Autumn In Canada – A Kaleidoscope of Colours

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Dry leaves rustle beneath me as I gaze up at the canopy of autumn colours. A rain of yellow leaves falls from above, murmuring mysteriously in the breeze as they break off the branches and flutter to the ground like falling stars. Lying on the carpet of flaming red, luminescent yellow, copper and bright orange leaves, I’m speechlessly in awe of the vivid colours of Canada in autumn.

Autumn in Canada delivers one of the best foliage feasts in the world. Towards the end of September through to the end of October, the autumn landscape is a bounty of colour as yellow birch, maples, pines, cedars, elms, oaks, spruce and larch trees change colour. Of course, you can enjoy autumn colours in the forests of Alberta or British Columbia, but if your main reason for visiting Canada in the fall is to see the foliage, Quebec, Ontario, and the Atlantic provinces are the best provinces to visit. So whether you’re sipping pumpkin spice lattes to a backdrop of golden foliage in a city, whizzing through the landscape on board a train or hiking through a forest, autumn in Canada is a season that will be sure to impress. Here are the reasons why you should visit Canada in the fall.

Autumn in Canada

15 Reasons To Visit Canada In Autumn

1- The Sugar Shacks Are Buzzing

when is the fall in canada
La Sucrerie de la Montagne is a sugar shack in Quebec to enjoy a feast when visiting Canada in the fall. Photo: Destination Canada.

Autumn is the season to see sugar maples turning red and enjoy sweet maple syrup from the farms.

The province of Quebec produces about two-thirds of the world’s maple syrup, which is the liquid gold from the maple tree sap.

Quebec’s famous sugar shacks are open all year, and spring is when the maple trees are tapped but visiting in autumn delivers a bonus of seeing a spectacle of autumn leaves while you enjoy your sweet treats.

Fall in Love with Maple‘ is an event in Ontario in October where you can experience fall colours and sugar shack festivities, learn about maple syrup production and taste maple treats.

2- It’s Ice Cider Season

when does fall start in canada
Apple cider and boutique gin are some of the delights to enjoy in Monteregie during the fall season in Canada. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.

Also in Quebec, it’s a lovely season to taste ice cider as autumn slinks into place, bringing with it the time to harvest apples and set them on their way to becoming cider.

Quebec’s cider producers use the cryoconcentration method, which is the process of removing liquid without thermal treatment.

There are around 50 orchards in Quebec in the eastern townships of Montérégie, Chaudière-Appalaches, Charlevoix, Capitale-Nationale and Laurentian.

Monteregie stretches from Montréal to the USA border and is the place to taste wine, cider, maple syrup and apples. As Quebec has the perfect climate to grow apples, Montérégie’s cider industry has grown from strength to strength.

The region is filled with craft cider cellar doors that offer tastings of crackling, sparkling and ice ciders as well as aperitif ciders, mistelles and apple spirits.

3- It’s Crush Time in the Okanagan Wine Region

fall in canada okanagan
The Okanagan Valley is a lovely place to visit in Canada during the fall.

In British Columbia, the largest wine-producing region is the Okanagan Valley, home to 86% of the province’s vineyards.

Harvest time in the Okanagan Valley is in October and the season to watch the process of ripe grapes coming off the vine and beginning the journey to the bottle.

Sip fine Okanagan wine and dine on fresh local cuisine while admiring the beautiful fall colours.

The Okanagan Valley’s four sub-regions – Golden Mile Bench, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls and Skaha Bench – have distinct soil and climate conditions.

An event to time your visit with is the 10-day Fall Okanagan Wine Festival, which is usually held in October and is a wine festival at the heart of harvest where you can tour vineyards, go grape stomping, learn something new at a terroir workshop and enjoy a farm-to-table winemakers’ dinner.

4- See The Autumn Aurora

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There are several places to see the northern lights when visiting Canada in the fall.

The best place to see the aurora borealis in Canada is the Northwest Territories, where the northern lights are visible 240 nights a year. Autumn and winter are good times to take a scenic bush aircraft flight from Yellowknife to Blachford Lake Lodge, where you can watch the natural show while soaking in a hot tub.

Another province to see northern lights is Manitoba, where you can combine a fishing trip and northern lights show until mid-September. In the Yukon, autumn offers opportunities to see the aurora from special tourism campsites near Whitehorse.

