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Oh, Canada

By Jason Lathrop - March 15th, 2004

Canada can't get no respect. Let's face it, to most Americans, Canada is little more than the country from which we hijacked the professional hockey business and Mike Myers.

To put Canada in perspective, note this: Canada is larger than the U.S., yet it has a population of only 32 million. That's slightly more than a tenth of the United States' 275 million. That means you can easily find yourself in the middle of vast tracts of sprawling, untouched wilderness. We're talking about the overlooked crown jewel of wilderness travel, right in our - whoops - their backyard.

Multi-sport in the Canadian Rockies
Yes, you've heard it and it's true: Alberta's Banff/Lake Louise area is among the most magnificent places on the planet. It's also not exactly undiscovered these days, what with five-star resorts and all. But in nearby Kananaskis country you can lose yourself in much the same Canadian Rockies splendor, with a few less people.

Backroads Travel Company offers a six-day, multi-sport tour of this region that includes hiking, mountain biking, road biking and rafting. While exhilarating, the trip affords all ability levels a chance to taste this kind of adventure with the support of a sag wagon and, if you choose, lodges at night. Of course, the main and vastly cooler option is to take the camping route, avoiding the lodges and other pesky people.

If this trip has a down side, it's that it's a little too cush for my taste. Experienced outdoor people will find it pampered. And while you certainly get views of high mountains and glaciers, the route doesn't get you up close and personal with the high alpine country. ($1,798, Backroads, 800-462-2848.)

Kayak the Inside Passage
A friend who sea-kayaked the length of British Columbia's Inside Passage declared breathlessly that the region is proof of God's existence. How could so perfect a waterway exist without the design of an all-powerful - not to mention cool - creator? It's hard to argue with him.

Stretching the better part of Canada's western coast, the Inside Passage is a largely uninhabited sea kayaker's paradise. Tiny islands, fresh fish, orcas, grizzlies - you can't help but encounter it all.

If you haven't yet begun sea kayaking, this is a fine region to learn. You'll just want to hire a guide. Northern Lights Expeditions hosts a six-day, five-night kayak tour embarking from Port McNeil. You'll first receive a lesson in the finer points of your kayak. The pace is a casual six to 10 miles per day, unless it's windy, in which case the group stays put. ($1,195, Northern Lights Expeditions, 800-754-7402.)

Heli-hiking in the Bugaboos?
You've doubtless heard of helicopter skiing, powder hounding at its most upper class opulent. Are you ready for helicopter-supported hiking?

Essentially, it's the same. A chopper takes a group of 10 or so deep into the mountains, to the truly remote alpine high country, places reachable normally only through days of strenuous hiking. Alberta's Canadian Rockies, vast and roadless, make the ideal venue for this sort of adventure. Tauck Tours operates a tour based out of Banff. The accommodations in town are first-rate and the hiking superb.

Personally, I can't stomach the idea of being ferried into the high country. However, I'm still young and poor. Maybe in my wealthy golden years this will sound better. ($2,170-$2,690, Tauck Tours, 800-468-2825.)

Canoeing Labrador's Ugjoktok River
Labrador is empty. No, empty. Actually, no typographic effects can communicate how barren, unpopulated, and utterly sublime the Labrador tundra is. A triangular chunk of land north of Newfoundland on Canada's eastern coast, Labrador is one of last great places for reasonably-accessible, truly wild adventure.

That region's Ugjoktok River (local parlance for "river of the bearded seals") offers a seriously challenging rafting experience. The float requires 11 days and involves some technical Class III and IV rapids, the longest of them being a full mile.

The Labrador weather is notoriously grouchy. However, the beauty of this place makes nearly any amount of suffering worth it. Imagine lying on your back eating chunks of the four-foot trout you caught, staring at a sky smeared with northern lights. ($1,495, Battenkill Canoe, 802-362-2800.)


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