One Epic Road Trip Across Canada And The USA
How long does it take to travel from India to Canada?
A direct flight takes around 16 hrs; a break journey takes about 24 hrs. A journey by ship takes 2-3 months.
Even this looks reasonable.
Can you believe it? It took us more than six years to plan and visit Canada. Earlier, it was money concerns, then came COVID-19, and lastly, office & school leave issues. We had no dearth of excuses. Finally, after many deliberations and family squabbles, we booked tickets for Canada for Jun 2023.
The plan was to fly to Toronto from Delhi and stay with my wife’s family at Brampton, making it our base in Canada. Then, a week-long trip to Banff and Jasper, followed by a quick visit to Ottawa and Montreal. Then, in the last week of our stay, planned for a quick visit to Chicago and Mackinac Island in Michigan, in the United States.
Delhi to Toronto
The Air Canada flight to Toronto was direct, but it was still a long one. We were left cramped in the tiny economy-class seats, jostling for space. The food was barely average, didn’t titillate the taste buds, but was served piping hot. Though it had a collection of a few Hindi movies, I thought sleeping was better than killing time idlily. Out of 16 hours of flight, I slept for more than 12 hours. The flight landed on time in Toronto, where my brother-in-law came to pick us up.
It is a famous suburb of Toronto, fondly known as ‘Singh’ton or ‘Brown’ton, due to its massive Indian population of Indian Sikh community. The roads here were broader, cleaner and traffic ran in an organized manner. It being June, the weather was salubrious for us, though warmer for the locals. This was our base location for the entire Canada and the US trip.
Niagara Falls, Canada
The iconic Niagara Falls is conveniently situated in close proximity to Toronto, just a short 1.5-hour drive away. The perspective of the falls from the Canadian side offers a truly magnificent view, distinguishing it from the less striking vantage point on the US side. American citizens often make the journey across the border to Canada in search of a superior view. The only individuals obligated to experience Niagara Falls’s side-view from the American side are those who hold visas only to the United States. The night-time ferry Maid-of-the-Mist offers a majestic colored view of the gigantic waterfall.
Canada: The Alberta road trip
Change of Plan – Calgary to Edmonton
We had booked Porter Airlines flights from Toronto to Calgary on the 6th Jun morning. The plan was to reach by noon, and then take a rental car and drive to Jasper, which was almost 5 hours away. A day before, on the 5th of Jun morning, we received an email saying that our flight was canceled and we were booked on another evening flight that would reach Calgary at 10 p.m., on 06-Jun
This was a shocking surprise as if we reached late at Calgary, driving to Jasper at that unearthly hour would have been impossible as we had little kids with us. So, we could not travel to Jasper only on the 7th of Jun morning. Regrettably, this also meant that our pre-booked car rental in Calgary and our Jasper hotel reservation for the afternoon of June 6th would have to be forfeited.
The next two hours were busy talking to customer care, trying to explain them our situation and requesting them to accommodate us on any other flight. Believe me, customer care in India is much better.
Flight to Edmonton
After a long tussle, we were offered a flight to Edmonton (not Calgary), the same day in the next 6 hrs. Having no choice, we relented. The rented car from Calgary was canceled, which came with deductions due to last-minute cancellations. We had to opt for a new one-way rental car from Edmonton which we had to drop to Calgary, since our return flight from Calgary remained unchanged. The last-minute rental car booking dented our budget with an extra CAD 250. Moreover, since the flight would now reach late tonight itself at Edmonton, we had to book a hotel for the 12 of us near the airport, which was an extra burden. The booking at Jasper started on the 6th as per the original plan, and we were now reaching on 5-Jun night.
For the next two hours, we hurriedly packed our stuff, charged the camera and Go-Pro, and left for the airport. This Porter flight was on time, thankfully, and we reached Edmonton at night around 22.00 hrs. We checked in to Hampton Inn near Edmonton International Airport. While the hotel came with a hefty price tag, we were disappointed to find that it didn’t quite meet our cleanliness expectations. On a brighter note, the breakfast spread offered a wide variety of options to choose from.
Our next two days were spent in an Airbnb in Hinton, Alberta, just an hour’s drive from the charming tourist haven of Jasper. Our time there was filled with visits to renowned attractions that left a lasting impression.
