Big Canada Road Trip From Calgary to Nova Scotia in 6 Days

Who wants to spend 50 hours driving across Canada in one week? In August I did just that. I drove 50 hours from Calgary Alberta to Bridgewater Nova Scotia in only 6 days. Solo. I know, I could fly there so much faster. But then I wouldn’t have my car. And my stuff. And the adventure of driving across Canada on my own!

 

Canada road trip map and Moose and Canada Geese

 

It was a great experience to drive those 3,100 miles (5,000 km) from Southern Alberta to the South Shore region of Nova Scotia all by myself. Alberta – Saskatchewan – Manitoba – Ontario – Quebec – New Brunswick – Nova Scotia. I drove through 7 provinces in six days.

 

Bright red skeleton of the Peace Bridge which connects pedestrians to downtown Calgary. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava

Bright red skeleton of the Peace Bridge which connects pedestrians to downtown Calgary

 

This road trip happened in mid-August and weather conditions cooperated with my travel plans. I would not attempt driving from Calgary to Nova Scotia in the winter. I’m strictly a fair weather solo road tripper.

My longest road trip in Canada until this big cross Canada driving experience started in Vancouver, included stops in Armstrong BC, Lake Louise, Banff, and ended in Calgary.

READ: 5 Awesome glacial lakes in Alberta and BC

 

Goslings galore feeding at Prince's Island Park in downtown Calgary AB Canada

Goslings galore feeding at Prince’s Island Park in downtown Calgary

 

My previous longest road trip I drove over 2,500 miles (4,025 km) from Lafayette LA to Calgary AB including stops in Yellowstone NP in Wyoming (read my guide to planning a trip to Yellowstone)  and NP in Montana.

READ: 5 Reasons you must go to Yellowstone

 

Drive across Canada via USA or northern Ontario route?

Well it wouldn’t be a cross CANADA road trip if I skipped down to the USA for a bit now would it!?

In the beginning stages of planning my road trip across Canada I began with Google maps to find the best route and how many hours it takes to drive from Alberta to Nova Scotia.

Google presented me with three route options, all roughly the same mileage and total driving time of 49 hours.

 

Cross Canada road trip from Calgary to Nova Scotia driving route options from Google Maps

Cross Canada road trip from Calgary to Nova Scotia driving route options from Google Maps

 

Route 1 via Trans-Canada Hwy

Drive across Canada without entering the USA. This route is Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia.

Route 2 via US-2 E

Drive from Alberta to Saskatchewan, into the USA at North Dakota, then Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, back to Canada via Ontario, then Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia.

Route 3 via I-90 E

Drive from Alberta to Saskatchewan, into the USA at North Dakota, then Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, cross back into Canada via New Brunswick, ferry to Nova Scotia.

I opted to go with the all Canada driving route because two border crossings, into the US and back into Canada could add time to my trip. Driving in the busy summer holiday time I figured I would do better to avoid border crossings and stick with the Trans-Canada Highway most of the way.

The route goes through Northern Ontario for several hundred kilometers on secondary highways with less traffic than the Trans-Canada Highway.

 

Kapuskasing River is a branch of the Mattagami River in Ontario Canada

Kapuskasing River is a branch of the Mattagami River in Ontario Canada

 

Ferry or drive from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia?

The idea of taking a ferry may be alluring, but it probably won’t save you any time.

The ferry from News Brunswick to Nova Scotia only shaved 20 or 30 minutes off the trip so I opted to drive instead. The reason I chose to drive is that I didn’t want to buy a ferry ticket in advance, just in case I experienced a delay in my trip. And ferries can be cancelled due to weather.

Plus, it costs around $150 CAD for the ferry and you need to be checked in 1 hour before departure time. That’s way too much pressure for driving Day 6.

 

This small replica lighthouse next to the Welcome to Nova Scotia sign greets travelers entering Nova Scotia from New Brunswick Canada

This small replica lighthouse next to the Welcome to Nova Scotia sign greets travelers

 

Planning where to stop while driving across Canada

You could simply drive until you decide to stop and then find a place to stay each night during a road trip. But I prefer to know where I am staying in advance.

I don’t want the hassle of being stranded and having to sleep in my car. My Toyota Yaris is a compact car and it’s loaded up with all my stuff, so sleeping in my car would be my last choice and I would only do it in an emergency.

If you have a van set up and you can sleep in your vehicle then you have a lot more flexibility on where you stop for the night. If I were sleeping in my vehicle, I would plan a few options for locations to stop each night. Camping out I would plan to visit a lot National Parks and Provincial Parks along the way.

READ: Icefields Parkway itinerary – from Banff to Jasper

 

Grant Hall Hotel in Moose Jaw SK features burrowing owls atop pillars in the Burrowing Owl Lobby. Owls by artist Gus Froese.

