Canada travel guide and recommended transportation options. Tips to adventure road trip Canada.
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
Overview of Transport Options For Canada Adventure Travel
You have decided to visit, explore, travel, tour or backpack around Canada… amazing! If you would like to learn more about your transport options to get around Canada, then read on. We will discuss opportunities to tour Canada by bus, plane, train, automobile, foot, thumb/hitchhiking and beyond. We explore the details from getting to the various cities, visit the cool destination and finding something wild for every road trip. Also, we are focusing here on the provinces, not the Territories which deserves their own article.
We are going to focus on the overall country. We will discuss all ways to tour and use transportation to experience the best of Canada. Later on, we will deep dive into specific regions like the Maritimes, British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and more specific regions within provinces.
Alrighty… what primary method of transport should you use to tour around Canada! The short answer is you most likely require a car to travel Canada the best way possible. Most importantly, there isn’t a perfect or straightforward answer. It depends on where you explore, your budget, and time. Canada is a massive country and getting around varies by regions with many locations not having many options. Remote areas have limited if not no services including buses, trains and rental car availability.
Exploring Canada for Unique Adventure Locations.
It is crucial for us to note that once you are in a specific location or region, having a car or being on a bus trip service opens up the opportunity to explore tons of the fantastic places that otherwise aren’t really accessible. It is sort of a requirement to really see lots of what makes Canada amazing in our opinion. We can’t stress this enough.
Finding local tours is available in a few places, but it can be pricey and doesn’t provide a lot of flexibility. We recommend renting a car, having a friend with a vehicle join you, having your own car, or going on a backpacker bus (which is why we are “insert business plug” building Out Here Travel to make adventure travel road tripping the best of spectacular Canada accessible, inexpensive and easy).
Our tips and overview of transportation options for travelling Canada the best way possible.
Best Bus travel options for exploring Canada. You can get to most of the major cities and regions on services like Greyhound, Megabus, maritime bus, Pacific coach and more. These are your classic bus services. Options vary across provinces and locations. From Toronto to Ottawa, about a 5-hour drive, you will spend $50 for a one-way ticket (not including getting to and from the various bus stations. It isn’t cheap, but reasonable for regional travel. You should book early to guarantee space and get lower fares. It is doubtful you will see any other backpackers
Recommendations for Traveling by Train throughout Canada by Via Rail. The Canadian train system is pretty amazing considering how big the country it is and how the majority of it is unpopulated. There is lots of history for why it exists, but we will touch on that later. Going on the train for some portions can be a long and relaxing journey. The tracks head across most of the country near or between the most populated places (except Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island). It can be a fun break to cover significant distances in the center of the country, or specific scenic routes in various regions to mix things up (e.g., British Columbia, Maritimes, Territories). Keep in mind that it is costly, and doesn’t get you to lots of the fantastic places in Canada if it is your primary transport option.
Tips for Road Tripping Canada by Car, Camper or RV: Having wheels to get to all the spectacular spots when is varying regions is incredibly essential. The ultimate in flexibility and to see the real Canada. Keep in mind that it can be expensive or not possible depending on your age or license. A challenge is that Canada is big and if you want to see the west coast and east coast, be prepared for a long drive in the middle - there are lots of options to find people to join you on the ride to share expenses and enjoy the time. Highly recommended! If you are renting a car, be wary of KM limits and returning the vehicle - or plan on doing so in each region which will help with dealing with city parking costs.
Best way to travel Canada by Plane. Using frequently or as a primary method of travel it doesn’t make sense as the places to visit are in-between the airports, and it is pricey! However, if you are looking to skip a region quickly, it could be worth it. Travellers sometimes want to jump over Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Calgary to Toronto flights can be as little as around $300 all-in for a one-way ticket. This will save you 3500 KM of driving, $600 of fuel cost and car depreciation. Rail tickets are similar for an economy seat (from Edmonton), and it will take you three days with great scenery along the way. The deciding factor for these big legs of the journey is really personal. There is no right answer.
Tips for Hitchhiking Across Canada for an adventure experience. This is a popular method for getting around the Maritimes. When you are in and around Toronto, it is illegal to do so on the 400 highways… and there also lots of regulations across the country so do your own research. Do not take our word for it if it is even legal, allowed or safe. If you go ahead with it, the most significant cost will be in choosing what you are able to do and see, and where you can stop as most drivers aren’t going to the unique places to hike or explore. You’ll get a different sort of adventure though.
