Canada is packed full of try-before-you-die experiences, finds Katie McGonagle
Some holidays should come with a health warning: ‘could inspire feelings of intense jealousy in friends and neighbours’.
Then again, when it comes to feeling the fresh spray from thundering Niagara Falls, cheering on rodeo riders at Calgary stampede or searching out polar bears in the midst of an icy wilderness, it’s well worth risking the envy of others.
These are the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that travellers dream about for years before booking, whether they want to see natural beauty and bewitching wildlife, or sample sporting activities and urban adventures first-hand.
Inspire your clients to turn their dreams into reality with our guide to booking some of the best ‘bucket list’ experiences Canada has to offer – and with a destination as vast and varied as this one, there are plenty to choose from.
Bear-spotting in British Columbia
It’s a classic David v Goliath battle, as the huge grizzly bear stands in the midst of a free-flowing river, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting salmon as they swim upstream toward their spawning grounds.
Whether you’re rooting for the hungry bear or urging the salmon to escape its clutches, this amazing natural phenomenon is best observed in British Columbia, home to the elusive white ‘spirit’ bear, plus more than half of Canada’s grizzlies and a quarter of black bears. See this spectacle in autumn, or go in spring to see them emerging from hibernation with their cubs.
Bear-spotting opportunities abound in coastal coves and inlets, though some tours stray inland to forest habitats, such as Thomas Cook Tours’ Bears of the West Coast, which includes Whistler Blackcomb Mountains.
The new 16-room Knight Inlet Lodge – a popular choice with operators – opens in Glendale Cove this May after a fire destroyed the original property.
Book it: A week’s bear-watching with Bridge & Wickers starts at £2,390, with accommodation in Vancouver, Knight Inlet Lodge and Camp River, plus Air Canada flights, private transfers and some meals.
020 3411 0711
Rockies by rail
What better way to see the spectacular Rocky Mountains than on one of the most iconic train journeys in the world? Rocky Mountaineer is a classic for good reason, with glass-domed carriages giving passengers prime viewing opportunities and multiple routes offering flexibility on the duration and direction of travel.
The operator is enjoying its best forward bookings in five years thanks to the introduction of a mid-level SilverLeaf service and new Coastal Passage route from Seattle to appeal to the cruise market. Its most popular route, First Passage to the West, has also added a stop at Lake Louise.
Book it: Coastal Passage starts at £1,990 for three days from Jasper to Seattle, with GoldLeaf service, two nights’ accommodation, some meals and transfers. The First Passage to the West costs from £624 for a two-day Vancouver to Lake Louise route.
Ski season in Whistler
It’s consistently ranked as one of the world’s best destinations for skiing and snowboarding, so any fan of the white stuff should make time for a visit.
At more than 8,000 acres, the resort boasts a superb combination of woodland trails, high open bowls and some of the best powder in North America. Snowboarders can also make the most of five terrain parks and two half-pipes across the two mountains.
Having kids or non-skiers in tow needn’t be a barrier: little ones are well catered-for with ski schools and a purpose-built village packed with fun and games, while non-skiers can indulge in snowmobiling, snowshoeing and the lively après-ski.
Book it: Inghams offers seven nights’ self-catering at Delta Whistler Village Suites from £1,080, including flights, transfers, free shuttle to the lifts and $20 restaurant voucher.
Howdy there, cowboy, it’s time for the world’s biggest rodeo. Having attracted plenty of publicity for its 100th anniversary last year, expect a renewed surge of interest for this year’s stampede, July 5-14.
The rodeo is the big draw – watch as riders fight it out to be crowned best bull rider, barrel racer or bareback rider. There’s also a huge parade, chuckwagon races, stage shows, concerts, First Nations exhibitions and a ‘midway’ – or funfair to us Brits.
Book it: Prestige Holidays has a three-night Calgary Stampede package for £472 land-only, with accommodation, afternoon rodeo ticket with gate admission, evening ticket to the chuckwagon races and grandstand show, and a skyride over Stampede Park.
Lie back at Lake Louise
This tranquil mountain lake is in a secluded spot at the heart of Banff National Park, overlooked by snow-capped peaks and fed by the run-off from Victoria Glacier.
