As a child our family were great campers, touring Europe with all our gear packed into the Morris Minor. While my parent’s spirit of adventure must have rubbed off on me, I have to admit that my memories are of early morning starts, endless unpacking and the smell of damp grass. Since then I’ve always preferred to have a solid roof over my head. Husband Guy, however, is a natural born camper, relishing the chance to sleep under the stars and brew up over the camp fire. When we were offered the chance to drive an RV across Canada (better known as a motorhome or camper van in the UK) it seemed the perfect compromise that would suit both a comfort lover and a camping addict.
Exploring Toronto – our gateway city
Toronto was our gateway city to Canada and after a long flight from the UK it was great to have a bit of time to explore rather than dashing straight off to pick up our RV. From the Sheraton Gateway Hotel by the airport, it was an easy trip downtown on the UP Express train, to spend the afternoon wandering around the harbourside area.
You can read more about Toronto from On the Luce – Waterfront Toronto
We took the harbour cruise tour, admiring the CN Tower and distinctive Toronto skyline on our boat trip to the islands, ending the evening with a tasty pulled pork burger and flight of craft beers at Amsterdam Brewhouse with a view over the water. It was a great way to start our holiday and relax a little, before picking up our RV the next day from the Cruise Canada rental centre on the ourskirts of Toronto.
Our Tip: Plan to spend some time exploring your gateway city before you pick up the RV – it’s a chance to settle in and spend time in the city without any parking headaches.
Picking up the RV from Cruise Canada
Checking out of the Sheraton Gateway, we took a taxi to the Cruise Canada rental location where our RV awaited us. Before driving away we watched the Cruise Canada video so we could get familiar with all the features – and then were shown around our RV. It was nice and roomy for two people but would also be fine for a family of up to 6 if you don’t mind cosy sleeping arrangements. While husband Guy was taking note of the instructions for power and water, I was more interested in the large fridge/ freezer, built in shower and loo and a small kitchenette – in fact all the comforts of home!
As our leg from Toronto to Montreal was part of a longer road trip, and blogging friends Kathryn, Zoe and Lucy had all given their RVs names, we decided to christen ours ‘Monty’ since our journey would end in Montreal. It took us an hour to get familiar with everything and then we were off, with Guy at the wheel, and me navigating – pretty much the pattern for the whole trip. Only five minutes down the road and we stopped at an enormous Wal-Mart and did a major grocery shop – enough food for a few days since we were heading towards Algonquin Provincial Park where there would be limited shopping opportunities.
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Another essential purchase was the most detailed road map we could find, as although we were able to use Google Maps with our mobile wifi, we needed a back-up for the times when we had no phone signal. Leaving the retail park, we hit the road in earnest to drive north along the highway, with only one stop at Weber’s on Highway 11, a fine roadside diner with plenty of picnic tables on the grassy lawns at the back, and the first of many foodie adventures on our road trip. We enjoyed our charcoal grilled burger and fries washed down with iced tea. It was great that even with the late start and stops on the way we were able to reach our first campground in the afternoon, with no stress of driving in the dark.
Our Tip: Don’t plan to drive too far on your first day, especially if you’re an RV newbie. You’ll need to allow a couple of hours to familiarise yourself with everything and stock up on provisions.
Settling in at Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin Provincial Park was our first proper taste of campground life and we arrived in the mid afternoon at Rock Lake, one of the many campgrounds in the park. We checked in with the ranger at the administration building, bought a big bag of wood for our campfire and found our numbered spot among the trees. Parking the RV was definitely a job for two people and I always had to hop out of the RV to direct Guy into our parking spot, ensuring no trees were hit and that we were on level ground.
Our spacious camping spot followed a pattern that we found at all the campgrounds we stayed at, which were always set in woodland and beside a lake. Each camping place was equiped with a picnic table and benches, with a metal ring to enclose the fire pit. Although we were self contained with our own shower and loo, there was a shower block and toilets nearby. We had brought our own camping chairs and really all we had to do on arrival was attach the power line and open the beer. It was a far cry from the camping I remembered as a child where we spent hours putting up and taking down the tent.
