From Sea to Sea: 11 of the Most Beautiful Places I've Traveled in Canada

A beautiful canadian lake
Lake Louise, Alberta, is one of Canada's most famous sights.

 Katherine Martinko

I was very fortunate to spend every summer camping with my parents when I was a kid. Because they were self-employed, they would take off two to four weeks each year to travel; and because we didn’t have much money, camping was the way we did it. By the time I left home at 18, I’d visited every province in my home country of Canada, always while sleeping in a tent.

Getting to know my country so well has had a tremendous influence on shaping the person I am now. I hold a solid mental picture of Canada, stretching from sea to sea, that I’ve taken with me to other parts of the world. My international travels, in turn, have made me realize how fortunate I am to live in such a spectacular place.

Canada celebrates the Canadian Confederation each July 1st. In honor of Canada Day, I’d like to take you on a photographic tour of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the country. Of course, there are countless more, but as I sift through my camping memories of the past three decades, these ones stand out most.

1
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Battle Harbour, Labrador

A view of Battle Harbour, Labrador
A view of Battle Harbour, Labrador.

Matt McGillivray/Flickr

It takes a really long time to drive to Newfoundland from Ontario, especially when you’ve got six people packed into a minivan. When my family and I arrived on the island, it poured rain every single day, we just kept driving north, hoping to outrun it. We hopped on a ferry to Labrador, crossing the Strait of Belle Isle, and moved our way up the coast of this northerly and sparsely-populated region.

The scenery in Labrador is sublime. You can see long white sand beaches along the Atlantic coast that look inviting, but the water is frigidly cold year-round. While standing at the top of a lighthouse, I recall my dad saying, "This will be the new Caribbean once global warming hits."

We soon discovered Battle Harbour, an historic fishing village that can only be reached by ferry. In the mid-1800s it had a population of 350 people and was considered the unofficial capital of Labrador. When I was there in 2003, it was more like a ghost town, with old cod-drying racks a mere memory of the enormous fishing trade that once dominated the region. The sense of loneliness was intense. I distinctly remember feeling the furthest from anything that I’ve ever felt. Multiple ferry rides and 600 miles separated me from the nearest major city of St. John’s, which is still considered remote relative to the rest of Canada.

If you’re curious about Newfoundland & Labrador, I highly recommend a 2013 film called “The Grand Seduction.” It’s a delightful comedy about a small fishing village called Tickle Head that’s struggling to figure out its future.

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Louisburg, Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island
Lighthouse at Louisburg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

 Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

While I haven’t yet made it to the crown jewel of Cape Breton Island – the Cabot Trail – I have driven the length of Nova Scotia’s most famous island, from the bridge at Port Hastings all the way to Sydney. We took a detour to Louisburg, which is an 18th century fortress built by the French to protect their colony. It is an impressive sight – the largest reconstruction project in North America.

The lighthouse pictured above is on the Louisburg site. It was the first lighthouse ever built in Canada, and is now in its fourth incarnation, due to various disasters that destroyed its predecessors. This is a common view in Atlantic Canada – stately lighthouses overlooking the sea with rugged wilderness stretching out behind. I’ve seen more than I can possibly remember, but I never tire of it.

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Charlevoix, Quebec

farms and river
Charlevoix, with old farms reaching down the hillsides toward the St. Lawrence River. This is taken at Sainte-Irénée.

Coups de Coeur pour le Quebec

My parents decided to go camping in Charlevoix on a recommendation from a friend. Despite years of driving through Quebec to get to the Atlantic, they’d never ventured onto the northern shore of the Saint Lawrence River. Needless to say, it stunned all of us with its spectacular scenery and became a favorite to which I’ve returned multiple times. We’re not the only ones who loved it; it was a backdrop for famed Quebec painter Clarence Gagnon’s artwork, as well as for the Group of Seven.

It is hilly and rugged, compared to the flat agricultural lands of the southern coast. At Tadoussac, where the fjord-lined Saguenay River meets the Saint Lawrence, there is wonderful whale-watching. All along the way, there are beautiful little villages with excellent bakeries and restaurants. If you’re intrigued by Quebec in general, I recommend you check out Louise Penny’s murder mysteries, which are always set in various locations throughout the province, with fabulous Quebecois atmosphere.

4
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Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island
The distinctive red cliffs of Prince Edward Island beneath a small fishing village.

Dennis Jarvis/Flickr 

I’ve always felt an affinity to PEI because I love Anne of Green Gables – and people used to say I looked like the redheaded, pigtailed fictional character. I've camped several times at Prince Edward Island National Park, which stretches along the northern coast, facing the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

The water is cold, but it is swimmable if the weather warms up enough. You can see the famous red-sand dunes and visit nearby Green Gables, the site of inspiration for L. M. Montgomery’s children’s book series.

Cycling on PEI is supposed to be great. The tourism website boasts 270 miles of rolled stone dust surface, specifically for cycling, and the island is very flat, which makes it even easier. PEI, however, is a very busy place, which is why I enjoyed it much more in September than I did in July, when it was hard to get away from the crowds. (Fewer mosquitoes, too!)