Grant Hall Hotel in Moose Jaw SK with burrowing owls (by artist Gus Froese) atop pillars in the Burrowing Owl Lobby

 

How many hours per day do you want to drive?

Are you one of those people that can drive for 14 hours and not feel exhausted? If you are, I’m jealous!

Although I am improving, normally I prefer to spend around 6 to 8 hours driving per day when I relocate from one nomad home to the next location. I generally spend one month at each location but sometimes only a week to 10 days.

READ: Pros and cons of a nomadic lifestyle

After my mom died in January 2017 and I needed to get back to Calgary to help my siblings take care of my dad (who has Alzheimer’s) I opted to drive 3 days in a row for 10-plus hours per day. It worked out okay and I found out I could do these long-haul road trips.

You need to know how many hours you will want to be behind the wheel. You can take the slow and steady approach and drive 3 -4 hours per day, leaving you time to explore at each stop along the way. Or you can spend all day driving in order to get to your final destination with time to relax and explore.

 

Pristine lakes and wilderness are the constant companion driving through Quebec

Pristine lakes and wilderness are the constant companion driving through Quebec

 

How many days do you want to drive?

The most perfect summer road trip would take me across Canada over three or four months. But I didn’t have that kind of time, after visiting with family, so I made a choice to drive across the country within a week. I wanted time to explore Nova Scotia during summer.

There’s so much Canada but only so much summer!

With my cross Canada trip taking an estimated fifty hours of driving I could split my trip into 5 days of 10 hours driving per day. Sounds reasonable, but instead of 5 evenly paced driving days I opted to start my trip with a short 6-hour drive to Moose Jaw SK on Day 1, then 4 longer (9 – 10 hr) driving days and finish up with a short 5-hour drive on Day 6, New Brunswick into Bridgewater NS.

 

Al Capone's desk in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan - Tunnels of Moose Jaw Tour

Al Capone’s desk in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan – Tunnels of Moose Jaw Tour

 

I chose my driving schedule based on how it would fit with my work schedule. I have one client for which I work on a pre-set time of Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning. So, I left on Wednesday and planned to be in Bridgewater Nova Scotia by Monday afternoon, working from my Airbnb rental.

READ: Tips for planning solo travel

Some people would prefer to drive 4 days straight with 12+ hour driving time each day. This is a better option if you are on a tight budget, for both money and time, because you would save 2 nights lodging. You could also sleep in your vehicle if you have it set up for van life, or camping is yet another option.

 

Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout in Thunder Bay ON commemorating the young cancer research activist and his Marathon of Hope

Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout in Thunder Bay ON

 

Summer is high season for travel in Canada

Remember that summer is always high season for travel in Canada, so accommodation can be tricky, popular tourist spots like Banff and Jasper are booked weeks or months in advance.

Sometimes you can get last minute bookings but those are rare. If you can’t book your accommodation in advance, then it’s best to be flexible with your plans and check to see what are the other options around the area.

 

The blue eye of this wolf-dog caught my eye in Kapuskasing ON, and his owner had a remarkable life story.

The blue eye of this wolf-dog caught my eye in Kapuskasing ON, and his owner had a remarkable life story.

 

Planning the stops on a cross country road trip

Here’s how I planned out my stops while driving across Canada over six days. I used Google maps to plan out my road trip and find the driving distances. Figuring out my main route for the whole trip, then dissecting the trip into chunks of time.

It took me a few tries to figure out where to make each stop during my trip because sometimes there were no accommodations around the 10-hour portion of the driving day I planned.

Basically, I would eyeball on Google maps an approximate stopping point and enter the nearest town as my ending point to see how many hours it would take to drive that section of road.

Then I checked for nearby motels or budget hotels for availability and pricing. I wanted to keep the costs under control, so I set a budget of $75 USD ($100 CAD) per night for lodging.

READ: Cutest cottage in Cape Breton

I used both Booking.com and Airbnb to book my accommodations. On one occasion I called a motel directly because it was not listed on any of the internet booking sites, but I could see it on Google maps.

 

Kapuskasing Ontario welcome sign. The name derives from the Cree word for branch

Kapuskasing Ontario welcome sign. The name derives from the Cree word for branch

 

Calgary AB to Bridgewater NS road trip stops

Driving day 1

Calgary AB to Moose Jaw SK
685 km (425 miles)
6.5 hours driving time
Highlight: Visiting Al Capone Tunnels in Moose Jaw

Driving day 2

Moose Jaw SK to Ignace ON
1,100 km (685 miles)
11 hours driving time
Highlight: Not getting hit by crazy drivers passing unsafely

Driving day 3

Ignace ON to Kapuskasing ON
840 km (520 miles)
9 hours driving time
Highlight: Terry Fox Memorial in Thunder Bay

Driving day 4

Kapuskasing ON to Prevost QC
900 km (560 miles)
10 hours driving time
Highlight: Moose in Quebec and most scenic drive of the trip

Driving day 5

Prevost QC to Jemseg NB
925 km (575 miles)
9 hours driving time
Highlight: Getting lost around Montreal, my daft brain couldn’t get Ouest and Est straight LOL, Ouest is West and Est is East, pretty easy…but not for me evidently!

