people canoeing on a crystal clear lake in front of mountains and a giant forest
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, Canada | i viewfinder/Shutterstock
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, Canada | i viewfinder/Shutterstock

Canada Is Finally Reopening to Americans. Here’s Where You Should Go First

Oh, Canada! How we missed you.

After 17 long months of being closed to non-essential travel, Canada threw open its doors to fully vaccinated Americans in August and residents of other countries in September.

Canada is ridiculously beautiful as well as unbelievably massive with a lifetime’s worth of cool stuff to see. We’ll get to some of the best places to visit between bites of tasty poutine—but before you start stuffing a car or suitcase full of toques and Buffalo print for a trip up to the Great White North, there are some rules to keep in mind.

How to get into Canada

To enter via land or air, everyone ages 5 and up will need to be tested within 72 hours of departure. You must receive a full molecular test—rapid antigen tests don’t count—and you may be tested again when you arrive, but only if you’re randomly selected.

You’ll also need to provide travel details and proof of full vaccination with one of four approved vaccines—Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson—via the online portal ArriveCAN within three days of your trip. Kids who aren’t yet approved to be vaccinated can still come without quarantining. Get more info here.

If you’re flying back to the US, remember that you’ll need a negative test taken within three days of your return trip to reenter the country (rapid antigen tests are okay, but always double-check on the CDC’s site).

If you’re driving, you’re all good: the CDC doesn’t require those traveling via car to provide a negative test to reenter. Hassle-free road trip, anyone? (Well, unless you’re Canadian, in which case you still can’t drive into the US via the land border until at least October 21, 2021. Sigh.)

Current restrictions to know

After harsh lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021, Canada’s generally scaled back on Covid-19 restrictions, but there are still rules to be aware of.

For the most part, you’ll need to wear masks when walking around indoors. Many provinces—including Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia—require proof of vaccination before you can eat in a restaurant, check out museums, and go to bars, and some event spaces, including sports stadiums and festival grounds, still have capacity limits. Depending on your destination, you may also need to fill out extra paperwork before you’re allowed entry (for example, you’ll need a PEI Pass to visit Prince Edward Island).

Suffice to say, be sure to check out local restrictions wherever you’re headed. Then dive headfirst into these Canadian staples, from the major metropolises of the east to the sweeping nature of the west.

people sitting on benches with view of city and Toronto tower
Toronto is Canada's best city for international food and culture. | Sandro Schuh/Unsplash

Eat like a king in Toronto

Don’t you dare sleep on Toronto. Wander around its eclectic neighborhoods to experience one of the world’s most multicultural cities; check out its awesome parks and beaches (pro tip: the Islands are where it’s at); and freely partake in the city’s glorious legal cannabis scene. Hungry? Toronto is also the best place in Canada to try food from around the world: oxtail, Egyptian brunch, boozy egg tart ice cream...the list goes on.

Feel Montreal’s joie de vivre

After a series of harsh lockdowns, Canada’s artsiest, hippest city experienced a renaissance this summer and is ready to keep the party going well into the final months of the year. Pay homage to the city’s rum runner days with a cocktail at a speakeasy like Le Mal Nécessaire in Chinatown, or (virtually) hop aboard the International Space Station at The Infinite. Come winter, you can also party off the cold-weather blues with the DJs at Igloofest or embrace the spirit of the Great White North with skiing and snowboarding in the nearby Laurentian Mountains.

highway winding through forests and mountains and a lake
Road trip up to Abraham Lake in the Canadian Rockies. | kavram/Shutterstock

Road trip through the Great White North

Canada is just a bit larger than the States, but with about 10% of the population. That means there are miles and miles of open space to explore and some epic sights to see. In the fall, check out all the colorful leaves in the Bruce Peninsula, a sublime coastal park with hidden caves, turquoise waves, and underwater shipwrecks. Combine a trip to Toronto with a full-on Ontario road trip for huge canyons, waterfalls (not just Niagara!) and a visit to the nation’s capital, Ottawa. Oh, and there’s also that little thing out west called the Canadian Rockies—arguably one of, if not the, most amazing mountain ranges in the world.

Plan a snowy escape

Canadians learned long ago that the only way to survive the notoriously brutal winters is to embrace them. Be like them and plan a winter trip ahead of the crowds. Check out the world-class ski resorts in Banff, Alberta and Whistler, British Columbia for some of the best slopes around. Feeling brave? Head to Churchill, Manitoba (aka the polar bear capital of the world) for a 4x4 bus excursion where the bears walk right up to your vehicle. Just do us a favor and don’t wander around Churchill alone at night. As much as you might like those old Coca-Cola ads, we promise you don’t want to meet a polar bear after dark.

woman walking across long skybridge toward forest and mountains in Canada
The Golden Skybridge in Golden, British Columbia | Photo courtesy of Golden Skybridge

See what Canada's been up to while you were gone

Canada has kept busy while its neighbors to the south have been away. Out west in Golden, British Columbia, the country’s highest suspension bridge was recently built at 426 feet above Hospital Creek Canyon; it’ll soon be joined by a brand new 4,000-foot zipline and tandem bungee swing. Ottawa’s also betting on adventure with a new 1,400-foot zipline that’ll take you across the water to Quebec with epic views of Parliament Hill.

Cultural attractions got a big boost, too. Winnipeg opened the $52.4 million Qaumajuq Inuit art museum with 14,000 works from 2,000 artists. And Montreal’s Biodome—a science center built in the velodrome from the 1976 Olympics where you can experience environments from a tropical rainforest to a subpolar regionjust completed a $25 million renovation.

Maybe just straight up move to Canada

Canadians know very well how many Americans have panic-dreamed of moving up here over the last few years—but let’s be real, Canada is a great place to live regardless of who’s in the White House. You get to keep the big cities and big nature of the US, but you gain free healthcare and nationwide legal weed. What’s not to love?

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Joel Balsam is a freelance journalist and travel guidebook writer whose work can be found in National Geographic Travel, Time, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, and Travel + Leisure. Follow him @joelbalsam.