Learn to ski, pet a millipede, catch a fish, build a sandcastle, tackle a ropes course, camp out, stargaze, ride a horse or travel back in time: for a kid, a trip to BC is like going to the best summer camp ever.
Even better: the adventures here are the real thing. There's nothing themed, trademarked or pre-packaged about BC's family holiday experiences.
Here are just a few ideas:
Hit the beach: Long before it was “Napa North,” BC's Okanagan Valley was a favourite family holiday destination. It has miles of sandy beach, warm lake waters, orchards and fruit stands, beachside campsites, kid-friendly resorts and every kind of water fun, from sandcastle building to inner tubing to water-skiing. While you’re here, see if you can spot the elusive Ogopogo, an ancient lake monster said to live in the deep.
On beach-fringed Vancouver Island, the eastern shore has some of Canada’s warmest shallow waters and long stretches of bucket-and-spade beaches. Parksville, home to the beloved Rathtrevor Beach, is widely regarded as one of North America’s best family beach destinations. Vancouver Island’s west coast has big surf and, since there’s nothing between there and Japan, great beachcombing. At aptly named Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew on the Island’s southwestern shore, low tide reveals tidal pools rich with purple starfish and anemones.
Get on your bike … or canoe, or hit the hiking trail: There are plenty of easy, accessible routes into BC's outdoors, from stroller-friendly walking trails to car-free bike paths and sheltered canoeing and kayaking routes perfect for novice paddlers. Check out Victoria's Galloping Goose Trail, Vancouver's Seawall and Whistler's Valley Trail for walking and biking; paddlers can find sheltered routes in Indian Arm, the Sunshine Coast, the Gulf Islands or any of thousands of inland lakes.
Many resorts have organized kids’ programs, too, so Mom and Dad can, say, visit the wineries or hit the spa; at others, like Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre on Vancouver Island, parents and kids can learn outdoor skills together.
Go Underground: Vancouver Island’s Horne Lake Caves & Outdoor Centre, recognized as “Best Natural Outdoor Site in BC” by Attractions Canada, and Cody Caves Provincial Park near Kaslo in the Kootenay Rockies both have kid-friendly spelunking experiences. Also in the Kootenay Rockies, at the alpine-themed mountain village of Kimberley, families can ride the Sullivan Mine underground mining railway into the mountains, with a stop underground at the Underground Interpretive Centre. At the Britannia Mine Museum, in Britannia Beach, north of Vancouver, you can ride an underground mine train and visit the 20-storey Mill building (a National Historic Site). While there, you can even pan for real gold and explore the theatre, exhibits and mineral gallery in the new visitor centre.
Travel back in Time: Ride a stagecoach, shop in an old-fashioned candy store, take a class in a one-room schoolhouse or try panning for gold. At these two BC heritage towns, Barkerville Historic Town, in the Cariboo, and Fort Steele, in the Kootenay Rockies, actors playing shopkeepers, townsfolk and villains recreate life in a 19th century boomtowns.
Fort St. James, in Northern BC, and Fort Langley, near Vancouver, are both National Historic Sites recreating 19th century fur trade life; the 'Ksan Historical Village and Museum, in Hazleton, recreates a 200-year-old First Nations village.
Kids can take an even bigger step back in time — perhaps a few million years — at the Exploration Place Science Centre and Museum in Prince George. At the museum’s Paleontology Gallery, they can have their photo taken with a T-Rex skull or try fossil digging techniques. On Vancouver Island, the Courtenay and District Museum& Palaeontology Center, home to a collection of 80-million-year-old fossils and an actual elasmosaur skeleton, which was found in the area, offers guide-led digging trips to nearby fossil beds. And at the Tumbler Ridge Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Northern BC, you’ll find the largest exhibit of dinosaur footprints in Canada. Here, you’ll discover recreated dinosaur trackways, interactive displays and skeletons of the great beasts responsible for the prints. Dino enthusiasts will dig the 20-seat, touch-screen theatre, complete with views of paleontological finds; fossil fish, marine reptiles and prehistoric bones from the region, dating back 75 to 350 million years, are also decked out for viewing.
Meet the animals: You can pet a real millipede at Victoria's Bug Zoo, catch a dolphin show at Vancouver's Aquarium or see a whale breaching in the wild. BC has many opportunities to get up close and personal with animals and many wildlife viewing tours are suitable for kids.
Play Cowboy: Most of BC’s dozens of guest ranches welcome kids and offer lessons, rides and suitable mounts for all ages. Some, like Siwash Lake Ranch and The Hills Health Ranch, have organized activities, keeping kids entertained while parents ride or hit the spa.
Sing & Dance: Check the calendar for annual children's festivals in Vancouver, Victoria and other towns, where well-known children's entertainers perform live for their young audiences. Also watch for the sandcastle competition in Parksville, as well as any of the many outdoor folk, roots and country festivals around the province — many of these have kids' stages, too.
Play in the snow: At BC’s ski resorts, you'll find quality daycare, kids' lessons, bunny hills and magic carpets; not to mention horse-drawn sleigh rides, Santa’s workshops, outdoor ice skating, snowshoe treks with marshmallow roasts, doglsedding and snow tubing. Off piste, kids can skate among twinkling lights at The Butchart Gardens’ outdoor rink near Victoria, or see the winter wonderlands of Christmas Light displays at Vancouver’s Stanley Park and VanDusen Botanical Gardens. In the weeks before Christmas, Carol Ships, a Vancouver tradition, fill the harbour with water-born carol concerts.