Frommer's Top 10 Canadian Summer Vacation Ideas

The Calgary Stampede Parade in Calgary, Canada, Photo by leif
By Gene Shannon

When you live in a country that stretches nearly 8000km from one coast to the other, and covers nearly 10 million square kilometres, where to take your summer vacation can be an overwhelming decision. We've narrowed down the list to ten choices, all taken from Far & Wide: A Weekly Guide to Canada's Best Travel Experiences (where you'll find a few hundred more suggestions). All you have to do is pack.

Photo Caption: The Calgary Stampede Parade in Calgary, Canada.
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Searching for icebergs in Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo by Denise Seach
A century after an iceberg put a tragic end to the maiden voyage of the Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland, viewing these ancient wonders is a major springtime attraction in Canada's easternmost province. Although Newfoundland's Iceberg Alley, along the island's northern coast, is one of the most reliable and accessible places in the world to view icebergs, there are no guarantees as to where and when you'll find them. They appear along the Newfoundland coast as early as May, but often get caught up in sea ice, while by late June through July, numbers taper off as temperatures warm.

Word travels quickly when a berg is spotted floating by the city of St. John's, as locals and visitors alike scramble to the top of Signal Hill for the best views. Reached by road from the provincial capital of St. John's in five or six hours, the village of Twillingate promotes itself as the "iceberg capital of the world," and is indeed the best-known destination for viewing icebergs. This historic fishing village of 3,500 is well prepared for the springtime onslaught of visitors, with boat tours leaving regularly from the town dock, and even an art gallery devoted to the bergs.

If you're serious about your icebergs, a visit to remote St. Anthony allows the flexibility of catching a ferry between nearby St. Barbe and Labrador, then driving up the Labrador Straits, where shore-based viewing is usually more productive than from the island of Newfoundland.

Photo Caption: Searching for icebergs in Newfoundland and Labrador.
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Crowbush Golf Course in Prince Edward Island. Photo by Greg Vaughn
Prince Edward Island lays claim to being Canada's top golf destination, with 10 of the top-100 courses in Canada. In fact, five per cent of the top courses in North America are found within the 5,660 square kilometres (2,185 square miles) that make up Canada's smallest province. It has received dozens of accolades over the years, and yet is still relatively unknown. When asked to identify an "undiscovered gem" among the world's golf destinations, members of the International Golf Travel Writers Association named PEI the 2011 Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year. With more than 30 courses to choose from, there are choices for all levels (and pocketbooks).

There are as many reasons for PEI's top ratings as there are courses. The range of settings is vast: seaside, mature pine, or hardwood forest, river side or inner city, nine to 27 holes, luxurious resort to basic clubhouse. Island courses seem to be part of the landscape, blended in, rather than built upon. Unspoiled countryside, open spaces, sandy beaches, protective sand dunes, and captivating red rock cliffs guarantee inspiring views. When the leaves start to turn, the landscape takes on a special vibrancy.

For most visitors, one taste is not enough: 80 per cent of first-time golfers return to the island. The relaxed atmosphere helps lure many back. When visitors arrive, they're often reminded they need to adjust to "Island Time" -- taking the time to relax, slow down, enjoy and create memories.

That such a diverse a mix of courses is found in a small area is a real bonus for those who want to squeeze considerable play into a few days. Golfers can play as many as 36 holes in a day, and the reasonable green fees -- C$35 to $100 -- make this more feasible than in many other parts of the world.

Photo Caption: Crowbush Golf Course in Prince Edward Island.
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A performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Photo by caribb
If all the world's a stage, the spotlight certainly shines on Montréal during her most glorious days of summer. Set during the last week of June and the first few days of July, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal shuts down traffic in a small corner of the downtown corridor, transforming the city for 12 magical days into a festive epicentre, and possibly the largest jam session on the planet.

Over the years the stellar list of talent has showcased musical icons including Miles Davis, Winton Marsalis, Ella Fitzgerald, Sara Vaughan, Tony Bennett, James Brown, Sting, Cesaria Evora, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan, just to whet your palate. Dubbed the World's Largest Jazz Festival according to Guinness World Records in 2004, it's also the most important one in every music lover's calendar, embracing a spectrum of musical influences, including blues, world beat, Brazilian, Cuban, African, reggae, electro, and pop.

Artists typically perform at ticketed indoor venues like the grand Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, or more casual spots like Metropolis and Club Soda. But what jacks up the cool factor of this hot and hazy summer celebration are the hundreds of outdoor concerts-all of them free. Spread out over 10 al fresco stages from noon to midnight, the largest of the lot is the Scene General Motors planted at the foot of Place des Arts. Thanks to its esplanade of cascading steps, a makeshift amphitheatre is created that accommodates up to 200,000 spectators who gather here rain or shine. (Shows are never cancelled, though sometimes delayed due to weather.)

