For a place without a sun-and-sand reputation, Canada certainly has an abundance of shorelines, stretching farther than in any other country in the world. Add to this the thousands of kilometres of lakeshores big and small, and you have a waterfront scene that could take lifetimes to explore. Here are our picks for the best beaches in Canada — those with the warmest water, the best sand, surf and swimming, the tiny hidden gems and the bountiful aquatic wonders, all right under our noses, from coast to coast.
Skaha Beach, Penticton, British Columbia
The Okanagan valley has some of the most beautiful beaches around, but family-friendly Skaha Beach is exceptional. At Skaha beach, on the south end, you’ll see teenagers setting up beach volleyball nets and kids running around the adjoining big grassy park, with picnic tables, tennis and basketball courts, a watersplash park, and a playground marina.
Wow factor: During Penticton's annual Peachfest in August, Skaha beach is the site of a sand art competition, with the beach dotted with intricate creations worth checking out.
Where it’s at: Head south from Penticton on the 97.
Parlee Beach, Parlee Beach Provincial Park, Pointe-du-Chêne, New Brunswick
Known for having the warmest salt water north of Virginia (temperatures regularly reach 23 to 25 degrees Celsius), up to half a million people flock to this beach every summer. Throw in festivals, beach volleyball and sand-sculpture competitions, and you’ve got a beach ball.
Wow factor: The world’s largest lobster (okay, it’s a 90-tonne statue) is in Rotary Park.
Where it’s at: The park is on Route 133 at the Shediac resort area.
Singing Sands Beach, Basin Head Provincial Park, Souris, Prince Edward Island
Is it the perfectly shaped silica sand that makes the “squeaking” sound on these pristine beaches on P.E.I.’s east coast?The jury is still out. Souris has lots of cool places to stay, the refreshing Platter House Ocean Retreat among them. There’s lots of great golfing nearby, too. P.E.I. has more than 800 km of beach, but this is our favourite.
Wow factor: The water is warm (around 21 degrees) and the solitude is serene.
Where it’s at: From Charlottetown, head northeast on Highway 2 until it turns into Highway 16 near Souris.
Cobourg Beach, Cobourg, Ontario
Lake Ontario isn’t known for it’s crystal-clear waters, but Cobourg beach is a way-less-gross alternative to Toronto beaches for the city-dweller with a car. It has plenty of soft sand and a clean shoreline.
Wow factor: The snack bar sells legendary hot dogs.
Where it’s at: An hour and a half drive east of Toronto, near Port Hope.
Kluane Lake, Kluane National Park and Reserve
Located in Yukon’s southwest, Kluane translates to “big fish,” and for good reason: Lake trout and arctic grayling are in abundance. The area around this 70-km-long lake is a wildlife paradise, complete with fishing lodges, camping outposts and rugged treks.
Wow factor: This park is not a UNESCO World Heritage site for nothing. The lake’s panoramic beauty is beyond belief.
Nota bene: Grizzlies are plentiful. Also, a 100-pound “monster” fish is said to inhabit the lake, and there are rumours of bite wounds...
Where it’s at: From Whitehorse, take the Alaska Highway toward Destruction Bay.
Manitou beach, Little Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan
The prairies’ answer to the Dead Sea, this resort village draws people looking for a relaxing spa getaway at a unique site. Bathers “take the waters,” absorbing the therapeutic minerals (magnesium, carbonate, potassium, mineral salts, sodium, calcium, iron, silica and sulphur) concentrated in this shallow saltwater lake. The water is too dense for any real swimming — there’s five times as much salt here as there is in the ocean — but the floating is fun and it’s virtually impossible to sink.
Wow factor: Experience weightlessness without having to sign up for a NASA shuttle.
Where it’s at: From Highway 2 at Watrous, drive north on 365.
Wasaga Beach, Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, Ontario
This popular stretch of shore on Georgian Bay plays host to over two million people each year at its eight beaches. This Blue-Flag-rated spot has great water, sand and sun, and the people watching will make your head spin. Main beaches one and two are livelier (think lifeguard championships and soap-box derbies), while the rest offer more family-friendly amenities and playgrounds.
Wow factor: At 14 kilometres long, it's touted as the world's longest freshwater beach.
Where it’s at: Up the 400 from Toronto, north on Highway 26 from Barrie.
Hopewell Rocks, The Rocks Provincial Park, Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick
These age-old formations, sculpted by the Bay of Fundy tide, do double duty, luring in kayakers to meander around little flowerpot-shaped islands, and then transforming into a beachcombing spot when the tide is out. This area sees the highest tides in the world, up to 14 metres.
Wow factor: In late July, between one and two million shorebirds make this their only pit stop on a 4,000-kilometre migration south.
Where it’s at: From Moncton, take Route 114 to Hopewell Cape.
Grand Beach, Grand Beach Provincial Park, Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba
The three-kilometre stretch of silica sand among the rolling dunes of Lake Winnipeg, Canada’s sixth-largest lake, sees thousands of visitors each summer taking in the sun, surf, swimming and self-guided trails. Home to the endangered piping plover, the area is great for boardsailing, boating, birdwatching, fishing and strolling the boardwalk, with tennis and golf nearby.
Wow factor: Big sky country meets big lake country = stunning natural beauty.
Where it’s at: One hour north of Winnipeg on Highway 59.
Outlet Beach, Sandbanks Provincial Park, Prince Edward County, Ontario
You wouldn’t think to find sand dunes in Canada, let alone on the shores of Lake Ontario, but Sandbanks Provincial Park has some gorgeous waterfront. Outlet Beach is one of three beaches in the park — but it’s the most family-friendly, with long swathes of shallow waters.
Wow factor: In spring and fall, it turns into a bird-watching hotspot.
