I’m pleased to share Kelly Burch’s story of her family’s Eastern Canada Road Trip. We first met Kelly when she shared her stopover in Dubai while en route to Australia to visit her husband and family. (Here is her story of that trip).
A two-week road trip with a baby and extended family sounds like an amazing (and challenging!) adventure!
A 2-Week Eastern Canada Road Trip with a Baby (and In-Laws!)
Despite growing up in New England, I had only been to Canada once. It was a quick trip to visit a friend’s family in rural Quebec. When my Australian in-laws were visiting we decided that, instead of doing the tourist sites in Boston or New York (which they had done before) we would visit Canada. That’s how the whole family (my husband, 15-month-old daughter, and mother- and father-in- law) road tripped 1400 miles through Canada and New England over two weeks.
On our Eastern Canada road trip we stopped in Burlington Vermont, Montreal, Quebec City, The Bay of Fundy (the New Brunswick side), and Acadia National Park.
Here’s how the trip unfolded:
Eastern Canada Road Trip Day 1: Setting Out
After loading up the car we set out from our small city in New Hampshire to Montreal. The drive is about four hours, so we planned to stop for lunch in Burlington Vermont, which is about half way. In Burlington, we strolled along the Church Street Marketplace, which is a brick-paved street dotted with small shops and national brands.
We walked down to the waterfront of Lake Champlain, stopping at the Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center. Our toddler was delighted seeing the native fish and playing with the water displays. After eating lunch at The Skinny Pancake– a Burlington original with the best crepes you can ever imagine – we set out for Canada. Crossing the border on Interstate 89 was incredibly simple. We were in Montreal by dusk.
Eastern Canada Road Trip Days 2-4: Montreal
Using Airbnb we secured an apartment right in the heart of Old Port, just steps away from the Notre-Dame Basilica. As soon as we left our modern apartment, I felt as if we’d been transported to Europe. The old stone buildings and tiny alleyways of Old Port, full of open-air dining and hidden beer gardens, showcased the city’s French influence. We spent a full morning on a self-guided walking tour of the Old Port district, reveling in the charming architecture. We finished our walk on the recently renovated boardwalk, which had plenty of playgrounds to let the little one burn energy.
On our second day in Montreal we visited St. Joseph’s Oratory and explored Mount Royal, the large mountain that looms over Montreal. St. Joseph’s was impressive from the outside and offered beautiful views over the city and to the St. Lawrence River. However, the inside was modern and nowhere near as intricate as the smaller churches in Montreal. But the magnificent size was impressive to see in person. The baby thoroughly enjoyed climbing the hundreds of stairs at the monument.
Our final day in Montreal we set out to explore a bit more of the city. Like any urban area, it was a bit tricky navigating busy sidewalks with a stroller. But, we did enjoy exploring the downtown and the campus of McGill University. Our favorite discovery was the Place des Arts complex outside the Museum of Contemporary Art. The plaza was full of interactive art displays and performers. The water fountains and musical swing set kept the baby – and adults – entertained all afternoon. This was a great place to mix with tourists and locals.
Eastern Canada Road Trip Days 5-7: Quebec City
Early on our fifth day, we set out for Quebec City. Somehow, I knew little about this gem, which is often overshadowed by Montreal, and had no idea what was ahead for us. If I did, we would have planned more time in Quebec, a city that I fell in love with.
Unfortunately, we lost time getting to Quebec because we opted to take the scenic drive along the St. Lawrence River rather than the freeway, which would have taken just under three hours. Instead, the drive took all day and we arrived at our Airbnb apartment overtired, hungry, and far from ready to explore.
However, the next day we set out to experience the city. We were staying within Old Quebec – the walled portion of the original settlement. The ramparts that surround the city are the only standing fortifications for a city in North America, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A great way to see the city, and sweeping views of the widening St. Lawrence River beyond, is to walk along the top of the wall, which is paved and easily accessible (by stairs) in most parts. We walked along the wall toward the Chateau Frontenac, the hotel that dominates old Quebec and looks like something right out of Harry Potter. From the shadow of the Frontenac we enjoyed walking along the boardwalk and the square, which were full of street performers and tourists.
During the afternoon we took a private carriage tour of Old Quebec and the Plains of Abraham, an open park on the banks of the St. Lawrence. Although the tour was lovely, our bilingual tour guide was difficult to understand over the clomping hooves of the horse. It ended up being more for sight seeing than education.