Even if you're not a jazz lover, the grounds are entertaining for folks of all ages. Street performers abound. And because cars are banned, the whole area is a safe place for kids.

Photo Caption: A performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
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Trail riding in the Bow Valley in the Canadian Rockies. Photo by Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies
Horses were used for transportation in the Canadian Rockies by the earliest explorers, but ever since the railway was completed in the 1880s they've remained a practical and enjoyable way to travel in wilderness areas. Options range from regular trail rides to overnight pack trips, but all travel through some spectacular mountain scenery. Nestled on a wide bench on the edge of Canmore, the experienced wranglers at Cross Zee Ranch have been leading city slickers through the Bow Valley since the 1950s.

From expansive stables, one-hour rides pass through thickly wooded areas along open meadows and to high lookouts. Southeast of town, in Kananaskis Country, things get more serious at Boundary Ranch, where traditions of early outfitters such as Tom Wilson, the Brewster Brothers, and "Wild" Bill Peyto live on through pack trips consisting of up to six hours of riding per day, with nights spent at a remote tent camp established in a high alpine meadow. Meals are cooked and served cowboy-style -- no frills and no complainin' -- but it's all part of the experience. The region is very remote, with an abundance of wildlife and excellent fishing in high mountain lakes.

Photo Caption: Trail riding in the Bow Valley in the Canadian Rockies.
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Tom Patterson island in morning light, in Stratford, Ontario. Photo by Stratford Festival of Canada
The sleepy town of Stratford is home to the largest classical repertory theatre in North America, renowned both in Canada and abroad.

Stratford has long been associated with the repertoire of its namesake stage, the works of William Shakespeare, and it does excel at classical theatre. This century, especially, the artistic team has updated the festival's profile to make it a destination for new and modern plays, as well as popular entertainment such as Broadway musicals. So, you can choose according to taste and experience: is the main draw an ambitious production of Jesus Christ Superstar or a traditional staging of King Lear? Does Camelot better fit the bill, or an inventive production of Richard III starring a woman in the lead role? The ever-impressive lineup is designed to suit tastes from the contemporary to the historic, the comedic to the tragic. In fact, there's so much to choose from, it's often advisable to take in two shows and turn your stay into an overnight or two. Some highlights of this season include "42nd Street", "Much Ado About Nothing", "The Pirates of Penzance" and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown".

Beyond the Festival, there's Stratford's pretty downtown with its riverside parks, boutiques and galleries to explore-all within walking distance. Stratford is also an excellent destination for fine dining. The haute The Church Restaurant is often regarded as one of the city's best: it's a dramatic transformation of an old church into a fine-dining room where the cathedral ceilings are as impressive as the classic menu.

One more thing, for Stratford's younger visitors: this is the hometown of Justin Bieber. And, yes, Bieber tours are available.

Photo Caption: Tom Patterson island in morning light, in Stratford, Ontario.
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Whale watching tours are popular in Churchill, Manitoba, known as the beluga capital of the world. Photo by Travel Manitoba
Churchill may be best known as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World," but watching polar bears from the comfort of a heated bus pales in comparison to snorkelling with beluga whales -- reason enough to make the long trek up to Hudson Bay.

Each summer, up to 3,000 beluga whales congregate around the mouth of the Churchill River to feed on microscopic plankton. These distinctive white creatures, up to five metres (16 feet) long, are renowned for their gentle and intelligent nature-making them the perfect snorkelling companions. After being outfitted in a thick wetsuit and heading out into the river estuary aboard a Zodiac boat, you'll slide into the water and enter the magical world of the beluga whale. The most curious whales will swim right up to you, while others glide playfully past on their backs. It's an interactive experience not easily forgotten.

Churchill is a long way from anywhere (the only access is by scheduled rail or air service), but there's more to a summer visit than whales. Far beyond the treeline, Churchill is a meeting place of Northern Cree and Inuit culture, with indigenous crafts and caribou burgers vying for your attention in town and the endless tundra and, beyond town limits, the ruins of a fort harkening back to 1732 that beckon.

Photo Caption: Whale watching tours are popular in Churchill, Manitoba, known as the beluga capital of the world.
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The Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Canada. Photo by gabri_micha
They don't call it "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" for nothing.

Attending the 10-day Stampede is not so much joining a party as entering a state of mind. It touches everything-from the moment you slide out of bed, put on your stetson, and wander down to the nearest Stampede breakfast, through the wee hours when you're line dancing with 100 of your closest (new) friends. Calgarians are known for their friendliness and hospitality for 51 weeks a year. But this week it's more like you're part of the family.

