They don’t have to be long drives to be epic ones, even starting downtown
No one can take epic road trips every weekend. Life is simply too hectic to carve out multi-hour drives for most people on a regular basis. So while we highlighted some of the best drives in the country in last year’s Ignition Handbook, with bucket list-worthy roads along 200 to 1,000+ kilometre routes, here’s a list of great drives that are shorter but still memorable, all located within 90 minutes of seven major Canadian cities.
All these road trips reflect the naturally diverse scenery across the country, with notable destinations as well as highlights and suggestions along the route. Some are well-known favourites, others are lesser-known hidden gems, and some of these roads are simply worth experiencing for the driving exhilaration they offer – no set destination necessary.
Most of these drives are less than 100 kilometres outside their respective city centres, so depending on your starting point, you could very well be done in about an hour, 90 minutes at most.
So feel free to keep this magazine nearby: in your glove box, or on your next trip out of town, so that whenever or wherever you find a spare hour or so, you’ll be ready to quickly make your next drive an epic one.
1) Vancouver to Squamish, BC: Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway, above), 67 km
Start at the scenic and twisty NW Marine Drive in Vancouver, gawk at the nice homes and water all around, then take your time as you drive through Stanley Park and up through West Vancouver, ideally avoiding rush hours as much as possible. Though this could be one of the nicest commutes in the world, this parcel of natural beauty can also become seriously clogged with traffic. The drive up 99 – the famed Sea-to-Sky Highway – meanders along water all the way north to Squamish, where you’ll want to see the waterfall and hike the kid- and beginner-friendly trails at Shannon Falls Provincial Park. Here you’re about halfway to the resort mecca of Whistler, another worthy destination if you have more time.
2) Edmonton to Collingwood Cove, AB: Highway 881 (and Elk Island National Park), 105 km
Sure, you could drive to the small hamlet of Collingwood Cove from downtown Edmonton directly in 40 minutes. But if you want to actually make it a fun drive, you’ll be well advised to double the time and distance involved by taking a circular route north, crossing the river near Fort Saskatchewan, taking the time for bison-spotting or a sunset over the water in Elk Island National Park. Moose, deer, coyotes and, unsurprisingly, elk are also common here, so have your camera ready, especially if you take in any trails. The tiny waterside hamlet of Collingwood Cove, population 362, is known more for its flying wildlife, with large flocks of pelicans and swans common in the summer.
3) Winnipeg to Beauséjour, MB: via Highway 84, 79 km
One may not immediately think of Winnipeg as a haven for great driving roads, but there’s certainly some charming towns and asphalt if you’re willing to drive some out of the city. Head north out of the city on Chief Peguis Trail, all along the famed Red River towards Selkirk, where the Selkirk Golf and Country Club makes a fine rest stop. From there, head east to the charming little town of Beauséjour, where a small Pioneer Village Museum offers rustic railway station, schools and stores.
4) Toronto to Orangeville, ON: via Belfountain, 96 km
A favourite of sports car drivers and motorcyclists for generations, the drive from Toronto to the small yet biker-friendly town of Belfountain is one of the prettiest routes in the province, meandering around burbling brooks on the Forks of the Credit river road. Be careful on summer weekends, because police and motorcycle numbers swell notably in this area, which is only about 30 minutes past the northern reaches of suburban Mississauga. Cool Scoops is the great local spot for ice cream, but keep in mind they’re closed Tuesdays, and open noon to 7 p.m. otherwise. This could be a worthy destination, or continue on north into Orangeville, with its historic charm and Bruce Trail views, intersecting at Orangeville’s Mono Cliffs Provincial Park.
You’ll want to allow the Outaouais River to be your guide for this drive, and avoid the busier Highway 50, all along regional road QC-148, once you’re out of the hustle and bustle of Ottawa proper and into Québec. If you’re with friends, there’s a paintball place on the outskirts of Gatineau called Tactik Paintball along the way, or stop at Plaisance to see the 63 metre high Chutes de Plaisance waterfall. The two Fairmont properties at Montebello and the nearby golf course may be worthy destinations here, but so is the little chocolaterie called ChocoMotive nearby.
Montreal to Mont-Tremblant: via Trans-Canada, 131 km
This one may stretch our 90 minute guideline, but the amount of great driving on the way and activities once you arrive in Mont-Tremblant – both at the village resort itself and nearby – are worth pushing that self-imposed 100 km limit. The Trans-Canada highway takes a squiggly northwest route up through the Laurentians on the way to Tremblant. A good rest stop about 60 km north of Montreal is Saint-Jérôme, where you can check out the castle-like Saint-Jérôme Catholic cathedral built in 1897. Once near Mont-Tremblant, the famed ski hills offer a gravity-driven coaster track that winds down the mountain in the summer, to the delight of kids and adults alike. Or you can enjoy big kid fun at the nearby Le Circuit de Mont-Tremblant (www.lecircuit.com), a roller coaster of a track itself, either with your own car, or with a rented exotic ride (www.g1tour.com) that you can book from Montreal or elsewhere in the province.
Halifax, Nova Scotia to Peggy’s Cove, NS: via 213/333 (along St. Margaret’s Bay), 58 km
Avoiding the more direct inland route may take you an extra 20 minutes, at about an hour versus 40 minutes if you drive straight through, but this much more scenic route will be a much more rewarding drive. It circles through the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area just north of Halifax, then through Tantallon, where you’ll find multiple beaches along the way as you wind southward along St. Margaret’s Bay. With the famed Peggy’s Cove lighthouse as a picturesque destination, you won’t be able to go up it, but there is a great restaurant nearby, with staggering natural beauty all around.