Over 7,400kms driven, over 10 cities and 4 provinces explored and so many memories made.
So, what made me decide to take such a huge road trip during a global pandemic? Let’s get that question out of the way first!
I have always been very decisive and bold so, when our original road trip to Florida was cancelled, I pivoted. I felt now was the best time to explore our beautiful country along with all the other Canadians that are unable to travel abroad. I felt it was safe enough to risk. I’m so thankful to have made so many incredible memories with my boys and I’m also excited to share this with you all!
When time’s get tough and life is hard to understand, I choose to lean into what I love (travel and spending time with my boys) and create my own headlines:
“MOM WITH TWO BOYS DRIVES OVER 7,400 kms ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO SEE THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, LOVED IT AND REGRETS NOTHING.”
A few weeks before we headed out I did a google maps search to see how long it would take to drive to Banff. The app told me about 36 hours in total from Toronto. I thought this was totally doable and I started mapping out my route and booking hotels along the way. I booked on a website that books hotels that had a very flexible cancellation policy because I wanted to be able to move and cancel reservations at the last minute. I’m glad I did this because I actually did change a few reservations. I didn’t want to over plan because the whole point of a road trip is the spontaneity of it and the adventure that awaits!
The hotels were very clean and safe. The only difference is we had to wear masks indoors, we had to book a time slot for the hotel pools and most hotel breakfast restaurants have been closed but are offering to-go options!
Let’s get right into it! So, budgeting is more important than ever right now and lucky for you Budgeting and finances are TOTALLY my jam so this part is very exciting for me. Here is the cost breakdown of our roadtrip.
Our trip was 15 days in total:
Gas & Parking: $795.06 (gas is cheap during a global pandemic!)
Gifts & Souvenirs: $304.63
I budgeted $4,500.00 so I’m very happy that I only went slightly above my budget.
Before we headed out I compared it to flying to Banff and staying only a week in Canmore (a cheaper alternative to staying right in Banff) and the cost of that was $3,600 (flight and hotel for 1 week). Our trip was double the length – 15 days – and we saw SO MANY THINGS!
Have I convinced you to jump in the car and take a #CanadianRoadtrip yet?
The Driving Plan:
I never drove over 8 hours per day and I was always at our hotel before dark. I drove like it was my job. We would order dinner to our room or eat dinner at the hotel restaurant (if they had) and relax and enjoy the hotel before the next day’s adventures. Breakfast and lunches were on the road mostly but more fun that way! This is where most of our adventures took place – in the car! I carried a cooler in my front seat and was able to replenish the ice at the hotels. I kept essentials, fruit, drinks and snacks in the car and picked up things along the way. So, here goes:
Road trip to Banff Schedule:
Day 1: Sault Ste. Marie 654 km (6.5 hours)
Day 2: Thunder Bay 794 km (7.5 hours)
Day 3: Winnipeg 704 km (7.4 hours)
Day 4+5: Saskatoon 783 km (7.6 hours)
Day 6: Canmore, Alberta 706 km (7.6 hours)
Day 7: Canmore to Banff 27 km
Day 8: Canmore to Lake Louise and Emerald Lake 110km / 20 km
Day 9-10: Canmore to Drumheller 230 km (2.5 hours) and Drumheller to Medicine Hat 247 km (2.5 hours)
Day 11: Medicine Hat to Binscarth 739 km (7 hours)
Day 12: Binscarth to Winnipeg 335 km (4 hours)
Day 13: Winnipeg to Kenora 218 km (2.5 hours) and Kenora to Thunder Bay 484 km (5.2 hours)
Day 14: Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie 700 km (7.4 hours)
Day 15: Sault Ste. Marie to Home 658 km (7 hours)
Total of over 7400 kms
Travelling With Kids:
Travelling with kids is no easy feat! My kids are great travellers so I wasn’t nervous about being locked in a car with them for 2 weeks. However, when you think about it, it does sound a little daunting! My motivation in everything I do is to teach my boys that literally ANYTHING is possible. I started there and that kept my drive (pun intended) moving in a positive direction.
