Mar 212016

The long Easter weekend is celebrated in both the United States and Canada, producing much higher travel volumes at most border crossings between the countries.  This is especially true in 2013 as U.S. budget cuts have reduced overtime Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers.  Generally speaking, the delays entering the U.S. are longer than the delays entering Canada.

Peak Easter Weekend Traffic Periods

Many Canadians have either 3 or 4 day holidays depending on which province they reside in.   Many businesses are closed on Good Friday that is the start of the heavy traffic.   Noon on Friday is the peak for many ports but traffic will be much heavier than usual throughout the entire weekend and on Monday.

Thousand Islands Bridge in New York has seen vehicles backed up to Highway 401.  Travelers entering the U.S.  have had to wait up to two hours Friday and Saturday because of heavy southbound traffic from Canada.

Lewiston-Queenston bridge – at times on Friday mornings and afternoons wait times into the U.S. have been up to 2 1/2 hours.

The Peace Bridge and Rainbow Bridge have seen wait times of up to 1 1/2 hours on Good Friday.   There are fewer delay heading into Canada than into the U.S.

In the New York Niagara Area your best bet is generally to use the Whirlpool Bridge if all passengers have a NEXUS card. Second choice is usually the Rainbow bridge.

Major ports such as Peace Arch in Washington State have traditionally experienced peak wait times longer than 3 hours.  The Peace Arch and the Blaine Pacific Truck Crossing are typically the busiest border crossings in Washington State. Consider using the Lynden / Aldergrove or Sumas / Abbotsford-Huntingdon ports.   In past years, travelers waited more than three hours and 20 minutes at noon on Good Friday at Peace Arch.   However, as wait times at the Peace Arch and Pacific crossings decreased during the day, they got longer at Lynden and Sumas.  These smaller ports have fewer lanes.  At 3pm, Peace Arch reported a 50-minute delay and the Pacific crossing wait was just under two hours. Lynden and Sumas crossings were both reporting waits of more than three hours.

Your Traffic Avoidance Game Plan

  • Your best chance to avoid traffic is to arrive at the border before 7 am or after 8 pm.   Some ports will open additional lanes at earlier times than usual.  For example, the U.S. CBP has typically opened up all lanes at Peace arch starting at 6:oo am on Good Friday.
  • Consider alternate ports of entry that may be less heavily used.
  • Think about making an overnight stay on Thursday or returning mid-day Monday to avoid fighting peak periods.
  • Use NEXUS if everybody in the vehicle is a cardholder
  • Customs typically opens all available lanes and adds staff to handle the heavy traffic over the weekend.  You should be prepared to move into lanes that might not normally be open.
  • Always check out the current border wait times on before hitting the road.
  • Visitors and returning residents should prepare for the inspection process before arriving at the inspection booth. Have your crossing documents available for presentation and be prepared to declare all relevant items.
  • If you are carrying plants or flowers, be sure to declare them as plant material is specifically subject to inspection.
  • Do not try to bring any Kinder Surprise eggs into the United States.   U.S. Customs considers these chocolate treats a dangerous choking threat because of the small plastic toy inside.  In 2011, U.S. Customs seized more than 60,000 Kinder Eggs from travelers’ baggage and from international mail shipments.

Special Law Enforcement

Many border states step up law enforcement over long weekends such as these.  Police  in New York, Ontario, and Quebec will coordinate an extensive traffic enforcement initiative called “Safety Without Borders” all around the U.S. / Canada border.  They will be focusing on violations such as speeding, cell phone use, texting, impaired driving, and  failure to wear safety restraints.  In 2011, more than 1,100 tickets were issued during a single day.  There will be special attention around the New York ports in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Thousand Islands, and Blackpool / Champlain.  Commercial vehicles will also be subject to heightened inspection activity to ensure they are in proper working order.

Ferry Service

Ferry services also experience heavier traffic during the Easter holidays.  Washington BC Ferries have traditionally been busy on Good Friday, with delays reported throughout the day.  You should consider making advance reservations, or plan to show up about an hour before departure time. Foot passengers should be at the terminal about 40 minutes ahead of departure.

According to BC Ferries, the historically busiest sailings over the Easter long weekend are:

  • Vancouver-Victoria: 7 a.m. to noon Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay on Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay on Monday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen on Monday.
  • Vancouver-Nanaimo: 3:15 p.m. Duke Point-Tsawwassen on Monday.
  • Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo: 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay on Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay on Monday.
  • Horseshoe Bay-Sunshine Coast: 12:20 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. Langdale-Horseshoe Bay on Sunday, 10:20 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Langdale-Horseshoe Bay on Monday.

Make sure you are prepared for your border crossing by reviewing pages on the border crossing experience, prohibited items, and required documentation. You should always check our page for the specific port you are going to use to see if there are any traffic alerts or updates on wait times.