Tips for a successful bike tour in Canada
Canada is a huge country, so it is is nearly impossible to write it in just a few bullet points. I’ve provided as much detail possible to give the reader a general idea. All these tips are intended to be a general guide for travel in Canada, but the reader must conduct their own research and take their own precautions while travelling.
Tip #1 - Be bear aware!!!
Bears are a real concern in Canada, especially in the mountains in western Canada where there are grizzly bears, brown bears and black bears. During the hottest parts of the summer, the grizzlies tend to go higher up in the mountains and are less likely to be an issue. Ontario and Quebec are huge and have massive forests with large populations of black and brown bears, which can be equally dangerous if surprised or caught off-guard. The rest of Canada also has bears, so don’t assume that because you are somewhere else, there are none. Polar bears are the most dangerous of all, but are only found in the arctic.
- Buy bear spray and be sure to get instruction on how to use it safely.
- When riding through forests, have a bear bell on your bike or play music so that wildlife, particularly bears, can hear you coming.
- Use a bear box to store food, or hang food bags between trees at night.
The Bear-Muda Triangle
- Keep your food 100 metres away from your camp and 100 metres away from your cooking spot.
- Cook your food 100 metres away from your food storage location and 100 metres away from your camp.
- You get the drift….triangle….bear-muda triangle
Tip #2 - Enjoy the Rocky Mountains
- If you are crossing Canada and can make the time, do the extra loop from Vancouver to Whistler, Jasper and Banff.
- If you are going north towards the Yukon Territory, the Cassiar Highway will take you through some spectacular views.
- The Alaska Highway crosses the Rocky Mountains in Northern B.C. and you can see some amazing wildlife along the way, such as cariboo, bison, mountain goads, rock sheep and more. Absolutely spectacular and will be some of the best cycling days you ever had.
Tip #3 - Water purification
In case you didn’t know, Canada is home to a mind-boggling amount of lakes and rivers. Apparently there are over 1 million lakes and islands in Canada. That means lots of water. While the water in lakes and rivers is generally clean, we do have a lot of wildlife and there is always the risk of fecal contamination, so it is a good practice to have a water filter or purification tables. Many people don’t do this, but there is always a chance that at some point you will get sick. And it usually tends to happen at the worst possible time.
- Carry water purification tablets or a filter.
- Is there water is not flowing very quickly, treat it as stagnant water and purify.
- There are many parts of Canada that are remote and resupply might not be possible, so carry extra bottles and fill up when the opportunity arises.
- Canadian lakes and rivers are generally clear and the water is drinkable.
Tip #4 - Friendly people
Canadians people are generally pretty friendly, especially if you like beer and hockey. Warmshowers and couchsurfing are great resources for bike travellers are you will meet like-minded people. And although most of the country has a pretty similar accent, you’d be surprised to see how different the people are as you cross this huge country.
Tip #5 - Ride carefully, especially in Ontario
Many people underestimate the size of Ontario in relation to the rest of Canada. Throughout your cross-Canada journey , you will spend approximately 1/3 of your time in Ontario, and that is only if you are crossing directly west to east, or east to west. The stretch from the border of Manitoba until reaching Quebec at the end of Highway 17 (417 in Ottawa), is over 2000km long. The entire region is predominantly part of the Canadian Shield, a hilly and rocky part of the country. While not crossing mountains, the hills will really take their toll on your body. The stretch from pretty much the border of Manitoba all the way to Sault Ste. Marie is known to have a lot of fast traffic and very little shoulder. Take your time, make sure to have safety lights on your bike, wear bright colours and avoid riding during dusk and dawn, when drivers’ eyes are adjusting to the light change and are less likely to see you. If riding at night, ensure you have good quality blinking lights that can be seen from a long way off, so that driver’s have a chance to register your presence.
Tip #6 - Worthwhile detours
Canada is massive and you could easily spent a year cycling through it and feel like you still have so much to see. If you have extra time or time is not an issue, here are some of the top sights I would recommend you detour and see.
- The ride from Whistler to Lilooet is truly spectacular. Although it involves an epic climb. You can also check out Duffy Lake Provincial Park.
