Two-Week Western Canadian Adventure
Two weeks in the northern regions of western Canada allows the opportunity to travel to many of the places you won’t want to miss, but this itinerary by its nature includes a lot of driving, so pad it out with extra days if possible.
Alternatively, if you only have a few days, you could fly to Whitehorse and visit the highlights I suggest before flying further north to Inuvik or east to Yellowknife. Like the other itineraries, I assume you have your own vehicle or will be renting one.
Connections are usually good for the Queen Charlotte Islands, but make reservations for this and the previous trip in advance to be sure of a spot. The late afternoon is spent on a scenic drive to Naikoon Provincial Park, which is convenient to the many accommodations at Masset.
Even if you’re not a culture buff, today, which you will spend exploring the abandoned villages of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, will be a highlight of your trip to western Canada. Ferries depart the Queen Charlotte Islands for the mainland in the evening (book a cabin to get a good night’s rest onboard).
Day 4 is spent driving the Cassiar Highway to Whitehorse. You’ll see plenty of wilderness, but also opportunities to see local native culture, including at ‘Ksan Historical Village.
This morning is spent exploring Whitehorse—walking along the river to the SS Klondike and taking a tour of a Dog-Mushing operation. Continue north to Dawson City, where a number of bed-and-breakfasts provide a suitably historic ambience.
After a night at one of Dawson City’s historical hotels, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible wandering around this gold rush town. Many of the most interesting buildings are protected by Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site, so look for this designation. Stop at the gold fields that made Dawson so famous on the way back to your Whitehorse accommodation.
Today is a long driving day to Fort Simpson. Along the way are literally dozens of places you’ll be tempted to pull off the road and experience the northern wilderness by dangling a line, searching out wildlife, taking a soak at Liard Hot Springs, or simply enjoying the solitude. The one official attraction along this route is the Signpost Forest.
The morning is spent on a flightseeing excursion into Nahanni National Park, where the highlight is seeing Virginia Falls from above. Continue east and north to the territorial capital of Yellowknife for dinner at the Wildcat Café. After dinner, book a tee time to go golfing at Yellowknife Golf Club.
Combining visits to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and Old Town will give you a good feel for the character of Yellowknife. Take an afternoon flight over the Arctic Circle to Inuvik, where you will stay overnight.
It’s a short hop by plane from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. Clinging to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, this is the northernmost point of your adventure, so dip your toes in the water for posterity. Most flights include a bus tour of town. Return to Yellowknife for the night.
Drive around Great Slave Lake to Wood Buffalo National Park. Dawn and dusk are the perfect times for spotting the park’s namesake big game, so keep your eyes peeled in places such as the salt plains. Fort Smith, near the park entrance, is a convenient place to stay the night.
It can’t be helped. Most of today is spent on the road, driving through the boreal forest of Northern Alberta to William A. Switzer Provincial Park. Fishing, canoeing, or hiking—the choice this evening is yours.
Head west through Jasper National Park, detouring to Maligne Lake if the weather is good. Beyond Jasper is Mount Robson Provincial Park, where the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies stands tall. Valemount has a few places to stay, or you can push on to Kamloops for a wider choice of accommodations.
Your last day on the road means arriving back in Vancouver. Stall by visiting Wells Gray Provincial Park and going for a canoe paddle, and then visiting Historic Hat Creek Ranch for a final fling of western history.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition