How To Backpack North America

by Liberty Stembridge, Entertainment Columnist


Published in Entertainment and Lifestyle on 11th September, 2019


What Consists Of North America?

First up, some technical difficulties - what exactly comprises "North America"? Well, geographically, the North American Continent includes all of Canada and the United States, whilst also stretching down to Panama to include Mexico, The Bahamas, El Salvador, Cuba, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and many more smaller islands and countries. However, in layman's terms, when referring to "North America" most people mean Canada and the USA, so that's what we'll be focusing on.

By themselves, Canada and America are both very large countries, with Canada being the second largest country in the world, so of course we can't cover every nook and cranny. Rather than going over every potential city and park you could visit, we'll highlight the hotspots and unlikely attractions that you'll definitely want to include on your bucket list if you're planning a North American adventure.

backpack north america

Canada

Famous for hockey-playing, beer-drinking, maple syrup, crazy scenery, lots of wildlife, very cold winters and the occasional lumberjack, Canada is often overlooked by travellers in favour of it's cousin to the south.

This is a mistake - Canada is home to some of the world's most incredible natural beauty, wildlife and culture.

If you like getting off the beaten track, there are some very remote places to explore and de-stress from the typical backpacker city life. The Canadian people are well-known for being very friendly, welcoming and hospitable people and many a backpacker has found lifelong friends in the great white north.

Since the country is so huge, it's very unlikely you'll be able to backpack it all in one go, so you're better of focusing on certain areas or routes. If you're particularly outdoorsy, then Canada will be a dream come true, with scenery to rival that of some of the most beautiful places in the world.

Need To Know Practicalities

Here's the rundown on all the practical aspects of travelling in Canada:

Visas - Visa's generally aren't too much trouble in Canada. Working holiday visas are available for many nationalities, allowing you to live, work and travel in Canada for up to a year.

Commonwealth nationals, EU nationals and US citizens can enter Canada without a visa, but if you're not from these countries, there are tourist visas available.

Budgeting - Canada isn't the most expensive area to travel, but like the US, it's not cheap either. You can typically find a budget hostel for around $18 in a major city, and if you buy and cook your own food, this will reduce some of your costs.

However, you will need to budget a sizable amount if you plan to spend more than a week or two here, and especially if you plan to rent a car or catch a few planes.

Insurance - You will need travel or health insurance whilst in Canada, or you could end up paying some hefty amounts of money if you do end up in hospital.

Weather - The weather in Canada can be unpredictable and sometimes dangerous for the unprepared, especially in very remote places. Winters are generally pretty cold, snowy and wet, so you should take the appropriate precautions in your clothing, and make sure your car is adapted to the ice and snow if you are driving.

weather canada

Safety - Safety in Canada isn't usually a problem so long as you take the usual precautions and keep your wits about you.

Getting Around - There are many backpacker buses and trains that provide transport across the country. If you're looking to save money or get more rural, you can buy a car or van and camp across the country.

Where To Go And See

Canada is huge, so you're not going to see everything - it's best to divide and prioritise the places you want to see most. To get you started here are some common itineraries and hot spots to check out.

The Classic West Canada Roadtrip

West Canada is home to delights such as Jasper National Park, Banff and of course, Vancouver & Vancouver Island.

Vancouver - Enjoy some culture and local exploration in Vancouver, one of Canada's hippest cities.

Whistler - Nestled into the mountains, Whistler is a lively resort town known for it's skiing and outdoor activities. With plenty of restaurants, bars and shops too, you won't be wanting for much.

Wells Gray Provincial Park - This park is home to some of Canada's most stunning waterfalls, and in the summertime you can hike through some of the most beautiful alpine meadows.

Jasper National Park - A UNESCO world heritage site, Jasper National Park is a must do for any west canada road trip.

Lake Louise - One of Canada's most stunning lakes, attracting hikers and wild swimmers from all around.

Banff - A cosy little mountain town with a lively tourist economy, a great place to take some outdoor adventure tours and relax with a beer afterwards.

banff canada

Calgary - Finish off your road trip in Calgary, backed by the rocky mountains. This lively little city in Alberta is the perfect place to explore some canadian culture.

East Canada & The Maritimes

East Canada and The Maritimes is an excellent area to roadtrip, with lots to see, do and explore.

Montreal - Soak up the arts and culture of this cosmopolitan city, filled with street art, museums and trendy cafes to sip a latte in.

Quebec - Practice your french in Quebec City, enjoy a baguette or two and wander down the old cobbled roads of Canada's oldest settlement.

Halifax - Explore the hipster capital of Nova Scotia and indulge yourself in plenty of good food and live music.

Lunenburg - Onto the coastline now, Lunenburg offers a lot of rugged beaches, seafood delights and wildlife to see.

