Let’s not call this Canada’s Top or Best Fall Drives because most Canadians think where they live is the most beautiful part of the country. If they’re in a foul mood – aka online – they’re likely to wax any bilious disagreement in upper case when their corner of this, the world’s second biggest, country isn’t mentioned.
Now, if autoTRADER.ca just wanted reactions and clicks, we would call this Canada’s Best Fall Drives, plus start and end the list with the GTA. That would surely ignite a lively discussion! Mind, we could argue that much of Canada is too far north to contain significant deciduous groves, like the (albeit disappearing) Carolinian forests we enjoy here in Southern Ontario.
In other words, no fall colours.
But autumn is about more than changing leaves. For many of us, it’s about turning over a new one, getting outside and enjoying this beautiful country we’re fortunate enough to see a bit of.
So to circumvent hate mail, let’s just call this Beautiful Autumn Drives in Canada. If your favourite is not listed below, please share it further down in the comments section – in conversational upper/lower case. This is a big country and even our long list of writers have only seen a fraction.
Burnt Oranges and Wet Pumpkins: Greater Halifax Region, NS
The brief drive from Halifax to Peggy’s Cove is ridiculously beautiful in spring, summer and winter. During autumn it’s practically wanton. Save it for the tail end of your day if you happen to be in Halifax this fall (especially October 15). Here’s a full day of outings.
Part A: 50 km each way
Begin your drive, heading west on the marvelously maintained Highway 107 past colouring forests, across lovely lakes. If you are from the GTA prepare for waves of envy. Haligonian commuters could be at what Southern Ontarians call the cottage, and what other Canadians call the cabin or camp, in minutes. In less than an hour you’ll arrive at the Musquodobit (MUSK-a-DOB-it) Trail, a converted rail bed, in Musquodobit (same pronunciation) Harbour. Park and walk the trails. Take an hour – take several if you have the time and weather – but even 10 minutes can offer spectacular views. Doubling back to Halifax doesn’t hurt; the views are just as gorgeous coming from the other direction.
Part B: 70 km one-way (from Halifax)
Instead of driving right into Halifax, veer north toward Lower Sackville where you’ll find Route 101, also named Harvest Highway, an appropriate appellation.
The hills roll gently while the greens explode violently into burnt oranges and sharp yellows. After about ¾ of an hour you’ll arrive in Windsor, a charming town whose chief tourist draw claims to grow the world’s largest pumpkins and the site of world’s first hockey games. I wasn’t there for the hockey so can’t vouch, but have seen the pumpkins. They grow so enormous many fail to retain their shape and become as flaccid and gravity-drawn as 500-lb Maury Povich guests. The final picture is like some vaguely obscene Halloween Dali painting.
In fact, the pumpkins are so huge, the locals carve several up each year, paint them lively colours and convert them into boats – yes, rowboats that seat up to two Peter Pumpkin Eaters and their unkeepable wives – then they race them across the mouth of the Avon River. Like much of eastern Canada, Nova Scotia’s culture is rich with humour.
This year’s ‘Pumpkin Regatta’ is at 2pm on October 15. Plenty of time for you to complete the previous and following legs of your day’s drive.
Part C: 90 km one-way from Windsor
Take the 101 back towards Halifax but turn southwest onto Highway 213 in Lower Sackville. Drive the picturesque coastal route past such lyrically named gems of towns as Glen Haven, Seabright, and Hacketts Cove until Peggys Cove. By now the Highway’s name has changed to 333. Get your selfies in front of the town’s iconic lighthouse and massive boulders in brooding fall weather.
Part D: 45 km one-way
By now you’re probably tired, following your day of stunning views, exciting pumpkin races and seaside fresh air. Maybe have a coffee before resuming the final short but languorous drive along highway 333 back to Halifax. The road is rarely busy and always dreamily beautiful. So stay alert at the wheel!
Quebec’s Picture Perfect Eastern Townships.
Some people hate the word quaint. Sorry. This collection of former Anglophone holdout towns southeast of Montreal is the very definition. Beside lively farmer’s markets where buskers sing traditional Quebecois folk songs, it’s not uncommon for the town cemetery to contain dead British soldiers from the War of 1812. You can sense the history in the crisp fall air.
Start your drive in Bromont, a popular ski destination about 90km southeast of Montreal. This team of year, before turning from green to white, the ski runs in the mountain display deep red and brown stripes like the grill marks on a perfectly prepared tandoori chicken breast.
From Bromont, drive about 30km south on Routes 241 and 139 to Sutton, where the local ski hill offers limited lift service to view the fall colours from on high. It’s breathtaking. Yes, you’ll have to get out of your car – but the drive between destinations is picture-perfect windy and jaggy: one of those all-about-the-journey experiences your high school art teacher droned about.
