4 Less Expensive Canadian Alternatives to U.S. Travel Hotspots

4 less expensive canadian travel alternatives

It’s no secret that frugal American travelers can stretch their budgets wherever the United States dollar is strong. One such place is, conveniently, our northern neighbor.

For the past year, the dollar has fluctuated between 1.30 and 1.36 Canadian dollars, effectively offering a discount of about one third to American travelers visiting Canada, compared to 2010 when the currencies were close to parity.

Canada, of course, has a wealth of attractions apart from offering value, including plenty of places to escape the crowds in its vast 3.8 million square miles, which are inhabited by a relatively sparse 37 million (compared to roughly 329 million Americans in similar footage).

For those seeking a good buy and fewer crowds, the following destinations offer possible Canadian corollaries to popular sites in the United States — including a big city, wine region, rural retreat and mountain town.

Like the largest city in the United States, Toronto, Canada’s largest, offers a wealth of cultural and culinary attractions, but in a smaller area where Airbnb lists private rooms at $46.

“In Toronto, you can have an intimate experience with culture on the highest level through events or exhibits that would be completely packed in other cities,” said Mia Nielsen, the director of Art Toronto, the annual international contemporary art show, which runs from Oct. 25 to 27.

In addition to cultural institutions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario (admission, 25 Canadian dollars or about $18.90; free for people ages 25 and under), she recommends the Power Plant (free), a contemporary art gallery, for mounting “thought-provoking and rigorous shows,” and artist-run centers, nonprofit art spaces supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, such as Mercer Union (free). She also recommends the newly expanded Museum of Contemporary Art ($10) where “Age of You,” a group show on the theme of technology’s impact on culture, will open on Sept. 5.

Between shows, hit a Syrian cafe or Chinese noodle shop. Just over half of Toronto’s population, 51 percent, is foreign born and the city counts 230 nationalities, a source of great culinary diversity.

“The prices pale in comparison to the New Yorks, San Franciscos and Chicagos of the world, but the value is there,” said Franco Stalteri who, since 2009, has been hosting periodic pop-up dinners with globally renowned chefs like Fergus Henderson called Charlie’s Burgers. “We benefit from a vast multiculturalism I’ve never seen anywhere else.”

It’s hard to compete with Napa Valley — home to nearly 500 wineries — for excellence and variety. But in south central British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley holds its own with scenic appeal and quality quaffs. Unlike readily available Napa varietals, if you want to drink an Okanagan wine, you’ll likely need to visit; about 90 percent of British Columbian wine is consumed in the province.

“Rather than exporting the wine, the wineries are great at welcoming visitors in,” said Laura Kittmer, the spokeswoman for the British Columbia Wine Institute, a provincial association of wineries.

Of British Columbia’s more than 280 wineries, 185 are in the Okanagan, a valley centered by the 84-mile-long Okanagan Lake and continuing south roughly 40 miles to the town of Osoyoos. The northern areas are known for varietals such as riesling while the southern, desert-like area grows heat-lovers like syrah. Most of the vines are less than 30 years old, but their quality has markedly improved in the past decade. Nine vintages — including three from Mission Hill Family Estate — picked up gold medals at this year’s International Wine & Spirits Competition in London.

Travelers flying into lakefront Kelowna, the urban center of the region, will find wineries that run the gamut from sophisticated to rustic. Among the sophisticated, Quails’ Gate overlooks the lake from the tasting room and an adjoining restaurant where a five-course, wine-paired lunch costs 79 Canadian dollars. Nearby, the informal Hatch operates in an old tractor shed (4 dollar tastings are waived with the purchase of a bottle).

Among unique accommodations, the lively Hotel Zed in Kelowna has a Ping-Pong lounge, free bikes, roller skates and rooms from 169 dollars.

For a rural escape with a trendy Brooklyn vibe, head north of Hudson, N.Y., to Prince Edward County. Located on an island in Lake Ontario, roughly between Toronto and Ottawa, the County, as it is called, attracts urban dropouts who have imported their tastes in beer, food, style and music.

Kim Gray, the Calgary-based co-founder and editor of Toque & Canoe, a Canadian travel blog, took her first trip to Prince Edward County this winter and described it as a laid-back, nature-focused retreat where city dwellers come to leave their “big city worries and stresses behind.”

Base yourself at the June Motel, a midcentury motor lodge near Picton given a makeover as a stylish 16-room motel with pink doors, bold floral wallpaper, a plant-filled lobby bar and occasional meditation sessions (rooms from 145 dollars).

In summer, the activity centers on Sandbanks Provincial Park, home to three expansive beaches for walking and swimming, and hiking trails in the dunes and the woods (admission, 12.25 dollars per vehicle).

Jackson Hole, Wyo., offers access to national parks from a spirited town center. Though Revelstoke in British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies mountain range doesn’t quite have the development (or the crowds) of Jackson, it offers proximity to national parks and outdoor adventures like stand-up paddleboarding and white-water rafting from a convivial town base.

“Lots of young families are carving out mountain-inspired lifestyles for themselves here, with Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks right at their doorstep,” Ms. Gray said.

Roughly 120 miles northeast of Kelowna, where the Columbia and Illecillewaet Rivers meet, Revelstoke is a popular winter destination, averaging 40 to 60 feet of snowfall annually. This summer, its main ski area, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, opened its Aerial Adventure Park, including a four-story high-ropes course (40 dollars). It also introduced a new mountain-biking course that will open with a top-to-bottom trail reached via the gondola and descending 5,620 vertical feet (35 dollars for a day pass; bike rentals start at 69.99 dollars).

The town backs up to Mount Revelstoke National Park (admission 7.80 dollars), offering a variety of hiking trails from a one-kilometer loop featuring First Nations art to a 10-kilometer, or 6.2-mile, summit trail that passes through wildflower-filled meadows.

Back in town, Journey’s Perch, a former church-turned-guesthouse, mixes private rooms (from 110 dollars) and dorm beds (from 45 dollars).

Like many great ski towns, pub options abound, including the new Rumpus Beer Company and Monashe Spirits, mixing cocktails with housemade booze. Restaurant options range from the Australian-owned cafe Dose to the splurge-worthy locavore steakhouse Quartermaster Eatery in the retro Explorers Society Hotel.

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