Planning a trip to the USA? Why not consider destination pairing, where you visit the United States of America but hop across the border to appreciate a Canadian take on a similar – or contrasting – destination? One of the world’s most famous waterfalls, Niagara Falls, straddles both countries but there are plenty more fascinating places to holiday in the USA and Canada on a two-nation vacation.
Canada and the USA share the longest international border in the world – at 8,893 kilometres that’s quite the stretch.
Extending from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans – with a bit of a squiggle “up North” where the US State of Alaska and Canada’s province of British Columbia and Yukon Territories meet – it’s also a peaceful border.
Which provinces and territories of Canada share borders with US States? According to Wikipedia, there are 21 provinces, territories and states. See the Wikipedia list here.
So when we’re talking twinning, with eight Canadian provinces and territories, and thirteen American states, there’s a hunk of potential awaiting.
Now, although the two countries are by no means identical twins, Canadians and Americans share many similar characteristics, from breathtaking scenery to similar European exploration and settlement history, wildlife, geology and much, much more.
Here are six great pairings.
1- Alaska and the Yukon
Railway built of gold
Alaska cruises are rightfully famous, and departures from Vancouver where vessels navigate north up the Inland Passage to that state represent an internationally renowned twinning.
However, if you get yourself to Skagway in Alaska, you can hop on the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad and adventure into Canada’s Yukon Territories.
As you wend your way along a sometimes hair-raising track (with stunning photo ops of the train hugging craggy mountainsides) you can imagine how dreams were made and lost here.
That’s because this railbed was constructed by 35,000 workers in 1898 when Gold Fever was infecting the west with high hopes.
Why go to Alaska and the Yukon?
WP&YR forms an historic rail link between nations, one which pioneered international, inter-modal ship/rail/truck transport.
The railway extends from Skagway 177 kilometres inland, where you can get your passport stamped at a modest US/Canadian border crossing.
Known as “the railway built of gold” the impossible-seeming track at one point ascends 914 metres in 32 km (20 miles).
Is it scenic?
Jaw-dropping scenery awaits and at Lake Bennett, you can explore during the 45-minute stop.
It allows you to take a self-guided walking tour, where you can view part of the Chilkoot Trail, where gold-seekers ascended this gruelling trail in their search for fortune. The Chilkoot Trail is a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada.
Terminating in Carcross, a station and service town, here you will find shops where you can purchase unique First Nations art, visit an “old-time” General Store and connect with the highway which connects to Kluane National Park and Reserve, Dawson City and Whitehorse (the territory’s capital).
Also note that Dawson City is part of Parks Canada’s Klondike National Historic Sites, too.
So, the railway forms a pivotal, intriguing link into the interior of North America. Discover links to motor coach connections at Carcross here.
2- Alberta and Montana
Newest Dark Sky Preserve: Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park and Montana’s Glacier National Park
Alberta and Montana have lots in common, especially when considering these two glorious mountain parks which together (in 1932) were twinned, forming Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
This UNESCO initiative was created because this region of North America represents a special zone called the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem”. It’s home to special animals and plants, all living in a relatively small ecozone.
Why go to Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park?
In April 2017, the twin parks were designated as a Dark Sky Park, part of a network of international DSPs which protect areas that have little ambient (artificial) light. It’s the first International Dark Sky Park that spans an international border.
This means fabulous celestial observations are possible, with inky-black skies permitting glorious constellation, planet and galaxy views. meaning that Parks Canada is offerings special astronomy events.
Moreover, as a keen horsewoman, Alpine Stables offers fantastic trail rides on horseback or, which is what I did, several-day expeditions (pre-registration is a must for these).
How do you get there?
Check Parks Canada’s helpful site. Also note that instead of driving, hardy hikers can access both parks via backcountry trails.
3- Chicago and Toronto
Great Lakes Cities
Both Chicago and Toronto border two of North America’s five Great Lakes: Lake Michegan and Lake Ontario respectively.
So both enjoy refreshing lake breezes and waterfront developments, including walking trails and paddling outings.
Another fantastic link is the architecture, art and cultural attractions.
Why Chicago and Toronto?
In particular, go to immerse yourself in the culture of these cities.
Chicago offers architectural tours by kayak — an especially fun way to appreciate the “permanent art” of buildings. But Ontario’s capital city, Toronto has the beautiful Toronto Islands.
They form a shelter to the city’s harbour, which you can explore by canoe or kayak from the mainland or hop on the ferry to cross to explore the islands themselves.
Tip? Plan to either return or visit the islands at sunset: the skyline is an architectural marvel.
In Toronto, there’s a wide array of cultural venues and activities which are fantastic.
My favourites? The Art Gallery of Ontario for an introduction to Canada’s famous Group of Seven painters. Don’t miss the Bata Shoe Museum, where you can view ancient people’s footwear through to samples of celebrities’ such as Madonna’s fave footwear.
Architectural tours? Investigate tours from the Toronto Society of Architects.
4- Niagara Falls USA and Niagara Falls Canada
Talk about a gateway fraught with challenges: the Niagara River and Gorge represented the final passage to freedom to Canada from the US for thousands of slaves.
