Autumn is a beautiful and rewarding time of year to visit Canada. Its foliage takes on fiery tints, its roads are less travelled and its wildlife gets up to all kinds of wondrous pranks. Here are 26 reasons to visit…
A is for Aurora Borealis
As the night sky above the northern hemisphere becomes darker with the onset of autumn, the northern lights are frequently seen glimmering above Canada.
The country is home to between 80%-90% of accessible land beneath the northern aurora oval, the region around the geomagnetic pole that experiences the most vibrant and most frequent auroral displays.
Skies free from light pollution help make Alberta, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and the Yukon leading destinations for viewing the aurora borealis.
B is for Bears
Autumn is ideal for viewing bears. Salmon runs peak in September and October, drawing grizzlies to gorge at the country’s rivers. British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest is a top destination for viewing the bears. Each September, thick-coated grizzlies converge to fish in the river at Bear Cave Mountain, Yukon. The bears exit the water into freezing air – thus the name ‘ice bears’.
And during October and November guests at remote lodges north of Churchill, Manitoba, often view polar bears waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze over.
C is for Colours
The autumn colours of Canada are bold and vibrant, making it a particularly rewarding time of year to view the country’s landscapes.
Foliage in the country’s east tends to turn in mid- to late-September, with the leaves on maple trees turning through fiery orange to deep red. Oak leaves turn russet and copper while birch and elm leaves blaze yellow.
Further west, the golden larch and aspen catch the eye from roads and during hikes.
Mid- to late-September is typically also an ideal time to view the fall colours in the Canadian Rockies.
D is for Dark Skies
With vast swathes of land free from human settlement, Canada has huge areas devoid of the light pollution that is common in and around urban settlements.
Areas of rural Canada offer remarkable opportunities to view constellations and other celestial bodies shining in the night sky, including the Milky Way arching overhead.
In a country with numerous opportunities to experience viewing the northern lights and outstanding stargazing, Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan is renowned as Canada’s darkest Dark-Sky Preserve.
E is for Embrace
Visiting Canada during the autumn brings opportunities to embrace the joys of the season: soak in the colours, make the most of the daylight hours to participate in outdoor activities and use nights for stargazing. It’s an optimal time of year to sample to bounty of the land and embrace chances to appreciate the culinary skills of chefs working with local seasonal produce.
Foraged mushrooms and freshly hunted game feature on menus, while artisanal jams and preserves made from local fruit and berries are ideal to take home as gifts.
F is for Festivals
Autumn offers visitors to Canada numerous opportunities to participate in festivals.
In September movie buffs can attend Toronto International Film Festival screenings. Meanwhile, the Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival is a ‘shellebration’ combining culinary and musical talents.
In October, the Celtic Colours International Festival, held on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, showcases Celtic music and heritage amid a backdrop of bold autumnal hues.
November’s Cornucopia, in Whistler, British Columbia, sees talented chefs preparing seasonal produce ahead of the opening of the winter sports season.
G is for Going South
A vast amount of animal movement can be witnessed in Canada during the autumn, making it a rewarding time of year for wildlife lovers. Sightings of brown, black and grizzly bears peak ahead of their winter torpor. And many smaller mammals – including squirrels, chipmunks and groundhogs – are sighted foraging. Birds, meanwhile, can be seen going south for winter. Hummingbirds, cranes and V-shaped flocks of geese depart. Point Pelee National Park, mainland Canada’s southernmost spot, is among the best places for birders to view the migration.
H is for Hockey
Hockey (ice) fans look forward to the autumn because early October sees the return of the National Hockey League (NHL). The nation’s favourite sport has a passionate following and attending a game is a true Canadian experience. Canada’s seven professional teams are based in Montréal (Canadians), Toronto (Maple Leafs), Vancouver (Canucks), Edmonton (Oilers), Calgary (Flames), Ottawa (Senators), and Winnipeg (Jets). Winnipeg is one of the smallest cities with a professional sports team in North America.