Driving day 6

Jemseg NB to Bridgewater NS
460 km (285 miles)
4.5 hours driving time
Highlight: Driving near Bay of Fundy at low tide, amazing!

 

 

Driving across Quebec I spotted these two young moose grazing near the water

Driving across Quebec I spotted these two young moose grazing near the water

 

Driving across Canada pay attention to time zones

When driving from west to east you lose an hour as you move into each new time zone, grrrr that’s not fun. Of course, you gain an hour when driving from east to west, so much better!

And remember, Canada has a couple of extra time zones compared to the US.  There’s Atlantic time in the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Plus Newfoundland time zone is an additional 30 minutes. That’s right a 30-minute time zone, not an hour.

 

Canada road trip map and Moose and Canada Geese

 

Check sunrise and sunset times

I checked the sunrise and sunset times for the locations I would be stopping during my road trip. I wanted to be at my hotel before dusk if possible. It’s nice to have time to enjoy a sit-down dinner and go for a walk after driving all day.

I don’t drive at night and prefer to stop driving before dusk because there is a higher chance of wildlife crossing the highways. Hitting a deer would probably total my little Toyota Yaris.

What does it cost to drive across Canada?

Here is the breakdown of costs for my road trip across Canada from Calgary AB to Bridgewater NS over six days. This includes gasoline, lodging, and dining out during my cross-country drive.

Gasoline cost for cross Canada road trip

Gasoline $332 USD ($440 CAD)

Priciest budget item on my cross-country journey turned out to be gasoline.

The most expensive place I purchased gasoline during this road trip was in Ontario. Two of the places charged over $1.50 per liter in northern Ontario. That works out to over $6 CAD ($4.50 USD) per gallon of gas.

 

Trading Post Motel in Ignace ON complete with super heroes and airplane on display along Hwy 17

Trading Post Motel in Ignace ON complete with super heroes and airplane along Hwy 17

 

Lodging costs for cross Canada road trip

Total accommodation costs: $304 USD ($402 CAD)

Average $61 USD ($80 CAD) per night

I drove an extra hour to avoid staying in Dryden ON because the cheapest place I found charged $125 CAD per night. I continued onward to Ignace Ontario and paid $80 (CAD) per night.

My cheapest night was at Travelodge Moose Jaw SK for $52 USD total including taxes.

Most expensive accommodation was Prevost QC at $73 USD including taxes.

Here’s the list of places I stayed at during my drive across Canada in 6 days/5 nights:

Travelodge Moose Jaw SK $52 USD ($69 CAD)
Trading Post Motel in Ignace ON $60 USD ($80 CAD)
Park Inn Motel in Kapuskasing ON $62 USD ($82 CAD)
La Voyageur Motel in Prevost Quebec $73 USD ($97 CAD)
Airbnb cottage in Jemseg New Brunswick $57 USD ($76 CAD)

 

Food costs for cross Canada road trip

Total food from restaurants $166 USD ($220 CAD)

You could save money on food during your road trip with some pre-trip planning. Think about the foods you’ll eat while on the road and stock up on those items beforehand.

Here are some of my preferred road trip snacks and meals:

Pumpkin seeds
Plantain chips
Rice crackers
Dried fruit
Bananas
Apples
Jerky
Sardines

If I could eat nuts, I would bring those too, but I’m allergic :/

My reward at the end of a long day of driving is usually a sit-down meal and a beer or two, preferably at a locally owned restaurant within walking distance of my lodgings.

 

Feasting on fish cakes with veggies, dinner salad, and cornbread at Creekview Restaurant in Gagetown NB

Feasting on fish cakes with veggies, dinner salad, and cornbread at Creekview Restaurant in Gagetown NB

 

Just in case no restaurants are open or close by, I also bring emergency rations. My emergency food is sardines and rice crackers. Probably a lot of people would find that repulsive, but I like sardines and crackers, goes great with beer.