By 1844, approximately 40,000 American slaves fled bondage by taking the “Underground Railroad” north, to Canada.
The perilous journey involved following the North Star, sleeping out in the open or in safe houses, where kindly, anti-slavery families would take them in and see them on their way.
Why go to Niagara Falls?
Also known as the Freedom Trail, both the USA and Canada offer special tours highlighting spots along the route.
What’s new as of June 2017?
A set of commemorative panels in Niagara Parks celebrating how, in 1856, Harriet Tubman bravely crossed the Niagara River on the International Suspension Bridge (today’s Whirlpool Rapids Bridge).
In fact, there are many plaques and displays honouring the history of African-American slaves who used the Underground Railway between 1793 and 1865 along the Niagara Parkway. Read this for more about Canada’s early days.
Of course, while in Niagara, take in the spectacular beauty of the world-famous Niagara Falls.
5- Nova Scotia and Louisiana
Evangeline Trail – Grand Pré Nova Scotia and Cajun Country, Lafayette Louisiana
Although not bordering, there’s a unique French connection between Nova Scotia and Louisiana, a southern US state.
In the late 1600s, many French emigrants began settling what would become Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s Atlantic provinces.
Calling themselves Acadians, they developed productive farms and bustling hamlets. Life progressed well for this industrious group, until in 1754, the British demanded they sign an oath of allegiance to the Crown.
Some did – but these pacifist settlers refused to pledge to fight either First Nations or French.
One year later, the Brits gathered “les Acadiens” together and forcibly evicted them from their homes. Families were split up, and people resettled along the Atlantic Seaboard and down to Louisianna.
The French influence in the Lafayette region of that state is fascinating, where the refugees became known as “Cajuns.”
Another city to visit, New Orleans, is legendary for its jazz musicians — yet another reason to visit and embrace French USA.
Why go to Nova Scotia?
Famed American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned Evangeline, romanticizing the story of this lady and her beloved Gabriel who were cruelly separated during the expulsion of Acadians.
Her memory is honoured in Nova Scotia which named a scenic drive in her name.
The Evangeline Trail takes us to Grand Pré National Historic Site, where the landscape once saw a thriving Acadian settlement which became regarded as the homeland of the Acadians. See the multimedia presentations and “meet” Evangeline in the form of a bronze statue, on-site.
Hot tip? In order to understand the history of French settlement in Canada, don’t miss a trip to Quebec City, a UNESCO World Heritage site because of it being the only walled city in North America.
An event that particularly celebrates French culture is The Festival of New France, which celebrates life in the 1750s. Rent a costume just as residents do!
6- Vermont and Quebec
Pretty villages in Vermont USA and Quebec’s Eastern Townships
The State of Vermont celebrates 23 villages as being particularly distinctive from an historical viewpoint, a list which includes the capital, Montpelier.
However, don’t miss twinning Vermont’s Green Mountains with several days in Canada’s Eastern Townships.
For years, this region has been the playground of Montrealers because urbanites find tranquility among this part of the province’s pretty villages which are connected through quiet paved roads.
What’s special in 2017 is “Cantons-de-l’Est” as the region is known in French, is celebrating nine villages with the “Coeur Villageois” (Heart of the Villages) signature logo to mark the route.
Sutton (the Mountain Village) joins its mates Piopolis, Eastman, Danville, Coaticook, Cookshire-Eaton, Mansonville, Lac Brome, and Dunham. Check details (and special packages such as a wine-gourmet deal) at the region’s website.
Why go to Quebec’s Eastern Townships?
There’s an historic link between Vermont and Eastern Township villages such as Sutton, one of the Coeur Villageois.
During the American War of Independence (1775-1783), people loyal to the Crown were known as United Empire Loyalists.
By 1802, roughly 9,000 UELs had fled America and settled the Eastern Townships, where 170 had relocated to the Township of Sutton.
Today, Sutton is one of my favourite towns in this picturesque region because it’s surrounded by the forested mountains. In autumn, when the colours of deciduous leaves have turned gold, scarlet, crimson and orange, it’s fantastical.
Nearby, indulge your foodie soul by driving the new Gourmet Tour featuring 5-course tasting menus and three chocolate museums. Or, drive or cycle the Footsteps of the Pioneers.
For a very different eco-lodging which features cycling aloft on a bicycle-contraption suspended along a 1,000-metre circuit in the forest canopy visit Au Diable Vert and go on the VéloVolant.
Here stay in whimsical cabins tucked just inside the forest, where views give you a sweeping vista of the Vermont Green Mountains, immediately to the south.
Katharine Fletcher is an author, freelance writer, and visual artist who lives in Quebec
For more ideas on what to do in Canada see Destination Canada’s website. Air Canada has direct flights from several cities around the world and is starting new flights from Melbourne to Vancouver in December 2017.
Canada is an easy country to explore independantly and safe to travel around on your own. A driving holiday will give you the flexibility to stop wherever and whenever you want. Another option is to combine your road trip with train travel. Canada has an excellent rail system that crosses the country. In addition to the renowned Rocky Mountaineer, there are several other iconic train trips to put on your to-do list.