Travel the Yellowhead Highway through four national and 90 provincial parks discovering the dramatic beauty of Western Canada – all from the front seat of your RV.
Most visitors planning to drive their RV across Canada first think of the Trans Canada Highway and neglect to look further north to the Yellowhead connecting Canada’s four most western provinces. Also called Hwy 16, the Yellowhead Highway covers more than 1,800 miles from the west coast of British Columbia, over the Yellowhead Mountain Pass in the Rockies to Alberta, through the wheat fields of Saskatchewan and finally travels south east into Manitoba.
Named after a fur trader with yellow streaks in his hair, who the local natives called Tete Jaune, meaning yellow head, both the highway and the mountain pass were important routes for the Hudson Bay Company in the 1800s. In 1948, a group of local citizens, business people and governments formed an association to promote the creation and development of the Yellowhead Highway for the betterment of the country.
They succeeded and, today, the Yellowhead is a modern, well maintained year-round and well-traveled highway that flows through some very interesting communities and cities that deserve attention.
Western Mile 0
The most western point of the highway is the small fishing village of Masset, on Graham Island, and part of Haida Gwaii. It is known for it’s unspoiled beauty and popular with sports fishing enthusiasts. The visitor center is open year round and sits right at the entrance of the town and is considered to be Mile 0. Start or end your adventure here.
Traveling the Yellowhead Highway is definitely an adventure and the scenes through the windows of your RV will change from a rugged coastline, through Prince Rupert, taking you eastbound past the villages and towns known for ranching, forestry and recreation. Prince George is the largest city along this portion of the highway and the hub for Northern British Columbia.
Once known for having a transient population, the community is now quite settled and the city is busy and vibrant with a large university, museums, heritage sites, and plenty of recreation for absolutely everyone.
During the 1800s, even the hardiest explorer found the pass through the Rockies difficult, and fur traders used it only periodically because of its isolation. Today the Yellowhead Pass crosses the Continental Divide between British Columbia and Alberta just east of Jasper and is very easy to travel. The only distraction could be the wildlife and stunning wilderness scenery that surrounds you.
The Canadian National Railway still follows the route through the pass once established by the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern Railways built around 1910.
After travelers leave Jasper, the highway is fairly level and straight all the way to Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta. Enjoy a day observing a herd of bison, surfing or skating year round at West Edmonton Mall, visiting museums, attending the local festivals or shopping at the farmer’s markets filled with local produce. There is so much to see and do here it will be difficult when it’s time to leave.
East of Edmonton by 320 miles is the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — the perfect place to learn more about the Northern Plains Indian culture at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park and explore the natural prairie habitat at the Beaver Creek Conservation Area. Step back into time and visit Western Development Museum and the indoor 1910 boomtown to actually see and hear the sounds of an early booming prairie town.
In Northwest Saskatchewan is North Battleford where, in 1879, the very first baseball game of the old Northwest Territories was recorded. You’ll want to visit Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum with more than 3,000 artifacts on display. Take a self-guided tour through some of the historic buildings in town and learn more about the history of this interesting prairie town.
Take a side trip to enjoy a swim at Little Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan’s Dead Sea where people say it’s impossible to drown because the mineral density is three times saltier than the ocean. Walk into the water and before you know it you’ll be floating even though you’re standing in chest deep water.
Portage la Prairie
Continuing eastward and leaving Saskatchewan, the highway now enters Manitoba and then into the small city of Portage la Prairie in the province’s central plains. With a population of more than 12,000 people, the city is small enough to get around easily, but big enough to provide all the amenities visitors need or want.
Dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Canadian Prairies is The Fort la Reine Museum with more than 25 buildings filled with displays of the past. Yes, rumor has it that the highway east of here doesn’t have a lot of scenery. But, not too far ahead, is the town of Dauphin which is known for it’s Ukrainian heritage and the Doukhobor settlement of Veregin, both worth visiting.
The eastern Mile 0 of the Yellowhead Highway is the capital city of Winnipeg, the ‘Gateway to the West’, and home to Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, one of the world’s leading dance companies. Not only does Winnipeg have many arts and cultural events, it is also home to the Air Force Heritage Museum, which is free to visitors, but an appointment is needed.
With 26 National Historic Sites of Canada within Winnipeg, this is one city you won’t want to miss on your tour. For more than 6,000 years, the early Aboriginal peoples would meet at ‘The Forks’ located downtown at the confluence of the Red River and Assiniboine River. It is one of Winnipeg’s most visited historic sites. This green space has also been a gathering place for early Scottish settlers, European fur traders, Metis buffalo hunters and tens of thousands of immigrants over many years.
With a population exceeding 700,000, this is a fairly large city with a strong historic background and visitors to the city are usually pleasantly surprised at everything it offers from it’s historic streets to it’s distinctive food culture.
Exploring the Yellowhead Highway
Be prepared to visit large cities, small villages and towns, and long stretches of highway with nothing but the beautiful scenery to distract you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how interesting the Yellowhead Highway can be for RVers wanting to explore Western Canada. So bring your RV and load it up with your camera, a good map and a sense of adventure you won’t regret.
Driving in Canada
Here are some rules for driving in Canada:
- U.S. driver’s licenses are valid
- U.S. insurance is valid, but proof must be supplied
- Seat belts are mandatory
- Distance and speeds are measured in kilometers
- Child car seats are mandatory for children under 40 pounds
- Headlights must be on at all times in some provinces
- Radar detection devices are illegal
Masset — www.massetbc.com
British Columbia Yellowhead Highway — www.travel-british-columbia.com/north-bc/yellowhead- highway
Wanuskewin Heritage Park — www.wanuskewin.com
Beaver Creek Conservation Area — www.meewasin.com/public-programs/beaver-creek-conservation-area
Western Development Museum — www.wdm.ca
Portage la Prairie — www.city-plap.com/tourism
Little Manitou Lake — watrousmanitou.com
Air Force Heritage Museum — www.tourismwinnipeg.com/play/attractions/display,listing/05511/air- force-heritage-museum-and-air-park
Historic Sites of Canada in Winnipeg — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_National_Historic_Sites_of_Canada_in_Manitoba