We drove A LOT. The boys adapted very well though because the first chunk of our trip was 4 days of driving. I kept them up to date with how many more hours we had left, when and what our next stops would be and etc. My car has a GPS display which was great because the boys used it as a reference. Taking away the unknown really helps kids calm down and anticipate the destination. “It’s an adventure!” (I said this A LOT). They are pretty great travellers – every place we’ve travelled to in the past we have always rented a car and drove top to bottom (We did this in Portugal in 2018)!
They had car games, like the good old school kind (no iPads because it makes them car sick). They mostly made up their own games and songs for hours. My kids have crazy imaginations. Yes, they were loud at times but, I’ve mastered the art of tuning my kids out. I love driving and I was in my zone.
Also, what helped is drowning them out. I subscribed to Satellite Radio and listened to early 2000’s Pop music. My kids now know the words to a lot of songs from the 2000’s and this just makes my life complete. Seriously though, satellite radio is a must because you won’t be able to keep a station on the FM dial to save your life and you’ll need something to keep you sane. I also brought my Apple Air Pods where I could have my own conversations on the phone and also listen to audiobooks or podcasts.
There’s lots of picnic rest areas and clean bathroom stops as well as tons of great look-out points!
I am so lucky to live in a province where there is a lake at every turn. This made the drive very scenic and beautiful. The drive around Lake Huron and Lake Superior were so beautiful I would do it again and again.
The drive from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, in particular, around the spectacular Lake Superior and the amethyst rock formations was my absolute favourite of the entire roadtrip. The vistas as you roll over the hills are literally breathtaking. There are many points where we had lake on either side of us and there were lots of gorgeous bridges. I got my son to film some as I drove because I didn’t want to miss a thing!
We didn’t make many stops in Ontario on our way to Alberta however on our way back home, we stopped to check out a few of the beautiful and unique sights:
Lake Superior Lookout points – we watched the sun set over Lake Superior…a perfect way to end our road trip!
The Amethyst Mine Panorama – Ontario’s Superior Country region is lucky to be home of the largest Amethyst deposit in all of Canada! This is actually a functioning Amethyst mine. Me and the boys dug for amethyst and we took a bunch home. They have a beautiful gift shop there and there’s a lot of history and geology to learn about at the site.
The Terry Fox Lookout – Thunder Bay is where his Marathon of Hope ended and home to the Terry Fox Courage Highway. My son was very adamant that we stop here and I’m so glad we did. It’s a lovely stop and it was nice to honour a person who made the ultimate sacrifice to raise awareness for a disease that still plagues us today.
Kakabeka Falls – not quite like Niagara Falls but worth the visit! It’s right off the Trans Canada highway and very easy to pop in for 30 minutes and check out the grounds and the falls.
All the stops made our drive much longer and that’s why we made these stops on the way back home.
Our Manitoba Adventure:
Our #CanadianRoadTrip would not be complete without a visit with a farm family!! I met Paul & Pat Orsak in 2017 during my time at Canola Eat Well Farm Camp. From that time, I’ve wanted to bring my boys here to have them experience farm life and meet this special family – I’m so excited that we finally got the opportunity on our way back home!!!
Pat and Paul hosted us with delicious home-cooked meals, they showed us around their farm and gave us the incredible experience of flying us around on their airplane!!! (They have an airplane! Now I want one!)
We feel incredibly blessed to have had such an incredible experience on our way back home!
This was an impromptu stop. We were supposed to drive from Medicine Hat, Alberta to Winnipeg which would be 10 hours long. I felt a bit nervous about making a 10 hour drive because we were on our way home and our patience wasn’t as great as on the way out west. So, I called up the Orsak’s and they were happy to have us stop there. We changed our hotels around and we would drive to Winnipeg the next day.
Also, the time change! I should mention this! On our way west we gained two hours which was GREAT! On the way home (East) we lost 2 hours which was tiring. I didn’t think about the time change. My older son and I are okay with time changes but my youngest son is not so good so he was a lot grumpier when we started losing time. The up-side to that is he napped a lot more in the car.