5
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Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Big rocks at beach
The Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick, at low tide.

Nicolas Raymond

The Bay of Fundy in the province of New Brunswick is famous for having the highest recorded tides in the world (50 feet (16 meters) under extreme circumstances).

The Hopewell Rocks are majestic rock formations that stand 40 to 70 feet tall (12 to 21 meters). When I was there, I walked around the base at low tide, exploring the caves, shells, and seaweed everywhere. Several hours later, I came back and did a kayak tour, paddling around the rocks that are now partially submerged by seawater. It’s an eerie and spectacular experience.

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Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

Lake shore with trees
The coastline along the eastern side of the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario.

Florin Chelaru/Flickr

The Bruce Peninsula in Ontario is a finger of land that separates Lake Huron from Georgian Bay. It features sandy white beaches on the western side and towering limestone cliffs on the eastern shore. This makes the water look turquoise, almost tropical in color, with interesting caves and stone formations.

Even though I now live relatively close to the Bruce Peninsula (close enough for a day trip), I never fail to be amazed by the beauty of this region. It always strikes me as surprising and unexpected for Ontario, as if it would belong better in the Caribbean than in Canada. I’ve camped at Cyprus Lake, but another famous spot that I have yet to check out is Storm Haven, which requires a hike to get in.

The six-week-long Bruce Trail stretches all the way to Tobermory at the tip down to the Niagara peninsula and, at the visitor’s center, you’ll see a tree draped with the hiking boots of successful travelers. Read more details about the Bruce Peninsula here, in my article on great waterfront camping spots in Ontario.

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The Prairie, Manitoba

A prairie farm view in Manitoba.
A prairie farm view in Manitoba.

Winnipeg_Spotter/Flickr

While I’m sure there are many unique sights to be seen in Manitoba, I’ve only visited Winnipeg and driven through the province on the Trans-Canada highway. But it was in Manitoba that I first glimpsed the open sky in all its glory, and it made a big impression on me. Having grown up in the forest of Muskoka, Ontario, I’d never seen the sky spread out all around, meeting the horizon in the distance. I’d never felt so exposed or vulnerable, and yet it was exhilarating, too.

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Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan

View of the rolling Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan.
View of the rolling Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan.

Achleitner/TrekEarth

One place that has stayed with me always is the Qu’Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. This prairie region has played a significant role in Canada’s history. With both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company establishing trading posts at Fort Esperance, the Qu’Appelle River was used to transport many goods from Canada to Europe as early as the late 1700s.

The village of Qu’Appelle boomed in the early 1900s, with settlers flooding to the region, but it entered a decline by the 60s as the railway diverted business away toward Regina. The river valley appears like a surprise in the midst of the (tediously) flat prairie and feels like an oasis after long hours of traveling the Trans-Canada highway.

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Waterton Lakes, Alberta

Lake and mountains.
Panoramic view of Waterton Lakes from the Bear's Hump mountain trail.

Elsie Hui 

Alberta has some of Canada’s most iconic views – the mountains of Banff and the turquoise lakes of Jasper, as well as the famed Icefields Parkway connecting the two national parks. It has the dinosaur bones of the badlands at Drumheller, and the prairies. But way down at the southern end, where it borders Montana, is lesser-known Waterton Lakes National Park, which is one of my favorite places on Earth.

I went back again last summer with my own family, and we marveled at the unusual geography, where prairie meets mountain with almost no foothills in between. It’s a region rich with wildlife, including grizzlies, and record-breaking winds that come whipping up the lake and threaten to blow away our flimsy tent. You can read more details about our trip here.

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Pender Island, British Columbia

Pender Island, British Columbia
Pender Island, British Columbia.

Andrew Wallwork/Flickr 

Pender Island is one of the Gulf Islands located in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. I have friends who live on South Pender Island, which is why I’ve chosen this particular island as one of the most striking places I’ve visited.

Their home, at the time, was located at the top of seaside cliff, with steep stairs going down a Pacific beach strewn with driftwood, seaweed, and shells. We took a boat ride to neighboring Saltspring Island, and enjoyed bagels and pizza on a dock there. I loved the close-knit feeling of life on Pender, not to mention the views. There was a small farmers market where I busked with a local fiddle-playing friend, and my sister spent a day helping deliver lambs at a nearby farm.

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Muskoka, Ontario

Beautiful lake with dock
Home sweet home.

K Martinko 

I can't help but throw in one final slide, depicting my childhood home in a region called Muskoka, which usually elicits gasps from Ontario residents who know it as prime cottage country. My upbringing there, however, was very different from the glitzy, moneyed west side of Muskoka (as in, the Muskoka Lakes) that most people picture when they hear the name.

I lived on the east side, bordering the county of Halliburton (one of the poorest in Canada), where people leave old trucks in their backyards to rust away and where kids disappear from school during moose hunting season and maple syrup time – and where kids were kept in from recess when there were too many black bears in the schoolyard. Although I no longer live here, it will be home forever in my heart, and it's what I picture when I think of Canada.