There's no denying that Canada is huge, so you'd be forgiven for not quite knowing how to begin exploring it. For one thing, the choices seem limitless. And frequently, the only cities on our radar are those ranking in the top spots for best quality of life. So what about the more adventurous pursuits?
These are our top picks for epic adventures that will leave you in awe, get your heart racing and cement your love for Canada.
1. Northern Lights in Yellowknife, NT
Yellowknife Northern Lights. Flickr Photo by GoToVan
Yellowknife is the go-to destination in Canada for the Northern Lights -- so much so that it has even named a place after the marvel (Aurora Village). To increase your chances of seeing the phenomenon on almost everyone's bucket list, travel between January and early April. The trick is to stay at least three nights, so that you can increase your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis. This is because even if there are clear skies, you won't necessarily see them. What makes them so remarkable is what makes them equally elusive: You need a combination of clear skies, high-particle activity and maybe some luck. I say this based on my own elusive treks to see the Northern Lights in other parts of the world.
Yellowknife has particularly good conditions for witnessing those green, glimmering lights because of the lack of cloud coverage and its position under the "Aurora Oval." You can rent a car and drive out yourself or take a night tour where a guide will tell you about the aboriginal beliefs about the Northern Lights.
2. Polar bears in Churchill, MB
Polar bears roaming in Churchill, Manitoba. Flickr photo by Gary Ullah
Every year, from September until November, polar bears pass through Churchill, Manitoba on their migration route (summers on land; winters hunting on the frozen Hudson Bay). While this may seem like a terrifying prospect -- and while you may ask yourself why anyone would visit a place with big polar bears -- it is a great opportunity to see these majestic animals in their natural environment.
Tours use giant Tundra Buggies so you cross the uneven ground (there are no roads in Churchill) at a safe distance.
3. Orca watching off Vancouver Island, B.C.
Orcas off the coast of Vanvoucer Island. Photo by Kirsten Powley
By this point, you might be a bit suspicious of my seemingly dangerous suggestions. First polar bears, now killer whales? Speaking first hand, seeing orcas in the wild is the most breathtaking experience. It also puts the mind to ease--unless your gasping along with everyone else in the boat when you first lock eyes on these majestic creatures.
There are plenty of places to visit, with sightings around Vancouver Island being the most likely, as the Johnstone Strait provides lots of food for orcas from mid-July to September. (Of course, nothing is guaranteed as nature tends to do its own thing.) To increase your chances of encountering an orca in the wild (and getting as close to it as you can) -- opt for a multiple-day kayak tour.
4. Surf in Tofino, B.C.
Surfing in Tofino. Photo courtesy of TourismTofino.com
Step aside California and Australia, there's a new surfing destination in town. Sure, surfing in Canada would probably strike you as a hilarious notion, but British Columbia's Tofino is as scenic as it gets.
The water is 10°C year-round, which is cold, but it's perfectly doable in a good wetsuit. It's ideal for both beginners and pro-surfers, but if you want a stronger swell, winter is the time to head into the water.
So why Tofino? It's unlike your usual beach destination in that it has rainforests, hiking and hot springs. It's basically the best of Canada merged into a laid-back surfing destination like California.
5. Iceberg Alley - Great Northern Peninsula, NL
Iceberg watching off Twillingate, NF. Photo courtesy of Newfoundlandlabrador.com
Ever wondered what an iceberg would look like up close? That is, without fearing for your life as the Titanic soundtrack eerily echoes in your ear.
Iceberg Alley stretches from the coast of Labrador to the northeast coast of Newfoundland. Popular places for iceberg sightings include St. John's/Cape Spear, Bonavista, Battle Harbour and Fogo Island. Depending on your level of excitement and adventure, you can watch from the land, take a boat trip or even kayak amongst the giants.
The icebergs are up to 10,000 years old and are so plentiful that East Coasters actually put them into drinks: there's Iceberg Water, Iceberg Vodka, Gin and Rum and even Iceberg Beer. It's worth visiting just to test out these concoctions.
6. Raft the highest tides in the world - Shubenacadie River, NS
Rafting along the Shubenacadie. Photo courtesy of NovaScotia.com
This isn't for the faint-hearted. Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia is home to the world's highest tides, rising up to 15 metres, resulting in a tidal wave or bore which flows up the river. Being more inventive and opportunistic than ever before, people have now made rafting on the Shubenacadie River a "thing." In small-powered zodiacs, you ride the collision of incoming tides, which can get very, very wet.
7. Ski, snowboard or zipline Whistler
The gondola at Whistler, BC. Flickr photo by Perfect Zero
As one of the world's best and most famous ski resorts, Whistler is perfect for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. With stunning views and great apres-ski options, Whistler brings people from all over the world.
If shredding the slopes isn't your thing or you're looking for an extra buzz, try ziplining. As you zoom (screaming at the top of your lungs, most likely) through the snow-capped trees, you'll get even closer to the mountain views Canada does so well.
8. Ice climbing in Alberta
Ice climbing near Lake Louise, Alberta. Flickr photo by davebloggs007
Defy gravity and even logic as you climb up an ice waterfall in the Canadian Rockies. Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise are not only breathtaking locations, but ideal places for adventure junkies ready to go with crampons and ice axes in tow.
As snow and ice trickles down each time you smack your axe into a frozen blue wall, you'll be blown away by the surreal nature and rush of ice climbing. It's like you're in a thriller version of the film Frozen.
9. Hang out at Toronto CN Tower
Edgewalk at the CN Tower. Flickr photo by Kevin Costain
Don't be fooled, I don't mean "hang out" metaphorically, but literally. The CN Tower's EdgeWalk is a panoramic view of the city on a whole other level: walk on the roof of the CN Tower's restaurant, which sits at 1,168 feet above ground and literally hang off the tower's edge. Sound scary? You bet it is, but you'll earn bragging rights for months.
Good thing Canadians are so trustworthy!
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Kirsten Powley is a Travelzoo Deal Expert based in Toronto. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.
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