Mar 212015

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.  Easter is one of the 10 heaviest travel days in the U.S.   Generally speaking, the delays entering the U.S. are longer than the delays entering Canada.

Your Traffic Avoidance Game Plan

  •  As a general rule, traffic is lighter in the mornings and tends to build throughout the day.  As always, your best chance to avoid long border wait times is to arrive at the border before 7 am or after 8 pm. For example, the U.S. CBP has typically opened up all lanes at Peace arch starting at 6:oo am on Good Friday.
  • If possible, use a smaller alternative border crossing rather than the major ports.
  • Use NEXUS if everybody in the vehicle is a cardholder
  • Always check out the current border wait times for the port you plan to use before hitting the road.
  • Winter driving conditions can change rapidly so you will want to keep an eye on our road conditions page as you near trip time.

Special Customs Inspection Tips

Being prepared can make a big difference in how quickly you get through the border inspection.

  • Be prepared to detail any gifts you are bringing with you and, on your return, those you have have received.  You may have to pay duty on gifts if they exceed your personal exemption. Bring gift receipts with you.  Read through our pages on “Clearing Customs” and “How Much You Will Owe.”  We  also have a Duty Calculator for Canadian residents.
  • Do not wrap your gifts!  The border inspection officer can make you unwrap them for inspection.  One thing you can try is to leave one end open for inspection, but it is better to wrap gifts when you arrive at your destination.
  • Prohibited Items – make sure you read through our material on  prohibited items.  During the holiday season border inspectors seizes higher quantities of foreign fruits, vegetables, meats and animal/plant products.  Fresh fruits and vegetables grown outside of the U.S. or Canada are typically prohibited.  However, even some Canadian and U.S. grown fruits and vegetables may not be allowed.  For example, Mandarin or “Christmas” oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit and pomelo cannot be brought into the U.S.  Failure to declare prohibited agriculture products or food items can result in fines up to $1,000 so be careful.
  • As you approach the border, make sure you have a reasonably full tank of gas and that everybody has used a restroom recently in case you get stuck in a long backup.
  • Prepare for your border crossing by reviewing pages on the border crossing experience, and required documentation.
  • 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 prior years, U.S. Customs has seized more than 60,000 Kinder Eggs from travelers’ baggage and from international mail shipments.
  • If you are carrying plants or flowers, be sure to declare them as plant material is specifically subject to inspection.

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.

Special Law Enforcement

Many border states step up law enforcement over long weekends such as these.  Police  in New York, Ontario, and Quebec usually 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.  Prior years have seen as much as 1,100 tickets 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.