TREADING lightly

Wonderful wilderness, eco-friendly resorts and exciting human-powered adventures make Canada the perfect choice for a sustainable escape, says Lauren Jarvis

My epic two-week journey down the Yukon River begins in the territory’s capital, Whitehorse, when five canoes launch into the wild, Jack London-style, and set off for Dawson City, 450 miles to the north.

Paddling eight hours a day, we tread lightly – bubbling along with the current as silt fizzes against the bow, and powering our way across glassy Lake Laberge, leaving nothing but silver ripples in our wake.

Each night, we will wild camp beside the river, where beavers build their dams and grizzly tracks mark the banks.

Collecting firewood, we will cook in the midnight sun and – wonderfully wifi-free – tell stories as the timeless waters roll by, before sleeping under canvas, answering calls of nature like bears in the woods.

By the village of Carmacks, hands are blistered and muscles ache. Another week of paddling, wild camping and white water lies ahead, as the infamous Five Finger Rapids rumbles downriver. Running through town, The Klondike Highway offers a tempting escape: to civilisation, Starbucks and a comfortable bed and pillows.

A crossroads. A choice. I pick up my paddle, climb into the canoe and ride the mighty river to Dawson.

Eco-escapes

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With its stunning landscapes, epic mountain ranges and mighty rivers, Canada has always attracted adventurers, nature lovers and those seeking a deeper connection to earth’s wild places. Responsible stewardship and sustainability are in the country’s DNA, from the Indigenous peoples’ age-old respect for the land to the long-established national park service, which protects vast swathes of wilderness, wildlife and some of the most precious ecosystems on the planet.

As more travellers seek to lighten their carbon footprint, Canada’s already ahead of the curve, with endless opportunities to hike, sail, ski, pedal and paddle, while resorts, suppliers and operators offer exciting options for an eco-friendly escape.

As the aviation industry continues its search for a more planet-friendly way to fly, Canadian seaplane operator, Harbour Air (based in Vancouver), has been blazing a cleaner trail since 2007, when it became North America’s first carbon-neutral airline, offsetting 100% of its emissions.

Vancouver was also the birthplace of environmental organisation, Greenpeace. Now approaching its 50-year anniversary, the organization is celebrated in the Making Waves exhibition at the Vancouver Maritime Museum until 7 June.

“Canada is a very environmentally aware destination,” says Julie Thompson, Product and Marketing Manager for Frontier Travel, which encourages customers to offset their flight emissions through Climate Care. “Many resorts and hotels have green programmes in place, such as Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort in British Columbia, which is showing an incredible commitment to sustainability with all accommodation sustained by solar power.

Across the country, you’ll find fabulous, eco-friendly restaurants serving locally sourced ingredients, too.

Book it with… Canada as you like it

Explore the Whistler Mountain Bike Trail and over 300 miles of cycling tracks for riders of all levels on this seven-night trip, which includes return international flights, accommodation for two nights in Vancouver, five nights in Whistler, car hire and two days mountain biking. 0208 742 8299; canadaasyoulikeit.com

Eco-trips

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Known for its world-class wineries, British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan region has become one of the world’s most sustainable destinations, with plenty of opportunities for human-powered exploration amidst its mountains and lakes.

Declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, residents, businesses and visitors are encouraged to commit to the ‘Seven Affirmations for Seven Generations’ pledge, which honours the Indigenous idea that everything we do in our lifetime will have consequences for seven future generations.

B.C.’s Sun Peaks Resort also offers low-impact activities including hiking, horse riding and biking across its three mountains, which surround a pedestrian-only village. And all-inclusive safari-style Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on Vancouver Island invites guests to get involved with wildlife rehabilitation through its Coastal Ambassador Programme.

“The work of B.C.’s tourism industry is built on a foundation of sustainability and considers the benefits of tourism growth along with its environmental impact,” explains Yvonne Chow, Marketing Coordinator for Europe at Destination British Columbia. “In addition, marketing efforts are focused on lesser-known attractions and destinations with capacity to disperse visitation around the province.”

