competitions to the canal.

It is officially the world's largest skating rink at 4.8 miles. With scenic views, famous beavertail snacks (flat cinnamon sugar pastries) and hot chocolate, the canal offers something for everyone - even non-skaters.

Getting There: Ottawa International Airport is just 15 minutes away from the Rideau Canal.

Urban warriors from the U.S. will find something very patriotic about climbing Toronto's CN Tower, the world's former tallest building has 1776 steps. Climbing the tower is painful, but is a great way to raise money for the charities that use vertical races as a way to raise money. The World Wildlife Fund sponsors an annual climb as do the United Way

Races test runners' endurance to the extreme then reward them with a beautiful, sweeping view of the city. Everything is visible from 1,815 feet up. For those who want to take in the view under more extreme circumstances, there will be the Edge Walk, a tour set to open in a month that will allow visitors to circumnavigate the outside edge of the tower while lashed securely to the building. This is not for the faint of heart. 

Getting There: Toronto is Canada's biggest city and is easily accessible by direct flight from almost any major hub in the U.S. Flights from Chicago on American Airlines or Air Canada for around $150.

The rugged coastline of eastern Canada is the perfect place to go paddling not only because the scenery is relentlessly beautiful, but also because the ocean is alive here with whales, dolphins and seals. St. Margaret's Bay is spotted with deserted islands perfect for camping and the Bay of Fundy, famous for its elevator tides, is pricked with sandstone towers. The water is cold and can be rough, so preparation is key to any paddling safari in the maritime province. With a little planning, even a beginning kayaker should handle the surf without incident.

Those looking for a little guidance will find a diverse and nearly endless touring options. Two companies with a long history here are East Coast Outfitters and Freewheeling Adventures, which can offer higher-end, custom-designed itineraries. 

Getting There: Unfortunately ferry services between Maine and Nova Scotia have been canceled, forcing travelers to fly into Halifax on American Airlines for roughly $300.

Large swathes of Canada's great white north are nearly inaccessible to travelers unwilling to get vehicularly experimental. The dog sled is to Baffin Island what the Alfa Romeo is to Rome. Arctic Odysseys overs a sled trip as unforgettable as it is chilly. Travelers will feel like they've stepped into a Farley Mowat (Canada's Jack London) book as they skid across the tundra, keeping their eyes both peeled for polar bears and wolves and squinted against the cold wind.

Traveling here can cost as much as $500 a day and unfortunately the extreme price tag is unavoidable for those incapable of making seal pelts into winter jackets. On the other hand, visiting Baffin will probably be cheaper than heading to the pole and the landscape is far more beautiful.

Getting There: First Air, "The Airline of the North," flies regularly from Montreal to Iqaluit, the gateway town to the Nunavut province, for a little under $800.


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