By Jeremy Rochow
Published: Tuesday, May 9, 2023
Canada is synonymous with snow, maple syrup and ice hockey, but when the powder melts and the summer sun shines, this great northern land has plenty to offer.
My feet touch Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach – or Kits as it’s known to locals – and as my toes curl into the sand, I’m instantly reminded of the long Australian summers back home. Vancouver’s skyline rises from the water and the green peninsula of Stanley Park juts out into English Bay. Mountains tower over the city, creating foreboding shadows.
As the long, cold months come to an end, and the sun breaks through the clouds, only the most stubborn snow sits atop the highest peaks. The rest has melted, making way for blossoms, daylight stretching well into the evening and temperate weather ideal for outdoor activities. A seaplane arriving from one of the many surrounding islands gracefully glides towards Vancouver Harbour where it’ll touch down with the finesse of an Olympic diver.
Vancouver, in North America’s Pacific Northwest, is the gateway to Canada – a country bursting with jaw-dropping scenery, an abundance of wildlife and majestic nature. From Vancouver, travellers can ride the rails and travel across the Rockies via train, or cruise to Alaska. Heading east, Niagara Falls is just one of the many natural beauties on offer. Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland is a breathtaking geological wonder and includes unusual rock formations, waterfalls and cliff faces. City slickers looking for an urban environment should Practice their French and check out one of the many festivals that take place in Montreal during summer.
Vancouver buzzes during the summer months with warm, sunny days and crisp evenings. Patio hop to the many bars and restaurants around the city, buy fresh berries from Granville Island Public Market and cycle around the historic Stanley Park. Hiking, mountain biking and climbing are some of Vancouverites’ favourite activities, and there’s no shortage of places nearby where you can get your adrenaline pumping.
Only a short drive from downtown Vancouver, Quarry Rock offers a gentle hike combined with stunning views. Taking about 90 minutes to complete, the hike through Canadian forest includes a short incline then boardwalks, stairs and bridges to navigate rockier sections and creeks. At the end hikers are rewarded with camera-worthy views of the Indian Arm Inlet.
A summer visit to Vancouver isn’t complete without a trip to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Only 20 minutes from Vancouver’s city centre, the area has various forest trails and a treetop walk which includes hanging suspension bridges. The Capilano Suspension Bridge isn’t for the faint hearted though, with its glassfloor lookout providing walkers with a view to the canyon below.
With Vancouver nestled between the mountains and coast, climbing opportunities are plentiful. At Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver climbers can scale seaside cliffs and take in the stunning coastal surrounds.
There are more than 50,000 Canadian islands, but Vancouver Island is by far the most popular among tourists. Fly to Victoria – British Columbia’s capital – or catch a ferry across the Strait of Georgia. The vessel leaves from Tsawwassen, about 30km south of Vancouver, and makes its way through the rugged Gulf Islands before mooring at one of the ports dotted along the coast. Dense forests, windswept beaches, and an abundance of furred, feathered and finned wildlife await visitors.
Stretching 460km from Victoria to the remote Cape Scott in the north, each of the island’s six regions has something to offer. On the southern part of the island, the Butchart Gardens bloom in summer. Several green spaces have been created across the 22-hectare property. Evoke your inner zen in the Japanese Garden, be wowed by the rose-covered archway, or just sit and enjoy the colour and fragrance of the countless tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. During summer, bands entertain crowds on the concert lawns nestled among lush trees. And, as night falls, thousands of lights transform the garden into a magical wonderland.
For those looking for something that gets the adrenaline pumping, Mount Washington in the Central Region, has just as many adventure activities during the warmer months as it does in winter. Soar down 2313m of zipline, as you drop 415m down the mountain. Bike along steep, rocky trails at the Mount Washington Bike Park – the only lift-accessible mountain biking experience on the island. Take a chairlift to the peak and hike down along the Linton Trail or the West Summit Ridge – the views are nothing short of breathtaking.
Finish your trip to the island with a whale watching tour. Summer is a particularly good time to see these ocean giants, with about 20,000 Pacific gray whales making their yearly migration along the west coast. Orcas, humpback whales and minkes also hang out in the waters surrounding the island, plying their watery rituals. While you’re on the water, keep an eye out for other sea life like sea lions and dolphins.
Of course, flying is quicker than other forms of transport, but why not slow down a little and take in your surroundings with a cruise to Alaska or a train ride across the Rockies.
Board a cruise in Vancouver and travel along the west coast of Canada to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. The ship will travel into the heart of the Fairweather Mountains, providing visitors with an awe-inspiring experience. The mountains stretch down to the water’s edge, dwarfing the cruise ships that enter Glacier Bay. At times the shoreline can be a hive of activity, with bears, sea otters, mountain goats and bird life making appearances.
For those wanting to keep their feet dry, a cross-country rail trip on the Rocky Mountaineer provides travellers with just as many spectacular views. There are a few routes through the Rockies that can be taken from Vancouver. Travel east to Jasper or Banff and Lake Louise via Kamloops or Whistler. Train passengers can view the highest peaks in the Canadian Rockies from the glass-domed carriage as it makes its way through this mountainous region and the lush green forests.
The stunning landscape and wildlife don’t stop when you disembark the train. Travel via car along the Icefields Parkway, stopping in at the Columbia Icefield. Ride an Ice Explorer bus and make your way on to the Athabasca Glacier. The biggest glacier in Canada spans more than 6km2 and straddles the border between British Columbia and Alberta. Visitors can stand at the base of this wall of ice and be overcome by its sheer size.
Get festive in Montreal
Along with its foodie scene and French elegance, Montreal is also known as Canada’s summer festival hub. From June through to August, there are dozens of festivals to suit everyone’s taste. Have a chuckle at Just for Laughs – one of the world’s best comedy festivals. See stand-up comedy from the likes of Amy Schumer, Jimmy Carr and even Australian Tommy Little.
During July, downtown Montreal becomes a giant jazz club as part of Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. More than 400 artists perform over 10 days, with dozens of free concerts held on outdoor stages.
With Cirque du Soleil hailing from Canada, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s an annual circus festival. Every July Montreal Completement Cirque brings people together across the city with a mesmerising circus program. For 11 days the city’s venues, streets, parks and sidewalks become the stage for colourful high-flying performers.
Our favourite Canadian Summer tours
With so much to see and do in Canada and the United States, the hassle-free option of a tour might be perfect for you. Here are a few of our favourites.
APT Rockies Explorer and Alaska Cruise | 19 days
Travel from Vancouver to Banff on the Rocky Mountaineer before returning via Jasper and Whistler. Visit Victoria then embark on an Alaskan cruise from Vancouver.
Travelmarvel Reflections of the Rockies and Alaska Cruise | 21 days
Visit Jasper and Banff before returning to Vancouver on the Rocky Mountaineer to board a seven-night Holland America Line Alaskan Cruise.
Globus Eastern US Canada Discovery, New York to Boston | 14 Days
From New York City to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you’ll experience America in all its glorious shades, before scooting off to Canada, where you’ll immerse yourself in culture and marvel at natural wonders.