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Six of the best Canadian adventures

Matt Carroll
19 December 2011

Once-in-a-lifetime escapades needn't mean bungee jumping or jungle trekking. Canada has it all under one enormous sky. Here are Matt Carroll's top six adventures...

Admire the falls in Ontario

The stats alone say it all about Niagara Falls. During peak flow — in late spring and early summer — more than 5.7 million litres of water per second spill over the side, cascading into the Niagara River below. Located on the border between Canada and the United States, Niagara is actually made up of two different waterfalls — American Falls and Horseshoe Falls — the latter (and more dramatic) located on the Canadian side. Steeped in romance, it's one of North America's most iconic sights — as 
well as the venue for several harebrained stunts. In the 19th century, various foolhardy individuals crossed the falls on tightropes and, in 1901, schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor launched herself over the edge in a barrel — just for the hell of it — emerging at the bottom with nothing worse than cuts and bruises.

Thankfully there are easier ways to admire the falls in all their glory — one 
of them being to climb the Skylon Tower (skylon.com), which looks down on them from 160m up. The lifts whizz you to the top in around 50 seconds and, after taking some snaps up on the viewing balcony, why not grab lunch in the revolving restaurant? It takes about an hour to turn through 360°, enough time to polish off a medley of breaded shrimps, scallops and sole. In the summer, fireworks over the falls add to the display every weekend evening.

If you fancy a closer peek, take a boat trip aboard the Maid of the Mist (maidofthemist.com), which takes you along the base — or perhaps a helicopter ride (niagarahelicopters.com) for a bird's-eye view? Tear yourself away and you'll discover vineyards — sample the fare at 
a wine festival (niagarawinefestival.com) — world-class golf courses, casinos, 
and cycling and hiking trails right on the doorstep.

For more information visit niagarafallstourism.com.

Join the Stampede in Alberta

It's enough to make your eyes water just watching the riders hang on for dear life at the annual extravaganza of cowboy culture, the Calgary Stampede. Held over ten days every July, in 'Cowtown' Alberta, the Stampede's organisers regard this as 'the best outdoor show on earth' — and they may just be right. Over a million visitors pour into the area to watch chuck wagon racing, elaborate parades, stage shows — and, of course, that small matter of the world's largest rodeo.

Having bought yourself a Stetson and taken your grandstand seats at Stampede Park, sit back and watch as an array of brave riders compete in a series of equestrian events. Aside from bareback horse riding, there's barrel racing, too — where cowgirls compete against the clock while hustling their horse round a course of barrels. But perhaps the most 'manly' event is the steer wrestling where brave souls attempt to grapple an angry bull to the ground. The obvious question for those competing is 'are you insane?' — to which the answer is quite possibly, yes. But make no mistake: many of the competitors are professional athletes, and there's some serious prize money on offer — a cool $100,000.

The whole thing kicks off with a huge parade on the opening Friday, where hundreds of floats, marching bands — and of course horses — make their way through the city streets. Aside from the rodeo events, it's worth taking a stroll around Stampede Park, sampling from the delicious food stalls and checking out other quirky events such as the World Championship Blacksmith Competition. There's live music, fireworks and a giant Ferris wheel, too. It's cowboy-tastic.

For more details, visit travelalberta.com, calgarystampede.com, http://us.canada.travel.

Ski extreme 
in British Columbia

Heli-skiing doesn't involve actually jumping out of a helicopter. Instead you're whisked away from the pistes into untouched backcountry, where the chopper lands on mountainsides of fresh powder. Accompanied by an expert guide, of course. One of the best places to do it is British Columbia, which pioneered heli-skiing more than 40 years ago; it's home to no fewer than ten massive mountain ranges with exciting, diverse terrain. Consistent snowfalls make BC a reliable bet weather-wise, and there are over 20 specialist operators in the area to help you access untracked slopes, with packages for all budgets, whether you want five-star luxury or basic lodge accommodation.

Panorama resort, in the southeast of the province, was pretty much built around the heli operation that's based here — 
RK Heliski (rkheliski.com) — and the guys run trips that cater to a wide range of skill levels, from unashamed powder virgins to those whose idea of 'fun' is tackling 40° couloirs. Surrounding the resort there's a whopping 1,500km sq of spectacular wilderness, with more than 900 runs to choose from spread over 120 different landing sites. When you're done with that lot, there's 2,847 acres of pistes to try back at the resort itself.