We explored the serene beauty of Maligne Lake, the enigmatic allure of Medicine Lake, the picturesque setting of Patricia Lake, and the tranquillity of Pyramid Lake. The journey along the stunning Icefields Parkway led us to breathtaking vistas, including Athabasca Falls, and Sunwapta Falls.
As we cruised down the highway, nature had a special surprise in store for us. We spotted a wild bear with her cubs. The sight was not scary but rather a thrilling and enjoyable experience. Perhaps, because we were safe and sound within the confines of our car.
Our lodging was nestled in a cozy Airbnb in Cochrane, just an hour’s drive away from the enchanting Banff. The journey from Jasper to Banff was a thrilling ride, offering spectacular vistas in every direction.
The drive from Hinton to Cochrane typically takes about five hours, we turned it into a leisurely day of exploration, making pit stops at significant attractions along the highway. We ventured to Peyto Lake, which quickly became my personal favorite, and marveled at the beauty of Bow Lake & Bow River while also discovering several lesser-known scenic spots along the way.
However, our journey held a surprise of its own. At Peyto Lake, an unexpected hiccup occurred when my wife’s eyeglass screw came loose, rendering her unable to wear them. A quick Google search pointed us toward an optometrist in Canmore who could assist. What touched us deeply was not only her expertise in fixing my wife’s glasses but also her incredible kindness – she did not charge us for her services. It’s gestures like this that truly leave a mark, and I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to her through this write-up.
Our stay at the Cochrane Airbnb was simply fantastic. The house was nestled deep in the woods with no neighbors in sight. It felt like our own private wilderness. An unexpected treat awaited us the next morning when we woke up to the sight of deer casually grazing inside the property. There was, however, one minor drawback. As night fell, the isolation of the woods made it a tad eerie, and the internet connection was a bit patchy. Despite these minor inconveniences, it was a wonderfully comfortable place to spend two days.
During our stay, we decided to take the Banff Gondola ride. While it was an enjoyable experience, I must admit it paled in comparison to the breathtaking Gulmarg Gondola in Kashmir. We also took leisurely strolls through the charming town of Banff, relishing the pleasant weather. In the ongoing debate between Jasper and Banff, my vote goes to Jasper. Its quieter ambiance and serene charm won me over.
A highlight of the trip was a day spent exploring the sunrise at Lake Louise, a delightful canoe ride on Lake Moraine, and a brisk trek to Johnson’s Canyon. These attractions were simply picture-perfect, and it was impossible to take a bad snap.
The Alberta trip ended with us taking the porter flight back to Toronto, on 10-Jun evening.
The next day, 11 June (Sunday), we embarked on a road trip to explore two of Canada’s most captivating cities: Ottawa, the nation’s capital, and Montreal, often referred to as Canada’s cultural hub.
Canada’s capital, Ottawa, exudes elegance with its historic landmarks and meticulously maintained green spaces. Parliament Hill’s iconic Peace Tower stands tall, overlooking the Ottawa River. The Rideau Canal, transformed into a skater’s paradise in winter, winds its way through the heart of the city. Museums and galleries dot the landscape, offering a glimpse into the nation’s rich history and artistic heritage. We also indulged in some serious retail therapy at Tanger Mall.
Wandering through the historic streets of Montreal’s Old City, we found ourselves in the vibrant area surrounding the Ferris Wheel. We immersed ourselves in the rich cultural tapestry of Montreal, starting with a visit to the awe-inspiring Notre Dame Basilica Church. It was here that we faced a linguistic challenge as we encountered French signage and menus. We turned to my son, who had been studying French in school back in India, to decipher the language, and to our delight, he managed to decode a few things for us. At least, I hope he got them right!
During this Ottawa to Montreal journey, I enjoyed trying Bubble Tea for the first time. To say that I relished it would be an understatement. A particular shout-out goes to Kung-Fu Tea, located on Notre-Dame Street in Montreal, for serving up some delectable Bubble tea that left a lasting impression.
Upon our arrival in Bramp-ton, our exploration of the Greater Toronto Area was nothing short of a whirlwind adventure. We ventured into the heart of Toronto’s downtown, with its bustling streets and iconic landmarks. The Belfountain Conservation Area provided a peaceful natural escape, offering respite from the urban hustle and bustle.
