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Where to Stay in Canada: Lodging Tips

Canada lodging is similar to that of the United States, ranging from business-class hotels and luxurious spa resorts to small inns and B&Bs. But what Canada has that its neighbor to the south is missing are the grand, early-20th-century railway hotels that were part of the charm of train travel across the sprawling nation.

Canada is among the countries of the world with the lowest population densities, which means that there are plenty of pristine natural locales for resort hotels, lodges and campsites. Read on to learn where to stay in Canada.

History buffs have the railways to thank for so many lovely hotels in Canada. During the height of the train travel era, the railroad companies constructed massive, chateau-style properties with towers, turrets and other charms of classic European architecture, adding glamour and style to cross-country rail trips.

Nearly every major city in Canada has at least one historic grande dame that would make even the stodgiest business traveler regret staying at a big-name chain hotel (though there are plenty of those too). With a name like the Empress, you’d expect nothing less than stately regality from the massive chateau sitting along the inner harbor of Victoria, British Columbia. Built in 1908, the 464-room hotel is one of the oldest in the country. Others of note are the Royal York in Toronto and the Fort Garry in Winnipeg.

The boutique hotel trend is catching on in Canada. With quirky marketing campaigns and a penchant for baffling grammar, ARC The.Hotel in Ottawa has 112 chic guestrooms with Egyptian linens, iHome docks and pillow-top beds. The all-suite Executive Hotel Cosmopolitan in Toronto follows the principles of feng shui.

The Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations in Quebec, meanwhile, melds modern charm with the aboriginal art of the Huron-Wendat indigenous community.

Mid-range chain hotels are commonplace in cities. Outside of urban areas, you’ll find your usual range of budget hotels and roadside motels of varying quality.

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The Canada Select Accommodation Rating Council sets national standards for hotels, rating properties on a scale of one to five stars (in half-star increments). Participation is voluntary; currently properties in 10 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories partake.

There are only 34 five-star properties rated, for example (whereas the website highlights more than 100 luxury hotels throughout Canada). That being said, the council — along with another rating organization, the Canadian Star Quality Accommodation — is useful for narrowing down hotel options throughout the country.

Canada Hotel Resources:

You could drive across Canada for days and see nothing but untouched landscapes. Then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, up pops a magnificent resort with views stolen from postcards.

Every province in Canada has at least one spa resort, and some of the best are near national parks. Among the most well regarded is the 45-room Spa Eastman, a health and wellness resort overlooking Mont Orford in Quebec. Compare that to the posh Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island, which offers spa treatments in rooms overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Marriott-run Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, also has a beachside setting.

If a spa isn’t your thing, smaller lodges abound. Banff National Park has some of the most alluring lodges in all of Canada, including Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs.

Be sure to book in advance during the summertime and during Canadian holidays. As with other hotels, the best rates are found in the off-season.

Canada Resort and Lodge Resources: (Parks Canada)

Tips for National Park Vacations

If you only associate dude ranches with the western United States, think again. Western Canada also has a rich ranching history, including plenty of spots that offer dude ranch experiences for travelers.

Five generations of a family have run the century-old Reesor Ranch on the prairies of Saskatchewan. You can join cattle drives or go horseback riding along rolling meadows before retiring to a rustic log cabin. At the Sturgeon River Ranch, a working cattle farm near Prince Albert National Park, you can embark on a multi-day outback horse trip to see wild plains bison, elk, moose and bear. Or stay put on the property to watch or help with typical ranch activities, including branding.

canada ranch horseback cowboys

Not into cattle? Le Gite de l’Ardora on the Acadian Peninsula of New Brunswick offers three guestrooms in its 150-year-old house on a farm with cows, geese, ducks and golden retrievers.

Many small farms and ranches don’t have fancy websites but instead are listed through provincial tourism groups, such as the British Columbia Guest Ranchers Association or Tourism Saskatchewan.

Canada Ranch and Farmstay Resources:

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All of Canada’s national parks offer government-run campgrounds, and there are also private campgrounds throughout the country. Parks Canada runs campsites at 25 national parks, and the website lists campsites elsewhere, including provincial parks and private campgrounds of varying quality.