Being a true boy scout, Guy’s favourite task on arrival was to lay the campfire, while I would start getting supper ready. Our kitchen area was well equipped, since we had ordered a kitchen pack from Cruise Canada, with dishes, cutlery, pots and pans. I generally cooked on the 4 gas burners in the RV, although the fire pit had a grill, giving us the option for cooking BBQ style.
Before or after dinner there might be swim in the lake, or at least sitting with a beer beside it, often chatting with our neighbours and getting advice about the RV. We stayed a couple of days at Algonquin, giving us the chance to do some canoeing and cycling – keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife. On our guided canoe trip we saw a beaver dive right in front of us but nothing larger, but on our cycle ride we stopped to watch a black bear and its cub up a tree from a safe distance. Algonquin turned out to be one of our Top 10 Canada moments.
Our Tip: Find the balance between the relaxed pace of campground life and trying some of the outdoor activities on offer in Canada’s Parks
Driving through the smaller towns of Ontario
After a few days in Algonquin we drove south towards towards Lake Ontario again, stopping at the small town of Perth, where the Stewart Park music festival was in full swing. After the wide roads with hardly any traffic in northern Ontario, this was our first taste of some of the smaller towns and historic places of this region. Perth, with its single main high street lined with shops and restaurants, had a much more European feel and it was one of the few places where we struggled to find a parking spot for the RV. Reaching Kingston, we learned the lesson that in the older historic towns, built before the invention of the car, it was better to research a suitable parking spot on the edge of town and then take the bus into the centre for a more relaxing experience.
At Fort Henry, the 19th century garrison built above the town of Kingston, we found a huge car park and spent an hour or two in the fort having a guided tour to learn all about the history of the fortress, which was built by the English to defend against French attack from the St Lawrence river. From Fort Henry we walked down the hill to the main road and easily caught the bus – there was also a sightseeing trolley that ran from Fort Henry into town.
Our Tip: When visiting smaller towns, try to research in advance where you can park the RV as it may be better to park on the outskirts and walk or take the bus in.
In Kingston, the farmer’s market was a pleasure to wander around, looking at the luscious fruit and vegetables from the nearby Niagara region. A motorbike rally was underway, with stunt motorcyclists driving up the ramp to twist and turn in the air. We really enjoyed the atmosphere of this university town, which had a big foodie reputation, and soaked up the atmosphere in a local coffee shop, then bought a few snacks from the Pan Chancho bakery to have for supper.
Our Tip: Farmers markets and roadside stalls are a great place to stock up on fresh fruit and veg and discover some of the regional produce and specialities.
Ottawa – is it possible to visit a city with an RV?
We really wanted to visit Ottawa, Canada’s historic capital, but wondered how much of a challenge it would be while driving an RV. Trying to park in city streets was likely to be a stressful experience, but luckily we resolved this by staying just outside the city at Wesley Clover Camp Ground. We had a spacious camping spot and all the normal amenities, but the campground also ran a shuttle service each day into the city, dropping us off just in time for the changing of the guards and picking us up after a day’s sightseeing around 4pm. We managed to pack in plenty of sightseeing, with a taste of the famous Beavertail pastries, lunch in Byward Market at Murray Street, as well as a look around the glass sided galleries of the National Gallery of Canada.
The next day we were heading across the Ottawa River into Quebec province, but we found a suitably large car park by the Robert Guertin Arena which was a 15 minute walk to the Canadian History Museum, where we admired all the First Nation artwork and totem poles. The afternoon was spent cycling along the Ottawa river, crossing the Portage bridge and continuing under the Parliament Building, where we took the cute solar powered ferry back across the river.
Our Tip: It’s perfectly possible to visit Canada’s cities with an RV provided you plan ahead to ensure stress-free parking.
Having fun in Outaouais – north of Ottawa
By the time we got into our second week in the Outaouais region, north of Ottawa, we felt like old hands with the RV. Despite its narrow streets, visiting the historic town Wakefield, and its covered bridge was no problem. We parked in the centre of town and then walked around to admire the colourful craft shops and up the hill to historic Wakefield Mill for lunch by the mill stream.
