When Canada finally reopened its border on 9 Aug 2021 (after 17-months), we wasted no time rebooking our Canada trip that had been cancelled twice prior to this. We opted to drive to Canada from the US (instead of flying directly into Canada). We started our road trip in Spokane, spent a few days in Banff National Park, and ended our trip in Seattle. Thank you Canada for reopening the borders to fully vaccinated travelers!
This was our 2nd international trip this year, and we're absolutely aware of the risks we were taking to travel during a pandemic. As we were renting a car and visiting national parks where we could easily avoid crowds, Canada was a rather safe and ideal travel destination. To be clear, we have been and are still taking the pandemic seriously. We're both fully vaccinated (hubby had his booster shot), we wear our KN95/KF94 masks whenever we're out in public, and we're still avoiding people. =P
Canada Road Trip 2021:
Trip Planning & Preparation
My detailed trip itinerary and pandemic travel essentials
I first booked our Canada trip back in Nov 2019, with the original plan of traveling in August 2020. That obviously didn't happen. Then in Sept 2020, I speculatively rebooked flights to Canada for May and Aug 2021. They were both cancellable (but not changeable) award flights so there weren't any risk. For the August flight, we were scheduled to arrive Canada on Aug 7, 2 days before the border reopening date of Aug 9 2021. =.= I was kicking myself for being off by just 2 days with my speculation. Oh well, at least it was easy to cancel the flights and we got all our points back.
As more countries are reopening, we were hoping to squeeze in one more international trip this year, and Canada was a relatively easy one to pull off due to its proximity, no mandatory quarantine, and our mode of transport and itinerary were ideal for social distancing. Besides, we already had an itinerary planned out previously so all we had to do was to rebook all our flights and hotel, and since award prices for flights to Canada were high, we opted to drive across the border instead.
As you can see, travel planning nowadays is a lot more complicated with lots of uncertainties. Even though I'm still pretty detailed with my trip planning, I have added more speculative bookings, flexibilities, and contingencies when I plan our trips. Thanks to points and miles, we were able to keep our travel cost low while still adding flexibilities for our pandemic travels.
The requirements we had to meet to enter Canada was fairly straightforward. We had to provide proof that we were fully vaccinated, present a negative PCR test done within 72 hours, and complete the ArriveCAN app within 72 hours prior to arrival. Even though we uploaded all the documents onto the ArriveCAN app without any issue, we still brought hard copies of all documents just in case.
With all our pre-departure checklist completed, it was time to begin our journey to Canada...finally!! Scroll on to read more about our experience driving across the border from US to Canada.
10 Sept 2021 (Fri): Huntsville - Dallas - Spokane
As mentioned above, we opted to drive across the border. But just to be clear, we didn't drive all the way from Alabama. Our road trip started from Spokane. You're probably wondering, where is Spokane and why Spokane? Spokane is a city in east Washington and if you look on Google map, it's somewhat close to the border. And the main reason we chose to fly into Spokane was because it was 'cheap'...our one-way flight from Huntsville to Spokane was only 6,000 AA miles per person. =D
The weather in Canada in September was getting cooler but not winter weather yet, so we didn't pack any bulky jackets. We were able to fit all our clothes for 10 days into 2 carry-on size luggage but brought 2 extra luggage as we were planning to do some shopping. Spot my bag-in-bag packing. =P
Thanks to MIL for dropping us off at the airport for our 5.30pm flight to Dallas. There weren't any lines at the airport so everything was smooth and quick.
Domestic flights in the US are pretty much back to normal so our flight was almost full. However, we were lucky that seats around us were empty. The 2-hour flight was pretty uneventful, which is good, and my in-flight drink choice was unintentionally on point.
This was our 2nd time transiting in Dallas airport this year. Thanks to my Priority Pass, we were able hang out at The Club and grabbed some food.
We were traveling after Labor Day and kids were all back in school so the airport was fairly empty.
For our 3hr 40min flight from Dallas to Spokane, we both had a row of 3 to ourselves and I was able to lay down for a short nap. We arrived Spokane slightly ahead of schedule at 11.45pm PST (1.45am CST), just in time to pick up our rental car (Toyota Rav4) before the rental car counter closed.
Since it was late when we arrived Spokane and we had a long day to drive the next day, we decided to spend the night at the Springhill Suites Spokane Airport, which was conveniently located right across the airport. The hotel would have cost $235/night but we used the Marriott Free Night certificate (worth 35K points) from hubby's credit card for this stay. The breakfast spread was quite good for US standard, and we were impressed that they were all individually packed. We 'took-out' our breakfast and ate in the car as we wanted to depart early enough and get to the border in time.
11 Sept 2021 (Sat): Spokane - Glacier National Park - Calgary
The main reason we picked up our rental car the night before was to save some time in the morning and to depart earlier. However, when we cranked up the engine for the Rav4 as we were ready to leave, the low tire pressure light was on. =.= We called the rental car counter and they asked us to go back to the airport to swap out another car. This delayed us slightly but we definitely didn't want to be stuck with a faulty car for the next 7 days. Of all the midsize SUV options they had, we chose to swap out the Toyota Rav4 with a Mazda CX-30. P.S. We always prefer Japanese car for fuel efficiency.