Bay of Fundy - Follow the coast to the Fundy National Park, check out the flowerpot rocks and the misty forests as you take a hike or two.

Prince Edward Island - A must do on an east coast road trip, Prince Edward Island offers a more relaxed pace of life with lot's to enjoy.

Cape Breton - Up north from Nova Scotia, follow the scenic Cape Breton trail (more on that later) and explore some gaelic culture.

Gros Morne National Park - Head over to Newfoundland and spend a few days exploring this insanely beautiful national park, whilst finishing off your road trip on a high note.

Top Places To Visit In Canada

Build a unique itinerary to suit your travel demands from some of the top destinations Canada has to offer.

Cities

Toronto - Toronto is commonly mistaken as the capital of Canada, because it's such a central hub for tourism and business. This sprawling metropolis is home to the world's largest freestanding tower and the world's largest underground shopping mall. It's one of the most multiculturally diverse countries in the world, filled with cuisine, culture and lots to explore.

It's often the first stop in a backpackers journey, and definitely worth a few days.

Vancouver - Vancouver offers a wonderful mix of cultural busy city life and outdoor adventure. Whether you're looking for vegan cafe's, artsy thrift stops, pop culture or white water rafting, mountain biking and sailing, Vancouver has something for you. Surrounded by mountains and beaches, Vancouver has a lot to offer, so it's worth a visit.

Victoria & Vancouver Island - Whilst Canada is most well-known for it's French heritage, Victoria pays homage to it's British Heritage. Come for a relaxing afternoon tea, a tour of the parliament buildings, or wander around the Royal British Columbia Museum.

vancouver

Those who love discovering local wildlife will not be disappointed by the buzzing marine life surrounding Victoria and Vancouver Island, with the waters hosting at least 80 orca whales.

Quebec City - If you can't make it to Paris, you can still experience some of the French language and culture in Quebec City. With charming 17th&18th Century buildings and a distinctly Parisian feel, Quebec City is perfect for any traveller desiring a bit more culture and typical european charm.

Ottawa - The capital city of Canada is a must visit, and offers something for every traveller. If it's history and culture that you're looking for, schedule in a few outings to the Canadian War Museum, Parliament Hill, and the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.

Ottawa is the smaller, friendlier cousin to Toronto and Montreal, offering a cosier feel and less hectic lifestyle for the tired traveller.

Nature

Jasper National Park - Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, boasting lots to see, do and marvel at. Located on the eastern edge of Alberta, Jasper is a haven for photographer, mountaineers and mountain bikers alike. Trek the peaks of Mount Edith Cavell, or the Canyons of Maligne.

This park offers instagram-worthy shots at every corner. For those not experienced in national park exploration or who want to have a more social experience, the town of Jasper offers plenty of tours and activities to book. In the winter, ski trips are available and in the summer, white water rafting.

Banff - This little mountain town nestled in the foothills of Alberta attracts a lot of backpacker attention, both from those looking for some luxurious relaxation or some rugged adventure. Banff caters to both the cheap backpacker and the bougie traveller, with an equal amount of spa hotels and off grid campgrounds.

Opportunities for adventure are at every corner here, from skiiing down Mount Norquay, hike the freestanding limestone pillars (aka the Hoodoos) and bike along healy creek. There's so much to do, see, eat, enjoy and relax in.

Niagara Falls - You can't come to Canada and not witness the iconic Niagara Falls. Right on the border of Canada and America, Niagara Falls is actually a collection of three waterfalls, with the biggest being horseshoe falls.

niagara falls

Hop on a boat trip to get up close and personal with the majesty of this natural wonder. If you're here with your beau and get swept up by the magical mist of the Falls, don't worry - there's plenty of quick wedding chapels around for a 5 minute elopement!

Prince Edward Island - Grassy green hills, towering red cliffs, bountiful natural wildlife and some incredible seafood - what's not to love about Prince Edward Island? PEI is actually a province of Canada, and the smallest one at that. Despite its small size, however, it's one of the most densely populated provinces in Canada and welcomes plenty of tourists too.

Relax at the beach, take a bike ride around the island, and spend some time meeting the islands adorable little harp seals.

Cape Breton Highlands - Grab your rental car, because it's time to drive down one of the worlds most scenic roads. The Cabot Trail, a third of which runs through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the most beautiful roads in the world, bringing new meaning to the phrase "it's about the journey not the destination".

Along the way you'll see rural fishing villages, wooded forest, river canyons and plenty of lookout points to whip out your camera at. Don't forget your hiking boots either, as there are 26 different hiking trails to choose from, and there's really nothing better than exploring this incredible land on foot.

Kluane National Park - For all the daring adventurers, and those not afraid of a bit of climbing, Kluane National Park beckons. Home to Canada's highest peak, (Mount Logan), one of the largest ice fields and one of the worlds largest and most diverse populations of grizzly bear.