Off-season travel

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‘The Road Less Travelled’ will be a key focus for Travel Alberta in 2022, a tagline that hopes to encourage visitors to explore more of the province and experience its diverse landscapes and attractions.

In summer, as an alternative to the popular Rocky Mountains, Alberta is pushing the cities of Calgary and Edmonton (both home to lots of green spaces and perfect for cycling), the Badlands, The Cowboy Trail, Crowsnest Pass and Elk Island National Park, the cornerstone of Canada’s bison conservation story.

Atlantic Canada is also focussed on protecting its natural wonders.

“We’re encouraging travellers to explore our many national parks and coastline on foot or by bicycle,” says Kelley Keefe, The Atlantic Canada Agreement on Tourism (ACAT) UK Program Manager.

Walkers can ramble the rugged East Coast Trail in Newfoundland, while cyclists can bike the historic Rum Runners Trail in Nova Scotia (WorldExpeditions.com offers guided tours for both). Eco-friendly lodgings include Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fogo Island Inn, glamping domes and cabins at Ridgeback Lodge in New Brunswick, ‘TreePODS’ at Prince Edward Island’s Treetop Haven and luxurious rooms at Trout Point Lodge in the UNESCO Southwest Nova Scotia Biosphere Reserve.

Going green

Canada’s cosmopolitan capital is also catering to green travellers.

“Ottawa has a variety of eco-friendly options for visitors ” says Julia Thomson, Corporate Communications Specialist at Ottawa Tourism.

“Skating along the incredible Rideau Canal Skateway, cycling on the 500-plus miles of bike paths, hiking in Gatineau Park and rafting along the Ottawa River are all sustainable ways to experience Canada’s capital and its surrounds. Our compact downtown allows visitors to walk to most major attractions.”

The country’s breathtaking landscapes look spectacular through the panoramic windows of the Rocky Mountaineer, which runs through the Rockies, stopping at Whistler, Kamloops, Jasper and Banff.

“Travelling by VIA Rail around the eastern provinces of Ontario and Québec is another easy and exciting way to explore,” adds Denise Hunn, Director Canada Tour Operations at Prestige Holidays.

Wild things

When it comes to wildlife, you can’t beat getting out on foot to find it. Canada offers a genuine safari-type experience, and although the ‘big three’ are bears – grizzly, black and polar – there are multitude other ways to enjoy the country’s wildlife. For example, In south Saskatchewan, you’ll find Grasslands National Park, which is best known for being the only place in the country that is home to the comical black-tailed prairie dog. In summer, around 50,000 beluga whales come to the western side of Hudson Bay, Manitoba, where the Churchill River empties into the Bay. The best time to see them is from the last two weeks of July to the first two weeks of August.

Used by First Nations peoples for centuries, canoes are a clean and healthy way to spot the country’s wildlife.“Canada has so much to offer in terms of spectacular flora and fauna,” says Maggi Smit, Managing Director of specialist tour operator, Canada As You Like It. “Canoeing the winding waterways of the Yukon is a fantastic non-invasive way to get up close to animals.”
“Nearly 80% of the territory remains pristine wilderness,” explains Denise Hunn, Director of Canada Tour Operations at Prestige Holidays. “The relatively sparse human population makes the Yukon a haven for species like caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, coyotes, foxes and millions of migratory birds.”

Living off the land

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Across the country, some 1,500 indigenous-owned tourism operations invite visitors to discover more about Canada’s First Nations people. From herbal medicine walks in Saskatchewan with a Cree/Métis guide to camping in teepees and celebrating the culture of the Anishnawbek people on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, authentic traditional experiences abound.

“Supporting sustainable, Indigenous tourism means bringing benefits and employment to communities and keeping cultural traditions alive,” says Keith Henry, President & CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. And as indigenous experiences are so often tied to the land, they’re inherently sustainable and healthy for the environment too.”

Book it with… Frontier Canada

A four-day package for two at the luxury Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort in British Columbia costs from £5,900pp, including food, drinks, horse riding and guided wilderness adventures. Pair with a stay in Vancouver or Whistler. 020 8776 8709; frontier-canada.co.uk