- This article is an itinerary.
The Trans-Canada Highway is in Canada.
Canada is the second largest country in the world, and the largest country that it is easy to travel across. The Trans-Canada Highway connects all ten provinces and is 8030 km (just under 5000 miles) long. Most Canadians have some interest in seeing the entire country and driving across Canada is a common way of doing it. Note that there is more than one highway that spans the entire country including:
- Trans Canada Highway 1 (four western provinces, mainline)
- Trans Canada Highway 16 - Yellowhead Highway (four western provinces, northern alternate)
- Ontario Highway 17/417 (Ontario mainline)
- Ontario Highway 11, Highway 71 (northern alternate)
- Ontario Highway 69/400, Highway 12 ,Highway 7 (southern alternate)
- Québec autoroute 40, 20 and 85 (mainline)
- Québec route 117/Ontario 66 (northern alternate)
- Trans Canada Highway 2 (New Brunswick)
- Trans Canada Highway 106/104 (Nova Scotia)
- Highway 1 (Newfoundland, PEI)
This journey covers six time zones and more than eight thousand kilometres, under conditions which vary from congested urban freeway (in Ottawa and Montréal) to thousands of kilometres of sparsely-populated wilderness (in northwestern Ontario) or steep mountain ranges (in the Rockies). The route passes through most of the populated areas of Canada, geographically the second-largest country on Earth. It is therefore not possible to give a comprehensive description of a trip of this scale in a single article (although printing a copy of Canada and everything under it would be a good start, a full description would fill a book).
Be sure to leave lots of time (a week just in driving time one-way is not unrealistic) and bring a reliable vehicle - a full mechanical inspection before departure on a trip of this length is advisable. A cellular telephone is useful as a means of obtaining roadside assistance, but there are many gaps in coverage.
This trip can be started almost anywhere in Canada. Technically the Highway runs from Victoria (British Columbia) to St. John's, Newfoundland (or the other way around, both cities declare a "mile 0" or "mile one" for the highway), with a third possible origin point at Prince Rupert on the Yellowhead Highway. However, for practical purposes many travellers skip the trip to Newfoundland, and end it in Nova Scotia, others may skip Victoria and end in Vancouver.
The trip is listed from west to east (from Victoria), but obviously could be done in either direction. There are some locations where multiple routes are called the Trans-Canada highway; the shortest or most direct route is listed as the "mainline" in these cases.
The highway, designated as Highway 1 in the four western provinces goes through the magnificent mountains of British Columbia and western Alberta and the awe inspiring prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
- Victoria (British Columbia) north on Vancouver Island to
- Nanaimo take the ferry to
- Vancouver drive east on the freeway to
- Hope continues North up the Fraser Canyon (impressive) to
- Cache Creek turns east to
- Kamloops then continues east through
- the Shuswap Lake area (fishing, beaches) to
- Revelstoke (pleasant little mountain town)
- and across the Rogers Pass (heart of the rockies) to
- Banff in the Alberta portion of the Canadian Rockies.
- a major tourist resort, famously scenic
- From there continue East to
- Calgary where it goes through the centre of the city and from there continue to
- Medicine Hat. Continue through the endless prairies to
- Moosejaw in Saskatchewan before you come to
- Regina and then
- Brandon in Manitoba finishing the western portion in
That route more-or-less follows the Canadian Pacific Railway line. An alternative would be to follow the Canadian National line.
- A route originating in Prince Rupert on Trans-Canada 16 (Yellowhead Highway, aka Highway of Tears) would go through Terrace, Smithers and Prince George BC, Hinton and Edmonton Alberta, then cross into Saskatchewan at the border city of Lloydminster and go through Saskatoon before joining the Trans-Canada mainline in Manitoba, just west of Portage la Prairie (and 100km / 60 miles west of Winnipeg).
From Winnipeg, highway 1 (Ontario 17) leads eastward to Kenora. Set your watch ahead one hour when leaving BC for Alberta; as Saskatchewan does not use Daylight Savings Time, when heading east go ahead one hour on entering Saskatchewan (in winter) or leaving Saskatchewan (in summer). Winnipeg and Kenora are two hours ahead of Vancouver. The third time change (to Eastern Time) is made just west of Thunder Bay, within Ontario.
Winnipeg to Ottawa
The Trans Canada runs over prairie for a little way East of Winnipeg, then a long stretch (2000 km?) of lightly inhabited forested country. It is called Highway 17 most of the way across Ontario, and 417 near Ottawa (as Ontario uses 400-series numbers for large motorways). Towns on the route are:
- Thunder Bay
- Wawa (legendary for stranded hitchhikers)
- Sault Ste Marie
- Sudbury (swing South here to reach Toronto)
- North Bay
From Thunder Bay to the Sault, the road winds along the shore of Lake Superior and is quite pretty. However, the section from Wawa to the Sault sits in a snow belt and is frequently closed in winter; see Sault Sainte Marie (Ontario)#Winter Driving.
- An alternate route further North is Highway 11, Thunder Bay via Kapuskasing to North Bay.
- An alternate route further South is Highway 69/400 from Sudbury. Instead of continuing into Toronto, take Highway 12 to bypass the city and reach Ontario Highway 7 (Peterborough, Perth). Re-join the mainline Trans-Canada (417) in the west end of Ottawa.
- An additional northern alternate exists in Québec (take Ontario 66 to Québec 117).
