If the idea of fighting long lines, traffic jams, and high prices over Memorial Day weekend sounds like a nightmare, then Canada may provide the perfect solution for getting your summer vacation started. Since our neighbors across the border don’t celebrate Memorial Day, the typical crowds and price inflations seen in the United States are less likely. And for some Canadian destinations, the high season begins much later than in the U.S., so visitors will find lower prices and fewer crowds, along with pleasant weather and fun activities, throughout May and the beginning of June.
We’ve chosen four getaway destinations that stand out as great values for this time of year and are either a day’s drive or a short flight away: Charlevoix, Quebec; Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia; Thousand Islands, Ontario; and Prince Edward Island.
NEXT >> Charlevoix, Quebec
Located just 90 minutes north of Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River, Charlevoix is a hotbed for activities such as art trails, culinary adventures, whale watching, and riverboat cruises. During the spring, the weather is pleasant, and visitors can avoid crowds and find discounts up until June 24 when the high season begins.
Charlevoix offers seven themed trails tailored to fit every visitor’s interests, including Culture and Heritage, Maritime Heritage, Religious Heritage, Arts and Crafts, and Best Landscapes and Vistas Trail. Known for its food and art, two more popular trails are the Flavor Trail, which allows visitors to taste local products such as fresh cheeses, meats, and ciders straight from the farm, and the Painter’s Trail, which gives visitors the chance to tour the galleries and studios of local artists.
The region is also a popular destination for six different species of whales including the humpback, the fin, and the blue. Cruises begin in early May and allow visitors to catch a glimpse of these wonderful creatures feasting in their natural habitat.
Another interesting way to explore nature is at one of Charlevoix’s two national parks, which open May 20, just in time for Memorial weekend. The Parc National des Grands-Jardins is an ideal place for outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking, fishing, and camping. The Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie is a set of valleys chiseled into mountain ranges, similar in shape to the Grand Canyon. Taking a river cruise aboard Le Menaud, a glass-topped boat, through the winding cliffs is a favorite activity of visitors while in the park.
Hotel prices are nearly 40 percent less expensive in May and June than in summer. For instance, rooms at Hotel Baie-Saint-Paul’s cost $59 CAD per night in May and June, but $109 CAD during the high season. Promotions and value-added packages can also provide significant savings during the spring. The Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, for example, has a spring offer starting from $129 CAD per night that runs through May 31. For more Charlevoix hotels, visit Charlevoix Tourism.
The closest major airport is located in Charlevoix, but flights may be limited in May. More frequent flights are available at Quebec City’s airport, about 90 miles by car to La Malbaie. Several ferry boats also offer access to the region. For further information, visit the Charlevoix tourism website.
NEXT >> Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia
Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia
Harrison Hot Springs was originally known as a “healing place” for Native Americans, who canoed from long distances to soak in the warm waters. Today, with its warm-water lagoon and sandy beaches, the area is still a place for relaxing and enjoying the many benefits of nature. Harrison Hot Springs also offers many types of vacations, including family, golf, leisure, and adventure. During the spring, visitors can spend a day lounging about or partaking in one of the many available water sports such as boating, water skiing, or bumper boats. And, although the lake can be a little cooler in the spring, wet and dry suits help keep visitors warm.
Located just 15 minutes from Harrison Hot Springs, Minter Gardens covers 32 acres and features 11 themed shows, including a stream garden, an English-style maze, and a Penjing Rock Bonsai garden. Thousands of tulips and rhododendrons will be blooming in the spring.
Families can take a cultural cruise or workshop with Sasquatch Tours. The company offers a two-hour narrated cruise on Harrison Lake and through Harrison River, where passengers learn about the culture and legends of the Chehalis First Nations people, as well as stories of the mythical Sasquatch. Special eagle and salmon watching cruises are available in the spring.
From May 10 through June 30, visitors will have the unique opportunity to vote on their favorite sand sculpture at the Harisand Tournament of Champions. This event is the first of its kind and will welcome winners of the World Championship of Sand Sculptures from the last 16 years to compete.
Hotel prices cost about 10 to 15 percent less in May and June than in July. The Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa offers a getaway package that includes use of five private hot spring pools, buffet breakfasts, accommodations for two nights, and dinner for $358 CAD in May and June, and $378 CAD in July. For more hotels, visit Harrison Hot Springs’ website.
Vancouver is the closest major airport, about 80 miles by car. For further information, visit Harrison Hot Springs’ website.