Some are open year-round, while others only operate spring through fall. Advance reservations are suggested, especially in the peak months of July and August. Quite a few parks offer campsites on a first-come, first-served basis; arrive early if you plan to wing it.

In most wilderness areas, you can rough camp wherever you’d like.

Meanwhile, the Alpine Club of Canada runs a batch of backcountry properties for mountain hikers and others seeking rustic lodging in remote places. They’re called “huts,” but really they are small lodges and log cabins. One of the most famous huts is the historic Abbot Pass Hut, a stone cabin that’s a three- to six-hour hike up a steep mountain pass. It sits between Banff and Yoho National Parks.

Huts generally offer dormitory-style sleeping arrangements, outhouses and communal cooking facilities. They cannot accommodate many people, so reservations are essential, and each hut has rules you’ll need to follow (such as quiet hours and how to dispose of waste).

Canada Camping and Hut Resources:

B&Bs are as commonplace in Canada as they are in the United States. Quebec City is especially known for them — here they’re called gites du passant. One of the best known is Auberge Place D’Armes, on a cobblestone street in the center of Quebec City. Its 21 rooms are housed in two buildings, one of which is almost four centuries old.

Canada Bed and Breakfast Resources:

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Canada has hundreds of lighthouses, many of which are no longer needed for maritime purposes in an age of modern technology. Some sit abandoned, others have been declared historic properties and about a dozen have been converted into lodging for visitors.

The Tower Room and the Keeper’s Quarters at the West Point Lighthouse on Prince Edward Island are in the lighthouse itself, which is also a museum; the property offers 11 other rooms in the adjoining building. At the northernmost tip of Newfoundland is the Quirpon Island Lighthouse Inn, which has converted a lightkeeper building into a six-room inn. The guesthouse at the Lighthouse on Cape d’Or has stunning views of the Bay of Fundy and neighboring cliffs from its four rooms.

Canada Lighthouse Resources:

Canada has more than 200 hostels. Approximately a third of them are run by Hostelling International (HI), and the rest are independent (though often members of the Backpackers Hostels Canada network). Some are suited to students, with dormitory-type lodging, and others are more like budget inns with private guestrooms.

One of the most fascinating is the Ottawa Jail Hostel, a historical landmark where guests are “incarcerated” in 20 cells with bunk beds. Like the jailbirds before you, you get free breakfast and access to communal bathrooms.

Offering hostel-like accommodations, some universities also rent out dormitory rooms during summer break. Backpackers Hostels Canada maintains listings on its website.

Canada Hostel Resources:

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–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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Getting Around Canada: Transportation Tips

Visitors wanting to explore multiple places in America’s sprawling neighbor to the north will likely require several forms of Canada transportation. Flights allow travelers to span the miles quickly, while buses offer a wider variety of destinations at affordable prices. Driving a car, meanwhile, gives the freedom of flexibility, and traveling by train and ferry reveals some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery. Read on to check out your best options for getting around Canada.

Toronto Pearson International Airport is the country’s busiest airport, followed by Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Calgary International Airport. These, along with four other international airports (Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa and Winnipeg), offer “pre-clearance” checkpoints run by the U.S. government, allowing for speedier reentry into the United States.

Air Canada is the country’s primary airline, serving dozens of in-country airports and numerous others worldwide. The carrier is a Star Alliance member and has frequently won awards for being North America’s best airline. Low-cost carrier WestJet is Air Canada’s biggest competition, and emerging carrier Porter Airlines is also an affordable option for travelers from the U.S.

Flights to remote areas of the country will likely be via smaller regional airlines, and fares can be pricey, thanks to the monopoly some of these small carriers have on their destinations. When booking flights, reservations made well in advance, along with flexible dates and times, can help decrease costs. Also look for discounts on the airline’s websites.

For those looking to fly into multiple Canadian cities during one trip, a flexible flight pass can provide a price break. Air Canada sells multiple prepaid flight pass options and, for travel in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, carrier Air North offers several choices. Before purchasing a flight pass, read the rules and restrictions to ensure it meets your needs.

Canada Air Travel Resources:

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Rail travel is an excellent way to see Canada’s too-pretty-to-be-real scenery, but limited departures mean you’ll need a relaxed and accommodating schedule. VIA Rail, run by the Canadian government, is the only main passenger train operator in the country.