Ottawa to Moncton
While the road from Kenora to Sudbury is long and sparsely-populated, past Arnprior and the Ottawa Valley the highway becomes wider and traffic heavier as one enters Ottawa-Gatineau, the national capital. Ottawa to Montréal is just over two hours by freeway, passing through small towns like Embrun and Hawkesbury on Ontario 417 (which becomes Québec autoroute 40). Be sure to refuel before leaving Ontario as petrol on Montréal island is expensive (typically a dime a litre more) due to high taxes.
While it is possible to bypass Montréal by taking autoroute 30 southbound at Vaudreuil-Dorion and rejoining the Trans-Canada (as autoroute 20) on the south shore, "la Transcanadienne" goes directly though the city and can be very busy during peak hours.
Downriver from Montréal, autoroute 20 follows the south shore through Drummondville to Lévis. Traffic for Québec City exits northbound at Ste. Foy, the last pair of bridges across the St. Lawrence River. (It's also possible to follow the north shore from Montréal to Québec via Trois-Rivières - see Windsor-Quebec corridor - but the distance is slightly longer and that route is not part of the Trans-Canada Highway.)
Continue to follow the south shore from Lévis down to Rivière-du-Loup, a small town near enough to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence that one begins to spot salt water marine life, such as whales. The road forks at this point; Trans-Canada traffic turns south onto Route 185 (partially widened as autoroute 85) toward Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! and Edmundston, New Brunswick while continuing to follow the river eastward would lead to the Gaspé Peninsula.
Set your watch ahead another hour upon entering New Brunswick. From Edmundston, the highway largely follows the New Brunswick-Maine border to Fredericton, the provincial capital and a long-established United Empire Loyalist town, then heads eastward through Moncton and onward to Nova Scotia.
The mainline Trans-Canada Highway crosses from Sackville (New Brunswick) directly into Amherst (Nova Scotia). An alternate route exits onto New Brunswick route 16 at Sackville to cross the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, then crosses back to Nova Scotia from PEI on a seasonal ferry.
Prince Edward Island
The Trans-Canada Highway crosses the Northumberland Strait by the way of the 9 km Confederation Bridge (in the west) and the Wood Islands ferry crossing (in the east). If you land on the island using the bridge from New Brunswick, the TCH starts in Borden and meanders across the southern part of Queens County towards Charlottetown about the halfway point, then crosses into Kings County ending at the ferry terminal in Wood Islands.
The time to drive from Borden to Wood Islands, if you don't stop to explore along the way, is approximately 95 minutes. If you've incurred the cost of crossing from the mainland to PEI (and back), it makes sense to stop and look around; PEI has some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere.
Moncton to North Sydney, Nova Scotia
Be sure to leave New Brunswick on a full tank; fuel prices in Amherst (Nova Scotia) are (as of 2014) six cents a litre higher - due in part to Nova Scotia's 15% value added tax on all purchases. Follow NS 104 through Springhill, Truro, Stellarton-New Glasgow and Antigonish to Port Hawkesbury. (It is possible for all except large trucks to bypass the one road toll at the Cobequid Pass, between Springhill and Truro, by going to the old road NS 4 for the affected section.) As Halifax is not on the Trans-Canada Highway, traffic for that city exits onto NS 102 southbound at Truro.
Cape Breton is an island, joined to the rest of Nova Scotia by one narrow causeway at Port Hawkesbury. Much of the island is parkland. Two parallel roads run from the causeway to the former coal mining town of Sydney (Nova Scotia); the Trans-Canada Highway follows NS 105 on a western path through Baddeck (home of an Alexander Graham Bell museum) while NS 4/104 takes a more eastern path through Louisbourg (where a former French fortress village has been largely restored) and ends in Glace Bay.
Set your watch forward another half hour upon entering Newfoundland.
Port aux Basques to St. John's
In Newfoundland, the Trans-Canada (highway #1) follows a wide 900km (550 mile) arc to the north from Port aux Basques through Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander and then southeast to the Avalon Peninsula and St. John's. The highway is two lanes and most of these points (with the exception of St. John's and possibly Corner Brook) are small towns or villages. This route largely avoids the sparsely-populated, rugged and inaccessible south coast of Newfoundland, instead following the path of the former "Newfie Bullet" narrow-gauge railway. (The former rail line is now trailways.) There are two possible side trips: north to the Viking Peninsula (a group of Vikings settled in northwestern Newfoundland briefly but didn't stay permanently) via Gros Morne National Park or south to Saint Pierre and Miquelon, France from the Burin Peninsula.
In St. John's itself, the Trans-Canada Highway ends inauspiciously on an Outer Ring Road which runs north of the city, past the airport. A more suitable ending point for a trans-Canada journey would be Signal Hill, a National Historic Site associated with the early Marconi experimentation in trans-Atlantic radio, or Cape Spear (just south of the city) as the easternmost point in Canada.
The weather in parts of Canada can be pretty extreme in the winter, so this trip is best done in the spring, summer or early fall. There are many sections in northwestern Ontario where distances are long, settlements few and far between and cellular telephone coverage potentially sporadic. Be sure that your vehicle is in top condition and that you are carrying adequate supplies before setting out. In the west, this route crosses the Rocky Mountains and can be dangerous during winter storms - sometimes the road may even be closed due to snow avalanche risk.
In Newfoundland, be warned... a moose on the highway is a Canadian stop sign and is not to be ignored lightly. These animals are quite numerous, are much heavier than deer or other wildlife and have a much higher centre of gravity. A moose through the windscreen in a vehicular collision can be deadly.
Unless you have two (or more) drivers, be prepared to spend at least a week on the highway - not including tour and sightseeing stops - to drive across Canada. The distances involved are not to be underestimated.