With shimmering turquoise waters and beautiful surroundings to explore, it’s perfect for a relaxing getaway in the Rockies. More adventurous types, however, can try canoeing, fishing, hiking and rock climbing in summer, or ice skating and dog-sledding in winter.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a grand, high-end choice right on the lake, but there are more affordable lodges and bed-and-breakfasts available.
Book it: Virgin Holidays has a week’s room-only at Lake Louise Inn from £935, with car hire and flights to Alberta on April 22.
0844 557 3973
Polar bears by buggy
These magnificent creatures have long been a subject of fascination, and never more so since they took centre stage in the BBC’s Frozen Planet.
But do your clients know how to get out onto those icy expanses and see the bears first-hand? It requires a bit of effort to get to – most tours are concentrated around Churchill in northern Manitoba, with flights from Winnipeg – and certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s a rare opportunity for real enthusiasts to fulfil a lifelong ambition.
Book it: Signature from Thomas Cook’s three-day package includes a day spotting polar bears in Churchill from a tundra buggy, plus two nights’ accommodation in Winnipeg and round-trip chartered flights, from £1,242. A six-day tour, also including a helicopter flight and evening trip to see the northern lights, costs from £3,584.
0844 871 6640
Fall in love with the falls
Niagara Falls requires no introduction – it’s practically compulsory for any Ontario visitor to see this awesome spectacle, so it shouldn’t be a hard sell. There are endless options for getting the best view, depending on whether clients are willing to get wet.
The Maid of the Mist is the oldest and best known; the half-hour boat ride to the foot of the falls departs every 15 minutes, from April to October.
The Journey Behind the Falls – a popular alternative in winter months – takes visitors onto an observation deck behind Horseshoe Falls, though they’re likely to get a bit of a dousing.
Travel 2 offers pre-bookable helicopter flights to see the falls from above, while Attraction World has begun featuring the Skylon Tower, a 520ft observation tower with incredible views (from £10 per adult, £6 per child).
Book it: Travel 2’s five-day Essential Toronto & Niagara Falls trip offers accommodation, flights, transfers and excursions including Maid of the Mist or Journey Behind the Falls, from £949 in April or May. Add a helicopter flight from £87.
Watch the sun set over Toronto
Toronto is a city of skyscrapers, so where better to admire the view than from the revolving restaurant atop the tallest of them all, the CN Tower?
No visit to this ever-evolving metropolis would be complete without seeing the transformation from busy, business-like day to buzzing, neon-filled night. Look out for the newest addition to the skyline, the 59-storey Trump International Hotel and Tower, plus the modernist City Hall and natural beauty of Lake Ontario.
For daredevil clients, suggest the recently-opened EdgeWalk, a full-circle walk around the roof of the restaurant – a stomach-churning 1,168ft high – tethered to an overhead rail.
Book it: Attraction World offers a three-course dinner at 360 The Restaurant plus entry to the inside Observation Deck from £86 per adult and £44 per child (four-12).
0871 700 8888
Whale-watching on the St Lawrence River
Quebec City is rich in history and culture, but add a splash of wildlife-watching to tick all the tourist boxes.
The St Lawrence River is a haven for endangered beluga whales, humpbacks, dolphins and porpoises, and even the occasional blue whale.
It’s closer to land than many other whale-watching sites, and there is also spectacular scenery, historic lighthouses and verdant national parks to look out for along its banks.
Book it: Premier Holidays offers a full-day tour from Quebec City through the Charlevoix Region to Baie-Sainte-Catherine for a whale-watching cruise, from £103 (May-October). A seven-night room-only stay at Hotel Clarendon Quebec with Air Canada flights to Montreal starts at £1,136 in June.
0844 493 7531
Drive the Cabot Trail
This 185-mile journey around the rugged northern tip of Nova Scotia is the epitome of Atlantic Canada’s gentle charm.
There are myriad views over the Gulf of St Lawrence and tumultuous Atlantic Ocean, so it’s best to take a couple of days and allow time to admire the scenery.
The route, named after 15th-century explorer John Cabot, passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which has beautiful hiking and cycling trails, and fishing villages like Ingonish and Belle Cote.
Book it: Charms and Treasures of the Maritimes, a 15-day self-drive from Tailor Made Travel featuring a complete loop of the Cabot Trail, starts at £2,099 including flights to Halifax, accommodation, car hire, ferry crossings and city tour.
0800 988 5887
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