September 18, 2017
We spent 10 months slowly picking our way across Canada, and while we didn’t see everything, we certainly got a good taste of what this amazing country can offer. Wide open wilderness, pristine ocean beaches and almost endless adventure everywhere you go.
But some towns are just better for #vanlife than others. The ability to explore, enjoy the community, meet people, have a good time and feel welcomed all play a role into choosing some of the best towns. Of course, the ability to camp for free is also on the list.
- Tofino BC: Tofino used to be a secret gem for those willing to make the long drive to this small town at the end of the road. Based on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino offers some of the most reliable surf in all of Canada. If surf isn’t your thing, there are plenty of rainforest and coastal hikes that will lead you to remote stretches of long sandy beaches. You can also head to the inlet side for some typically calm kayaking or standup paddling. There is some great Native culture to be experienced and history to be learned in the area and the surrounding boat-in only communities. Maybe the best part for van lifers, a free place to camp about 30 minutes from town!
- Golden BC: For number 2, we jump to the other side of British Columbia. Golden is a great town to be in whether it is summer or winter. They may be most known for their winters of Champaign powder that dumps onto Kicking Horse Mountain, one of the steepest and gnarliest hills to ski in North America. There are also endless options of heli or cat skiing in the area. In the summer months, Golden is one of the top up-and-coming mountain bike towns, with trail offerings for every ability. The town itself offers great coffee, pubs and dining and people are as nice as it gets. There are also some great options for free camping just outside of town, overlooking the river.
- Souris PE: Prince Edward Island is hard to narrow down to just one town. If you make the move over to the island, it is worth visiting as much of it as you can. You will have absolutely no problem finding free camping on the island. Almost every dirt road leads to the beach where you can often park up for the night. The beaches are well stocked with driftwood for epic campfires while you watch the sunset, just make sure to check the tide schedule!
- Trout River NL: Newfoundland as a whole is not to be missed. It’s truly a step back in time with small fishing villages along the coast and even an old viking settlement, but if you need another excuse to go there, it is to visit Gros Morne National Park. The vast and beautiful park offers enough hiking trails to spend a year there, and every trail is unique in so many aspects. You could hit up a coastal hike one day, scramble up a mountain the next and head down a gorge after that. This is likely the most beautiful part of Canada, at least east of the Rockie’s. Since you are in a National Park, free camping is tough to find unless you are willing to head outside of the large park and into one of the many forest access roads.
- Ottawa ON: We couldn’t exclude Ottawa for 2 reasons. It is the Nation’s capital, full of amazing history and the city we called home before we started traveling. Ottawa, and the Greater Capital Region has something to offer for everyone whether it be outdoor adventure, or urban exploration. The city is stunning, with so much to do. You can visit the parliament, head to the National Art Gallery or just stroll the streets of the Byward Market. When you are ready for a break from the hustle of the city, simply head in almost any direction. Head north and it will take you across the border into Quebec where Gatineau Park offers several different adventures such as hiking, biking or cross-country skiing, or head west towards the Ottawa River Valley if whitewater kayaking or rafting is more your thing. This area truly offers something for everyone. You will likely find it pretty tough to find free camping downtown, but the suburbs will offer you free Walmart lots to crash in. Once out of the city, options for tucking away out of sight are there, but can be tough to find.
Well, that is our top 5. Which towns did we miss? What is your favourite Canadian #vanlife town? Leave a comment below to let us know!