Our journey led us to the serene shores of Lake Ontario, where we found solace at Jack Darling Memorial Park in Mississauga. The view of the tranquil Lake Ontario was a welcome contrast to the city’s vibrant energy.
Additionally, we made a heartfelt visit to a Gurudwara, experiencing a glimpse of the rich Sikh culture and tradition that thrives in the region.
United States of America
Chicago – The windy city
The plan was to drive down to downtown Chicago and show my kid the city where we had stayed for over a year in 2006.
At the Canada-US border crossing near Windsor in Ontario, I got confused and took a U-turn to join the queue for Canada entry. As I reached the crossing gate, even the Immigration officer was baffled. I was coming from Canada only, but I took a wrong U-turn to re-enter Canada again without officially exiting it. Upon request, he allowed us through a closed lane to join back the traffic to US entry. As we ventured further, the landscape changed dramatically. The sparse Canadian traffic gave way to the bustling streets of Detroit, and the journey to Chicago turned into an arduous six-hour drive, navigating through the chaotic flow of vehicles.
Upon reaching Chicago, we checked in at the Hilton, only to find that even this reputable hotel lacked parking space. A quick search on Google Maps led us to a nearby multilevel parking facility, which came at a cost of $25 per day. We had no choice but to park there.
Eager to explore the city, we hopped on the CTA train to reach the Magnificent Mile, the starting point for our Chicago River cruise. Our adventures in Chicago continued with a visit to The Chicago Roastery, a Starbucks wonderland sprawling over 35,000 square feet.
The following day, we headed to the Shedd Aquarium, where a captivating Sea-Lion show awaited. This was followed by a delightful ferry ride to Navy Pier, a quick photo session at the iconic Bean in Millennium Park, and an exhilarating climb to Skydeck Chicago on the 103rd floor. The viewing tower treated us to spectacular vistas spanning across four states, and the highlight was undoubtedly The Ledge, a glass balcony extending four feet outside Willis Tower, offering an awe-inspiring and thrilling experience suspended 1,353 feet in the air.
Chicago – a reminiscence
Cities were always like people, showing their varying personalities to the traveler. Depending on the city and on the traveler, there might begin a mutual love, or dislike, friendship, or enmity. Where one city will rise a certain individual to glory, it will destroy another who is not suited to its personality. Only through travel can we know where we belong or not, where we are loved, and where we are rejected.
For those who are lost, there will always be cities like *Chicago* that feel like home.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Our journey culminated on the tranquil shores of Mackinac Island, where time seemed to embrace a slower pace. Accessible solely by ferry, this car-free sanctuary offered a nostalgic escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. We left our car in Mackinaw City and boarded the Sheplar ferry to reach the island. This was my second visit to the Island, but not much had changed there.
Mackinac Island is a place where horse-drawn carriages still rule the road, and it exudes a sense of old-world charm. The historic Grand Hotel, with its Victorian elegance, was a standout feature. Strolling along the picturesque coastline and exploring the natural limestone wonder of Arch Rock were experiences we thoroughly enjoyed.
To make the most of our stay, we opted to rent bicycles and spent two delightful days pedaling along the shoreline of Lake Huron, taking in the serene beauty of the island.
On our journey back to Brampton in Canada, we decided to take a different route. Instead of driving on the Detroit highway, we chose to venture on Highway 75N towards Sault Ste. Marie in Canada, and from there, we continued on the Trans-Canada highway en route to Canada home. This route, though slightly longer, unveiled breathtaking scenery, and offered us a landscape adorned with numerous lakes along the highway.
Canada to India
After spending three weeks in Canada, we reached Delhi on 25-Jun night. As the adventure slowly completed, the memories of exploring these American treasures lingered on. From the thundering waters of Niagara Falls to the pristine beauty of Jasper-Banff, the gaganchumbi architecture of Chicago, and the tranquil beauty of Mackinac Island, each destination offered a unique chapter in this unforgettable journey. The blend of natural wonders, cosmopolitan allure, and historical significance made this itinerary a tapestry of experiences that forever left a mark on my heart.