Featured image: Discover off-the-beaten-path destinations like the Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles with these guidebooks for Canada | Photo by Debbie Olsen
Make travel planning even better with local guidebooks
by Carolyn Ray
We’ve come to rely on our smartphones for travel information, but when it comes to smaller destinations, nothing beats an accurate, well-written guidebook for hidden gems and inside information. Our latest reader survey shows that when it comes to planning travel, more than one guidebook is preferred, with Lonely Planet being the go-to for many women. Other popular guidebooks mentioned include Frommer’s, Fodor’s and Rick Steves, alongside Moon Travel Guides, Rough Guides, The Collected Travel Series and DK (Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides.)
In Canada, local guidebooks are flourishing, particularly in less-travelled places, so we invited travel writing colleagues from the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) to share their best work. These six books cover places in Eastern Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, written by local travel writers who actually live there. Not only have these talented authors been writing about their own backyards for years, all of these guidebooks about Canada are produced by small, independent publishers.
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Six guidebooks for Canada to help you get off the beaten track
Whether you’re driving, walking or road-tripping, these six travel guidebooks will help you discover natural spaces, historic places and little-known backroads, from the Big Muddy Badlands, Whitehorse Wildland, Columbia Icefield or Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.
1. Ottawa Road Trips: Your 100-km Getaway Guide by Laura Byrne Paquet
This guide to day trips from Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, focuses on communities, natural areas, restaurants, shops, historic sites and more within a 100-km drive of Parliament Hill. It covers Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and the Outaouais, areas author Laura Paquet has been covering since 2014 on her OttawaRoadTrips.com website and for years before that for magazines and newspapers.
“During the pandemic, a local publisher approached me to write the book because interest in local travel skyrocketed,” says Paquet. “I love writing about this region, as there are so many undiscovered things to see and do.”
Where to get it: Ottawa Road Trips: Your 100-km Getaway Guide is available from Ottawa Press and Publishing at a cost of $19.95
A sculpture of basketball inventor James Naismith holds pride of place in his birthplace of Almonte, Ontario, a charming community about a 40-minute drive southwest of Parliament Hill / Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet
2. Ottawa Road Trips: Your Weekend Getaway Guide by Laura Byrne Paquet
Like its predecessor, this guidebook by local Ottawa resident Laura Byrne Paquet starts in Ottawa but takes travellers further afield to popular destinations such as Kingston, the Tremblant resort in Quebec and the Adirondacks in northern New York state. Ottawa Road Trips: Your Weekend Getaway Guide includes areas Paquet has been covering for almost 10 years on her OttawaRoadTrips.com website, as well as in magazines and newspapers.
“My previous book with a similar format, on places closer to Ottawa, was such a success that the publisher approached me to write a sequel,” says Paquet. “I was happy to—I love sparking people’s interest in these places!”
This guide to weekend getaways from Ottawa focuses on communities, natural areas, restaurants, shops, historic sites and more within a drive of 100 to 450 kilometres of Parliament Hill—basically, the outer limits of the distance most people are willing to drive for a weekend or long weekend trip.
Where to get it: Ottawa Road Trips: Your Weekend Getaway Guide is available from Ottawa Press and Publishing for $19.95
Boat cruises through the 1000 Islands in the St. Lawrence River are popular outings from Gananoque, Ontario, and other communities on both the Canadian and American sides of the river / Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet
3. Saskatchewan’s Best Scenic Drives, Revised and Updated Edition, 2023 by Robin and Arlene Karpan
Saskatchewan is tailor-made for backroad exploring, with more roads than any province in Canada—enough to circle the equator four times. Possibilities are mind-boggling, from drives through spectacular river valleys to sweeping natural grasslands, lake-studded boreal forest, wild badlands, breathtaking viewpoints, little-known hideaways, historic treasures, and some of Canada’s largest sand dunes.
“We’ve been exploring Saskatchewan’s backroads for many years and wrote and published Saskatchewan’s Best Scenic Drives for those who enjoy the journey rather than travelling somewhere by the fastest route,” say the Karpans. “We offer suggestions for taking the road less travelled – secondary highways, gravel roads, and lonely backroads. These routes take visitors into some of the most gorgeous countrysides that Saskatchewan has to offer.”