With the exception of the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, train travel is often more expensive than flying. However, prices are cheaper in winter months, and discounts are often available to early bookers.

VIA Rail offers a variety of Canrailpasses that can save you some money if you’ll be riding the rails multiple times. You can choose between passes for the Quebec City-Windsor corridor and passes for the entire system nationwide, with options for seven to 10 trips over a given travel period. Advance reservations are strongly recommended and can be booked online or by phone. Longer trips in peak season can sell out months in advance, as can routes to Hudson Bay during polar bear season.

Note that trains can always run late, as freight traffic takes priority.

Passengers traveling in economy class have reclining seats and access to a service car — manageable arrangements for perhaps one overnight but not much longer. Several sleeper train options give access to showers, additional lounges and sometimes meals in the restaurant car. If your train has one, be sure to visit the dome observation car, available to all travelers, for prime scenic viewing.

The privately owned Rocky Mountaineer offers popular multi-day trips through the Canadian Rockies.

For those interested in train travel from the United States, Amtrak partners with VIA Rail to connect a handful of U.S. and Canadian cities, including New York City and Montreal as well as Seattle and Vancouver.

Canada Train Resources:

Exploring Canada by car gives visitors maximum flexibility, particularly when visiting isolated regions.

For those planning to drive from the United States, keep in mind that wait times at busy entry points can be lengthy during summer months and on weekends, so be sure to check the Canadian Border Services Agency website going in and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website going out.

Smaller, more remote border crossings often have quicker queues but are not open 24 hours, so confirm times beforehand. In addition to a passport or other valid travel document, you’ll need to show your driver’s license, vehicle registration papers and proof of liability before entering the country.

For travelers renting a car after arriving in Canada, you’ll find all the major companies represented, including Avis, Hertz and Thrifty. Local agencies like PractiCar (based in British Columbia) and Routes Car & Truck Rentals in Ontario may offer considerably cheaper options. Booking in advance often equals better deals.

Renters typically need to be at least 25 years old and provide a credit card. Confirm your mileage quota and insurance coverage before hitting the road.

road national park canada

When driving in Canada, a few points to remember:

– Gas (called “petrol” in Canada) generally costs more than it does in the United States and can increase substantially in rural regions, where stations may be few and far between.

– Right turns on red lights are allowed everywhere except Quebec.

– Be wary of moose and other wildlife in the roadway, particularly at dawn and dusk.

– Speed restrictions are posted in kilometers per hour, so be sure you’re looking at the right number on your car’s speedometer.

– Police officers aren’t required to have a reason to pull you over, and speeding fines are levied on the spot.

– Four-wheel drive is recommended for remote areas, where road conditions can be rough.

Canada Car Resources: (Canada Border Services Agency) (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

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Canada’s buses are safe, comfortable and considerably cheaper than train travel. They are also often the only public transportation option in less densely populated areas.

Bus companies in Canada range from small family-run outfits to subsidiaries of international corporations. Local companies, such as Coach Canada in Ontario and Alberta Bus in Alberta, provide regional service, and Greyhound operates most of the long-distance routes. All Greyhounds are equipped with restrooms, reclining seats and air conditioning. Longer trips make rest and meal stops.

Frequency of departures depends on a route’s popularity and can vary from once a day to once an hour. Certain routes offer express service.

Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone or directly at the bus terminal. Advance purchase discounts are often available for those buying a ticket at least seven days beforehand; Web-only fares are also offered.

Canada Bus Resources:

Taxis in Canada are easily found in major cities and can be hailed or called in advance. They will be of various models, makes and colors. Metered fares are the norm, so there’s no need to negotiate on price. A gratuity of 10 to 20 percent is standard.

The carsharing service Uber is also available in some Canadian cities.


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Ferries are a great way to explore the eastern and western coasts of Canada. Prices are reasonable, and you don’t typically need to book in advance unless you’re transporting a car.

BC Ferries travel to numerous destinations along the west coast, from Vancouver and Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert and many charming islands and towns in between. In the east, Bay Ferries provides year-round service across the Bay of Fundy and a seasonal route from Caribou, Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island. Further north, Marine Atlantic ferries connect the island of Newfoundland with Nova Scotia.

Canada Ferry Resources:

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–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma