CA British Columbia autumn
USA Monument Valley March 2022
US Washington State Seattle Olympic National Park
CA British Columbia autumn
USA Monument Valley March 2022
US Washington State Seattle Olympic National Park

Going out West: Canada or the USA

Are you interested in a holiday to the iconic North American West Coast, but don’t know whether to visit the Canadian or American side?

Both the American and Canadian West Coast offer many spectacular sights you have to see in your lifetime. Have your choice in scenery, unique wildlife experiences and opportunities to emerse yourself in the local culture and history. Here is everything you need about the highlights benefits of each location in order to get your dream holiday.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA
The North American West Coast has striking deserts in the south...
A small fishing village in Tofino
... and cosy historic costal towns in the north

What is defined as the West?

Geographically, and as a result culturally, the West landscape is defined and bordered by the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies stretch over 3,000 miles from British Columbia all the way down to New Mexico. The Rocky Mountains are particularly striking as they are considered to be a relatively young mountain range, which makes for sharper rock formations and steeper cliff faces. Generally speaking, everything situated to the west of the Rockies (US and Canada) is referred to as the “West”.

Exploration of the West

When people think of the great and wild west, usually iconic explorers such as Lewis and Clark or the naturalist John Muir come to mind. The westward shift has had very long-lasting effects on the economy and the people that still live in the West today. But there are significant differences in the American Westward Expansion and that of Canada. European exploration of Western Canada happened in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was fuelled largely by companies looking for trade routes to cross the Rocky Mountains. George Vancouver, Vancouver Island’s namesake, provided coastal surveys and thus the first modern Canadian shoreline maps.

In the Western United States, exploration parties were sent by the government in the 19th century in order to map the land for future use. This resulted in major shifts in population as more people moved into the West for opportunities and the desire to leave the crowded areas in the East. The exploration of the West also eventually resulted in large expanses of nature have been officially protected for a long time, resulting in the famous National Park System.

City of Boulder in CO, USA
The Rockies are visible all around the hiking hub of Colorado, Boulder

Indigenous heritage

Indigenous people have lived in this part of North America for thousands of years, and their history and culture have had a lasting impact still seen today. Those that want to learn the long history of Native Americans and First Nations can learn about their heritage first-hand from Indigenous guided tours that also support Indigenous communities.

Learn more about our Indigenous-led activities

Explore Montana on horseback with a Native American guide

Blackfeet Nation, United States

See Montana on foot and by horseback with a member of the Blackfeet Tribe as your guide.

Read More

A wildlife adventure in British Columbia

Telegraph Cove - Vancouver Island, Canada

Get up close to Grizzly bears in BC

Read More

Western United States

When thinking of the American West, images of otherworldly desert landscapes, dramatic mountains and surfing beaches come to mind. Visiting the American West Coast is the best way to experience the real West culture and iconic sights so often featured in Hollywood movies. While here you can visit natural wonders like the Yellowstone, Big Sur and the Colorado River that has carved out the “Wild West”.

Nature and National Parks

Despite popular cities like San Francisco and Portland, it is generally much more sparsely populated than the East Coast of the United States, and because of this it boasts a majority of the national parks. It is the ideal holiday destination for both nature lovers that want to get away from the hustle and bustle, and those that want to experience true American culture. This part of the United States boasts a huge variety in the spectacular nature, even within the same region. There is also a huge variety in the weather and available activities on the United States West Coast, with everything from sunny and warm sandy beaches in Southern California to misty northern rainforests in Washington.

Bryce Canyon National Park in UT, USA
Bryce Canyon in Utah is home to the unique rock formations "hoodoos"
© Little America
Views over the ocean and cliffs along Big Sur, Southern California
Admire the Pacific Ocean along Big Sur in California
© Little America

How can I best experience the American West?

Drive Highway 1

The easiest way to see a large sweep of the West Coast is to drive Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean coastline. Driving this route from North to South has several advantages, namely that you are driving towards the South and to the Sun, providing great light for photography. Also, while you are driving South you are driving on the right side of the road and thus on the ocean side, giving you a constant view on the ocean side.

The northern section takes at least 1 week, and the same for the southern portion. In the northernmost point of the route, Washington, you will get spectacular views over the ocean and sounds. And as the route approaches the Canadian border, the terrain more closely resembles what you will find along British Columbia. As you drive into Oregon, the landscape is a lush green, with epic rock formations along the sea. This section of the route takes you past iconic points like Cannon Beach.

The final, southern portion of Highway 1 is California. California is perfect for beaches, tide pools, towering redwood trees and marine life watching. You can drive between larger cities like San Diego, to Los Angeles and its iconic Long Beach, all the way to the charming town of Santa Barbara.