Driving around Gatineau Park, Ottawa’s outdoor playground, was no problem as the roads were wide and the parking spaces enormous. We stopped within the park to see the Pink Lake, which was actually dark and mysterious like a mirror, and the estate of former Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King.
At Parc Omega, where it might have been a problem to feed carrots to the deer from an RV, we took one of the golf buggies instead – well protected by the metal mesh but still able to see the deer, buffalo and bears. Wherever we stopped with the RV, it was like having our house with us. We always had the option to make a picnic lunch and brew a cup of tea, with no need to worry about finding the rest room.
On the campgrounds we were also feeling like a pro when it came to getting settled in to our camping spot. There was only one occasion when the powerline didn’t quite stretch to the electricity supply and we had to borrow an extension lead from one of our friendly neighbours (we late discovered our own in the storage compartment). We would happily get out the rubber gloves and empty the grey water (from the shower and sink) and the black water (from the loo) without any fuss. And we’d learned the importance of a liberal spray of OFF insect repellant, before settling down beside the camp fire, to keep the ever present mozzies at bay.
Our Tip: Relax and enjoy – after a few days you’ll feel like an old hand!
Mont Tremblant National Park – time to unplug
By the time we reached our final stop at Mont Tremblant National Park we appreciated the freedom that the RV gave us to dip our toe into Canada’s Wilderness. Our campground was close to Lac Monroe and a short drive up the road was a beautiful wooden visitor’s centre of wood and glass with a deck to unwind by the lake.
In the park we made the most of all the outdoor activities, hiking the trails to get stunning views over the whole park from the look-out points and canoeing down the Meandre de Diable, stopping for picnics on the sandy river shore, a nesting spot for the river turtle. We also tried the Via Ferrata, climbing across the swaying rope bridges and inching across sheer rock faces until the threatening thunderstorm forced us down again. Caught in the rain, we appreciated being able to dive into our RV at the car park to dry off and change our clothes.
The downside of all this wilderness was that once we passed the visitor centre at the entrance to the park, the phone signal become practically non-existant. There was wifi in the discovery centre but I couldn’t always access it, so I had to accept that this was an opportunity to unplug, unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of Canada’s National Parks.
Our Tip: Use your visit to the National Parks as a chance to unplug and enjoy the great outdoors – you’ll be back in the towns and cities soon enough.
Back to Montreal
As we arrived at the Cruise Canada depot on the outskirts of Montreal I felt mixed feelings about handing back Monty the RV. Monty had given us the freedom to discover Canada’s areas of wilderness and enjoy outdoor activities that were both testing and relaxing. We’d been able to see some historic towns, eat great local food and meet the friendliest of people. Although we were looking forward to city life in Montreal, a spacious hotel room and marble bathroom, a little piece of our hearts remained with Monty the RV.
Read more – How to have a perfect day in Montreal
Where we stayed on our RV Road Trip
Night 1 – Sheraton Gateway Hotel, Toronto
Night 2 & 3 Algonquin Provincial Park near Whitney, Ontario
Night 4 Murphy’s Point Provincial Park near Kingston, Ontario
Night 5 & 6 Wesley Clover Camp Ground – south of Ottawa
Night 7 &8 Camping Cantley – north of Ottawa
Night 9 Parc de Plaisance National Park in Quebec
Night 10,11,12 Mont Tremblant National Park in Quebec
Night 13 Le Centre Sheraton Hotel Montreal
Read more tips for driving your RV across Canada
Travel with Kat – Sunshine Coast of Canada Road Trip
Travel with Kat – Vancouver Island – Canada Road Trip
The Quirky Traveller – Top Tips for your RV Road Trip in Canada
On the Luce – Clueless about RV-ing? A first timer’s guide to Canada by Motorhome
Information for planning your trip to Canada
You can find more information to plan your visit to Montreal on the Ontario Tourism Website, the Quebec Original Website and also on the Explore Canada Website covering all the things to see and do in Canada.
Our RV (Recreational Vehicle) for the two week Explore Canada Road Trip was provided by Cruise Canada.
To compare prices and book for hotels in Canada, visit the HotelsCombined website where you can find the best prices from a range of different booking sites.