Whistler Blackcomb Resort (Toshi Kawano photo)
British Columbia is a playground for all ages – and families will find activities to suit everyone, from thrilling adventure to fun and educational.
Pick up a surfboard and spend the day learning to ride waves, or get splashed on bumpy sections of a river rafting trip. Race each other on ziplines high above the forest, or connect over a visit to a guest ranch, where quality time is spent horseback riding or fishing.
Winter brings snow – and plenty of family fun at BC’s ski resorts: ski or tube down the mountain, or bundle up and get cozy on a sleigh ride. Rainy day? Poke around interesting museums, discover marine life at interactive aquariums, or hop aboard a historic train or tiny harbour ferry for a neat day trip.
For a list of family fun itineraries by region, visit Trip Ideas.
Family Day 2013
In 2013, BC will celebrate its first-ever Family Day (a statutory holiday) on February 11th. In honour of this, many BC ski resorts are offering half-price lift tickets to BC residents on that day. Visit Canada West Ski Areas Association for more details.
Winter brings universal fun, and BC ski resorts and mountains are the perfect places to enjoy it. Hit the slopes or brush up on skills at a camp (some offer lessons for kids as young as two). Terrain parks are ideal for adventurous teens, and après-ski movie nights and marshmallow roasts help round out the day.
Fly down groomed lanes in a slick tube or crazy carpet. Tube parks require no experience and are big on fun. Where to tube? Whistler Blackcomb Resort offers 304-m/1,000-ft of lanes, Big White Ski Resort has the largest resort tubing park in Canada, and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has 70’s disco tubing every Saturday night. Vancouver’s three local mountains all have tube parks within a short drive from the city.
Other winter ideas? Plough through soft powder on snowshoes or get cozy on a sleigh ride. Snowshoes are easy to master, and most trails have varying degrees of difficulty and family-specific programs and guided tours.
Or simply enjoy thousands of bright, twinkling lights (and hot chocolate) at many of the Christmas-themed nights around BC, including Bright Nights in Stanley Park, The Magic of Christmas at The Butchart Gardens and Wildlights Festival at the BC Wildlife Park.
Don a headlamp and explore BC’s underground – caving combines fascinating adventure with education. Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park on Vancouver Island features self-guided and guided family tours, plus an educational centre for the curious. Cave-shy? Those not wanting to venture underground can simulate the experience at Canada’s only “Cave Theatre.”
Guest and Dude Ranches
Spend quality time together outdoors – away from modern distractions – at a guest or dude ranch. Ride horses, swim in nearby lakes, help with ranch chores, camp under the stars, or fish, canoe and bike. Special kids (and parents) activities, daycare and outdoor adventure will keep everyone entertained.
Three Bars Guest Ranch was voted “North America’s Best Family Dude Ranch” in 2011 by Rustic Vacations. Other family-centered ranches include Free Rein, Big Bar, Echo Valley and Spring Lake Ranch.
Consider surfing for the next family vacation – the beach is ideal for spending leisurely days, and BC’s surf schools and camps make riding waves possible for nearly everyone: kids as young as five can take lessons. Wave-tossed Tofino and Ucluelet have beaches and surf schools for all skill levels, while a surf shop in Masset offers clam digging and interpretive walks alongside lessons.
There’s adrenalin for the whole family on a river rafting trip, from gentle floats on Class 1 rivers to heart-pumping Class 3 and 4 white-water stretches. Kids too small to raft? Discover wilderness hikes, try fishing or unwind at scenic base camps – most rafting companies offer a range of activities.
Gondolas and air trams help access BC’s higher adventures – and make a fun ride too. Take Whistler’s PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola for bragging rights aboard the world’s longest unsupported span; descend over a gorge funneling powerful Fraser River waters; or enjoy the scenery en route to Canada's highest-elevation restaurant at Kicking Horse Resort.
Ziplining in BC means exhilarating, easy rides (sometimes against each other) over stunning landscapes. And WildPlay Element Parks bring out the kid in everyone with tree-top obstacle courses and even a 33-m/110-ft swing that arcs above the park.
Get the whole family acquainted with BC’s wildlife at aquariums, zoos, marine centres, and on wildlife viewing excursions. Most offer an educational component.
Learn about indigenous species at the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, visit resident grizzlies at Grouse Mountain and Kicking Horse Resort, or hang out with dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium. Kids can inspect rare insects and creepy crawlies at the Victoria Bug Zoo and The Exploration Place in Prince George; ”adopt” a rattlesnake at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos; or hold slimy marine life unique to the Salish Sea at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney.
Looking to splash around underwater? Try snorkelling with seals in Nanaimo, or with salmon in Bella Coola – participants must be able to swim (parental supervision may be required).
Trains and Boats
Hop aboard one of BC’s historic steam engines and watch a convincing re-enactment of a train robbery, ride over tall wooden trestles, sip hot chocolate on a Christmas-themed train, journey to a “steam” sawmill, or wind through a former gold rush boomtown.
Tiny harbour ferries in Vancouver and Victoria are a unique alternative to get from place to place – and front-row ocean views make spotting marine life easy. Choose a paddlewheeler tour and experience how pioneers once travelled, or ply the waters with Pirate Adventures to walk the plank and scour for treasures onboard a 15-m/50-ft ship in Victoria’s Inner Harbour (summers only).
BC’s history runs the gamut from gold rush to fossils – and historic sites (many interactive) make great places for family bonding. Sift through treasures at unique local museums, hike to dinosaur footprints and well-preserved fossil beds, pan for gold, ride rail cars into dark mining shafts, wander through a replicated ancient First Nations village or step back in time circa the 1800s at heritage sites Barkerville, Fort Langley and Fort Steele.
Festivals and Events
Discover children’s festivals in cities across BC with performances and entertainers for young audiences, and don't miss the Parksville Beach Festival where sandcastles take on intricate (and big!) forms. There are lots of other festivals with kids’ programs too.