Last updated on July 14th, 2023
Lead image: Cape Scott Provincial Park on Vancouver Island | Photo by Jordan Dyck for Vancouver Island North Tourism
15+ less-travelled places for women to explore in Canada
by Carolyn Ray, Editor, JourneyWoman
In June 2023, I attended an annual conference hosted by the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC), where hundreds of industry and media travel professionals gather to exchange story ideas, share hidden gems and keep up to date on skills, trends and techniques. Millions of people call themselves travel “experts,” but only a handful of travel media worldwide can truly be called trusted sources. As a member of TMAC, JourneyWoman adheres to the highest journalistic standards and ethics and we must requalify every year to maintain our status.
In addition to being a speaker at the four-day conference in Sudbury, Ontario, I had the opportunity to meet with experts from tourism boards from across Canada, who shared some of their recommendations for solo women who want to explore lesser-known places, with safety and accessibility in mind. Many of these places are also perfect for off-season travel, which can help reduce travel expenses.
While many of us know larger cities like Toronto or Montreal, these hidden gems in Canada remind us that there is so much to experience in small, lesser-known towns and villages, from Newfoundland to British Columbia. In most cases, you can get to major metropolitan areas by train, and then rent a car for a road trip journey. For example, I took a Via Rail train to Sudbury and was impressed by the experience and the service. Wherever you’re going, don’t forget to turn on the JourneyWoman Travel Playlist on Spotify (it’s free), which includes over 300 songs contributed by JourneyWoman readers and quite a nice selection of Canadian artists from Jann Arden to the Tragically Hip and Gordon Lightfoot. Enjoy!
15 hidden gems in Canada
In the past several years, I’ve travelled like never before in Canada.
Before the pandemic, I went to Vancouver and then to Tofino, on Vancouver Island, in British Colombia, where I learned how to surf and watched the wonder of blue whales and humpbacks breaching only a short distance away. When the pandemic started in 2020, I travelled near home, visiting unique stays in small towns across Ontario. I camped, glamped and hiked in Algonquin Park in July 2020 and 2021, swam in the Italy-like turquoise waters of Tobermory in August 2020 and saw the stunning fall colours from the cliffs at the Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island in October 2020.
In August 2021, I was invited to go backcountry horseback riding in Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta. A month later, in September 2021, I walked “Canada’s Camino in Prince Edward Island (PEI). In June 2021, I visited lighthouses in Nova Scotia including the iconic Peggy’s Cove. Most recently, I spent time in Quebec City at a transformational travel retreat in May 2023. This fall, I’m hoping to return to Western Canada and next spring, I’ll be in St. John’s, Newfoundland for TMAC 2024. You can read about all of these places and more in our Best Places in Canada for Solo Women.
If that doesn’t give you some travel inspiration, here are other hidden gems in Canada, straight from the travel experts themselves, that might pique your curiosity. All of these were provided just for our readers, with safety and women’s interests in mind.
1. L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, Newfoundland: We know Newfoundland for its famous Iceberg Alley and whales, but there’s much more to discover. Located at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula of the island of Newfoundland is the remains of an 11th-century Viking settlement, evidence of the first European presence in North America. The excavated remains of wood-framed peat-turf buildings are similar to those found in Norse Greenland and Iceland. L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site is the first and only known site established by Vikings in North America and the earliest evidence of European settlement in the New World. As such, it is a unique milestone in the history of human migration and discovery.
2. Elliston, Newfoundland: Roots, Rants and Roars: In Eastern Newfoundland, come to Elliston on the third weekend in September, and you’ll discover the root cellar capital of the world. This town becomes the backdrop for Roots, Rants and Roars, a two-day food festival celebrating Newfoundland’s food, culture, land, and sea, attended by approximately 700 people each year. Since the inaugural event in 2009, Roots, Rants and Roars has grown to become the premier culinary event in Newfoundland and Labrador and has become recognized throughout Canada as one of the top national culinary festivals.
3. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Fall is a great time to visit Fredericton and enjoy its charming and historic bed and breakfasts, such as Quartermain House, voted one of the best B&Bs in North America. I’m sure this quaint house inspired a Hallmark movie or two. Another one is By the River, which hosts writer’s retreats and dates back to 1903. With 3 rooms, prices range from CAD $135 to $208, breakfast included, and each room is named for something significant in Fredericton – a river boat that would have steamed past, a renowned children’s author, and the First Nations original name for the Saint John River. Fredericton also hosts the New Brunswick Highland Games Festival, which takes place July 28-30 in downtown Fredericton.
4. Saint-Pierre and Miquelon: Another hidden gem just 20 minutes from the Newfoundland coast are the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Saint-Pierre isn’t like France; it is France! It has its own time zone (half an hour ahead of Newfoundland time), its own culture, and its own way of life Here, the official currency is the Euro, but most businesses will accept Canadian dollars. The archipelago is a relatively small region that hosts a fair number of tourists each season, so book ahead. (Try La Terrasse Hotel and Spa). This is a nature lover’s paradise, with puffins, whales, and hiking. Don’t forget your passport!
5. Quebec Maritime Region: This region covers four tourist areas united by the sea: Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Côte-Nord and the Îles de la Madeleine. It’s about twice the size of New York State with less than 400,000 people and over 3,000 km of coastline dotted with 45 lighthouses and the highest mountains in Quebec. There is wildlife at every turn, with blue whales, belugas, caribou, deer and the Percé UNESCO Geopark, which offers visitors the opportunity to discover some 500 million years of geologic history. This region is one of the best in the world for whale watching, with three internationally renowned research groups, some of which offer sea excursions with the researchers.
6. Wendake, near Quebec City, Quebec: Onhwa’ Lumina: While we know Quebec City as one of the oldest cities in Canada, at nearby Wendake, the Moment Factory has created an enchanted night walk that celebrates the Huron-Wendat Nation and their way of life. This 1.2-kilometre pathway is infused with the magic of light, sound and video projections, allowing visitors to become immersed in ancestral rhythm and song.
7. Eastern Townships, Quebec: Another hidden gem in Canada, located in southern Quebec in the Eastern Townships region, is the Mont Mégantic Dark Sky Reserve, which helps protect the wonderful nocturnal landscapes that surround Mont Mégantic. This is the very first International Dark Sky Reserve certified by Dark Sky International. This is also a way to learn about the effects of light pollution, which refers to excessive or inappropriate use of artificial light. Light at night can have many harmful consequences, not only on the visibility of the night sky, but also on wildlife, ecosystems, security and health.
8. Foraging in Trois-Rivières, Quebec: The Laurentians are a region rich in wide-open forests, authentic northern cuisine and activities related to mushrooms and forest edibles. In Trois-Rivères, you can learn about guided harvesting in the forest, immerse yourself in a gastronomic feast under the forest canopy with a SiLVA® chef, or take the scenic routes that lead you to the best mycological restaurants in the region’s towns and villages. Stay at lodges in the forest, like the 150-year-old family-owned La Seignieurie du Triton, which is only accessible by boat or plane.
9. Killarney Park, Ontario: If backcountry is your style, you can stay in the same cabin (or yurt) that I did, in Killarney Park, just outside Sudbury, Ontario. Killarney is a wilderness class park, which means it is as natural as possible, with large areas where visitors can only travel on foot or by canoe. Set along Georgian Bay, this area has pink granite rocks, the La Cloche Mountains’ white quartzite ridges and over 50 exceptionally clear, sapphire lakes set among Jack Pine hills. One of the biggest draws at Killarney Park is an extremely challenging hike called ‘The Crack’ in the LaCloche Mountain range at Killarney. There is also a very intriguing 82-km trail called the “Silhouette Trail’, which takes 10 days. If you are considering hiking it please read the safety instructions here. You can get to this park using ParkBus, a service that operates from Toronto and other areas.
