City mouse or country mouse? You don’t really have to decide. Canadian cities — Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, Winnipeg, Calgary, Halifax — are right on the edge of nature. That means you can do the urban thing, and then head out to explore the countryside.
Edmonton, Alberta’s North Saskatchewan River Valley is a “ribbon of green” winding through the city. First you can crawl the colossal 5.3-million-square-feet shopping and entertainment centre, West Edmonton Mall with 800 stores plus amusement park, then you can decompress in North America’s largest urban parkland.
With 22 parks and 150 kilometres of trails over 7,400 hectares, the river valley is ideal for a run, walk, bike or cross-country ski. You can also take a scenic tour on the Queen Riverboat or learn about frontier history at Fort Edmonton Park.
With 100,000-plus lakes, Manitoba is ideal for fishing (trout, northern pike). Cottage country around Lake Winnipeg is only an hour north of Winnipeg.
Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. is celebrated around the world for its floral displays. In 1904 Jenny Butchart transformed her husband’s limestone quarry on Vancouver Island into six distinct gardens over 55 acres. Fans say the spectacular summertime blooms, music and fireworks shows are a must.
In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, minutes from town you’re in the wild. Nearby are hot springs at Takhini, rafting, paddling, biking and hiking. Use this rowdy territorial capital as your base for exploring the North on a flight-see. Hire an outfitter to take you horseback riding or dog mushing, then bunk down in a cabin to watch the Aurora Borealis light show.
Prince Edward Island
Rural P.E.I., Prince Edward Island, is about farming and maritime culture. Its gentle countryside is perfect for cycling. Kayak to places like the 1876 lighthouse in quaint North Rustico, a longtime fishing community with a quiet beach — also a beautiful drive from Cavendish. Bring a picnic and watch the boats come into the harbour.
From surf-town Tofino, B.C. on Vancouver Island, you can take a short boat ride to Hot Springs Cove and soak in natural hot springs. Hike the boardwalk on Bog Trail at Pacific Rim National Park surrounded by dwarfed, wind-twisted shore pine trees.
Lovely and pastoral, the rolling Laurentians are just north of Montréal, Quebec. Sightsee the relaxing way on the Train of Le Massif de Charlevoix. For winter, there are 13 ski areas; for summer, biking, hiking, river rafting and paddling, or do a farm tour. Any time: dozens of spas, charming inns and cottages.
Summer in Muskoka, Ontario’s cottage country outside Toronto, is classic. But autumn, with its showy colours, is beautiful, too. Go behind the scenes at a heritage farm and learn about the cranberry bog-to-bottle process at Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh. Add to that winemaking tips and tastings.
Views have a capital V at Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Come in on the coastline Cabot Trail, then you’ll hit the park, where steep cliffs and river canyons carve into a forested plateau. A guide can lead you along the signature Skyline Sunset Hike, where mountains dip 400 metres down to the sea. On the final boardwalk, it’s 300 steps down to the water. Look for minke and pilot whales. Be sure to stay for sunset.