The Trans-Canada Highway is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2012 and the centennial anniversary of the first coast-to-coast road trip made in the country — accomplished by Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney, travelling from Halifax to Victoria. Vacay.ca writers have hit the road to come up with great tales to tell along this vital and historic route. Previously, Katie Marti suggested tips on how best to see the British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba legs of the route. In the fifth installment, she lets you in on places to stop during the looooooooong drive across Ontario.
Story by Katie Marti
KENORA, ONTARIO — For those of us who think a city skyline looks best when viewed through the rearview mirror, most of Ontario is a road-tripping dream. With Kenora, Lake of the Woods, to the west, irresistible Algonquin Park to the east and a couple of Great Lakes in between, this entire leg of the Trans-Canada Highway is like a big, glorious natural wonder parade. Here’s the catch, though: It’s as tedious as it is beautiful. Transport trucks with 18 serious wheels abound, as do plenty of moose and deer, so driving the winding, single-lane highway across much of Ontario can be exhausting, requiring more in the way of energy and attention than all three Prairie provinces combined. My recommendation is to accept the fact you can’t beat the snail’s pace of the RV conga line that you will inevitably encounter. Instead, go ahead and join ’em!
Here are a few options for camping across Ontario, from west to east.
First up is Kenora. The first time I stayed here, I slept in the back of my car behind a gas station. I rolled in late at night after a mammoth drive from somewhere way too far away and had no idea what the small city looked like or, honestly, where I was on a map of Canada. In the morning, I was so pleasantly surprised by my drive through town that I almost considered blowing the agenda and spending another night, for real this time, just so I could enjoy the peaceful region a little while longer. Now, every time I drive across Ontario, I look forward to my traditional stop in Kenora for at least a cup of coffee, and continue to be greeted by postcard scenes and incredibly friendly people just doing their thing, whether it’s a fishing derby on Lake of the Woods or a classic car rally at Harbourtown Centre. As for overnighting in Kenora, there is a plethora of campgrounds and RV parks in the surrounding area, all of which can be researched and reserved here. I can’t recommend any one over another, but I will tell you this: Every single option is better than sleeping in a hatchback behind a gas station.
Parks Galore on a Drive Through Ontario
Now, no matter how you slice it, driving across Ontario will almost certainly involve spending a night somewhere along Lake Superior. And why not? It’s a stunning piece of Canadian geography that totally deserves it’s superlative name. Not surprisingly, then, I’ve explored a variety of camping options along this route. First, let me tout the KOA campgrounds I’ve had the pleasure to visit. There’s one just west of Thunder Bay and one on the outskirts of Sault Ste. Marie, both of which are quiet at night, full of activities during the day for kids, are guaranteed to be pet-friendly, and offer free Wi-Fi throughout, which you’ll greatly appreciate after a day spent without even so much as one bar on your cell phone through most of Northern Ontario. There are RV hookups, full-service sites and even little cabins with TVs and bunkbeds if camping is a bit of a stretch. They’re consistent and reliable and, as much as I do kind of cringe at the overuse of the letter K in their advertising and slogans, I’ve had nothing but great service at KOAs.
Having said that, I definitely recommend making it a top priority to plan your route so that a day or two in Lake Superior Provincial Park makes sense. The lake itself is so big and beautiful it almost feels like you’re on the coast. Take a dip in the chilly water and you’ll be even more convinced. But the beaches are spectacular and the campgrounds are pristine with much more of a wilderness vibe than many of the other campgrounds along the way, thanks in part to their lack of cell-phone coverage and wireless service. It’s camping, for real, and it’s awesome.
Finally, I can’t talk camping in Ontario without mentioning Algonquin Park. There is an option, when driving the Trans-Canada, to stick north along Highway 17, from North Bay straight to Ottawa. However, if time and energy permits, I beg you to take a detour down Highway 11 to Huntsville and then cut through the park. There are campsites all along the way and even spots to stop and rent a canoe for an afternoon. There are snowshoe and ski trails in winter and short hikes the rest of the year with trailheads right off the highway that offer iconic Group of Seven scenery to fill an entire photo album. And if you’re smart or lucky enough to be making the trip in October as the autumn leaves are changing colour? Well, it’s simply unlike anything else in all of Canada.
Trust me. I’ve been there.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TRANS-CANADA! Have you got a great photo to share or story to tell about the Trans-Canada Highway? Share it with Vacay Nation! Email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish it during this 50th anniversary of the highway, which opened on September 3, 1962 in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. (Photos should be sent as hi-resolution JPEG images.)