- The Icefields Parkway, including Banff and Jasper National Parks. The entire thing is epic. Also, detouring to Drumheller to see one of the world’s largest dinosaur fossils and a lot of other sites.
- Riding Mountain National Park and Lake Winnipeg are two must see’s if time is available.
- If you want to see something truly amazing, Manitoulin island is the world’s largest fresh-water island. You could also try befriending someone with a sailboat in Little Current and spend a few days on the North Channel, some of the best fresh-water sailing in the world. I know, because my dad is out there every summer for 2-3 months.
- Niagara Falls is the point where Lake Erie enters Lake Ontario. Amazing detour worth every pedal stroke.
- Montreal and Quebec City are already on the route across Canada. If you have time a trip up to Lac St. Jean and a ride around the lake is worth the effort.
- If time is really of no concern, I’ve only ever heard good things about the Gaspé coast, but have never been myself.
- Saint John is a lovely little city and from there you can ride to Fundy National Park and then on to the Hopewell Rocks, where you will have the chance to see some of the largest tidal changes in the world.
Prince Edward Island:
- The entire island is off the usual route, but not by much. Really worth the detour. Check out Anne of Green Gables (if that’s your thing), Charlottetown and great beaches.
- Halifax is a must see and is described as the heart and soul of Nova Scotia.
Newfoundland & Labrador:
- Gross Morne National Park is out of the way, but since you made it this far, what’s one more detail. Apparently it has lots of fjords and reminds people of Norway.
Tip #7 - Dress accordingly!
From the cooler summer temperatures of the mountains at night, the massive thunderstorms in the Prairies in the summer, to the insane amount of mosquitos you will experience in Ontario and Quebec, you need to be prepared for everything. During spring and autumn, the nights are cold and the days can get quite hot. You will definitely need insect repellant, sun screen, rain protection, extra layers for night, and the list goes on.
Tip #8 - Route Verte
Quebec has experienced a radical change in mindset when it comes to cycling. Once upon a time, people complained that Quebec roads were some of the worst in the country and that Quebec driver’s were some of the most ignorant. Recent changes to the law and the creation of the Corridor de Sécurité (Move over laws), has seen a direct correlation to how much space drivers now tend to give cyclists. Quebec has also invested heavily into their Route Verte (Green Route) of bike paths and extended shoulders throughout the province, creating an amazing infrastructure for cyclists, connecting many communities throughout the province to dedicated cycle paths and shared roads with excellent signage and generally pretty well maintained. Bravo Quebec. This has definitely made Quebec one of the premier cycling destinations in the country.
Tip #9 - Wild camping
One of the biggest problems in Canada is the cost of official campgrounds. There seems to be no regard for cyclists, meaning that a night at a campground for cyclists costs just as much as it would for someone in a 30′ trailer. It’s baffling. Thus, wild camping, stealth camping, or whatever you may like to call it.
As mentioned earlier, Canada is home to approximately 1 million lakes. Unless in Southern Ontario, you should never have too much difficulty to find somewhere to pitch a tent for a night. Some of the best locations I have ever camped have been along the edges of lakes in Canada with no-one else around. It’s important that you don’t leave your garbage laying around. Not just because of bears and wildlife, but because we have one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and it would be nice to keep it that way for others. If ‘pooping’ in the woods, it is recommended to dig a hole and bury your excrement if you are not keen enough to pack it out. Follow ‘Leave no trace’ principles.
Tip #10 - Safety first
As with touring anywhere, it’s important to be careful at all times. Also, since Canada is very big and bike tourers are not a common sight, driver’s are not particularly aware of them and might not be paying attention. It’s a good idea to have a mirror on your bike so you can see what is coming from behind. Blinking lights for daytime riding are also not a bad idea, and an absolute necessity at night. Taking a break during dust and dawn and not riding allows drivers’ eyes to adjust to changing light conditions without additional things to worry about. If riding east during sunrise, the light in Canada shines very strongly into driver’s eyes and they may struggle to see you. The same is applicable when riding west during sunset.
Tip #11 - Solar chargers and powerbanks
Canada is a big country and can be a challenge to find towns when you need them. Investing in some good quality powerbanks or a reliable solar charger can make for a much better travel experience. Especially if you like to chill by the lake and listen to music, surf the internet or catch up on social media and blog posts.