Where it’s at: Less than a 30-minute drive south of the town of Bloomfield.
Sylvan Lake, Alberta
While there aren’t many beaches in Alberta, this one’s beautiful 13-kilometre shoreline draws crowds for all things water-related: swimming, boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, scuba diving and fishing. Golfing, volleyball, go-carting and summer camps complete the list. Very family-friendly, its accommodation spans from rich to rustic.
Wow factor: Wild Rapids Waterslide Park will make for very tired children, if the fresh air doesn’t finish them off first.
Nota bene: Bingo alert!
Where it’s at: 20 kilometres west of Red Deer on Highway 11.
Kejimkujik Seaside, Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia
This unspoiled shoreline, an adjunct to the inland national park, has white sand, turquoise waters and great hiking trails. This day park is also a piping plover nesting area. In all, 22 square kilometres of pristine beauty.
Wow factor: Adorable seals bask on the rocks!
Where it’s at: St. Catherine’s River Road, Port Joli.
Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia
With 16 kilometres of beautiful, accessible sand on Wickaninnish Bay, Long Beach lives up to its name. Spread out between the villages of Ucluelet and Tofino, this natural wonder is steeped in the history of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. Today, it’s a surfing hotspot, with surf guards on duty in the summer. Head to Wickaninnish Beach for a breathtaking view of crashing waves, and make a pit stop at the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre for a hit of natural history.
Wow factor: This place has some of the most consistent surf on the planet. Catch a wave with Surf Sister Surf school.
Where it’s at: On the west side of Vancouver Island, about three hours west of Victoria.
Lawrencetown Beach, Lawrencetown Beach Provincial Park, Nova Scotia
This tiny beach is only 1.5 kilometres long, but it’s 1.5 kilometres of prime, world-renowned surfing breaks. Families, hikers, nature enthusiasts, mountain bikers and bodyboarders all share Lawrencetown Beach, and have a blast doing it. When Haligonians say they’re going to the beach, this is what they mean.
Wow factor: Waves have peaked at four metres.
Nota bene: Strong currents and riptides, plus the occasional hurricane, make rescues on high surf days quite common. Try not to need one.
Where it’s at: 23 kilometres east of Dartmouth on Route 207, 25 minutes from Halifax.
Sandbanks Provincial Park, Burgeo, Newfoundland
An expansive beachfront makes for great birdwatching (sandpipers and plovers in particular), and rock and forest aren’t that far away, in the form of the Annieopsquotch Mountains. The area is both beautiful and secluded. Check out the old cemetery, a reminder that this is where one of the area’s first churches stood.
Wow factor: Intertidal weirdness. At high tide, salt water flows up Grepesy Brook to Heron Pond, and then at low tide, the fresh water flows down the brook to the ocean.
Where it’s at: Route 480.
Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec
A chain of islands set in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this whole place is one big, beautiful beach. The 300-kilometre stretch of sand is Quebec’s premier spot for kitesurfing, windsurfing, scuba diving and just kicking back. Nearby restaurants have developed “regional tables” using local food products, not to mention fresh lobster, scallops and crab. Try to secure a room at the gorgeous four-star Domaine du Vieux Couvent. Winds and whitecaps mean strong currents, so keep an eye on the weather.
Wow factor: Golden sand and jewel-toned surf? It’s almost like vacationing much further south.
Where it’s at: Take the daily ferry from Souris, P.E.I., or hop on a Jazz Air flight from Montreal.
Wreck Beach, Pacific Spirit Park, Vancouver, British Columbia
The largest clothing-optional beach in Canada, located near the University of British Columbia campus, is “awesome in its quirkiness,” according to one local aficionado. Part of a larger scheme of beaches and parkland on Point Grey, Wreck Beach is littered with sun worshippers, students and teachers, not to mention urbanites looking to get the heck out of Dodge. Vendors are close by with the usual beach-related snacks, drinks and hemp jewellery.
Wow factor: Naked people! Everywhere!
Nota bene: About 500 wooden steps lead you down the bluff (Trail 6) to the beach — and back up.
Where it’s at: From 4th Avenue in Vancouver, turn right on N.W. Marine Drive, and Trail 6 is to the left (you need to drive only about 100 metres). There’s a parking lot south of Trail 6 and a few lots on the UBC campus.
Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
The north and south beaches are broken up by a sandspit that reaches out to Frank Island, offering about three kilmotres of white sand. There’s great surfing (check out Tofino’s surf schools and equipment rentals if you’re up for adventure) and storm watching in the winter.
Wow factor: Humpback, grey, orca and minke whales. If you’re lucky, a great blue whale!
Nota bene: The hurricane-like winds might blow you away.
Where it’s at: Head up Pacific Rim Highway 4 to Tofino.
Good Spirit Lake, Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park, Canora, Saskatchewan
This busy, sandy spot is excellent for relaxing, sunbathing, golfing, hiking, fishing (for walleye, northern pike and perch), cycling, tennis, beach volleyball and more. There are three separate campgrounds that are super-popular with young families.
Wow factor: Watch for foxes, deer and rabbits in the dunes.
Where it’s at: Canora is just a half-hour drive northwest from Yorkton.
Sauble Beach, Lake Huron, Ontario
With 11 kilometres of white sand, warm, shallow water and loads of sports, Sauble is one of Ontario’s favourite shores. The area scores top points for family-friendliness, with myriad activities including jet skiing, paddle boarding, kite-surfing and canoeing, plus stock-car racing, thrill rides, a classic-car show and metal detectors to rent for beach treasure hunting. Hire a beachfront cottage for maximum exposure.
Wow factor: Nothing beats this sunset.
Where it’s at: Off Highway 6 just past Owen Sound.