The Canadian Hostelling Assn. and American Youth Hostels have published a free handbook that provides information on the 280 hostels north of Mexico. Copies can be obtained by members of either association.
About 70 are across Canada, from Whitehorse in the Yukon to downtown Toronto. Featuring dormitory-type accommodations, they average $8 to $12 per night. Although there are no age restrictions, most guests are in their teens or early 20s.
Some locations are summer-only arrangements at student residences or YMCAs, but most are permanent buildings, often with historic or other interesting aspects.
Among the offerings:
--The big news in Atlantic Canada is a new 20-bed hostel in Fundy National Park, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides. There are five other hostel facilities in New Brunswick, the most unusual being Campbellton--a lighthouse.
--A makeshift hostel is due to open in the spectacular Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island has a year-round hostel in a big green, barn-style building near Charlottetown. Nova Scotia has six hostels, from a turn-of-the-century building in Halifax to a quaint 100-year-old farmhouse in Wentworth, an area known for its hiking and blueberries.
--Quebec has one of the most developed networks with 16 outlets, including one in Tadoussac, where the Saguenay River meets the St. Lawrence, a whale-watching area.
--Ontario has eight hostels, including one that's a 20-minute walk from Niagara Falls. Also, one is a log cabin in Goderich and one is in Ottawa--a former jail that charges about $11 per person per night.
--Winnipeg's hostel is in a central Victorian-style house that offers a good base for attending the summer folk festivals. Regina's Turgeon Hostel, one of the most outstanding of all hostels, is a National Heritage property in one of the city's most attractive areas.
--Alberta has 16 hostels, most nestled in the Canadian Rockies. Visitors can look forward to a new 100-bed hostel that's under construction in Lake Louise. It should be ready for next year's ski season.
--British Columbia has four hostels--in Vancouver, Victoria (on Vancouver Island), Yoho National Park and a lake in the popular Whistler ski area.
For details on hostel membership ($10 to $25 per year) and the handbook, contact American Youth Hostels, 1434 2nd St., Santa Monica 90401, (213) 393-1769.
The handbook also lists addresses of provincial and state tourist offices, which provide information and maps.
Since a number of the hostels are in popular Canadian parks, a good source of information on 37 of the most popular parks across the country--with hiking, adventure and camping information--is "The Outdoor Traveler's Guide--Canada," by David Dunbar ($22.95, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang).
Air Canada is offering a special fare to young travelers until Sept. 30. Those between 12 and 21 years can get a 45% reduction on regular, economy and one-way fares for Canadian flights and for travel between Canada and the United States.
Youth fares allow more flexibility inasmuch as they can be purchased within five days in advance, providing space is still available.
However, youth fares are not always the most inexpensive fares available. Young travelers should always check special rates and offerings from all airlines.