Banff National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park and Jasper National Park are other places ideal for viewing the aurora in autumn, starting from September when you’ll have a good chance of seeing them while camping and hiking.

5- It’s a Magical Time To Drive The Icefields Parkway

canada in fall sunwapta falls
Sunwapta Falls is a breathtaking place to enjoy when driving the Icefields Parkway in the fall in Canada.

Driving across Canada in autumn is a fantastic way to experience the landscape of the Icefields Parkway. The scenery in autumn is spectacular and the best way to experience this iconic drive is to drive yourself so you can stop to take photographs in your own time.

The famous drive between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park is a breathtaking experience in autumn, with lots of hikes, lakes and stops to enjoy the fall foliage. The contrast between the autumn forests, clear blue-green lakes and blue skies in the Rocky Mountains is picture-perfect.

The weather and road conditions in September are good for driving and the Icefields Parkway is an easy road to drive if you’re nervous about driving on the right side of the road.

6- The Cabot Trail Is Simply Stunning

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The fall season in Canada is a feast for the eyes. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.

Another impressive drive to tick off your Canadian autumn bucket list is the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

This famous drive is gorgeous in the fall as the leaves show off a palette of fiery red to crimson to gold.

The 300 km drive is a photographer’s dream, and you’ll want to plan for a three-day trip, as there are plenty of opportunities to hike, kayak, whale watch and go horse riding along the way.

Hike the Skyline Trail for rugged coastal views and an eagle’s-eye view of the Cabot Trail, with opportunities to spot whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as well as other wildlife like bears, bald eagles and moose. The best time for fall colours here is during the first or second week of October.

7- It’s A Picturesque Time to Explore the Thousand Islands

canada fall thousand islands
Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands region is a fairytale place to see any season but it’s an especially fetching sight in fall in Canada.

Discover Ontario’s Thousand Islands, an archipelago of 1,864 St Lawrence River islands straddling the border of Canada and the USA. The weather in autumn is relatively warm, minus the summer crowds.

A helicopter tour to see the riot of colours from above is a jaw-dropping sight. Another way to take in the fall foliage is on a scenic cruise on the St. Lawrence River, where the vibrant fall colours are mirrored in the water. Boat and kayaking tours run until the end of October.

8- It’s The Best Time To See Polar Bears

fall in manitoba polar bears with pink flowers in foreground
Seeing polar bears is a bucket list item if you’re going to travel in the fall in Canada. Photo: Destination Manitoba.

The province of Manitoba is rich in wildlife and autumn is the season to see polar bears in Churchill, the world’s polar bear capital.

This is the season when a large population of bears migrate through the Churchill Wildlife Management Area while waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze over.

Join a tundra vehicle tour aboard a custom-built vehicle designed to traverse the rocky terrain to get close to the polar bears.

The CWMA is especially spectacular in autumn (October to early November) when the white polar bears stand out against the pink, red, orange and yellow tundra flowers. After mid-November, ice and snow blankets the tundra.

9- It’s Peak Bear-Watching Season in British Columbia

canada in autumn great bear lodge
Salmon for dinner! Seeing bears is one of the top attractions during the fall season in Canada. Photo: Destination Canada/Great Bear Lodge.

Autumn is a fantastic season for wildlife lovers to visit Canada as it’s not just the best time to see polar bears, but it’s also peak grizzly season on British Columbia’s west coast.

More than 120,000 black bears and over 10,000 grizzlies roam throughout British Columbia. There are also around 400 white Kermode or Spirit bears in British Columbia, with the majority of spirit bears living on Princess Royal Island, 600km northwest of Vancouver.

Great Bear Rainforest, Knight Inlet, Rivers Inlet, Bute Inlet and the Broughton Archipelago are the best places to see grizzlies in BC on a guided tour by boat. There are several remote wilderness lodges where you can experience bear viewing.

10- It’s Salmon Spawning Season

Autumn is salmon spawning season in British Columbia, which is one of the most incredible migrations to watch. Between late September and early November, wild steelhead, coho, pink, chinook, and sockeye salmon swim from the ocean back to where they were born.

Salmon swim thousands of kilometres upstream to lay their eggs to ensure the survival of their offspring. The best time during the season is in the first two weeks of October. The best years to see massive schools of millions of sockeyes in during dominant years, which is once every four years. The next dominant year is expected in 2022.

