Best time to visit Canada

As a rule of thumb, during the summer months, between June and September. Warm temperatures and clear skies are perfect for the outdoor activities that the Canadians prize so dearly.

When is peak season in Canada?

It runs from July to August, when you’ll get bucketloads of sunshine but have to share A-list attractions such as Niagara Falls, Lake Louise and western Canada’s national parks with plenty of others. Crowds drop off in spring and autumn but the popularity of winter sports in North America drives up prices from December to April. You’ll find this to be particularly true across British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec during Christmas, new year and Easter.

September is a great all-rounder, when flights can be bagged for peanuts and the weather is cooler but still ideal for wildlife safaris; the pick of the bunch is whale watching and bear spotting on Vancouver Island. If you’re a foodie you’ll also find the vine-tangled farms of Ontario and the Okanagan Valley working harder around September harvest time than in any other month of the year.

When is the shoulder season in Canada?

September to October arguably offers the most bang for your buck. Come for the smaller crowds, the annual salmon run, which lures out the hungriest bears, and the spectacle of fall foliage; maples turn rich red and alpine larches glow golden against the lakes, mountains and rivers. Ever heard of leaf-peeping? In Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec it’s almost a more popular outdoor activity than ice hockey. Stay later into November and you’ll need to layer up to brave nose-diving temperatures.

When is the cheapest month to travel to Canada?

Typically, November. It’s before the heavy snowfalls and hoteliers often slash their room rates to rock bottom. However, rain on the west coast and plummeting temperatures to below zero on the east coast can mean many of the country’s bucket-list sights and national parks aren’t the postcard-pretty utopias you imagine.

If you’re looking for value, spring is also a good time to visit, with the exception of spring break, North America’s madcap Easter holiday. Hunt around for a deal and you can land a bargain winter sports trip, particularly in lesser-known resorts such as Big White, Sun Peaks or Mont-Sainte-Anne. And remember: if you plan on travelling to one of Canada’s lesser-visited provinces (Prince Edward Island, Manitoba or Saskatchewan, for instance), it’s possible to land a deal at any time.

When is the best month for wildlife spotting in Canada?

That depends what you want to come across. Brown bears and black bears re-emerge from winter hibernation in May, with peak sightings in late summer. Or aim for October to visit polar bears and their young out on the ice in Churchill. The whale-watching season runs for much longer, from April to October, with peak season for orca, humpback and minke sightings in Vancouver Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in July and August. From December to January, Squamish in British Columbia turns feasting ground for North America’s largest bald eagle get-together, while September and October are prime time to visit Banff for grizzly bear, caribou and moose sightings. And all without the jammed car parks and tour bus crowds.

When’s the best time to visit Canada for dog sledding?

The season for this quintessential Canadian outdoor activity runs from December to April, but February and March have the best snow conditions: racing husky packs don’t take too kindly to slushy wooded trails. Wooshing through a footprint-free forest as the trappers once did rekindles the Canada of yesterday, and everywhere from Whistler to Quebec offers plenty of family-friendly fun. For the most authentic experiences, or a more immersive multi-day trip, head north — far north — to the Yukon, Northwest Territories or Nunavut to combine dog sledding with ice fishing, snowmobile riding and soul-stirring northern lights chasing.

Sunshine and rainfall

The end of June and into July is the hottest period of the year, with temperatures regularly hitting the high 20Cs (and sometimes far higher) and almost every day filled with sun. November is generally the wettest month, particularly on the west coast, which can have up to 200mm of rain.

Key dates for your calendar

All eyes are on Quebec City in midwinter thanks to the Quebec Winter Carnival. Over two weeks winter sports, dog sledding and chainsaw-cut ice and snow sculptures turn the city into a gigantic snow globe. Likewise, Ottawa’s Winterlude has bragging rights to ice skating and ice hockey on the world’s longest skating rink, the frozen Rideau Canal Skateway. Too frosty for you? Warm up with deep-fried BeaverTails, the capital’s favourite doughnut-like pastry. Sugary treats are also all the rage in eastern Canada from late February until early April. It’s the sugar shack harvest season and rural Quebec produces about 80 per cent of the world’s maple syrup.

The unwritten rule is: as long as you visit Canada in July, there’ll be a world-beating festival somewhere. Once upon a time the Calgary Stampede was a shoestring Wild West fair organised by the Calgary and District Agricultural Society. But since 1912 the thronging ten-day rodeo has ballooned to become a byword for horse lassoing, bull riding, barrel racing and bronco bucking.

Over in eastern Canada the world’s oldest jazz fest — the Montreal International Jazz Festival — draws similarly head-spinning visitor numbers (up to two million). And despite ice hockey allegiances, the nation comes together on July 1, aka Canada Day, with fireworks, concerts and parades. Have red and white face paint at the ready.

The closer you stay to Yorkville in Toronto, the more chance you’ll have of spotting A-list celebrities. The sleek downtown district is a cornerstone of the Toronto International Film Festival and it becomes a map to the stars. Grab a ticket to a red-carpet gala or audience Q&A to sneak a peek at a famous face; the two Canadian Ryans (Gosling and Reynolds) are almost part of the decor.

Around this time St Catharines on Lake Ontario is home to Canada’s largest wine carnival, the Niagara Grape & Wine Festival. Close proximity to Niagara Falls means it’s no guidebook secret, but don’t let that put you off — it’s more than worth a day in your itinerary.

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