From Sutton take a quick 60km rip to Magog: go north to the Autoroute des Cantons de l’Est where you divert, appropriately, est (east). ‘Cantons’ sounds even more quaint and old world than ‘townships’. Perfect! Gawp at the local mountain chain stretching up from New England erupting with colourful quaintness.
Stop for a coffee or better still a meal in Magog. Much of this area is a foodie’s paradise. If your eyes can take more beauty, drive south on the 247 for about 20 minutes where it flanks Lake Memphremagog, a body of water whose shape is long and narrow, like David Bowie during his cocaine-and-tobacco-diet years – and even prettier.
Ontario’s Beaver Valley and Beyond.
If you’re in a hurry, get off your plane from anywhere else in Canada, pick up a rental and drive north on Airport Road until it ends in Collingwood after about 1.5 hours. Within 20 minutes you’re out of the suburbs and into pretty country. The hills are great fun to drive and rampant with colour. At some point, the road has become Highway 26. Take it east from Collingwood along the exceptionally-pretty-for-Southern-Ontario Nottawasaga Bay for about 20km to Thornbury.
Now, turn south onto Highway 13 and into Beaver Valley. The route winds and wends for about a half hour, offering thrilling new polychromatic vistas with every turn.
By now, you’re probably peck-ish and feeling rich with experience. Towards the southern end of the valley, after around 35km, you’ll cross Highway 31. Turn east for about 25km to Eisenginn Farm, one of Canada’s most exquisite and expensive gustatory destinations. Snap a selfie if you haven’t both won the lottery and booked a year in advance. Then drive another 25km past the Nottawasaga Bluffs to Creemore. Transporting you through some of the best kept secrets of Ontario’s Unesco-protected Niagara Escarpment, this drive is simply gorgeous.
The Grizzly Beauty of Banff to Lake Louise, Alberta.
So we come to the aforementioned dearth of deciduous trees this far north and, more importantly, this far up from sea level. Evergreens aren’t seasonal. But that doesn’t discount the gawping beauty you’ll behold on this short if exceptionally popular drive.
How popular? Americans have heard of it.
Besides, at this time of year there’s the strong possibility of snowfall in the middle of your drive. And you never know when you may encounter a hungry grizzly bear. Ideally, they’ll stay up on the (assumingly not signposted) animal bridges, but you never know. Either way, please don’t feed or selfie with them – drive on.
The route you take is fairly easy to explain: take Highway 1 (when you witness the surroundings, you’ll understand the road’s seemingly vain primary appellation) west from Banff for 60km. Stop. Turn around and come back.
That is, if you can. It’s hard to let go of the overwhelming beauty.
As easy as it is to give directions, the drive itself beggars description. If words don't do the experience justice, we’ll simply let the pictures do the talking.
Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island: Evergreen?
Just like Drive 4, Cathedral Grove doesn’t provide an annual polychromatic dying scene of operatic grandeur, because this virgin forest of Douglas firs remains stubbornly coniferous. By definition evergreens don’t change colour for our pleasure three weekends every October.
If that point counts as 2 steps back in your opinion, never fear. All year round Cathedral Grove makes way up for it, climbing 250 steps up. The biggest trees are 75m (250’) tall and a whopping 9m (29’) in circumference. In our world where everything must be measured in numbers of football fields to have meaning, those figures may not yet sound impressive but be patient. When you see and understand these trees, you’ll want to take knee like a humbled NFL linebacker.
Think of the name the Europeans conferred on these conifers.
The forest canopy is dozens of meters overhead. Strolling on the public path through this vast quietude, your eyes continually drawn heavenward, is akin to the humbling experience a pilgrim feels when first taking in the awe-inspiring grandeur of some medieval European cathedrals: pillars that demand 10 paces to circle; arches so high they’re only visible during the brightest parts of the day. Hence the name, Cathedral Grove.
Mind, not all of our readers (or writer) went to church last Sunday. And pretty much all of those who did, did not attend a medieval European cathedral. So here’s some more perspective.
A smartcar’s turning circle is 6.94m: you could do donuts with the doors open inside one of these trees!
A Ford Expedition is almost exactly two meters tall. You’d need to pile around 37 Ford Expeditions (or Lincoln Navigators if you have the money) atop each other to reach the canopy.
Many of these trees are 800 years old; they were already huge centuries before European contact. Indeed, 800 is older than most of Europe’s most famous cathedrals. Hence, the name?
Sadly, the name evergreen is a bit of an overpromise. These trees are endangered. So throttle gingerly through the park and enjoy your autumn slowly.