Using ride-sharing services for adventure travelling Canada: This is also pretty popular and useful in specific locations. Many who hitchhike, do it in combination with ride-sharing. There are tons of Facebook groups, and apps dedicated to this. We won’t dig into this too much, but it is definitely possible to get between places in a bunch of regions.
Ferries for touring across Canada. Looking to get to Newfoundland or PEI from Nova Scotia? Interested in exploring British Columbia islands? Want to cut drive times and swing across St. Lawrence River or the Bay of Fundy to you can see Saguenay and Gaspesie? Definitely very very helpful and many times fun. But Canada is a vast landmass, and you aren’t taking a boat for most of your travelling. Because of this, we will leave it at this for now and just list the relevant sites below. We will dig in more for future articles on specific provinces or regions.
Bus Travel & Transportation for Touring Canada Tips & Recommendations
How much is it going to cost to get to various locations when travelling Canada by bus? Let’s do a little experiment here, and figure out how much it would cost to go on a fun trip in just Ontario & Quebec.
Overall the results show that when you are near / between big cities, the cost isn’t that bad and schedules are pretty frequent. However, once you get to more remote locations, prices go up, and timetables are infrequent. In some places, there just isn’t service.
Let’s start our journey in Toronto, let’s head up to Algonquin Park? This will cost you about $40, but you have to use a bus company called Park Bus that focuses on national & provincial parks. Unfortunately, if you want to visit in winter, May or October there is little to no availability. The bus doesn’t run as camping, and visiting experiences aren’t as accessible and challenging. We then head from Algonquin to Ottawa which since we assumed a round-trip fare with the above to Algonquin, is another $40.
You get the point, let’s jump through the destinations quickly. But don’t forget, that once you are in a place, it is challenging to get around, check out the waterfalls or the things in between towns. You are missing tons. Even in Algonquin Park, you will need to get lifts to different hikes, access points to explore and adventure.
Adding up the totals of bus transport between bus stations below and Algonquin park we mentioned earlier, we are at about $700 already not including getting around in the cities once you arrive to get to your hostels/accommodations. This is also one-way! Want to return at the end we will have to add another $350 or so as a ballpark.
Toronto -> Algonquin -> Ottawa = $80
Ottawa -> Montreal = $35
Montreal -> Val David = $35
Val-David -> Mont Tremblant = $20
Mont Tremblant -> Quebec CIty = $35
Quebec City - > Tadoussac = $75
Tadoussac -> Saguenay = $150
Saguenay -> Sainte-Anne-des-Monts = $200
Saint-Anne-des-Monts -> Perce = $50
If you just need once in awhile transport between major cities, bus services are definitely worth exploring. They can also be used to augment train travel if that is your thing.
Bus companies to directly check include greyhound, Megabus, maritime bus, Pacific coach, Orleans express, park bus. Useful aggregators for bus fares include Bus Buds.
Buying a car to travel Canada and road trip provides amazing flexibility. It will be pricey.
Okay, so you are considering getting a car and driving around Canada on an epic road trip. Awesome! Let’s assume that you want to explore around for ~6 months and see as much as you can! You are looking at total costs of about $9K. You get ultimate flexibility, but it isn' cheap.
This is a quick overview of how we came up with the costs. Car price and insurance are the significant variables that can move around, but likely not much cheaper. We are assuming $2.5K for the car (after buying then selling back at the end), $2.5K insurance, $0.5K for parking in cities and $3.5K for fuel. Have a few folks sharing the costs and the driving, make sure you get the right insurance coverage, and it can be really reasonable per person.
Gas: 1.30 per Liter, 11.5 liters per 100KM = $16 per 100KM, Driving across the country and exploring 25K KM = ~$4K
Insurance: $2K - $5K depending on your age and history for a year from checking a few quotes.
Car purchase: $5K for something not super dependable. Let’s say you can sell for $2.5K or so quickly at the end of your trip, costing $2.5K overall.
Parking in cities $20 per day say 25 days = $0.5K
Time: Choose your own schedule! Wing it! You will be driving though if that bothers you.