Another hotspot for heli is Whistler, about two hours' drive from Vancouver (also worth a stopover). While thousands flock to this famous resort to soak up the sun and explore more than 8,000 acres of corduroy (soft, new, freshly-combed snow), the heli-skiing area here is 100 times larger than the resort itself. You could spend every season here for the rest of your life, and still only scratch the surface. A less expensive option is snowcat skiing, where you're driven into a wild environment far from the groomed slopes of conventional resorts.

For more information visit canadianmountainholidays.com, hellobc.com and wiegele.com.

Be awed by nature in New Brunswick

Perched in between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on the east coast of Canada, the Bay of Fundy is home to some of the highest tides on the planet — reaching a whopping 50 feet. That's the height of an average four-storey building. Twice a day, every day, 100 billion tons of water come surging into the bay, as the mighty Atlantic makes its presence felt. It's enough to reverse the tide of water that spills into the bay from the 
St John River, creating spectacular whirlpools and ferocious rapids.

While you could just stand by, camera at the ready, watching all the action from a suitably dry distance, 
where's the fun in that? It would be a shame not to get 
wet, so book yourself on a jet-boat ride (jetboatrides.com) and get involved. With an experienced guide at the wheel, you power out into the thick of the action, smashing through the swirling waters at top speed, before he whips the wheel round — performing the nautical equivalent of a handbrake turn. You might want to opt for the salad at lunch.

Another must-see here is Hopewell Rocks where huge boulders have been sculpted by centuries of raging tides. It's worth spending a whole day here — 
at low tide you can get down to the waterfront to explore the ancient formation up close.

For more information, visit thehopewellrocks.ca.

Spot polar bears in Manitoba

Within minutes of seeing your first polar bear 'in the fur', you'll realise that while there's no doubting their incredible beauty, these are supremely powerful wild animals. Churchill, Manitoba, in the north of Canada, is one of the only towns on earth where you can watch them in the wild.

Every October and November the bears migrate from their summer hunting grounds on the vast tundra, back to the icy wastes of Hudson Bay, where they spend the winter feasting on seals. Before they get there, though, the bears gather on the shore waiting for the waters to freeze — an unforgettable sight. Males weigh in at a gulp-inducing 680kg, towering at over 10ft tall when standing on their hind legs.

Book yourself on to a bear-spotting drive with local experts The Tundra Buggy Adventure (tundrabuggy.com), where you'll be safely ensconced in one of their purpose-built vehicles. At first glance these look like something that Luke Skywalker might have driven in Star Wars — futuristic, in an 80s kind of way. Essentially it's an observational hide on wheels, allowing you to cruise in comfort over the 
ice. There's a protective cage underneath, so you can photograph the bears at eye level (if you're brave enough), and a viewing deck out back. Plus it's packed with futuristic technology including editing facilities and — handily — an espresso machine. So no falling asleep at the crucial moment. If you're lucky you might be treated to a light show by the bewitching aurora borealis too, and when you're not bear-watching try dogsledding for an exhilarating Arctic adventure.

For more information visit destinationchurchill.com, everythingchurchill.com and travelmanitoba.com.

Climb aboard 
in the Rockies

If you've ever sat on a commuter train wishing there were more exciting views out of the window, this is probably 
what you were dreaming about. From the comfort of the luxurious carriages on the Rocky Mountaineer train you 
can recline and relax — jaw agog — as a conveyor belt of magnificent scenery passes the window.

There are four epic journeys to choose from — three that take you through the Canadian Rockies, and one to the resort of Whistler — with itineraries ranging from three and a half hours to 25 days. One of our favourites is the evocatively titled 'Journey through the Clouds', which begins at the exclusive Rocky Mountaineer railway station in Vancouver, before heading out across the expansive wilderness.

Along the way you'll pass glass-like lakes, where the impossibly still waters reflect the surrounding mountain peaks, and tree-covered hillsides. Then, after four days 
and three luxurious nights, you reach the town of Jasper — located in the heart of the eponymous national park — 
where deer line the roadside, chewing away nonchalantly.

This is a railway journey in the finest tradition, and just 
as in the old days there are three levels of carriage — 
RedLeaf, SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf — the latter featuring two-storey, glass-topped cars with an exclusive dining 
room downstairs. After all, if you're going all the way then you should do it in style...

For more information visit rockymountaineer.com.