Here’s my meal costs while roadtripping across Canada:

Moose Jaw Saskatchewan dinner x2 (fish $23 CAD and Greek salad/pork stick $27 CAD) and breakfast $15 CAD

Ignace Ontario – dinner at hotel across the highway $40 CAD Walleye/salad/2 beers, breakfast $15 CAD at hotel across the highway

Kapuskasing Ontario – dinner/beers at O’Brien’s pub $49 CAD, breakfast of 3 biscuits with bacon from Timmy’s $10 CAD

Prevost Quebec – no restaurants within walking distance and I was too tired to drive another minute, so dinner of sardines and crackers. No breakfast :/

Jemseg New Brunswick – I drove to Creekview Restaurant in Gagetown NB for chowder, beer, fish cakes and salad $40 CAD

Notice I ate two dinners in Moose Jaw. What’s up with that? Driving is hungry work!

 

Seafood chowder with biscuit at Creekview Restaurant in Gagetown NB

Seafood chowder with biscuit at Creekview Restaurant in Gagetown NB

 

What about toll charges?

There are a few toll charges according to Google Maps, but I don’t remember paying any tolls during this road trip across Canada. When I left Nova Scotia to drive south to Maine there was a toll charge in New Brunswick.

Also note that if you take either of the USA routes you can expect to pay tolls. In my experience, most places either accept cash payments or they will take a photo of your license plate and mail a toll invoice to you later. Massachusetts sent me a bill for $2.30 when I drove through on my way to St Augustine Florida.

Total cost of road trip across Canada

Total cost of my road trip across Canada from Calgary AB to Bridgewater NS for lodging, meals, and gas added up to $1,061 CAD ($802 USD) total. Plus, snacks I purchased before I left Calgary, around $5/day so I’m going to say $29 CAD ($22 USD) to make it a nice even number for the total.

Total cost of road trip: $1,090 CAD ($824 USD)

The total cost for this 6-day cross country road trip is right in the ballpark for how much I estimated I would spend. While my lodgings cost a bit less than my budget, gas and food cost a bit more.

Overall this cross-Canada journey worked out great for me and I would do it again. Driving for 6 days in order to spend a month exploring Nova Scotia was totally worth the effort, money, and time.

My dream Canada road trip would start from Tofino on Vancouver Island and finish in Newfoundland. But I would want a few months for that 7,400 km (4,600 miles) monster road trip.

 

Greeting travelers at the visitor center in Nova Scotia, a bagpiper in a kilt

Greeting travelers at the visitor center in Nova Scotia, a bagpiper in a kilt

 

Tips for planning a cross country solo road trip

Download Google offline maps – this is a must because you will not have internet access in some locations.

Bring some cash with you. Sometimes there are cash only places in remote towns.

Get a AAA (America Automobile Association) or CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) membership so that you will have emergency roadside assistance if you need it.

Get paper maps in case all your technology dies. If you have AAA membership you can get maps for free. CAA and AAA are affiliated so your membership in one allows you to the services in the other association/country. They also have location guidebooks with listings for lodgings and restaurants.

Remember summer is high season for travel anywhere in Canada. Book lodgings in advance if you are staying in popular tourist spots such as Banff National Park.

Tips for driving across Canada on a budget

Plan your meals in advance and shop at discount grocery stores, buy in bulk when possible.

Watch for sales and stock up on non-perishable items before your road trip.

Foraging for food is another way to save money on meals. You need to know what you’re doing otherwise you could become seriously ill or even die from eating something poisonous. Take classes and learn, or bring a foraging expert with you on your road trip :)

Gasoline may be the largest percentage of your budget, if possible, use a vehicle that gets great gas mileage. Don’t keep luggage/cargo on your roof, use cruise control to keep your speed within the posted speed limit. Typically, when driving over 50 mph (80 kph) gas mileage decreases quite a bit.

If you camp or sleep in your vehicle you will save a bundle of cash. You need to know where it’s okay to park overnight and where to find free camping. The website Fresh Off the Grid has a resource listing in this post about finding free camping in the USA and Canada. They also have recipes for camping meals.

How about you, what’s on your roadtripping bucket list? What’s your best road trip tip?

 

Canada road trip map and Moose and Canada Geese

About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, roadtripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

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  1. Epic, Susan! Many many years ago, a friend and I drove from Vancouver to Ottawa in late-April/early-May. There are many highlights but two that come to mind are: (1) watching the sun rise directly over the #1 driving east from Moose Jaw, SK, and (2) stopping for gas on the #17 in Kapuskasing, ON, and we got deaf from the utter stillness. And that was my prime introduction to the Canadian Shield.

    • Henry, thank you! Those are cool memories from your cross-Canada journey, a great introduction to the Canadian Shield. It’s the type of road trip not many people will experience, truly epic! The memories that really stick in my mind are usually moments when I’m totally isolated, or when I have a great conversation with someone, where we really connect, but I know I’ll never see them again. I’m envisioning the sun slowly rising above the horizon over the Trans-Canada now, a grand performance.

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