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Legends of the Fall: Canada’s spectacular autumn showcase

Jasper, Alberta

Nature is Canada’s artist-in-residence, dipping into her paintbox for colours that define each season. In autumn, the crowds are thinner, foliage is at its finest and sunsets at their blazing best. It’s time to enjoy these Legends of the Fall.

Unparalleled wildlife experiences

The migration of polar bears onto Hudson Bay’s expansive sea ice during October and November makes visiting Churchill, Manitoba’s northern-most seaport, a bucket list buy-in. In this “polar bear capital of the world”, board an environmentally friendly electric Tundra Buggy® and get ready to be awed by the Arctic’s apex predator in its natural habitat.

Autumn is the best time for grizzly bear viewing in British Columbia (BC) as the bears start fattening up for their winter hibernation. In BC, home to 1,110 species of animals, see grizzlies feeding on salmon in the wild. Throughout summer and autumn, all five species of North American Pacific salmon leave the ocean and return to the streams and rivers of their birthplace to spawn. You can even snorkel amongst them!

Fall Polar Bears Credit Travel Manitoba
Fall Polar Bears credit Travel Manitoba

The Great Bear Rainforest on the Pacific coast accommodates more than just grizzlies. The magical Princess Royal Island is home to the rare Kermode (Spirit) bear, a sub-species of black bear with an all-white coat. Whether you are hiking, boating, or even driving in BC, keep a lookout for bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goats, both black and grizzly bears, whales, dolphins, and sea lions.

Credit Destination Canada

Some 30 species of whales swim the waters along the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific coasts. The whale-watching season generally runs from May to October. In early autumn, visitors to Vancouver Island can watch pods of orcas, humpback and minke whales, as well as dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea otters and sea lions. The orcas come for salmon, for socialising and – a unique quirk! ­­– to rub their bodies on the region’s smooth pebble beaches.

Grizzly bear credit Julie King

From mid-November to mid-February, one of the world’s largest concentrations of bald eagles gather to feed on salmon at Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park near Squamish, about an hour from Vancouver.

In the Northwest Territories, the Wood Buffalo National Park rewards visit with wolves, black bears, the world’s last surviving whooping cranes, and, of course, the wood bison.

Credit Jeremy Koreski
Credit Jeremy Koreski

Spectacular road trips

Whether it’s a short scenic drive or a cross-country adventure, Canada, the world’s second largest country, is the road-trip role model. And autumn is one of the best times to hit the road.

Road-trippers are spoilt for choice, with each province offering a unique landscape. Which are the best road trips? Add to list: Rainforest to Rockies, from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies the quintessential journey through ever-changing terrain; the Icefields Parkway, which links Banff National Park and Jasper National Park and is one of the most scenic highways in the world; and the grasslands of Saskatchewan, where you can spot bison that have been recently reintroduced.

Explore the Interlake Region of Manitoba by car, factoring in the incredible Canadian Museum for Human Rights, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024, along with the city’s new botanical pit-stop, The Leaf, in Assiniboine Park.

Road trip Prince Edward Island

Get your arts fix on a road trip from Toronto to Stratford and experience a charm offensive on a 975km drive from Montréal to Gaspésie in Quebec.

The Cabot Trail, in Nova Scotia, is one of the most famous drives in Canada. The 300km road takes you along the coast of Cape Breton, offering unrivalled panoramic views and outdoor adventures.

Make the most of a small autumn window (late September to early October) to experience the Yukon’s go-to 740km road trip along the Dempster Highway. It’s an unforgettable off-the-beaten-track jaunt, embracing dramatic tundra landscapes, mountain ranges and abundant wildlife.

Autumn Prince Edward Island

Journey by rail

Rail trips in Canada are up there with the world’s best.

The glass roofs of the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer provide a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains. There are four routes to choose from. The award-winning First Passage to the West option links Vancouver and Banff.

The Ocean, operated by VIA Rail, is an overnight sleeper dating back to 1904. Journeying from Halifax to Montreal, the train passes through small communities with a diversity of French Canadian, Acadian, Celtic, and English heritage.

Agawa Canyon Train credit Destination Ontario

Take the Great White North, a two-day/two night sleeper, from Winnipeg to Churchill, and be mesmerised by 1,697 kilometres of magnificent landscape. Time your trip for late autumn and enjoy polar bear sightings – along with wolves, Arctic hares, beautiful birdlife, and Arctic foxes.

Board the Train de Charlevoix from Quebec City to La Malbaie, taking in several coastal towns and villages along the northern banks of the St. Lawrence River. Choose a round-trip journey, spending a few hours at Baie-Saint-Paul or La Malbaie, or split the journey over two or more days. The backdrop is one of rocky cliffs, ocean, pristine forest, hazy-purple skies, and soaring herons. The season runs from June to October, when you get to see Quebec in its autumn glory.

A rendezvous with the Northern Ontario wilderness starts at the newly built station in Sault Ste. Marie’s historic Canal District, aboard the Agawa Canyon Train Tour. From mid-September, the hardwood forests of Algoma Country erupt in a sea of red and orange. Autumn is the prime time to see the Agawa Canyon, renovated by nature many times, and the cascades of Black Beaver and Bridal Veil Falls.

Pyramid Mountain in Jasper

Along the way

Rail and road, and then some! Explore Canada in autumn by canoe, mountain bike, on horseback, or on foot. Newfoundland and Labrador’s 300 hiking and walking trails include the East Coast Trail where you can catch the first sunrise of North America or a geyser powered by the powerful Atlantic waves.

There are 46 national parks to entice autumn travellers. In the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick (host to a special Thanksgiving weekend and the Fundy Pumpkin Festival) see the world’s highest tides.

Northern Lights in the Yukon credit Hynes M

Visit Jasper National Park in Alberta, home to an impressive bear population, unique geological features, awesome wildlife and dancing waterfalls. One of the world’s largest dark sky preserves, the region is also known for its stargazing.

Ontario’s Thousand Islands National Park lays claim to some of the most stunning autumn scenery as does Quebec’s Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve whose unofficial mascot is the very cute puffin.

Being in Canada in autumn is like being on the set of a Disney movie: chipmunks gather their winter supplies, young northern gannets leap off cliffs, prairie rattlesnakes give birth, arctic foxes don their whitest coat, and deer look for love. Get with the program!

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Northern Lights dance over Whitehorse, Yukon credit Robin Stuedel
Northern Lights dance over Whitehorse, Yukon credit Robin Stuedel
Nightsky in Jasper credit JackFusco
Nightsky in Jasper credit Jack Fusco

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