The Prairies – and our visit to Saskatoon!
My son’s face in the first picture is how I felt about driving through the prairies. However, there are some amazing friends of ours that live there and great things to see so it was definitely worth the stop!
We started the day with a river walk and brunch Drift Sidewalk Café for brunch. Then we spent the afternoon at @blackfox farm & Distillery where we picked fresh flowers (Dylan’s face is everything during the flower picking), a picnic of locally prepared charcuterie and cheese and the kids had some play time in the fields with their new Friends.
We Reached the Mountains! Visiting Alberta
We stayed in Canmore. It’s known as mini Banff because it’s 15 minutes from Banff and half the cost to stay there.
One of our first stops was Lake Louise. This is hands-down the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. We were given advice to go as early as possible to get parking and to avoid the crowds. We lined up at the Canoe rental house and booked a guided canoe for the early afternoon. It is a 4 person minimum but we happened to meet a family of 3 in line so we joined forces with them. We hiked the grounds and ate lunch at a local cabin before our canoe ride. Then it was time for our excursion! We had the absolute privilege of paddling a canoe the entire length of Lake Louise in a wooden canoe built in 1967 (Canada’s 100th birthday). We dipped our hands into freshly melted glacier water run-off from Mount Victoria…Canada is so freaking amazing! Our guide has been doing this for 30 plus years so his knowledge of the grounds was so great! We learned so much! The canoe’s are owned by The Fairmont Banff so, if you were looking to book one ahead of time, you can probably do that by calling the hotel and booking it.
That same day, I wanted to touch down in British Columbia too so we zipped over to Emerald Lake just so I could say I hit all 4 of the provinces to the West of Ontario. It was beautiful as well and not as busy.
The next day we explored Banff Village and we ended the day with a ride on the Banff Gondola and walk 7000+ ft up Sulphur Mountain! We had dinner with the best view too. I booked the gondola tickets and the dinner reservations online through their website.
My son was a little adventurer and just wanted to go higher and higher on the boardwalk up Sulpher Mountain – I’m glad he pushed me though! I’m not sure if it was altitude sickness but I had to stop to catch my breath often. Either that or I’m majorly out of shape! It was exhausting but so fun at the same time. My younger son asked if we can do this trip again one day and that’s all I needed to hear.
Drumheller and the Bad Lands
We made it to the best Dinosaur museum in the world! We pre-booked tickets online for the Royal Tyrell Museum but the excursion tickets that take you to the badlands to dig for fossils were all sold out. The museum was great though! We find dinosaurs so fascinating – it’s crazy to wrap your head around the world that was around us 100 million years ago.
Driving through Drumheller Feels like a movie set. There are lots of cool sights to see and shops to visit too. It’s a necessary stop for Dino and geology lovers!
Medicine Hat to Visit Friends
Another reason I chose to drive instead of fly out west is because I wanted to stop in and see old friends along the way. Krista is a friend of mine who lives in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Krista and I met during training for our public service job in Ottawa over 10 years ago. We met before we had any kids and kept in touch through social media. Krista is really sweet and funny and she’s also a foodie – We became instant friends! We haven’t physically seen each other since then because she worked in Calgary.
I thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit Krista and her family – she’s got two gorgeous boys who are very close to my boys ages and she just had the cutest little girl. Krista opened her home to us and hosted us. My heart is so full after seeing how great our boys got along and finally catching up with Krista in real life after all these years! A special moment that would have never happened if we took an airplane over to Alberta because she’s 4 hours from where we were staying!
She also bought me a bunch of local treats to take home and took me to see the greenhouses they have in her area – I love this concept! You walk into the little shop and you choose your produce. It’s based on the honour system so you drop exact change into the pay bucket. It’s a great way to make local produce accessible to families in the area.
Well, that’s it that’s all! This was one of the best family trips we have taken in a while and I loved how much me and my boys connected during the trip. I’m so happy we did this and I can’t wait to do it again.
In 2021 me and my boys are taking on the East Coast so stay tuned for that!