The crown jewel of the event is, of course, the rodeo, where the world's top cowboys compete for more than C$1 million in prizes in bull riding, steer-wrestling, chuckwagon races and other adrenaline-filled events. On the line? Bragging rights, and the biggest cash prizes on the rodeo circuit. In the sprawling Stampede Park sensory overload continues wherever you go, with whirling amusement rides, cacophonous livestock shows, food fairs, fireworks, lectures -- even a casino. You may not get a quiet moment while you're at the Stampede, but there will be too much else going on for you to notice. That said, there's much to discover when you do explore beyond the grounds. Stampede breakfasts -- served daily, early and free! -- can easily be found throughout the city.

But perhaps the greatest thing about the Stampede is that there really is something for everyone. Concerts range from traditional country to the latest pop icons. Past headliners have included Katy Perry, Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift, George Strait, and Kid Rock. The event is also hugely popular with kids. Between the midway, petting zoo, and near-constant stimulation, this is a party for all ages.

The event regularly draws more than 1.2 million visitors to a city of roughly one million inhabitants, so it's best to simply embrace the widespread excitement and give yourself plenty of time to get from A to B. The vast majority of events are affordable (rodeo tickets start at around C$36) but reservations are essential-some local watering holes even accept bookings for a place at the bar.

Photo Caption: The Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Canada.
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Cabins, Sargent's Point, Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia. Photo by AllCanadaPhotos.com
Quite simply, Lake O'Hara is one of the most special places in the Canadian Rockies, The namesake lake is surrounded by alpine meadows and dozens of smaller lakes, framed by towering mountains permanently mantled in snow. As if that weren't enough, the entire area is webbed by a network of hiking trails established over the last 90 years by luminaries such as Lawrence Grassi, who was renowned throughout the Canadian Rockies for his trail building. Trails radiate from the lake in all directions; the longest is just 7.5 kilometres (4.7 miles), making Lake O'Hara an especially fine hub for day hiking. What makes this destination all the more special is that a bus access-only quota system limits the number of visitors. After the 20-minute bus ride terminates at the lake, most hikers head for the welcoming sight of Le Relais -- a homely log shelter where trail information is dispensed. From this point, you have enough hiking options to fill a week.

Whether you're staying overnight or just visiting for the day, access to Lake O'Hara is exclusively by bus along a road that's off limits to the general public. Seats on the bus are very limited and highly sought after. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance, and you really must call the full three months ahead to be assured a spot.

Photo Caption: Cabins, Sargent's Point, Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia.
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Sand sculpture in sandcastle competition, Parksvile, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Photo by AllCanadaPhotos.com
Hockey fanatics know Parksville as the retirement home of gravel-voiced former hockey TV commentator Howie Meeker. It's also a year-round golf mecca. But each July, a very different sport steals the spotlight in this idyllic beachfront community on Vancouver Island's east coast. The Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition & Exhibition attracts tens of thousands of onlookers over one month -- closer to 100,000 in recent years. Entry is by donation. The best time to come to scenic Community Beach is at the competition's start, when Canadian and American competitors are actually completing their whimsical creations.

Turret-laden castles, sleeping bears, giant poppies . . . seemingly these sculptures are only limited by the imaginations of the solo artists and teams, and the ticking clock. Competitors get 24 hours of work time over three days, and a diluted glue is sprayed over the finished product to avert potential wind or rain damage. Leave your dogs at home -- runaway bowsers are deemed likely to bash into sculptures -- but do bring your camera. After all, spectacular snapshots and memories of your kids frolicking on the beach will probably mean more to you afterwards than, say, who advances to the World Championship of Sand Sculpting in Federal Way, Wash.

Photo Caption: Sand sculpture in sandcastle competition, Parksvile, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
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Lake Kluane in Kluane National Park, Yukon Territories, Canada Photo by Frommers.com Community
A driver on the Alaska Highway slows down near Fort Nelson to let an ungainly bear lope across the road. Further along, a mama moose and her two little ones lurk in the trees. Every year, thousands of people witness scenes like this while driving the Alaska Highway, which winds its way for about 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) through northern British Columbia, up to the Yukon and over to Delta Junction, Alaska.

This historic road began as a one-lane supply route to Alaska in 1942. Today, the scenic route starts at the Mile 0 marker in Dawson Creek, B.C. Before hitting the road, visit the town's Alaska Highway House to learn about how the highway was built and the tremendous impact it has had on local communities. Stop at the museum in Fort Nelson to see a garage crammed with lovingly restored antique cars and go for a soak at the Liard River Hot Springs further north, where nearby soldiers used to go for a dip. Other stops include lively Whitehorse and pretty Haines Junction in the shadow of Kluane National Park and Reserve.

Along the way, admire the mountain ranges that watch over the highway. Keep an eye out for bears, moose, caribou, and Dall sheep. Be sure to check out The Milepost, an annual publication that details what to see and do along the highway, and where to find amenities.

Photo Caption: Lake Kluane in Kluane National Park, Yukon Territories, Canada
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