If you like multi-day hiking trips, stumbling down glaciers and witnessing some of the most raw, up-close wildlife you'll ever see, head out to Kluane National Park .

Okanagan Valley - Like a glass of wine to relax in the evening? Then head to the Okanagan Valley, home to more than 200 of Canada's wineries. Spend the day kayaking, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking then wind down in one of the regions many spectacular wine tasting sessions.

USA

The United States of America is very big, very popular and for good reason. From some of the most famous sprawling cities in the world, to the most incredible natural wonders, America's got a little bit of something for everyone.

For many around the world, America is the dominant media culture, so coming to explore this far-away land is as much of an adventure trip as it is a nostalgic trip.

usa

As such, a backpacking trip through America is on the bucket list for many. We'll focus on some of the main areas and hotspots rather than every state individually.

Practicalities:

Visas - Entry into America isn't always the easiest and visa laws vary from country to country, but for anyone from Europe, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea, 3 month tourist visas are available on arrival.

Safety - America is generally safe if you take the right precautions, although there is a small chance of gun crime and it is advised for women to take precautions such as not walking alone at night.

Budgeting - Travelling the US can be very expensive. Budget hostels aren't the norm and motels aren't that cheap. Van travel and camping is possible, and costs get a lot cheaper if you camp and cook your own food. If you are planning to stay in big cities however, prepare to have to pay quite a bit on food, accommodation and activities.

Where to See - Itineraries

The Coast-to-coast

What better than the iconic American road trip? From sea to shining sea, this is great for anyone who wants to really get to know America and experience some of the many changing landscapes.

New York - Starting in New York City, home to so many iconic landmarks, this is the starting point of many travellers trips.

Chicago, Illinois - Indulge in some of the worlds best deep-dish pizza and take a peek into some of America's best museums.

chicago

Springfield, Illinois - Celebrate one of America's most well-known and well-loved Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, in Illinois state capital of Springfield.

Route 66 - You can't miss this icon of Americana culture, Route 66. Get on the open road and soak up those american road trip feels.

Santa Fe,New Mexico - Stop off and take in the spanish style adobe and baroque in the state capital of New Mexico.

Grand Canyon - The Grand Canyon is one of the many natural wonders to be found in America, famous worldwide and well worth a visit.

Las Vegas, Nevada - If you like a party, don't forget to stop off in Las Vegas for a bit of fun, and maybe a bit of gambling.

las vegas

Yosemite - Take a detour up towards Yosemite national park and take a hike through some of America's most incredible scenery.

San Francisco, California - Get ready for some serious hills as you explore the cultural epicenter of northern california and of course, the golden gate bridge.

Los Angeles - Finally, finish of your journey relaxing in LA and soaking up the sea.

The Great Northern Route

If you'd rather take the road less travelled, check out the Great Northern Route from Chicago to Seattle.

Madison, Wisconsin - Check out this cute little college town 2 hours northwest of Chicago to start off your journey.

Badlands National Park - Aside from the awesome name, this national park has a lot to offer. Although often desolate, it is incredibly beautiful, so be sure to check it out and take a few hikes, especially at sunrise.

Black Hills, South Dakota - A small and fairly isolated mountain range stretching from South Dakota into Wyoming and home to Mount Rushmore, a must-see landmark on the North America road trip.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota - Another national park well worth your visit, venture into the wilderness here and disconnect from the rest of the world.

Butte, Montana - Take a step back in time in Montana - this little old mining town doesn't seem like it would have much to offer at first look, but it is home to a variety of magnificent old architecture and even some Cornish Pasties from across the pond.

Glacier National Park, Montana - As the name would suggest, this national park is home to some of America's most stunning glaciers, icy peaks, alpine trails and old-timey lodges that will transport you back into a simpler time.

glacier national park

The Idaho Panhandle - Take the I-90 through this slim section of Idaho, not forgetting to stop off and enjoy the many gorgeous hiking and biking trails.

Cascade Loop, Washington - Check out the peaks and valleys of the Cascade mountains before making your way towards Seattle.

Seattle, Washington - Enjoy the city life and some more frequent human contact after the wilds of the north in your final stop of Seattle.

Places To See

Design your own adventure from some of America's top destinations, from cities to canyons.

Cities

New York City - New York City is one of the top tourist destinations of America, home to millions of people and a distinct New Yorker culture.

You'll never be bored or hungry here, with plenty to see, do and eat at every corner. Check out the Met, catch a show on Broadway, hustle your way through Times Square and once you're finished with a day of city life, retreat to central park for some much needed respite.

San Francisco - Made up of many diverse ethnic groups, San Francisco boasts a lot of culture and a lot of fun. Best explored by foot or by tram, San Fran is a foodies dream, with traditional authentic dishes from all over the world.

san francisco

Washington DC - Overlooked by some, the capital of America has a lot to see and do - With iconic landmarks such as the White House, The Lincoln Memorial and The Washington Monument, you can spend all day trekking about visiting the various historical and cultural elements of this city.

