Accommodations in Canada are similar to those in the United States, ranging from business-class hotels and luxurious spa resorts to small inns and B&Bs. But what Canada has that its neighbor to the south is missing are the grand, early-20th-century railway hotels that were part of the charm of train travel across the sprawling nation.
Canada is among the countries of the world with the lowest population densities, which means that there are plenty of pristine natural locales for resort hotels, lodges and campsites.
History buffs have the railways to thank for so many lovely hotels in Canada. During the height of the train travel era, the railroad companies constructed massive, chateau-style properties with towers, turrets and other charms of classic European architecture, adding glamour and style to cross-country rail trips.
Nearly every major city in Canada has at least one historic grande dame that would make even the stodgiest business traveler regret staying at a big-name chain hotel (and there are plenty of those too). With a name like the Empress, you'd expect nothing less than stately regality from the massive chateau sitting along the inner harbor of Victoria, British Columbia. Built in 1908, the 477-room hotel is one of the oldest in the country. Others of note are the Royal York in Toronto and the Fort Garry in Winnipeg.
The boutique hotel trend is catching on in Canada. With quirky marketing campaigns and a penchant for baffling grammar, ARC The.Hotel in Ottawa has 112 chic guestrooms with Egyptian linens, mohair throws and Roman-style baths. The 65-suite Cosmopolitan Toronto Hotel and Spa follows the principles of feng shui.
The Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations in Quebec, meanwhile, melds modern charm with the aboriginal art of the Huron-Wendat indigenous community.
Mid-range chain hotels are commonplace in cities. Outside of urban areas, you'll find your usual range of budget hotels and roadside motels of varying quality.
The Canada Select Accommodation Rating Council sets national standards for hotels, rating properties on a scale of one to five stars (in half-star increments). Participation is voluntary; currently properties in 10 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories partake.
There are only 23 five-star properties rated, for example (whereas the website FiveStarAlliance.com highlights 115 luxury hotels throughout Canada). That being said, the council -- along with another rating organization, the Canadian Star Quality Accommodation -- is useful for narrowing down hotel options throughout the country.
Canada Hotel Resources:
You could drive across Canada for days and see nothing but untouched landscapes. Then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, up pops a magnificent resort with views stolen from postcards.
Every province in Canada has at least one spa resort, and some of the best are near national parks. Among the most well regarded is the 45-room Spa Eastman, a health and wellness resort overlooking Mont Orford in Quebec. Compare that to the posh Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island, which offers spa treatments in rooms overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Marriott-run Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, also has a beachside setting.
If a spa isn't your thing, smaller lodges abound. Banff National Park has some of the most alluring lodges in all of Canada, including Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs.
Be sure to book in advance during the summertime and during Canadian holidays. As with other hotels, the best rates are found in the off-season.
Canada Resort and Lodge Resources:
Pc.gc.ca (Parks Canada)
If you only associate dude ranches with the western United States, think again. Western Canada also has a rich ranching history, including plenty of spots that offer dude ranch experiences for travelers.
Five generations of a family have run the century-old Reesor Ranch on the prairies of Saskatchewan. You can join cattle drives or go horseback riding along rolling meadows before retiring to a rustic log cabin. At the Sturgeon River Ranch, a working cattle farm near Prince Albert National Park, you can embark on a multi-day outback horse trip to see wild plains bison, elk, moose and bear. Or stay put on the property to watch or help with typical ranch activities, including branding.
Not into cattle? Le Gite de l'Ardora on the Acadian Peninsula of New Brunswick offers three guestrooms in its 150-year-old house on a farm with cows, geese, ducks and golden retrievers.
Many small farms and ranches don't have fancy websites but instead are listed through provincial tourism groups, such as the British Columbia Guest Ranchers Association or Tourism Saskatchewan.
Canada Ranch and Farmstay Resources:
All of Canada's national parks offer government-run campgrounds, and there are also private campgrounds throughout the country. Parks Canada runs campsites at 25 national parks, and the website CampingCanada.com lists campsites elsewhere, including provincial parks and private campgrounds of varying quality.
Some are open year-round, while others only operate spring through fall. Advance reservations are suggested, especially in the peak months of July and August. Quite a few parks offer campsites on a first-come, first-served basis; arrive early if you plan to wing it.
In most wilderness areas, you can rough camp wherever you'd like.
Meanwhile, the Alpine Club of Canada runs a batch of backcountry properties for mountain hikers and others seeking rustic lodging in remote places. They're called "huts," but really they are small lodges and log cabins. One of the most famous huts is the historic Abbot Pass Hut, a stone cabin that's a three- to six-hour hike up a steep mountain pass. It sits between Banff and Yoho National Parks.
Huts generally offer dormitory-style sleeping arrangements, outhouses and communal cooking facilities. They cannot accommodate many people, so reservations are essential, and each hut has rules you'll need to follow (such as quiet hours and how to dispose of waste).
Canada Camping and Hut Resources:
B&Bs are as commonplace in Canada as they are in the United States. Quebec City is especially known for them -- here they're called gites du passant. One of the best known is Auberge Place D'Armes, on a cobblestone street in the center of Quebec City. Its 21 rooms are housed in two buildings, one of which is almost four centuries old.
Canada Bed and Breakfast Resources:
Canada has hundreds of lighthouses, many of which are no longer needed for maritime purposes in an age of modern technology. Some sit abandoned, others have been declared historic properties and about a dozen have been converted into lodging for visitors.
The Tower Room and the Keeper's Quarters at the West Point Lighthouse on Prince Edward Island are in the lighthouse itself, which is also a museum; the property offers 11 other rooms in the adjoining building. At the northernmost tip of Newfoundland is the Quirpon Island Lighthouse Inn, which has converted a lightkeeper building into a six-room inn. The guesthouse at the Lighthouse on Cape d'Or has stunning views of the Bay of Fundy and neighboring cliffs from its four rooms.
Canada Lighthouse Resources:
Canada has more than 200 hostels. Approximately a third of them are run by Hostelling International (HI), and the rest are independent (though often members of the Backpackers Hostels Canada network). Some are suited to students, with dormitory-type lodging, and others are more like budget inns with private guestrooms.
One of the most fascinating is the Ottawa Jail Hostel, a historical landmark where guests are "incarcerated" in 20 cells with bunk beds. Like the jailbirds before you, you get free breakfast and access to communal bathrooms.
Offering hostel-like accommodations, some universities also rent out dormitory rooms during summer break. Backpackers Hostels Canada maintains listings on its website.
Canada Hostel Resources:
--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma