Why backpacking in Canada is usually a good idea

Canada has a unique and exciting landscape and culture, the latter born from longstanding links with French and British colonial traditions as well as with its great neighbour just to the south. This makes it one of the friendliest places to backpack, somewhat more comfortable than the wilds of, say, Borneo or Mexico, but just as dramatic and adventurous in terms of its rich and varied landscapes. The ready availability of car hire in Canada is also a great plus point, enabling keen backpackers to easily reach the numerous trails that wind across the country and arrange for convenient pick-ups when they’re through hiking.

Scenic Lake Louise by flickr user MarilynJane

The pace of life in Canada is a tad more relaxed than in the US, although the standard of life there is pretty similar, and the scenery is amongst the world’s most spectacular, especially in the more rural areas. You can come here as the main destination for a backpacking trip or else incorporate it into your North America itinerary. As the winters can be very harsh, especially in the region of the Rockies, by law you’ll have to use things like winter tyres or snow chains. As the weather’s intensity can be pretty much unpredictable between September to May, a trip here for the purposes of hiking and backpacking should avoid this period.

The highlights of a trip to Canada would include a visit to the hot thermal springs at Banff and a coach ride to the glaciers of the Rocky Mountains, where a 4-wheel drive with spiky tyres will take you out onto the glacier itself for a thrilling experience where you can actually feel the earth move beneath your feet as the ice claws at the frozen subsoil. There are also husky-drawn sled rides, white water rafting and numerous different types of water sports on the likes of Lake Ontario and Lake Louise and, of course, a visit to the famous Niagara Falls is de rigueur.

Getting around is relatively cheap, too, with Greyhound coaches and trains convenient for supplementary travel. Most important for backpackers, of course, is the accommodation, and the good news is that cheap accommodation in Canada is widespread and plentiful, with very good motels in most cities. It’s easy to book into hostels and motels on the day, and you’re well advised to pick up a copy of the Hostel Handbook, in which you’ll find listed all the main hostels and motels throughout the USA and Canada. It’s updated on a yearly basis and also includes lots of useful information on travel resources as well as budget travel tips and much else besides.

HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel - Banff National Park by flickr user Mark Hill Photography

The health service too is excellent in Canada and compares very favourably with anything you’ll find in Western Europe, which is nice to know when you’re out backpacking in the wilds, where accidents may occur. Whilst it may not be quite the case that paramedics in the US won’t scrape you off the road until you’ve produced your insurance details, in Canada it’s a more reassuring case of getting you the best treatment and then dealing with the financial aspects, just like back home with the good old NHS, which is always a comfort to know.

David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.

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