There are several places to watch the salmon run in BC, including Goldstream Provincial Park, Stamp River Provincial Park, the Adams River in Tsutswecw Provincial Park and Campbell River.

Quinsam River Hatchery is worth a visit to learn about the life cycle of salmon as each year, four species of Pacific salmon return to spawn in the fall.

11- The Scenery On A Fall Foliage Train Ride Is Simply Stunning

fall season in canada via rail train
A Via Rail train trip is one of the things to do in the fall in Canada.

The most relaxing way to enjoy a kaleidoscope of autumn scenes across Canada is on a train trip.

VIA Rail, Canada’s national train service, has fall foliage tickets travelling along a route that passes through Montreal, Toronto and Quebec City.

Another iconic train ride in autumn is the Rocky Mountaineer, which travels through the stunning Rocky Mountains scenery in Alberta and British Columbia, stopping in Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff, Vancouver, Whistler, Quesnel and Kamloops.

12- It’s The Season To Go Hiking

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The stunning scenery of Emerald Lake in Field British Columbia makes it a top spot to see when travelling in Canada during the fall.

Autumn is the season to explore the hiking trails in one of Canada’s 47 national parks. There are also provincial parks and urban parks throughout the country.

Banff National Park is a magical place to visit all year round, but there’s an extra touch of wonder to see its jagged peaks and glacial lakes framed by fantastic fall foliage.

While there are plenty of viewing spots everywhere in the park, Larch Valley is one of the places to see golden larch trees from mid-September.

13- Butchart Gardens Is Lovely In Autumn

fall in canada butchart gardens japanese maple
Stunning Japanese Maples are a feature of Butchart Gardens in the fall in Canada.

A parade of red, russet and golden maples emerge at Butchart Gardens in autumn and it’s the perfect season to visit their Japanese Garden.

Visiting Canada’s most famous garden in mid to late autumn offers a showcase of brilliant colours. The Japanese Garden is autumn’s star and walking beneath the canopy of Japanese maples is an awe-inspiring experience.

A lovely autumn garden flower at Butchart are chrysanthemums and there are thousands of them in baskets, pots, garden beds and planters. The orange, yellow and bronze-coloured flowers blend into the surrounding fall foliage to create a magical effect.

Enjoying afternoon tea in Butchart Gardens is a wonderful experience, with a range of tempting options including vegetarian, vegan and a children’s menu.

14- It’s The Time To Enjoy The Stars

In October, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival is an awe-inspiring celebration of the stars in the sky and the mysteries of the universe.

The area is in one of the world’s largest accessible dark sky preserves. The entire national park, including the town of Jasper is a Dark Sky Preserve, a protected area recognised by the Royal Astronomical Society in Canada for its commitment to preserving the night’s sky and eliminating light pollution.

The festival in Jasper offers events such as sunrise and sunset photoshoots, First Nations storytelling, keynote talks by astronauts and the Symphony under the Stars concert performed by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

15- Autumn Is A Season Of Festivals

when is fall in canada
Leaves on the ground during fall in Canada.

Prince Edward Island Fall Flavours Festival is a month-long (September 16 to October 10) culinary festival that showcases the tastes and traditions of the island through a host of foodie events.

Niagara Grape and Wine Festival is a collection of over 100 events in one of Canada’s main winemaking regions during September, with concerts, food pairing, cellar door experiences and a vibrant street parade.

Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival is a delightful family-friendly festival where colourful hot air balloons fill the sky above Ottawa and Gatineau with live events and concerts performed by big names like Celine Dion.

Nuit Blanche is an arts festival that fills the streets of Toronto from sunset to sunrise, as the city turns into a massive contemporary art gallery and performance space with installations spread across the city.

Q&A

When is fall in Canada?

Fall or autumn is between September and November, during which the foliage of deciduous trees turn yellow, red or brown before dropping to the ground. 

Why do the leaves change colour in fall?

fall in canada yellow and orange leaves trees
The beautiful colours of the trees in Monteregie are a wow factor during fall in Canada. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.

In fall, leaves change colour because nights are longer and the weather becomes colder. Some plants stop making chlorophyll, and as the plants break down chlorophyll into small molecules, other pigments emerge, creating the brilliant colours of fall foliage.

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This post was published in partnership with Destination Canada. Travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can enter Canada. For more information go here.

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Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.