Choosing to backpack through Canada will very likely be the biggest life-changing event you will ever embark on. Aside from being the second-largest country in the world, meaning there is an immense amount to see and do, we are a warm, friendly, and welcoming nation that is proud of our country and what we have built. When you visit Canada, we want to advocate for you to stray off the beaten path. By all means visit our exciting hubs, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, but we have hundreds of exciting little towns and hamlets with individual character and a story waiting to be created. Whether you are working your way through Canada on an International Experience Canada visa or just planning to rough it with nothing but your backpack and a bus schedule, these are some of our small cities and towns you simply cannot miss out on when you visit Canada. So, without further ado, here's our complete backpackers guide to Canada.
The Colorful Small Cities and Towns of Canada
Let’s assume you are starting your journey on the east coast. You are most likely flying into Toronto, spending a few days there maybe going to a few galleries, and catching a live music show or two. Before you begin your inevitable journey west toward the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Atlantic Canada has a few things to show first.
Ottawa and Montreal
You will have to stop in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, depending on the season you can either take a scenic walk along the Rideau canal or ice skate along it! Just make sure you also enjoy your first beavertail, don’t be alarmed it’s more deep-fried doughnut than the actual tail.
Just a little further down the road In Montreal, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible in the old city. Horse-drawn carriages still traverse cobblestone streets, the market still sells mouth-watering fresh produce and the architecture remains a pleasure to behold including the Town Hall, Basilique Notre Dame, and the Old Port.
Cheap accommodation is abundant. In Montreal, we recommend looking up M Montreal Hostel for solo travelers and couples, with 490 beds you will surely find a room to suit your needs. In Ottawa, we have only heard great things about the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel. Sleep in former jail cells that have been renovated to suit a traveler's every need right in the heart of downtown Ottawa.
Barrington, Nova Scotia
Whether you’re in a rented car or on a bus, your next stop should be anywhere that feels right in New Brunswick on your way to Barrington. The incredible ride will wind through intense dark forests, sunny meadows, and oceanside vistas until you reach the cozy little cove of Barrington, Nova Scotia. Around here you can find an inn or continue up the east coast of Nova Scotia to the unforgettable Peggy’s cove. You will have the opportunity to stay at inn’s, hostels, campsite after campsite, and visit one incredible lighthouse after the next.
Top Tip: Invest in a small two-man tent, a sleeping bag, and mat. When you're in the cities you want to stay in backpackers and hostels because they're close to the action. But as soon as you go out to the countryside and smaller towns, camping will not only save you a ton of money but will also allow you to stay in the most beautiful places.
The HI Hostel on Cape Breton Island is a great place to recuperate for a night before the next leg of your journey. Take the ferry from North Sydney across to Channel-Port Aux Basques in Newfoundland, where there are endless parks and towns to explore, namely Gros Morne National Park, Trinity, and Petty Harbour. The island is littered with campsites and there are a number of comfortable hostels such as Exploits hostel, the HI, and the Bert Bark Inn where you can stay for under $100 CAD a night.
Once you have finished exploring the Atlantic provinces and begin to make the long trip west, more and more you will encounter the real Canadian experience. These are some great towns to consider stopping in as you journey the 6000km from Newfoundland to Banff National Park:
- Moonbeam, Ontario - stay at the Twin Lakes campground and visit the UFO monument
- Killam, Alberta - stay at Killam Centennial Park campground or the only motel in town and meet the friendliest people in the world over a slice of pie at Jam Tarts
- Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan - take a night off and stay in luxury at the Historic Bishop's Residence B&B in this little prairie town with a European feel to it. There is also an ice-rink, bowling alley, and heritage walking tour to enjoy.
Golden, British Columbia
When you finally reach the Canadian Rocky Mountains, you will be spoiled for choice. We would recommend the town of Golden, which is less than an hour west of Banff, South of Jasper, and surrounded by other beautiful mountains and national parks. You can stay in the Dreamcatcher, Kicking Horse, or Caribou Hostel all for less than $100 CAD a night or pick your campsite, there are four within the town's surrounds and hundreds throughout the Rockies.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
The cherry on top of the perfect cake that will be backpacking through Canada will be Vancouver Island. From the capital of Victoria in the south to the wild landscapes surrounding Port Hardy, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to small towns to explore, hiking trails to enjoy, and water activities such as kayaking with killer whales. The island is covered with motels, hostels, inns, and campgrounds, so take your pick on a day by day basis.
Which Visa Should I Get?
Which visa you will need to get before visiting Canada all depends on the passport you hold and your intentions while visiting Canada. If you wish to travel to Canada only, a tourist visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) will be all you require. If you want to help pay for your travels by working on your backpacking journey through Canada, you will need to apply for a working holiday visa aka the International Experience Canada (IEC). Let’s take a quick look at the requirements for each.
Canadian Tourist Visa
Every traveler needs to be in possession of a valid passport (or unabridged birth certificate in the case of children) in order to travel across the Canadian border, no matter their country of origin.
The passport needs to have at least one open page for immigration and passport control officers to stamp as you move across the borders or airport control points.
A number of countries are exempt from applying for a visitor visa to Canada, such as EU countries (need only apply for the eTA) and the USA, but those that are not exempt need to appear in person at the Canadian embassy in their country of residence. A biometric screening is done by an embassy consultant and the travel documents that you must collect and present are checked for approval (generally over a 4-6 week waiting period).
Working Holiday Visa
To apply for a Working Holiday Visa, you will be required to:
- Be a citizen of one of the participating countries in the IEC programs, if your country is not participating in the IEC program, you may be able to use a registered organization (RO);
- Be under the age of 35;
- Be admissible to Canada;
- Create an online profile on the IEC government webpage;
- Have a minimum of $2,500 to cover your initial expenses;
- Have health insurance for the duration of your stay;
- Give biometrics at your local Canadian consulate; and
- Hold a valid passport or travel document.
Once your profile is complete, you will be entered into a pool of applicants. If you are awarded a Canadian Working Holiday Visa, you will also apply for an open work permit. An open work permit will allow you to work for any designated employer in Canada (excluding Quebec). Remember, if you have dependents they, unfortunately, cannot accompany you on an IEC Working Holiday Visa. There is always the possibility Canada opens its borders and you could be working and traveling through Canada this year already.
How We Can Help You
Obtaining your tourist or IEC visa for Canada can be a bit of a process. By using our accredited Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (RCICs) you will not only improve your chances of success in the visa application process, but you will get expert advice on which program is best for your specific needs. Our RCICs are highly qualified and are granted permission by the ICCRC to assist you with your eligibility evaluation, review all your documents and application forms, and submit them to the Canadian government for you. Why take the chance of having your application denied because your forms are incorrect or sent in too late.