If you’re itching to take an international trip, but don’t want to travel too far from home, the border between the United States and Canada might have just the destination you’re looking for. From lakes and parklands to historical towns, this international border offers plenty of low-key sights that are well worth a trip.
Check out these nine cool, off-the-radar locales along the U.S.-Canadian border for your next trip.
Saganaga Lake, Minnesota – Ontario border
You don’t always have to take to the open road to cross international borders – just look at Saganaga Lake on the border of Minnesota and Ontario. This protected wilderness area showcases the best of Mother Nature on both sides of the border. Canoeing is popular here, as is fishing while staying in a nearby cabin. If you’re looking to escape it all during your border trip, the tranquil waters of Saganaga Lake are your best bet. Nearby Seagull Lake is also worth a stop for avid fishers.
A Canadian city to the south of the U.S. border? That’s what you’ll find across the Detroit River in Michigan, where the Ontario city of Windsor sits to the south of Motor City. American visitors can easily cross into the country through the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, then explore local attractions like scenic Ganatchio Trail, the waterfront Odette Sculpture Park and local whiskey distillery Canadian Club Brand Centre. If Lady Luck is on your side, don’t miss Caesars Windsor, a favorite with international gamblers as the Canadian government does not tax winnings.
Windsor is especially worth a visit at the beginning of July, when the city joins with Detroit to celebrate Canada Day (July 1) and Independence Day (July 4) in a cross-border celebration known as the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival. Fireworks light up the river and can be seen from both cities, and Windsor celebrates with rides, games and concessions at its summer Midway.
About 25 minutes north of the Rock Island border crossing between Vermont and Quebec, the quaint town of Magog is known as one of the province’s most renowned resort towns. Offering plenty of wide, open spaces and no shortage of opportunities for recreational activities, Magog is a border town built for the active traveler. Warm months are best enjoyed with a hike on one of the local trails or a bike ride along the peaceful blue waters of Lake Memphremagog. Winter transforms Magog into a snow sports mecca, as inches of powdery snow fall on the mountains and hills throughout the town and beckon snowboarders and skiers from around the world.
St. Catharines, Ontario
About 20 minutes outside of what is possibly the most famous destination along the U.S.-Canadian border (Niagara Falls), the Canadian city of St. Catharines makes a fantastic home base for those looking to explore the falls without staying in the heart of the touristy area. St. Catharines offers a surprising variety of attractions to entice visitors, including world-class vineyards, a thriving arts scene, diverse dining options and more than 1,000 acres of green public space. Outdoor adventures abound here, whether you enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, boating or wind surfing. Thrill seekers can also take advantage of the local sky diving options. Must-visit attractions include the summertime favorite of Port Dalhousie, the whimsical trails of Shorthills Provincial Park and the iconic Welland Canal.
Fort Frances, Ontario and International Falls, Minnesota
Culture, history and outdoor activities are the staples of a visit to Fort Frances. Visitors can explore a 19th-century schoolhouse while visiting the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre, while the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre offers an in-depth look at Canada’s aboriginal history through recreated villages and exhibits. The LaVerendrye Parkway lets you explore the U.S.-Canadian border of Rainy River while walking, jogging or bicycling along paved paths, but you can also get a good look at the river as you cross the border while walking across the Fort Frances-International Falls International Bridge. While International Falls has earned the nickname of the “Icebox of the Nation” for its record-breaking low temperature, the town is still worth a visit for outdoor enthusiasts and those who loved “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” whose fictional setting of Frostbite Falls was inspired by Minnesota’s International Falls.
Abbotsford, British Columbia
Mere miles from the British Columbia–Washington border, the city of Abbotsford is one of the easiest ways to get a look at Canada’s agricultural industry without venturing too far from the U.S. border. Abbotsford’s countryside is lined with farms, and the city’s self-published Circle Farm Tour is a great starting point for enjoying the most the local farms have to offer. A tour of the area will likely include fresh cheeses, boutique wineries and an afternoon of apple picking. The city itself offers far more than farm-fresh goodies, though. Museums, art galleries and theater performances welcome visitors, and fine dining and shopping opportunities are plentiful, too.
Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec
The border that separates the sleepy towns of Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec was historically non-existent: Locals went so far as to build their homes right on the so-called border line. Today, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House still straddles the line, and visitors will quickly find themselves crossing the border (marked with a thick black line throughout the building) to check out books or find their seat for the evening’s opera. Although the U.S. has stepped up its efforts to maintain the border in this small town, Derby Line remains one of the most unique towns along the U.S.-Canadian border.
Less than 10 miles south of the Canadian border, the town of Eureka is nothing short of scenic. There’s no doubt that Eureka’s heart is in its small town charm, from the sleepy general stores that line the main street to the awe-inspiring views of Montana’s famed forests, lakes and wildlife that surround the town. The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail runs right through the town, and the wilderness of Eureka’s Ten Lakes Scenic Area is also well worth the stop.
St. Stephen, New Brunswick and Calais, Maine
The coastal Maine town of Calais sits across from the Canadian town of St. Stephen, and its small town charm and laid-back ambiance welcome visitors from both sides of the border. Visit a lighthouse, stay at a bed and breakfast, refuel at a nostalgic diner and enjoy the views at St. Croix Island Historical Site before crossing the bridge into St. Stephen, where a Chocolate Museum and tasty treats await downtown.
(Main image: Franco Folini used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)