Eastern vs Western Canada
Tuesday, 5th March 2019
A vast country, Canada is 41 times bigger than the UK and spans six time zones. It also offers a huge amount of diversity and choice – so which is the coast with the most? Will you opt for the Atlantic provinces with their spectacular whale watching, world heritage sites and rich maritime history, or will you head west to the Pacific for First Nations culture, the Great Bear Rainforest and Inside Passage?
Best for bear watching
Grand, green and groaning with grizzlies, the Great Bear Rainforest is also home to the Kermode (spirit) bear – a rare subspecies of black bear. Reached by floatplane, 80km from Campbell River, Knight Inlet Lodge is one of the best places in Canada to spot grizzly bears – up to 50 can be seen within 10km of the lodge during the autumn salmon-feeding frenzy.
Black bears can be glimpsed throughout much of Atlantic Canada – from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia. For polar bears, head to the spectacular Torngat Mountains National Park on the Arctic coast of Labrador.
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Best for self drive
The beauty of a self drive holiday in the west is that you can combine the open road with ferry trips along the Inside Passage and a classic train journey on the Rocky Mountaineer. In just two or three weeks, you’ll be able to dabble your toes in the Pacific, dawdle through the Rockies and enjoy a spectacular succession of provincial parks on the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler.
How can the east possibly compete on this one? Well, for starters it has the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia – a scenic drive right up there with anything the west can offer. New Brunswick’s Fundy Coastal Drive is particularly eye-catching in early fall with a fiery display of leaves, while Newfoundland is easy to reach and awash with maritime charm and wild places.
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Best for adventure
Ramble in the Rockies, stride out on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail, kayak in Johnstone Strait, go dog sledding, horse riding… the adventure opportunities in British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon are almost endless.
Not to be outdone by the west, activities in eastern Canada include hiking in Gros Morne National Park, tidal bore rafting in the Bay of Fundy and paddling with icebergs off Newfoundland.
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Best for wild landscapes
Old-growth forest meets surf-raked shore in the Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, while Kluane National Park in the Yukon is a wilderness of peaks, glaciers and forests. Then there’s the Great Bear Rainforest and spectacular Rocky Mountain national parks like Banff, Jasper and Yoho.
Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland offers superb mountain hiking across stark, salmon-pink rocks sheared from the crust of an ancient seabed. More than 85% of New Brunswick is covered in forests, while the remote coastline of Labrador is riven by deep fjords.
Best for whale watching
Johnstone Strait, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbian mainland, is one of the best places in the world to see orcas (May to September). Humpback whales can also be seen, while grey whales migrate along the west coast of Vancouver Island during March and April.
The spring thaw sparks a food-chain reaction in the Gulf of St Lawrence that lures a variety of whales, including beluga, fin, minke, humpback and blue. Further south, the Bay of Fundy is renowned both for its enormous tides (up to 16m) and superb whale watching. Boat trips operate from Digby in Nova Scotia and the St Andrews area in New Brunswick. Humpback (shown right), fin, minke and the endangered northern right whale are all possibilities.
Best for culture
Bald eagles, bears and orcas gain mythological stature in the minds and carvings of the First Nations people of the Pacific Northwest. Alert Bay is a centre of native culture and art, while museums in Vancouver and Victoria showcase the region’s rich history and cultural diversity.
For an insight into 11th-century Viking settlers, head for the World Heritage L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Celtic influences, meanwhile, are evident throughout the Maritime provinces.
Best for cities
Vancouver has repeatedly been voted the best city in the world to live. Take the ferry to nearby Victoria on Vancouver Island and you get two beautiful, waterside cities in one trip.
Charming and colourful, St John’s in Newfoundland is the oldest city in North America. Halifax in Nova Scotia has a modern feel, with trendy waterfront dining.
Best for maritime history
Forested islands, wedged against the mainland of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, form a channel stretching 1600km from Seattle to the old gold rush town of Skagway that. The Inside Passage is one of the world’s great marine highways, plied by generations of fishermen, traders and travellers. Follow in their wake by taking the ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert and beyond.
When John Cabot returned from Newfoundland in the late 15th century with tales of “a sea so full of fish that a basket thrown overboard is hauled back brimming with cod” there was no stopping the rush of settlers to the New World. Atlantic Canada is renowned for its maritime heritage. Fishing villages and lighthouses pepper its coastline, while historic cities like St John’s and Halifax have strong seafaring legacies. Be sure to visit the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
Best for family holidays
Cities like Vancouver and Calgary have family friendly adventures waiting right on their doorsteps, whether you plan to hike, kayak, ride a horse or watch for whales.
Kids can also get stuck into the Great Outdoors way out east, with activities ranging from rockpooling along the coast of Nova Scotia to exploring the geological wonders of Newfoundland.
Planning your Canada Holiday
For further inspiration and itinerary ideas, view our collection of Canada holidays.
Alternatively, you can contact our team of accredited Canada Specialists who are on hand to offer help and advice and can create the perfect holiday for you, from flights and stopovers to all your ground arrangements.