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Help Me Plan a Canadian Adventure!

Ah, Canada. Our great neighbor to the north that I have paid far, far, too little attention to, having visited on a mere two occasions…once on a road trip through southern Ontario and on a quick jaunt to Vancouver and VictoriaBritish Columbia. Yes, I’ve been to Canada, but I really haven’t seen all that much of the wonders that Canada has to offer.

All that will change this summer, when I am head to the TBEX ’11 Travel Blogging conference in Vancouver. From there, I will set off on a an adventure in British Columbia. Just what will I do? Well, that’s where you come in!

Flipping through Lonely Planet‘s guide to British Columbia has inspired me with the following three possibilities and I want to know what YOU think! Only thing is that I am trying to keep this trip as cheap as possible. Here are my options:

Sail the Inside Passage to Alaska

Alaska Marine Highway
Photo Credit

A boat journey along the Inside Passage is supposed to be one of the most stunning in the world, so much so that it is an area that many cruise ships traverse. But there is a far more economical way to travel and that is via Alaska’s state-run ferry, the Alaska Marine Highway System. Originating in Bellingham, Washington in the U.S., it’s a multi-day journey to reach Alaska’s Inside Passage. But instead of backtracking to Washington, I would want to catch BC Ferries‘ Inside Passage Service from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, BC where one can connect to the Alaska Marine Highway System up to Juneau, Haines and even Whittier some 60 miles away from Anchorage.

The Cost:

  • Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island–CAD$14.25
  • Nanaimo to Port Hardy–CAD$49.00
  • Port Hardy to Prince Rupert (BC Ferries)–CAD$180.00
  • Prince Rupert to Juneau, Alaska (Alaska Marine Highway)–USD$141.00 OR USD$160.00 to Haines including 3 stops
  • Total Transportation: USD$391.30 OR USD$410.30 if I were to take the three stops on the ferry.*

*Note: Total Transportation cost includes CAD at current exchange rate of CAD$0.964 to USD$1.00.

The Problem:

Getting home! It is NOT cheap to fly from Alaska to the continental U.S.! Perhaps this plan is better saved for when I have more money to spend? There isn’t a one-way flight from Juneau to NYC for less than USD $350.00 at the moment!

Visit Banff & Jasper National Parks

PA210022
Photo Credit

It’s hard to think of the Canadian Rockies without thinking these two incredibly famous National Parks! Images of the soaring peaks and of pristine Lake Louise plaster guidebooks enticing you to come and join the throngs that visit the parks annually. Only thing is, the parks are pretty far away from Vancouver, so much so that they straddle the border with Alberta which makes getting there rather expensive prospect! And getting around the parks would almost definitely require a rental car. If I were to choose this option, I would fly back to NYC from Calgary.

The Cost:

I could either take the train from Vancouver to Jasper (which I would much prefer to do) or the bus from Vancouver to Jasper or Banff.

  • Vancouver to Jasper via Train: CAD $133.84 for an economy seat (19.5 hours)
    OR
  • Vancouver to Jasper via Bus: CAD$83.00 (10.5 hours)
  • Banff to Calgary via Bus: CAD$16.00
  • Total Transportation Cost: CAD$149.84 with train & 2-day one way car rental OR CAD$99 for bus

The Problem:

The cost of getting around the national parks, which could be a HUGE expense! Rental cars aren’t cheap by any scope of the imagination at CAD$69.00 per day and every company I’ve looked at charges a whopping CAD$250.00 fee for a one-way rental, which would make a longer rental with a return to Jasper a much better, yet still pricey deal.

There’s also a tour company that caters towards backpackers and individual travelers called Moose Travel Network that run “hop-on, hop-off” trips through the parks and range in price between CAD $199.00 and CAD $299.00 depending on how in depth a trip it is. Though I am really not a fan of tours, this could be a viable option.

The Best of Both Worlds

BC Ferry toward Vancouver, between Galiano and Mane
Photo Credit

If I really wanted to be extravagant, I could do a combination of my first two plans, by taking BC Ferries from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, BC. From there, I could catch a two-day train ride to Jasper where I could make my way down to Banff before heading to Calgary for my flight home.

The Cost:

  • Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island–CAD$14.25
  • Nanaimo to Port Hardy–CAD$49.00
  • Port Hardy to Prince Rupert (BC Ferries)–CAD$180.00
  • Prince Rupert to Jasper, AB (VIA Rail)–CAD$109.76
  • Banff to Calgary via Bus: CAD$16.00
  • Total Transportation Cost: CAD$369.01

The Problem:

Again, getting around the parks could be a real problem, as renting a car could prove prohibitively expensive.