Many of the Group of Seven painters like AY Jackson found inspiration here – and also helped protect this land from logging through their art. It is still recovering from the effects of acid rain from the Sudbury smelter complex and other industrial sources, however, through the efforts of groups like Friends of Killarney Park, substantial progress has been made revitalizing the area. There is a Dark Sky Preserve here, and from October 13-15, Killarney hosts its annual Stars Over Killarney weekend. Don’t forget your bug spray and apps for stargazing and birding, including SkyView Lite, Merlin and iNaturalist, all free from the Apple store.
10. Kingston, Ontario: While we may know Kingston for its charming Crawford Wharf and the 1,000 Islands in the summer, it is also a great shoulder season destination. Many of the historic inns have been renovated and offer unique experiences, including the Frontenac Club, The Rosemount Inn, The Smith Hotel, and The Secret Garden Inn. In September, Kingston has a Writer’s Festival and wellness retreats in the off-season. I make Chez Piggy a regular stop when I visit and there are food tours with Kingston Food Tours. Find more inspiration for this historic town here.
Read More: A Solo Walk on the Vancouver Island Trail
11. Peterborough, Ontario: Opening in Fall 2023, the NEW Canadian Canoe Museum’s 65,000-square-foot museum and lakefront campus located on the Trent-Severn Waterway will not only care for the watercraft and share their stories, it will enable visitors and youth to experience the transformative nature of the canoe and enjoy the outdoors firsthand. The new facility on Little Lake (at 2077 Ashburnham Drive) will inspire the community and visitors to learn about Canada’s collective history and build connections to land, water and one another – all through the unique lens of the iconic canoe. Visitors will be able to walk through the front doors and paddle out the back!
12. Cranbrook, British Columbia: Cranbrook is about four hours from Calgary, the home of the Calgary Stampede, which takes place in July. While I’m not a huge fan of resorts or casinos, I’d make the trip to see St. Eugene. Nestled in the spectacular Rocky Mountains and located within the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation, St. Eugene was once a residential school. The schools were part of a policy to assimilate Indigenous people into the non-Native population. It was reclaimed by the Ktunaxa Nation in 2017 and reopened in 2020, offering visitors an opportunity to learn about indigenous culture and history.
13. Tumbler Ridge, Northern British Columbia: Famous for its numerous dinosaur bones and footprints, Tumbler Ridge is a UNESCO Global Geopark, which is an area recognized as having an internationally significant geological heritage. Geoparks aim to reconnect people to the earth, whether through hiking trails, learning about mountain building, eating food grown in the local soils, or celebrating the stories of the people who have lived here since time immemorial. The geology in a Geopark may be linked to sites with interesting archaeology, wildlife, history, folklore and culture.
14. Kelowna, British Colombia: Nestled in the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada, the Thompson Okanagan is a diverse area roughly the same size as Ireland. It’s also home to over 120 communities, including 33 Indigenous communities, and more than 200 licensed wineries. Learn about Indigenous culture at Spirit Ranch in Osoyoos (south of Kelowna) or take some time for self-care at Sparkling Hill Spa in Vernon (check rates here).
15. Uceluelet and Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island: Rounding out this list of hidden gems in Canada is Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island is remarkable in the tourism industry because it has transitioned from a destination management organization (a traditional business model) to a social enterprise called 4VI, a business created to ensure that travel is a force for good for Vancouver Island – forever. To contribute to a more sustainable tourism sector, 4VI is a signatory to the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, a global commitment led by the UNWTO to halve emissions by 2030 and reach Net Zero before 2050. Vancouver Island is 460 kilometres long, from the provincial capital of Victoria to Cape Scott Provincial Park, with several small islands, the Gulf Islands and Discovery Islands, between the Salish Sea and Discovery Passage, respectively. Ucluelet sits on the west coast of Vancouver Island and is an outdoor paradise with ocean salmon fishing, incredible hiking, whale watching, kayaking, surfing and storm watching. Port Renfrew is best known as the trailhead for both the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and the historic West Coast Trail, a world-famous hiking trail built in 1907 to save sailors shipwrecked on the rugged coastline.
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