Day 2 in Quebec City
Our second day began with the changing of the guard and tour of the La Citadelle de Quebec, the fort that overlooks the city and the river from Cape Diamond, the city’s highest point. It was built by the British in the 1850s after defeating the French. Today, the fort is home to the Royal 22nd Regiment, the only French-speaking regiment in the Canadian Forces. In addition to absolutely stunning views, the fort tour was a great way to learn the complicated history of Quebec.
That afternoon we ventured to the Petit-Champlain district, the oldest part of the city. It’s nestled beneath the walls along the St. Lawrence River. It has all the charm of a small French town but is accessible by a massive, steep set of stairs. Or you can ride the Funiculaire, similar to a ski gondola. And that’s probably the better option for those travelling with little ones. The district, full of bakeries and art galleries, was a delight to walk through, although crowded on a beautiful fall day.
Eastern Canada Road Trip Days 8-10: New Brunswick & The Bay of Fundy
We had much debate about whether to go to the Gaspe Peninsula or the Bay of Fundy, which has the largest tides in the world. Ultimately, we decided on the later. Because a road trip around the rural Gaspe felt like something that would be better enjoyed without a toddler.
Unfortunately a trip to the Bay of Fundy also involved a massive drive – about 8 hours from Quebec City to Fundy National Park. That particular day of our Eastern Canada road trip was a tough one for the adults and the baby. The journey was long and not particularly exciting. And, if I did it again, I would spend the night somewhere along the way to break up the drive.
Although most of the trip was through extremely rural areas, I’m sure we could have found a cabin to stay in.
Because we knew we would not want to spend more time in the car, we opted to stay in the tiny town of Alma. It’s directly on the bay and right next to Fundy National Park. The bigger town of Moncton is a 35-minute drive from the bay.
The next morning we drove to Hopewell Rocks, the impressive stone monuments that have made the Bay of Fundy famous. At this site, a steep cliff meets the Bay and stone sentinels jut from the water. The difference in the water levels is about 40 feet between high tide and low tide. Visitors can walk the ocean floor at low tide. Then, hours later, return to kayak in four stories of water where they were standing.
The Hopewell Rocks were absolutely amazing – well worth the drive. We explored the ocean floor, taking a tour that was the perfect balance of informative and fun. And we could see the dramatic rises in the tide, literally before our eyes. The tour guide told us to put a rock in one spot, and watch how quickly the rising tide swallowed it.
Although we visited only at low tide (it’s recommended that you visit at both high and low tide, and your admission is valid for two consecutive days because of this), we were able to appreciate the power of the tides by seeing how drastically the water rose just in the time it took us to eat lunch in the welcome center. So, be sure to check tide times before visiting, as that affects your access to the ocean floor. Also, if you have flexibility on your travel dates, I recommend visiting out of season.
During the second week in September we were able to enjoy the stunning natural beauty nearly by ourselves. However, the tour guide emphasized that, during the summer, the beach teems with thousands of tourists each day.
Fundy National Park
The next day we explored Fundy National Park. Although it isn’t as well known as the Hopewell Rocks, the park was breathtaking with rocky beaches, steep wooded cliffs, and freshwater lakes. The park easily could be a trip in and of itself. Next time we look forward to spending more time in New Brunswick.
Eastern Canada Road Trip Days 11-14: Acadia National Park & Home
From the Bay of Fundy we drove five hours south to Acadia National Park in Mount Desert, Maine. Like Fundy National Park, Acadia had the kind of raw natural beauty that makes me love travel. Also, like Fundy, we could have easily spent a few days in Acadia, making it its own vacation, rather than just a stopover on our road trip.
We stayed in the town of Bar Harbor, a picturesque seaside village built to service the tourists that come through the national park. There was no roughing it in Bar Harbor, which was filled with top-notch dining and shopping options. The little town – accessible by one road – was busy even during the off-season, with a steady stream of tourists coming by land and by cruise ships, which docked in the harbor.
Acadia National Park
By this point in the trip we were exhausted. So, we didn’t pressure ourselves to do everything that Bar Harbor and Acadia had to offer. That would have been impossible, anyway. Instead, we slowed down, ate absolutely delicious seafood, and soaked in the natural beauty. We drove through Acadia National Park and to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the North Atlantic Seaboard. And we went on short hikes, letting the baby toddle along the rugged paths.
One afternoon the grandparents babysat, so my husband and I took a kayak tour of the harbor. This is a must-do for any visitors to Acadia. On our half-day excursion we saw a bald eagle, a pod of porpoises, and deer. The tour was a reminder that you don’t have to go far from town to enjoy the wilderness at Acadia.
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