Explore Vancouver Island

The Nanaimo Shore
Photo Credit

There really is a whole lot more to Vancouver Island that just Victoria proper. And while the provincial capital is a picture of European charm, the rest of the island is supposedly incredibly diverse, both culturally and geographically. Less ambitious than my other plans, an exploration of Vancouver Island could be a relaxing and picturesque place to spend some time! A nice network of intercity buses exists and if I wanted my own freedom, a car rental would be considerably more affordable here (CAD$29.00 per day), allowing one to explore the charming towns, lush forests and picturesque peaks, as well as the nearby Gulf Islands. Under this scenario, I would fly home from Vancouver.

The Cost:

As I don’t have a real plan of attack here, it’s a bit difficult to come up with a cost analysis, though given the amount of stops I would want to make, I imagine renting a car would be a bit more cost effective than a bus, with 6 days totaling around CAD$200.00 with tax. What I do know are the costs of the ferry’s to and from the Mainland.

  • Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island–CAD$14.25
  • Victoria on Vancouver Island to Vancouver–CAD$41.70 (includes bus ticket)
  • Total Transportation Cost: Somewhere in the vicinity of CAD$255.95

The Problem:

None. In fact, Vancouver Island would be the most cost effective destination that I could choose, which is an awfully enticing idea.

What Do You Think?

Now, I want to hear your thoughts. Have you been to any of these places?Are there other places in BC I should be checking out? Can I do this more cheaply than I am anticipating? Are all these ideas totally crazy??

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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By Aaron

Hey there! I'm Aaron and this is my travel site, where I document my adventures to all corners of the world. My love for travel started at the ripe old age of four, when a midlife crisis uprooted my family to Ecuador for five years. Since then, I've been to countries on 4 different continents. When I'm not blissfully on the road, I reside in New York City, where I become the ultimate travel junkie and spend my days dreaming up my next great adventure! Read More...

31 replies on “Help Me Plan a Canadian Adventure!”

The easiest and cheapest option is to explore Vancouver Island. An ideal whirlwind tour could have you leave Vancouver and head to Whistler for a night or two (an absolute MUST!). Then come back towards Vancouver and catch the Horseshoe Bay ferry to Nanaimo. From Nanaimo, pick up a rental car and head straight to Tofino on the west coast. Hang out there for a few days, exploring the Pacific Rim National Park, surfing, camping, hiking, or just having a cold one in the temperate rain forest (stunning landscapes). Then head south to Victoria and spend a few nights there, great harbour and fun night life. Then head back to Vancouver. If you have more time, consider staying a night or two on one of the Gulf Islands (Saltspring, Pender, etc -they are all pretty much the same). Or, you can head to the Sunshine Coast, you would take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay. You could do that before heading to Vancouver Island.

Another option is to visit the Okanagan Valley. Perfect timing to be there as it’s wine and lake country. You can rent houseboats at Sushwap lake.
Shoot me an email if you have Q’s, I can go on and on! 😉

Leave it a self-proclaimed Canuck to offer some incredible advice! 😉 Whistler wasn’t even on my radar… Is there much to do there in the summer months? And wine country, eh?

You know what, I’ll send you an email!

Cam gives excellent suggestions – Vancouver Island is like no other place on earth, so spend your time here. Okanaagan is pretty touristy, and Banff and Jasper even more so. Gulf Islands are nice, but you’d find more to see and do on Van Is. Ask around when you get there and people will give you great ideas.
I have resto recs for Vancover at https://traveleater.wordpress.com

Enjoy! Next trip go to the Maritimes
@TravelEater

Thanks for the tips! I’ve been to Victoria before, but that was the extent of my time on Vancouver Island. I’m sure there’s many more wonderful things to see there. Do you gave a favortie spot?

Favorites: Tofino and Long Beach. Killer whale watching out of Sooke. Pie in Sooke. 🙂
Skip Victoria if you’ve been and get out into the boonies.
In Van, go to Go Fish to eatj- just off Granville Island. More than once.
Enjoy!

Hmmm that’s two votes for Tofino now… And Snooke? I’ll have to look into that…

Thanks for the Go Fish suggestion!

I am from Alberta and live in Ontario and have spent hours in the rockies but the place I am going back to this summer with incredible joy in my heart is Tofino and Uclulet on Vancouver Island. The most incredible experience I am about to have is kayaking in the Broken Group Islands off Vancouver Island. Best place yet in Canada but I haven’t been to them all. Good luck. I wonder if there are ways to catch rides other than hitch hiking. My 27 year old daughter hitch hikes all over Canada – much to my intense nervousness but there may be other possibilities. Enjoy!.

Hahahaha thanks Faye! I actually decided on exploring Vancouver Island. I’m sharing a rental car with another travel blogger and Tofino is definitely on the list! Haven’t heard about the Broken Group Islands though! I’ll definitely have to check those out!

Enjoy your travels!

I’d go for the best of both worlds. Up to Prince Rupert from Vancouver / Victoria, over to Jasper, down to Calgary. You’ll see diverse scenery and wildlife. If you wanted to keep costs down you could look into ride sharing, carpooling, or hitchhiking.
There are many good online resources like the MEC Driving Partners: http://tinyurl.com/3ejbmnm
While you’re at it, try attending an Outdoor club event, you’ll meet many friendly people and get off the beaten path: http://www.calgaryoutdoorclub.com/ http://www.vancouverregionaloutdoorclub.com

-Adam

Thanks Adam! I’ll look into the MEC Driving Partners. And I’m always interested in meeting friendly people off the beaten path! Aside from transportation costs, is lodging expensive in that region?

Lodging is whatever you’re willing to spend. Camping in campgrounds in or near most cities is below $20, cheap hotels are around $100, or you can spend upwards of $400 for the top of the line hotels in Banff and Jasper. Try to avoid long weekends in the Banff / Jasper area.

This is great! we are in the planning process too and know we cant see everything on our list but haven’t decided a good way to narrow things down yet! Excited to see what you come up with!

Actually this post helped me visualize everything from a cost perspective, which I’m afraid will win out in the end. The comments I’ve received so far have been really helpful in helping to narrow down my ideas! What sort of things are you guys thinking of?

Haven’t been to the island yet (what have I been waiting for????), but I’ve spent a lot of time hiking in the National Parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay). They are awesome, and June is a great time to go. You do need a car to do it right though, and camping makes it best. Haven’t headed north so I couldn’t say about Prince Rupert.

If you’re looking to split a car for some of the way, I might be heading west-ish (slowly towards home) after TBEX if I don’t find another plan or head to the island myself.

Really? You haven’t been to Vancouver Island? What ARE you waiting for Dustin?! I’m actually strongly considering heading there and renting a car if you wanted to split the cost… Could be nice to see something new.

That said, I’ve heard wonderful things about the National Parks but am a bit concerned about the expense. Of course, sharing a car would offset that.

Where exactly are you from again?

hah I’ve been to Vancouver a bunch of times, but just never made it across to the island. I have been to the rockies a pile of times, one of my favorite parts of the world.

I’m making my pre / post TBEX plans now, so we should chat!

I’m from Saskatchewan. Flat, boring Saskatchewan.

Yes we should chat! Let’s continue this discussion on Facebook as our plans progress…

Thanks Kristian! Vancouver Island and particularly Tofino seems to be the winner amongst all the suggestions I’ve received! Seems a short trip up to Whistler might be in order too!

Hi,

Tough decision to make. Hopping over to Vancouver Island would probably be the easiest on your wallet. I lived there most of my life. It’s a beautiful place, as are the surrounding gulf islands. If you think you will be back to Canada again you could make a wonderful holiday out of just the island.

Otherwise it would be a shame to miss out on the Rocky Mountains, they are a jewel of the country. I have had the privilege of living in Banff National park for the last few years.

Whether you include one or either of these areas I will suggest you take the expense of renting a car for each. There are so many places you can’t get to in the Rockies and the transportation system on Vancouver Island will only get you from point A to B.

If I can help you with any questions on either area fire me an email through my site.

Cheers

Thanks Audrey! The general conseus among everyone who has commented is that Vancouver Island would certainly be the most economical option. I have no doubt that I will eventually be back in Canada, especially as it’s so close to me (relatively speaking). That might be better saved for a time when I have more money to spend. And I agree that a car rental is the better way to go. There’s nothing quite like that freedom of having your own vehicle (one of the downsides of living in New York City is that I don’t have a car of my own or else I’d take a road trip across Canada)!

We are planning a similar trip, so the research you’ve already done comes in handy for us 🙂 Vancouver Island seems to be beautiful, I wish we had more time for it, but we’ll definitely go. Looking forward to meeting you at TBEX!

If you really want an economical way to travel, meet the people and experience how they live, try WWOOFing! We are a host farm in the beautiful Fraser Valley, and you can find hosts all over Canada (including the island) Check out http://WWOOF.ca for more information.

Thanks, although the photos aren’t mine. The links to the respective Flickr accounts of their owners are below each image.

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