“Wow, that’s a lot of miles, ” said the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent at Champlain, N.Y. I had just told him that I had come from Denver, Colo., through Canada, on my way home to Boston – a 4,000-mile road trip.
If you’ve read my other travel stories, including 48 States in 48 Days, you will know that I don’t shy away from long drives, mostly to experience the journey as much as the destination.
On this trip, in July 2022, there were as many things I wish I’d done as those I did. I had allowed only eight days because of commitments to see friends in eastern Canada and scheduled plans back in Boston. To properly do this trip, I should have taken a few more days.
I started out from home to spend two weeks in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with my family. This was my fourth trip driving to Colorado in the last two years. Boston to Denver is about 1,800 miles, and it takes me three days. I stop outside of Toledo, Ohio, and in Lincoln, Neb. My family flew into Denver, and I timed my drive to pick them up at the airport as I rolled into town. I dropped them back at the airport on my way out of town.
I headed north through Wyoming to the first night’s stop in Billings, Mont. I regret not allowing enough time to see Beartooth Highway, called “America’s most beautiful highway,” by journalist Charles Kuralt, who has inspired some of my travels.
The highway is just outside of Red Lodge, Mont. I was able to swing through the town on my way to Billings. I saw beautiful Yellowstone National Park in the distance and evidence of recent floods that had hit the area.
The next day, I drove to Edmonton, Alberta, regretfully skipping a drive through Canada’s Banff National Park, in particular Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper.
One of the places I did stop was Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a World Heritage Site near Fort MacLeod. This is where ingenious people would herd buffalo into a narrow path and off a cliff. Then, they would harvest the meat and skins. The visitor center tells the stories of how the people would deceive the animals by dressing as buffalo calves and wolves.
East of Edmonton, I stopped at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. It turns out that Ukrainians fled to North America for a better life back in the late 1800s, and Alberta offered them free land to settle. Enough people made the journey that Alberta is now home to the largest concentration of Ukrainians outside of Ukraine.
The village depicted how Ukrainian settlers lived in the area with replica buildings and actors telling the story of their life in the area.
After my stop at the Ukrainian heritage site, all my sightseeing was landscapes due to the number of miles I was putting in each day. Saskatchewan and Manitoba were plains and farmland – the breadbasket of Canada. In Winnipeg, I walked down by the Red River, where there was a vibrant summer scene with bands and food. In Ontario, there was the beauty of Lake Superior and Toronto city views. In Ottawa, Canada’s capital, I saw downtown with the parliament building and river views.
On the Road
Like most of us, I have become dependent on my phone for everything from GPS directions to entertainment with podcasts and audio books to pass the time. As I approached the Canadian border, my GPS went out. I assumed the lack of signal was caused by my remote location and expected it would kick back on when I hit a population center. I had only programmed my directions to get me to my prearranged border crossing location.
When driving to Canada you need to download the ArriveCAN app and put in your passport before crossing the border. When I crossed the border, I headed to the next city, Medicine Hat, where I assumed my mobile coverage would come back. When my coverage did not return, I had to use the Wi-Fi at a fast-food restaurant to plot my next stop. It wasn’t until my stop for the night in Edmonton that I remembered the first trick of technology. Turn it off and turn it back on. That fixed the issue, and I had no further problems.
But if you go, it’s a good idea to bring an atlas. Now that I have been to 49 States and eight provinces, I feel qualified to contrast U.S. and Canadian highways. What I appreciate about Canada is the lack of traffic; but with that comes major highways that still have red lights and crossings at grade. There were also a lack of rest areas and long stretches of road without gas stations, coffee or a restroom. When you drive across Canada be prepared: Get coffee, gas and use the restroom before you leave town.
Close to Home
My final observation came soon after I crossed the border into the U.S. I grew up in Vermont and crossed the border at Highgate on the way to Montreal many times.
For whatever reason, my GPS directed me to cross at Champlain, N.Y. I had to drive through the town of Swanton, Vt., and cross a bridge over Lake Champlain to get to the highway that would lead me home to Boston.
I found great irony in the fact that, after driving across Canada and seeing all the new sites, on the last day I found myself in a new place in my home state. Even with all the beautiful scenery across Canada, I could still appreciate the beauty of Vermont.
Nate Williams is a AAA member from Massachusetts. We welcome member stories. Click here to submit yours.