Canada is a big place, but it’s far from empty. In fact, it’s filled to the brim with incredible natural wonders that will leave any lover of the outdoors awe-struck, and you don’t have to fly to the far corners of the country to enjoy them. There are amazing wonders within close proximity to Canada’s biggest cities.
Here’s a look at a handful of Canadian natural wonders you can experience within two hours of a major urban centre.
Less than a two-hour drive from Toronto sits Canada’s most renowned natural wonder: Niagara Falls. You might think that if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it all, but the sound of the water as you approach it, the mist you feel on your face as you look up 50m at a torrent of blue and white, and the sheer power of the falls that you can feel to your bones… those things never really get old. Plus, the district of Niagara Falls is a city in its own right, full of attractions, entertainment, and terrific dining. If you’re looking to experience a Canadian natural wonder, this is the one.
Many people are surprised to discover that a waterfall one and a half times higher than Niagara Falls sits just minutes from Quebec City. At 83m, the Montmorency Falls are a sight to behold, both from within the city, and up close and personal in the Montmorency Falls Park (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency in French). Hang out near the base or ride the gondola up to the top for a spectacular view. More adventurous visitors might choose to hike one of the three Via Ferrata trails, stopping at viewpoints along the way for some Instagram-worthy shots, or even zip line across the falls.
Then there’s Shannon Falls, a beautiful waterfall less than an hour’s drive from Vancouver. Located in the provincial park of the same name, the falls originate 300m above sea level and steadily tumble down between granite cliffs. Located just off the picturesque Sea to Sky Highway, this waterfall is incredibly accessible and well worth the quick drive from the city.
Canada offers some of the best northern lights viewing in the entire world, and you often don’t have to leave the city to enjoy it.
The Northwest Territories provides some of, if not THE best aurora borealis viewing in the world. To see the bright reds, blues, greens, and yellows dance across the night sky, all you have to do is take a look through your hotel window in capital city Yellowknife—known as the “Aurora Capital of North America.” Within the city, you could also experience the Northern Lights by dog sled or while staying in a comfortable tipi.
The Yukon capital of Whitehorse is also a fantastic place to see this natural wonder in action. This city often finds itself underneath coloured skies. Only 20 minutes outside of the city, you can leave the lights behind and enjoy the aurora surrounded by nature before sleeping in a prospector-style tent.
If you can’t make it up to Canada’s territories, the Northern Lights have also been known to make a rare appearance in Edmonton, at the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve a couple of hours north of Toronto, and even in Prince Edward Island National Park half an hour north of the capital city Charlottetown.
Often called the best beach in Canada, Singing Sands in Basin Head Provincial Park, just 75 minutes from Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, is a nine-mile white sand beach with some of the warmest waters in the province. In fact, the beach is said to have some of the warmest waters north of Florida, occasionally exceeding 21 degrees. The beach’s strange name is a result of its fine sand, which squeaks as your feet press into it—the result of a high concentration of silica and quartz. There are 23 beaches on the sialnd, and all of them are within a couple of hours of one another, so you can enjoy a handful of these natural wonders in a day.
Forget near the city—how about directly within it! Vancouver has nine beautiful beaches within its boundaries, so you never have to stray far from your hotel to enjoy soft sand beneath your feet. In fact, National Geographic named Vancouver one of the 10 best beach cities in the world. The standout of the bunch is probably Wreck Beach, an 8-kilometre, clothing-optional beach near the campus of the University of British Columbia. If you prefer to keep your kit on, then English Bay with its volleyball courts, diving platform, and peerless people watching in the heart of the city’s West End neighbourhood comes a close second.
You only need to travel 10 minutes from the multicultural city of Toronto to enter a completely different, beachy world. Hop on a ferry and journey to Toronto Island, and their three beautiful beaches. Lay down your towel and enjoy the best of nature with beautiful views of the city.
Finally, about an hour north-east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, sits Grand Beach, often named one of the best beaches in Canada. There, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, you’ll find dunes reaching nearly 12m in height, and ample opportunities for sunbathing and swimming.
Other natural wonders
Every single year, thousands upon thousands of skiers and snowboarders take to the mountains of Whistler to enjoy some of the best snow conditions anywhere. In the summer, these mountains become a world-class mountain biking and hiking destination. Throw in the area’s incredible hot springs, lakes, and rivers, and it isn’t hard to figure why people flock to this village 90 minutes north of Vancouver to immerse themselves in nature.
While on the topic of mountains, the Rocky Mountains are undoubtedly a natural wonder, and they can be enjoyed after just a short, 90-minute drive from Calgary. That quick jaunt will bring you into the unmatched Banff National Park, home to glaciers, forests, rivers, valleys, and of course, mountains, all of which will dazzle you with their scale and beauty. It’s in this park that you’ll find the picturesque Lake Louise, with its jaw-dropping turquoise blue waters set perfectly in front of the Victoria Glacier. Then there’s the beautiful Moraine Lake, equally photo-worthy and a great place for a hike or paddle.
About two hours from Calgary in the other direction is Dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the biggest dinosaur graveyards in the world. Fossils of nearly 500 species of animals and a remarkable 40 dinosaurs have been found amidst the park’s spires, pinnacles, and other formations.
Across the country, both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick host an internationally-known natural wonder: the Bay of Fundy. Home to the highest tides in the world, over 100 billion tonnes of seawater enter and leave the Bay twice every single day. The resulting 12m change in water level has shaped the unique landscape of the coastline and entire region, but is displayed most impressively at the unique Hopewell Rocks—only 30 minutes from Moncton, the second biggest city in New Brunswick.
Last but not least is Canada’s own tiny little Dead Sea, Little Manitou Lake. Located just over an hour’s drive from Saskatoon, this unique lake is filled with briny water that apparently possesses natural skin and body care properties. These properties take their origins in the concentrations of mineral salts, magnesium, silica, potassium, and other minerals found in the water. Go for a float to relax and rejuvenate your body.