Now let's talk a bit about our rental car...
We rented a mid-size SUV for 7-days from National. It was a one way from Spokane to Seattle (with border crossing to Canada allowed). Guess how much our rental car cost? $31 excluding fuel. =D Thanks to the 7 free rental days that I had earned from my last work trip 'hustle' right before Covid.
We started our drive at 8am and the only stop we had planned for the day was to see Glacier National Park in Montana, which was 'on the way' to Canada. The drive from Spokane to Glacier National Park took us through 3 states...Washington - Idaho - Montana. The drive was 278 miles (447km) and took 5 hours, but due to the 1 hour time zone difference between Pacific and Mountain time, the journey had already taken 6 hours of our day.
It was already 2pm when we arrived at the West Entrance of Glacier National Park...and of course, it started raining right when we were entering the park. =.= The Park Pass costs $35/car and can be used for a week but we definitely didn't maximize the use of our pass because we were only in the park for 2.5 hours with lousy weather, definitely an expensive 'toll' for us...haha! The main road that traverses the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It's a scenic mountain road and known as one of the highlights of the Glacier National Park. Scroll on for more photos of our drive.
Our first photo stop was Apgar Amphitheater with view of Lake McDonald...not impressed. =P
Our 2nd photo stop was McDonald Falls...we didn't bother going all the way down so just took some photos from above.
3rd photo stop was the The Loop...which was supposed to 'provide beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains' according to Google...but the weather was too crappy.
4th photo stop was the the Big Bend...which was supposed to be another picturesque pull-off. But...nothing is picturesque when the weather is crappy.
We initially planned to maybe do a short hike to see the Saint Mary Falls, but decided to skip it due to the rainy, cloudy, and misty weather. As you can see from the photos above, the weather changed pretty quickly as we gained more elevation and at some point, it got so misty that we could hardly see the car in front of us. On the bright side, the crappy weather helped shortened the time we spent sightseeing in the park, which gave us more time to make it to the border.
The weather started clearing up towards the end of our drive in the park. Spotted lots of burnt trees probably due to the wildfires.
Our 5th and final photo stop along the Going-to-the-Sun road was the St. Mary's Lake lookout.
We missed the Glacier National Park sign at the entrance so we made a point to stop at the St. Mary's Visitor Center to get a photo with the Glacier National Park sign before exiting the park at 4.30pm. P.S. All half flags for 9/11.
There are many borders between Canada and US, and the one closest to Glacier National Park is the Carway border. This border closes after 6pm, which explains why we were in a bit of a hurry to drive through Glacier National Park. The drive from the St Mary's Visitor Center to the border took only 15 minutes, much faster than we expected. We didn't really see any other cars either.
We arrived at the Carway border checkpoint at 4.40pm, and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere with no other cars at the border. We pulled up to the checkpoint and an officer asked us to turn off our engine as she looked through all our documents. We provided our passports, my green card, ArriveCAN receipt printout, vaccination cards, and PCR test results to the officer. She asked about our PCR test being a DNA test (no issue but it's just her first time seeing it), and also whose address we provided when on our ArriveCAN. That was it, all done within 5 min, quick and easy! This was our first time driving across a border so we were both excited that everything went so smoothly! Had to take photos with the Alberta sign to celebrate making it to Canada! =D
After crossing the border, we had to drive another 2.5 hours to get to Calgary. The road to Calgary was pretty much all farm lands. There weren't many cars either so it was an easy drive.
Stopped at A&W for a quick dinner. It's been a long time since I had A&W so I wanted some good ol' A&W root beer. We don't see a lot of A&W these days, but A&W is everywhere in Canada. I think we saw more A&Ws than McD in Canada. =P
After driving for 13 hours, we finally made it to hubby's friend's house in Calgary at 8pm. Thanks to Brantyn and Anna for hosting us for our first 2 nights in Canada.
Hubby has been playing video games with this friend for 15 years and this was the first time they met in person. Their 'LDR' was even longer than ours...lol!! Even though we had already done a PCR test before entering Canada and we were all fully vaccinated, we decided to do an additional rapid test ourselves as a courtesy. What an era we live in where lasting friendships can be built virtually, and when we have this rare opportunity to meet during a pandemic, we can all be courteous towards each other.
P.S. These Abbott rapid test kits were sold out everywhere, but we were lucky to get these at the Walmart close to Spokane airport before we left in the morning.
12 Sept 2021 (Sun): Calgary
Our first day in Canada was a chill and hangout day. All 4 of us are homebodies so we decided to stay in, and the boys played video games all day. Perfect way to rest and recover after our long driving day. We didn't even leave the house for food...lol!
That's all for our experience driving from US to Canada during a pandemic. Thankfully, everything went as planned and the border crossing was seamless. Stay tuned as we continue our journey to Banff National Park in the next post!
Daily maps of our road trip.