Spot marine wildlife like sea otters on California's southern coast
Spot sea otters in Monterey Bay
Aerial view of Portland with it's iconic bridges
Portland offers great city amenities but still great access to nature


As America’s first national park, Yellowstone has long captured the hearts of both visitors and locals alike. With its geysers, pristine forests and bison herds, it stands as one of the true gems of the United States. Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872 following the American Civil War, but the area has been inhabited, cared for and shaped by its Indigenous inhabitants for thousands of years prior to this.

Experience real American culture in the Southwest

The region now referred to as the Southwest was once colonized by Spain. This has left a lasting impact on the cuisine, culture and architecture of the region. Destinations like Sedona, Arizona, offer great insight into the American Southwest culture and provide visitors with a well located home base for nature like Monument Valley or Saguaro National Park.

Buffalo on the road to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone has the oldest and largest bison herd in the United States
Historic Spanish architecture can be found around Tucson, AZ
Tucson still has a Spanish mission in the centre of the city

Western Canada

The Canadian West Coast is home to many different parks and spectacular nature. You can explore everything from the Icefields Parkway to the Canadian Rocky Mountains and spot wildlife like bald eagles, wolves, black bears, moose, orca, whales and grizzly bears. And depending on the season, you can even spot grizzly bears hunting migrating salmon along the river inlets. The Canadian West Coast is the ideal holiday destination for those looking to escape to remote wilderness, experience wildlife watching tours, and take adventurous trails in the rugged nature.

The landscape and nature

Along the Canadian side of the border, the landscape and rugged terrain is defined by river inlets, stunning alpine lakes and islands. This also means that, unlike Highway 1 in the US, the Trans-Canadian Highway from Vancouver does not hug the coastline, and it is a much more remote region to travel. But with ferries going between the mainland and islands like Vancouver Island, there is better access to nature and remote wilderness.

Another one of the biggest differences between the two countries is weather and climate between the two countries. As you enter Canada, and the further north you go, the climate becomes cooler and experiences more rain.

A clear lake surrounded by green forest and snow-capped mountains in Canada
The Canadian Rockies have an abundance of beautiful alpine lakes
View of the Telegraph Cove marina on a sunny day
Vancouver Island is a paradise for sailing and kayaking

How can I best experience the Canadian West?

Visit Vancouver Island

With its rugged coves, clear waters and charming towns, Vancouver Island is a place that will easily capture the hearts of adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts. It also offers many activities and outdoor recreation all around the Island. While here, you will have your choice from nearly endless activities. Set out more adventurous activities like a guided boat tour to the Great Bear Rainforest where you will also see whales, grizzly bears, and if you're lucky, orcas! For the more relaxed traveller, try indulging in the local seafood cuisine with a food tour around Victoria. And in addition to the vast nature around Vancouver Island, you should also make a stop in the city of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. Victoria is a beautiful and historic city known for its Victorian Architecture and attractions like the Butchart Gardens. A great bonus is that there are frequent ferries out to Vancouver Island from the mainland coast.

Hike in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

In addition to the Pacific Coast area, the Canadian Rocky Mountains also define the landscape. With breathtaking and snow covered peaks, crystal clear lakes and an abundance of wildlife, the Rockies are a bucket-list worthy stop every traveller should see. All around the mountains, you can partake in hiking and mountain biking trails, canoeing and even horseback riding.

While in the Canadian Rockies, a visit to the world heritage site, Jasper National Park is also a must. Jasper is the largest national park in the Rockies, and is home to North America's largest population of both grizzly bears and moose. Discover the endless trails through the pristine wilderness, as well as the scenic drive Icefield Parkway that passes glaciers and stretches between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park in Alberta.

Spot incredible wildlife in Canada, like grizzly bears
Spot incredible wildlife in British Columbia
© Ian McAllister; Pacific Wild

Travelling with Little America

Here at Little America, we do things differently and make a positive difference through ethical and environmentally friendly tourism. We focus on small-scale accommodation, and driving with a rental car allows you to use your accommodation as a home base and exploring the area with your rental car. Stay in a cabin in the Mojave Desert and explore the area with your guide, stay at a typical log cabin in the Rocky Mountains with spectacular views, or even kick back and relax at a ranch in Arizona or in Montana

A holiday with us means slower and intentional travel where you can stay with locals to get the authentic American feeling and experience warm Canadian hospitality. Our list of locally-led activities mean that you can experience everything from a wildlife kayaking boat tour around Vancouver Island, to horseback riding with an Indigenous guide in Montana.

The options are so diverse that it may be difficult to make choices for your trip. We are happy to help you on your way. Contact one of our travel specialists who will put together a unique itinerary, free of obligation, that fits your needs exactly.

Look inside some of our best stays

Stay in a tipi or lodge in the Mojave Desert

Tecopa, United States

Spend a few nights in the Mojave Desert at a relaxing retreat surrounded by beautiful nature.

Read More

Deluxe bed and breakfast near Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, United States

Explore the wild landscape of Montana at an authentic and deluxe lodge.

Read More

Discover more