San Diego - San Diego's beach brings surfers and sun lovers from all around, whilst the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve brings swaths of hikers and bikers every year. If you love your food, don't miss out on the Gaslamp quarter, feature a range of cuisines to taste.

Boston - Considering furthering your education? Check out some of the USA's top universities here, before catching a basketball game and brushing up on your US history. Take a quick hike along the 2-mile Freedom Trail connecting Boston Common to Bunker Hill Monument.

New Orleans - New Orleans is one of a kind in America, home to some amazing architecture, culture and people. If you're a music lover, you'll enjoy the city's music scene, whilst foodies will love the many restaurants and bars serving food from all over the world, with influences from the Carribean, Europe and all over the world.

new orleans

Seattle - Grab a cup of joe as you hide out from the drizzle in Seattle, Washington. This city is the perfect hideout for anyone who wants the convenience and excitement of a big city, but with the laid-back vibe of a smaller town. Peruse the local art scene, check out some trendy thrift shops and get your fill of the local delicacies at the street markets.

Las Vegas - Like it wild? Sin city has everything a party animal could ever need. Test your luck at the casino, get hitched at one of the many mini chapels, gorge yourself at some of the world-famous las vegas buffets.

Charleston - If the party scene isn't your vibe, check out the relaxing beaches and old-timey architecture of Charleston in South Carolina. Enjoy some of the southern hospitality, low country cuisine and Civil War history that Charleston is steeped in.

Nature

Grand Canyon - One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Grand Canyon is well worth a visit, regardless of whether you're a city or country person. The grandeur of these canyons can not be overstated.

Consistently voted one of the top places to visit in the USA. If a secluded escape into nature is what you're looking for, you may be disappointed by the hundreds of tourists that flock here every day, but that doesn't mean that the Grand Canyon is any less worth a visit.

Yosemite - People come to yosemite to soak in the majesty of nature - it's one of America's most popular national parks, and for good reason.

yosemite

Hike the many yosemite trails, following in the footsteps of the many intrepid adventurers before you and check out some iconic landmarks such as the Half Dome and Glacier Point as you go.

Be sure to check out Yosemite falls, one of the tallest waterfall in the world before you go. Yosemite is best experienced camping, so you can truly immerse yourself in nature, but it is also accessible as a day trip from Sacramento or Lake Tahoe.

Yellowstone - Yellowstone national park is another iconic American National Park, as it was in fact, the first National Park. If you love a bit of excitement and adventure whilst hiking, then this is the park for you.

With geysers, bubbling hot springs and hiking trails you could walk on seemingly infinitely, Yellowstone has a lot to offer. Keep your eyes peeled for bison, wolves and grizzly bears! Don't forget of course to check out America's supervolcano - The Yellowstone Caldera while you're there, a volcano so large it could cover large parts of the planet in volcanic ash if it ever exploded.

The Hawaiian Islands - If you're willing to travel a bit further out (into the pacific to be exact) be sure to check out the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.

hawaii

The main islands to visit are: Oahu, Maui, Kauai and The Big Island, each of which offers unique attractions and beauty to be seen. Tourism in Hawai'i has always been popular, what with the incredible food and nature to be seen, but an increase in irresponsible tourism as led to damage to the environment and overcrowding in certain areas.

If you plan to enjoy the wonders of these islands, make sure to do so responsibly!

Glacier National Park - As the name might suggest, this park's main attraction is it's glaciers, but there's so much more than that to discover too! With more than 700 lakes, a fair few waterfalls, some mighty mountain ranges, and of course, stunning glaciers, this park has a lot to offer.

Test out your new hiking books on one of the many hiking trails, suitable for all different abilities. If you're a bit more adventurous, try a canoe trip or cross-country skiing.

Jackson Hole - Love a bit of the midwest? You'll love the isolated Jackson Hole, that surprisingly seems to draw intrepid travellers from all over the globe to enjoy the local hikes, fly-fishing, paragliding, skiing and more.

jackson hole

Bordered by Grand Teton National Park and some national forests, Jackson Hole is great for anyone looking to experience more of America's bountiful natural beauty and get a taste of some midwestern culture.

Lake Tahoe - Lake Tahoe is a must-see when travelling America. This stunning lake offers the delights of nature, accompanied by the high-end shopping and delicacies a city can provide. It serves as the gateway into Yosemite. The warmer months by Lake Tahoe are ideal for hikers, mountain bikers, kayaking and boating on the lake.

Zion National Park - Pack your camera, because Zion National Park has some of the most incredible views of any state park in the USA. If you like an adrenaline rush, try canyoneering, wild swimming and some seriously impressive hikes.

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