NEXT >> Thousand Islands, Ontario
Thousand Islands, Ontario
Located on the U.S.-Canada border along the St. Lawrence River, the Thousand Islands is a region composed of more than 1,800 islands. Most visitors come in the summer for the warmer weather, but the area is also quite pleasant in May and June. Many of the seasonal attractions, including boat tours and overnight facilities, also open in mid-May.
In Canadian communities along the St. Lawrence River such as Kingston, Gananoque, Brockville, Prescott, and Cornwall, visitors can spend an afternoon shopping, eating, or sightseeing. Many also have old forts, museums, and galleries to sustain a cultural appetite. Outdoor activities are plentiful, and visitors may catch a glimpse of people toting paddling, fishing, or diving gear co-mingling among the business-clad crowd.
Wolfe Island is a popular day trip or overnight excursion situated off the coast of Kingston. Many visit to go biking, bird watching, fishing, golfing, and hunting. Ferry service is available from Kingston year-round, and Cape Vincent, New York, starting in May.
For further outdoor exploration, visitors can go to St. Lawrence National Park, with more than 20 islands between Kingston and Brockton. The park is the smallest National Park in Canada and opens in mid-May. The Visitor Center in Mallorytown Landing offers an introduction to the park with hiking trails, interpretive programs, exhibitions, and family activities.
More adventurous travelers may enjoy the 1,000 Islands Water Trail, consisting of numerous established inland and river kayaking routes. Kayaks are available to rent for as little as $35 CAD a day. Guided tours are also offered for a slightly larger fee.
From April through October, Ontario celebrates its Doors Open Ontario events, which offer visitors a unique opportunity to view hidden heritage treasures, some of which have never been open to the public. During Memorial Day weekend, on May 27, many properties in Brockville will participate.
Hotel prices can be less expensive in May and June, and many establishments offer incentive packages such as the Dames in De-stress at the Best Western Country Squire Resort, which includes overnight accommodations for two, dinner, breakfast, and spa treatments starting at $258 CAD through June 22.
The Thousand Islands is easily accessible by car via bridges and ferries. Major airports such as Toronto and Ottawa are within three hours’ driving distance. For further information, visit the 1,000 Islands Virtual Travel Guide.
NEXT >> Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island, affectionately known as P.E.I., may be the smallest province in Canada, but it has plenty of activities and character to make it appear larger than life. The island is probably most famous for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novels Anne of Green Gables and is filled with memorabilia and monuments to her work. Summer can get pretty crowded with tourists clamoring to see the Anne sights or to enjoy the warmer ocean temperatures, but May and June are low-key and less expensive times to visit.
Spring can be an ideal time to enjoy many outdoor activities associated with summer such as golf, fishing, hiking, windsurfing, and cycling. Visitors can rent a bike and take a leisurely ride around the island on various itineraries for as little as $20 CAD a day.
On June 2 and 3, there are wine tastings and discounts at the Wine Festival. At night, social events called ceilidhs (pronounced kaylee) honor the island’s Irish roots and offer singing, dancing, storytelling, and drinking. Many places may charge a small entrance fee. The Trailside Inn, Café and Adventures also offers an assortment of live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Hotels are typically 15 to 20 percent cheaper than the summer high season, which begins on June 30, and many properties offer incentive packages. For instance, in May, Kindred Spirits Country Inn offers a golf package for $79 CAD, including a two-night stay, green fees, and breakfast. For more hotel options, visit Prince Edward Island’s Places to Stay.
Prince Edward Island’s main airport is located in Charlottetown, although many visitors travel to the island by car via the Confederation Bridge. For further information, visit the Prince Edward Island Tourism website.
Canada has many other getaway options for May and June, and even Memorial Day weekend, including Abbotsford, British Columbia, and Canmore, Alberta. Not all Canadian destinations, however, are Memorial Day bargains. Some, particularly those close to the border like Victoria, British Columbia, start their high season early. Always check prices in advance no matter where you want to go. With a little proper planning, a great escape can be right across the border.
General money-saving strategies
- Visitor tax refund:
- Exchange rate:
- Gas prices:
While visiting Canada, be sure to take advantage of receiving taxes back on accommodations and purchases over $50 CAD. Remember to save any receipts and send in the form once you’ve returned to the States.
Although the exchange rate is not as strong as it once was for the American dollar, visitors can still save a little extra as the rate has been between 10 and 20 percent.
Gas in Canada tends to be pricey, yes, even more so than in the U.S., so if you’re driving, try to fill up right before you cross the border.