Drive a third of the way across Saskatchewan entirely in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Take a little-known backroad through the Big Muddy Badlands. Wander through the Thickwood Hills to the other-worldly “Crooked Trees”. Combine your drive with awesome hikes and nature walks. Precise directions, GPS coordinates, and maps make it easy to visit many of Saskatchewan’s scenic wonders.
Where to get it: Saskatchewan’s Best Scenic Drives is available is available on Amazon here, at bookstores for $29.95, or direct from Parkland Publishing. Email: [email protected]
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The Qu’Appelle River winds across southern Saskatchewan in a broad valley rich in agricultural land / Photo by Robin and Arlene Karpan
4. The Great Saskatchewan Bucket List by Robin and Arlene Karpan
Saskatchewan abounds with natural wonders, but The Great Saskatchewan Bucket List takes you to the best of the best. Follow award-winning writers and photographers, Robin and Arlene Karpan, to almost every corner of Saskatchewan, from the deep south to the far north, to experience the cream of the crop. Discover 50 unforgettable Saskatchewan natural places before you “kick the bucket”. In every case, it’s something special that leaves you with a sense of wonder.
“After several years of travelling to almost every corner of Saskatchewan, we identified 50 unforgettable places as among the best of the best,” say Robin and Arlene Kaplan. “We hope that this book will be used to not only see the specific places mentioned, but will also serve as a starting point to visit other fascinating sights in the same area. Now is the perfect time to start checking things off your bucket list.”
Hunt Falls on the Grease River in northern Saskatchewan plunges 15 metres in a single drop across a 60-metre-wide fault line / Photo by Robin and Arlene Karpan
5. Top 150 Unusual Things to See in Alberta by Debbie Olsen
Have you ever wanted to dine in a water tower, explore the site of a former beaver ranch or take a scenic potty break in a mountain-top outhouse? Top 150 Unusual Things to See in Alberta is the ultimate guide for travellers looking for the quirky, unique and inspiring side of Alberta. Travel writer and author Debbie Olsen, a proud Albertan who’s visited nearly every corner of the province, has assembled a list of over 150 unusual places, things to see and events that make Alberta one-of-a-kind; from its dozens of roadside attractions and surprising landforms to its fascinating historical sites and off-beat museums.
Organized into four regions – South of Calgary, Edmonton to Calgary, the Alberta Rockies and North of Edmonton – this guidebook takes you on a journey across the province, with lively text that sheds light on each location’s interesting history, as well as maps, contact information, fact boxes and colour photographs that bring the spots to life.
The book also features themed entries, such as museums that celebrate Alberta’s energy production, unusual roadside attractions, unusual bathrooms (for regular people), unusual festivals and events, and unusual foods invented in Alberta. Top 150 Unusual Things to See in Alberta is a fun and entertaining jaunt for armchair travellers and road-trippers alike.
The Burmis tree in the Crowsnest Pass is quite possibly the world’s most photographed dead tree. Protecting the dead tree was a consideration when the highway was built. When vandals cut off a limb of the tree, locals glued it back on and built a support for the limb / Photo by Greg Olsen
6. 200 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta (Second edition) by Debbie Olsen and Leigh McAdam
The first edition of “125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta” was a Globe and Mail bestseller. The new edition is organized by region for easy reading and navigation. Each hot spot entry includes a detailed destination profile, colour photographs and a sidebar of at-a-glance information, featuring all the activities one can expect to enjoy.
Some of the hot spots include: Whitehorse Wildland, one of the few places in Alberta where you can drive to an alpine meadow; Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains; and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador. 200 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta is the perfect companion for all visitors travelling to Alberta, from those preparing to witness the province’s natural wonder for the first time to those who are looking forward to experiencing it all over again.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the highest concentration of Cretaceous fossils in the world as well as fascinating geological formations / Photo by Greg Olsen
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