The Trans-Canada Highway is a national highway that runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean across the second-largest country in the world, Canada. Highway 1, as the locals call it, is in fact the world’s longest highway and connects the island towns of St. John’s, Newfoundland with Victoria, British Columbia, over 7,800 kilometres apart!
Now we may be biased coming from western Canada, but the most beautiful stretch of this amazing highway runs from the coastal city of Vancouver to the mountain town of Banff in the Canadian Rockies. There are too many highlights to list along this stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, itself nearly 1000kms in length. But let’s take a look at what we think are some of the top attractions along this amazing stretch of highway.
What to see and where to stop along the Trans-Canada Highway in Western Canada
Fraser Canyon and Hell’s Gate
Starting in Vancouver, you’ll spend the first two hours leaving the skyscrapers and people behind as you head out to some of the least populated areas of the BC. At the town of Hope, you are greeted with a wood carving of Rambo (the iconic movie was filmed here) and a choice of three highways heading east, Highway 1, 3 or 5. Of course, today we are taking Highway 1 north and head into the Fraser Canyon, featuring some of the most spectacular highway scenery in the world. Here we’ll find our first big attraction of note, Hell’s Gate. This attraction straddles the narrowest part of the Fraser Canyon with an aerial tram that you can take across the river to try your luck panning for gold!
Sicamous – Houseboat capital of Canada
As the Trans-Canada Highway winds along the Fraser Canyon (an exciting and beautiful drive) you’ll come to the town of Lytton, where the highway veers away from the Fraser River to start following the Thompson River onto Kamloops. Shortly after Kamloops, the highway brings you to Shuswap Lake and our choice for an overnight stop: Sicamous, the houseboat capital of Canada. If you have the time, spend a day or two on the lake in a houseboat. This rite of passage for locals is a great way to spend a hot summer day and the stores here will even deliver groceries, or pizza, to your houseboat out on the lake!
Photo Credit: Darren Robinson/Shuswap Tourism
Craigellachie & the Last Railway Spike
Shortly after leaving Sicamous, you’ll come across a very important part of Canada’s history – Craigellachie, the home of Canada’s “Last Spike” where the railroad being built from eastern Canada met the one started on the West Coast and officially joined Canada together as a nation in 1885. For those interested in railway and Canadian history, this is a can’t miss attraction.
Just after this historic attraction, a more light-hearted destination welcomes you: The Enchanted Forest. This quirky attraction offers visitors over 350 fairy tale figures and structures, as well as a SkyTrek Adventure Park, nature walks and rowboat tours – certain to delight the young and young at heart.
At this point, the highway begins to climb into the many mountain passes and national parks that makes western Canada so amazing. First, you’ll find yourself passing through the mountain town of Revelstoke, where you’ll enter one of Canada’s greatest parks, Glacier National Park. Here you’ll drive across Roger’s Pass – an amazing feat of engineering that helped connect Canada’s highway from coast to coast with a series of mountain tunnels and snow sheds. While this was the lowest pass through the Selkirk mountain range, the sheer amount of annual snowfall here caused a lot of problems for engineers. As well as building snow sheds along the side of the mountain, constant avalanche control is needed and in the winter you’ll hear artillery shells being fired onto the mountainside to prevent snow build-up. A visit to the Roger’ Pass historic site and visitor centre gives you a lot of interesting information on the area and you can enjoy numerous hikes from here as well. Be on the lookout for wildlife as sightings of black bears and mountain goats are not uncommon.
Next, we’ll come to another feat of engineering for Canada’s railroad system, the spiral tunnels near the community of Field. Be sure to head to one of the two viewpoints for these tunnels – one for the lower spiral tunnel and one for the upper tunnel. If a train travels through the tunnel and it is long enough, you’ll see the same train coming out of the tunnel towards you, while the backend of the same train travels above and perpendicular to it!
As you find yourself getting to the end of your western Canada adventure on the Trans-Canada Highway, you’ve got one last stop before arriving in Banff, the glacier-fed Lake Louise. This lake is famous for its turquoise colour and it’s a spectacular, world-famous photo opportunity. Canoe trips out onto the lake are an easy and very iconic Canadian activity for those looking for more than just a photo. If you have the time and the means, be sure to enjoy a stay at the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a castle-like hotel first built in the late 1800s for railway guests.
Well you’ve made it across the first 1000kms of the Trans-Canada Highway, are you ready for more adventure? If you have the time, you can continue on the Trans-Canada Highway for several more days and many more thousands of kilometres to find yourself on the edge of North America on the Atlantic Ocean. You are now closer to Europe than you are to Vancouver!
So, are you planning on travelling on this amazing highway soon and where do you want to visit?