Freedom! You can go and do whatever you want! You can pick up folks along the way and take them around.
Note that we excluded ferry costs and bridge tolls for around Newfoundland, PEI and BC. They can add up to a really significant amount ($500+ for some to bring the vehicle and you!).
It is important to mention the risk associated with needing repairs on the road. We recommend getting CAA in case something happens, but you could still have to change plans radically. Like any adventure, anything can happen.
If you get an RV, you will definitely be saving funds on hostels, but fuel costs will go up considerably in most cases (and you can’t share with as many folks). If you are planning on camping, it will change the equation as well. I’ll leave that calculation up to you, as there are broader considerations on this one, most of which can be driven by the personal style of travel.
Best ways for Renting a Car to Explore and Tour Canada. Most cases it isn't really an option.
Let’s say you want to rent a car, drive it across Canada and explore around. Start in Vancouver, head to the Maritimes and then drop it off in Toronto (a pretty popular route). First, you will take a look and find that a car will cost you around, $1000K per month. For six months, you are looking at $6000 for car costs excluding fuel (another $3500 at least)! But don’t forget to check the very very important details from insurance, mileage limits and other restrictions. Also, certain people just will not be able to rent a car (e.g., age, country).
Canada Auto Insurance for International Travellers. When moving around the country for so long, you should make sure that your coverage from home, credit card or additional ones cover you adequately. Dig in!
Road Trip Location Possibilities with Rental Cars for Touring Canada. There could be limits on provinces that you might be allowed to drive the car too. Cross-border into the US could be a bigger issue. Read your rental agreement in detail.
Mileage limits for rental cars to travel Canada! Make sure that you have a car that has unlimited miles. You’ll need to get lucky to find a vehicle that has this. Don't forget that this can vary by province, region, location and season.
Are you allowed to drive the car in Canada for your road trip? Check rules and regulations. It varies a bunch. Make sure you are appropriately licensed for Canada, meet insurance obligations etc.
Are you even allowed to rent a car when you are travelling Canada! Rental agencies vary. If you are under 25, you might not be allowed to borrow, or the price might go up dramatically. This is worth investigating in detail. Your country of origin might matter as well.
Overview for Renting a Car to Explore Specific Areas or Regions of Canada.
This is regionally dependent and location specific for your adventure travel within areas of Canada. There are similar issues some things outlined above, but it is a lot more tenable. If you are in Nova Scotia, exploring the Cabot Trail without wheels is a huge mistake in our opinion -and it is a loop so easy for returns to Halifax. Newfoundland, BC, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and tons of other places it is also beneficial to have a car.
In some locations, prices can be pretty inexpensive at $35 per day, in others they can balloon to well over $100+ per day easily. Don’t forget you might have to return the car at your pickup location or pay a decent fee.
For example, in Newfoundland, if you want to head from Gros Morne and around the province and to visit St John’s…. in the end, you’ll have to do a 10-hour drive to return the car! Get some travel buddies ideally to make the budget work and split the drive times.
Recommendations and tips for Train Travel Across Canada. Don't really on it as your best travel Canada option.
If you are thinking about using the train to travel around all of Canada and it being your primary method.. just stop, don't do it. It is expensive, it can be slow, and somewhat restrictive. However, there are specific routes that we would consider for scenery and to break things up. If you are still keen, then consider individual route tickets for some parts of your trip.
If you are thinking about making the entire trip across Canada by train, or a huge chunk of a region. Well, it ain’t cheap. We are talking about ~ $100+ per leg of your trip for the 10-pack bundle or some short distance routes in economy class. It also expires after 60 days - so assume you are buying two of them! Here are the options available.
Unlimited travel for 60 days? $1429!
Only want to stop in 10 places along the way? $989!
Jasper to Prince Rupert starts at $130.
A one way ticket from Toronto to Ottawa is $60.
You save 10% for student pricing. It isn’t nearly enough to change our decision.
Where does the train go? It heads to lots of significant regions around Canada but doesn’t take you to Newfoundland or PEI. Also, once you are in specific places that are worth exploring be prepared for lots of other methods of transport including renting a car, hitchhiking and more. These drives can be long. The Cabot trail, Bay of Fundy, north Gaspesie (prettier part in our opinion), most of Alberta, and beyond you will need travel support as the train doesn’t get you there.