For many of us, there are few elixirs stronger than that of a long drive on a good stretch of pavement (or gravel, depending on one’s propensity to wheel a 4x4). Whatever it is about our connection with vehicles, the serotonin released during a pleasant road trip does wonders for both the heart and mind.
Even people without gasoline in their veins recognize a good trip when they see one. While they might not appreciate that perfectly cambered turn or well-painted lane markings, beautiful scenery is attractive to almost every eye. That’s why we’ve assembled an array of roads from coast to coast that are sure to please not those who fancy themselves the next Lewis Hamilton but also our friends and family who are just along for the ride.
Starting on the East Coast of our country, we’ll pick our way across the nation and present what we think are some of the best roads in Canada.
Route 340, Road to the Isles, Newfoundland & Labrador
As one of the many routes that span off the Trans-Canada Highway like spokes on a bicycle wheel, Route 340 will take drivers through a number of rural communities on the province’s northeast coast. In fact, it’ll take them across several islands off the island of Newfoundland, culminating at the fishing town of Twillingate where you’re likely to find an ample supply of icebergs and whales during the summer months. The town knows how to greet visitors, with plenty of creatively named tourist amenities and well-kept scenery. Route 340’s terminus is an active lighthouse that has been serving mariners in Notre Dame Bay since 1876.
Route 326, North Shore, Nova Scotia
It’d be easy to choose the famous and thoroughly enjoyable Cabot Trail for Nova Scotia’s entry to this list, snaking its way through 300 km of mountainous Victoria and Inverness Counties on Cape Breton Island. Locals on the mainland portion of the province can point you towards any number of lesser travelled roads that provide equal delight to those who enjoy a dose of spirited driving. Route 326 from Earltown to Brule on the province’s north shore sets an opening bid of switchbacks before transitioning to rolling-hill straightaways, for example, while portions of the little-known Upper Brookside Road near – erm – Upper Brookside could serve as Nova Scotia’s stand-in for the famous Stelvio Pass in the Italian mountains.
Route 14, Western Shore, Prince Edward Island
Setting your navigation for this part of The Gentle Island will bring drivers to the province’s furthest point west and, if they scamper an extra few minutes up Route 12, the furthest point north. Edging along the water, this road passes through scenic hamlets and past any number of local shops and stores. The island’s famous red dirt makes a great contrast to rolling green gardens and, yes, an ample number of potato fields. If it seems that you can see for miles on a clear day, you’re absolutely correct.
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Highway 127, Ministers Island, New Brunswick
Technically located at the end of a road that branches off Highway 127, driving to Ministers Island (yes, without an apostrophe) gives drivers the chance to do something not very many people can say they have done: drive on the ocean floor. The road to Ministers Island is actually a maintained sand bar that disappears at high tide, meaning you’re literally piloting your car on a seabed. Pay attention to the posted tidal charts, since an incorrectly timed departure could leave you inadvertently enjoying the sights on Ministers Island for a few hours more than you intended.
Route 132, Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec
If it’s an oceanview-laden drive you seek infused with a tinge of old-world Quebec, you’d do well to tackle Route 132, which loops its way around the very rim of the great Gaspé Peninsula. Using the town of Rimouski as a start/finish point, it’s a good idea to plan an overnight stop at the halfway point, since this route can easily spin up 1,000 km on your car’s odometer. It’s no coincidence this route has made your author’s “best of” lists in past years, given its penchant to pass by distinctive architecture and include the likes of an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Trans-Canada Highway, Wawa to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
While there is no shortage of good driving roads in our most populous province, including the tremendous Route 13 in Muskoka and Highway 60 through Algonquin Park, we’d be remiss not to pay attention to this stretch of the TCH, particularly the portion that skirts the edge of Lake Superior. On the way, you’ll pass through one of the largest provincial parks in Ontario, plus the oddly named Old Woman Bay at which visitors will find both a long sandy beach and 200-metre cliffs. This is without mentioning Agawa Rock and superb views along the coastline.
Provincial Route 232 / 222, Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba
Yes, most of the Prairies are flatter than a charcuterie board. Still, the area is full of wonderful scenery, so we figured there simply must be a good drive somewhere in Canada’s breadbasket. Turns out that instead of taking Highway 8 to Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park north of the capital, turning onto Provincial Route 232, and then 222, will take drivers along the shore of the southern tip of Lake Winnipeg on through small towns like Whytewold and Ponemah. There are opportunities along the way to view limestone cliffs and take in an LED-lit pedestrian bridge that spans the Icelandic River.
Highway 93, Icefields Parkway, Alberta
Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller, the Icefield Parkway links the towns of Lake Louise and Jasper just west of Alberta’s two main cities. This 232-km stretch of double-lane highway winds along the Continental Divide, scything through rocky mountain peaks, sweeping valleys, and, giving the road its name, stunning icefields. The latter is a real Canadian treat, comprising more than 100 ancient glaciers to create towering waterfalls and turquoise-hued lakes. Like another famous route on this list, it can be crowded at peak season, but that’ll just encourage you to take a breather at some viewpoints and drink in the scenery.
Highway 10, Inuvik–Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories
We admit this road is an extremely far-flung destination, sitting well north of the Arctic Circle. In fact, this 138-km stretch of new gravel road doesn’t even start until one reaches the end of NWT’s notoriously brutal Dempster Highway. However, those who can make it will be treated to sights unlike any other in Canada, with a trio of distinctive geographical biomes passing by before arriving on Santa’s Doorstep at the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Fun fact: building the road required building eight bridges, 359 culverts, and the deployment of construction techniques not familiar “down south” in places like Yellowknife. Yes, this road is that far north.
Route 99, Sea-to-Sky Highway, British Columbia
This main artery between Vancouver and Whistler is dismissed by driving snobs as overcrowded, particularly since its upgrades for the Olympics 10 years ago. However, its impressive natural beauty proves the naysayers wrong. Incredible scenery, including towering waterfalls and stunning mountain ranges, reward drivers who are patient enough to endure plodding RVs before hitting the passing lanes. Pro tip: plan your drive to include continuing on past Whistler and on to the community of Lillooet. You’ll be rewarded with less traffic, especially if you loop back to the Trans-Canada Highway on scenic Route 12.