However, visitors to Canada can experience the sport’s thrills in many other cities that have teams playing in the ‘minor leagues’.
I is for Indigenous activities
Indigenous experiences offer a way for travellers to learn to story of the land’s original inhabitants from their perspective.
But they are also a way of embracing the season. In Churchill, Manitoba, Beyond Boreal Expeditions leads tours to view polar bears, while on Victoria Island, British Columbia, the Tagwàgi (Autumn) Festival promises a programme of authentic Indigenous experiences, including chances to meet Ojibwe Spirit Horses. In the Northwest Territories, several Indigenous experiences are accessible from Yellowknife, including aurora hunting with North Star Adventures.
J is for Journeys by Train
Leaves on the track delaying departures? Leave off! In Canada, sitting by a train window means being able to unwind while rolling through autumnal landscapes.
The Canadian, operated by VIA Rail, brings opportunities to view the countryside on a multi-day journey between Vancouver and Toronto. Yet spectacular train rides in Canada don’t need to cover epic distances.
The Montreal-Jonquière route is one such journey, and the Agawa Canyon Train Tour in Ontario is a popular autumn day trip through landscapes that inspired the famous Group of Seven artists. Then there is the luxury Rocky Mountaineer, which travels through the resplendent Rocky Mountains.
K is for Kitchener
The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest, begins in September and continues into October.
The event celebrates the German heritage of the region around Kitchener, Ontario – a city that was called Berlin until 1916. Expect to see Bavarian-style dirndl dresses and lederhosen at the beer festival, which takes place in festhallen (festival halls) across the city. Kitchener also hosts a popular Thanksgiving Day Parade, featuring colourful marching bands and floats.
L is for Large
The sheer size of Canada presents myriad opportunities for autumn visitors.
The country sprawls north into the Arctic Circle and nearly 4,700 miles east-west, from Cape Spear in Newfoundland and Labrador to the Yukon’s border with Alaska – which inevitably means that autumn arrives at varying times across the country.
Whitehorse, in the Yukon, and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories typically receive their first snowfalls in September or October – but snow may arrive in August. Pack layers and be prepared for any kind of weather.
M is for Maple Leaf
Canada’s national symbol and instantly recognisable icon is depicted red on the country’s flag and could have been designed with autumn’s changing shades and vibrant reds in mind. Québec is famed for producing maple syrup and is ideal for viewing maple leaves’ autumnal hues, typically from mid-September to mid-October. Hiring a vehicle and driving to the Eastern Townships or the Laurentian Mountains provides spectacular viewing opportunities as part of a road trip with numerous sightseeing opportunities.
N is for Nature
Nature is embraced by most Canadians and is a key draw for international travellers.
Overnighting in Parks Canada’s oTENTik accommodation, a comfortable cross between a cabin and a tent, offers glamping-style experiences. Staying in an oTENTik removes the hassle of transporting heavy camping gear to experience national parks and all that they offer in terms of wildlife, dark skies and autumnal scenery.
Visits to provincial parks across the country can be easily added to touring itineraries. Suggest for second- or third-time visitors.
O is for Openness
Canadians take pride in being ‘open to the world’ and for having ‘open hearts’ and ‘open minds’ that embrace diversity and inclusion.
With all travel-related restrictions to the country removed Canada is again welcoming travellers from around the world.
Moreover, it is Canada’s open spaces that most travellers now crave in an evermore-crowded world.
P is for Pumpkin Patches
Pumpkins are ready for harvesting in the autumn. When carved into lanterns they are celebrated as a key symbol of the Halloween festivities, which are embraced with gusto in Canada. Pumpkins are also enjoyed in soups, pies and, of course, seasonal spiced coffees. Pumpkin patches across the country invite visitors to pick their own while enjoying family-friendly activities and entertainment. That may include an opportunity to seek an exit in one of the corn mazes that are created on many Canadian farms each autumn.
Q is for Quietude
Autumn is a season for taking time out to pause, breathe deeply and appreciate the aromas during forest walks or even forest bathing. In fact, enjoying the quietude can be a transformative way of embracing your inner peace. Or, for a very different ‘Q’, the historic sites of Québec City, including the Citadel fortress and Place Royal, along with its city parks, are spectacular in autumn.
R is for Road Trips
The autumnal colours mean that road trips between mid-September and mid-October provide a wealth of gorgeous backdrops for keen Instagrammers and photographers.
The circular Cabot Trail, looping 185 miles in Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, is especially pretty in the autumn. So too is the Fundy Coastal Drive, a near 300-mile scenic route between Sackville and St Stephen, via the spectacular Hopewell Rocks. Rewarding routes are found across the country.
S is for Shoulder Season
Travelling out of the summer season enables visitors to maximise value for money on accommodation. Hiking and mountain cycling trails remain open well into the autumn – and without the summer crowds.
Resorts known for winter sports, such as Whistler and Sun Peaks, hold a different allure in the autumn, with hiking and mountain bike trails popular at this time.
T is for Thanksgiving
The second Monday in October is Canada’s Thanksgiving, a celebration of the harvest.
Many Canadians use the holiday to spend time outdoors hiking: that means heading to the campsites and trails. Sports fans look forward to a Canadian Football League game, with the culmination of the national Grey Cup (Canada’s ‘FA Cup Final’) just weeks away.
U is for Urban pleasures
Canada’s cities and towns have plenty to offer in autumn. World-class museums and galleries, shops and craft breweries, Michelin-Star restaurants and even food trucks warrant visits.
So too do the farmers’ markets brimming with seasonal produce. In well-maintained urban parks – such as Edmonton’s River Valley, Vancouver’s Stanley Park and Regina’s Was Cana Park – quality outdoor experiences are on offer within view of the city skyline.
V is for Vineyards
Vineyards and wineries across Canada are at their busiest in the autumn when the grape harvesting, pressing and wine production is in full swing. Visitors can attend events such as September’s Niagara Grape and Wine Festival or, in British Columbia, the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival which is held on weekends in October and November.
Grapes remain on the vines in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Québec and elsewhere long after the autumn harvest, left there in order to produce icewine.
W is for Whale-watching
The whale-watching season in the waters surrounding British Columbia continues well into the autumn, with Vancouver and Victoria among the popular places for departing tours.
Orca sightings are common around the Gulf Islands and in the Strait of Georgia into October, as the leviathans gather to feed on migrating salmon.
Humpback whales can be seen between April and November, with some staying year-round. Minke and fin whales are also sighted into October while grey whales are seen from March into June.
X is for Xenodochial
Being ‘xenodochial’ means ‘being friendly to strangers’, a characteristic that is noticeable and in abundance across Canada.
Canadians are known for their sincere friendliness. That translates into being hospitable to visitors and is a factor why so many travellers form positive memories of the interactions they have, and connections they make, during their Canadian journey.
Autumn is a time of dwindling daylight hours, but it is also a time for the warmest of welcomes.
Y is for Yellowhead Highway
Road-trippers with time on their hands looking for an alternative to driving across Canada on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) should consider the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) which runs between Winnipeg and Masset on Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. They will view the harvested prairies of Saskatchewan and leaves turning golden. Stops along the way include Stony Plain, Alberta, and Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia.
Z is for Zen
Autumn offers opportunities to unwind while enjoying some zen-like reflection. Guides in British Columbia offer forest bathing or forest therapy. Known to Japanese Buddhists as shinrin-yoku, it involves ‘purposeful walking in’ and ‘engaging the senses to absorb the woodland’. Or spend time in outdoor pools at Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature, Winnipeg, Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, and Jasper National Park’s Miette Hot Springs, Alberta, for soaking among the sounds and aromas of the season.