Where do I send visitors to see the best fall foliage in Canada?
I look forward to autumn – as my Brit background insists I call it – the way other Canadians revere summer. With its crisp temperatures, rewarding blue skies and rolling patchwork of flaming golds, pumpkin-oranges and eye-popping candy apple reds, this is my favourite time to be outdoors.
So when your overseas visitors arrive during the late-September to late-October leaf-spotting peak, I suggest you join them on their jaunt. Fall is a great time to travel – tourist crowds are reduced and many hotels slide into shoulder-season discounts – and you could be launching your own new annual tradition.
But where to go? For a shimmering swathe of picture-perfect suggestions, I turned to Ed Jager, director of visitor experience at Parks Canada. He's spent years diving joyously into leafy piles across the country – and he starts his recommendations with a must-see blockbuster.
"The Cabot Trail [in Cape Breton Highlands National Park] is one of the world's top scenic drives and it really shines in fall," he says. "You get more colours here than anywhere else in Canada: the dramatic reds and oranges of the sugar maple forests in the valleys; brilliant yellows of the aspen and tamaracks mixed with evergreens on the mountainsides; and, on the mountain tops, the deep oranges and purples of the taiga."
If you're in the Maritimes, consider New Brunswick's Fundy Coastal Drive and PEI's Confederation Trail. But Jager also suggests La Mauricie National Park in Quebec's Laurentian mountains, where sugar maples mix decorously with red and white pines. For an alternate view out West, the Rockies' Jasper region contrasts vibrant yellows with its ethereally turquoise lakes.
But it's not all about driving. Hop from the car for an autumnal day hike in Ontario's Bruce Peninsula National Park: Jager talks up its Burnt Point Loop trail for leafy ambles on springy carpets of gold. Even better is the upcoming Bruce Peninsula Hiking Festival (pbtc.ca/festival) where friendly locals offer two days of guided wanders throughout the area.
It's not the only seasonal festival worth booting-up for. Consider Quebec's Tremblant Symphony of Colours and – in Vancouver – the University of British Columbia's Apple Festival. If you're anywhere near Saskatchewan, fall suppers are a must. I had one of my best small-town nights out here a few years back, stuffing my face and catching the local gossip. It's one of Canada's best grassroots experiences. Check the newspapers or ask the locals to find one.
But if you really want to impress, add some seasonal wildlife-watching to your guests' leaf-peeping travels, suggests Jager. "Newfoundland's Gros Morne National Park has colourful trees but there are also moose and caribou sightings," he says, adding that Alberta's Elk Island National Park also serves a side-order of bison and bugling ungulates in fall.
While many of the country's provincial parks are also striped like a Group of Seven paintbox – see Ontario's parkreports.com/fall for region-specific tips, for example – some of my own favourite fall experiences are by train. My recommended VIA Rail trundles include the Montreal to Halifax Ocean route and the Jasper to Prince Rupert train that snakes through dramatic northern B.C. forests.
"Plan your trip before Thanksgiving for the best colours," says Jager, "and don't forget to stop off at local cafés for fresh apple or pumpkin pies. And when you're viewing, make sure you look down: there's a rainbow of colours to be seen in the smaller plants along the trails."