Trip Ideas

Vancouver Island Family Activities

The east coast of Vancouver Island, from Duncan to Comox, is ground zero for family adventure. See dinosaur bones, explore caves, snorkel with seals, go ziplining between trees or chill out at a sandy beach or a family-friendly resort.


49.320591,-124.267058|48.803698,-123.714516|49.167135,-123.93516|49.353923,-124.457002|49.712271,-124.956968|49.67128,-124.927515|49.892229,-125.653689

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8 49.320591,-124.267058|48.803698,-123.714516|49.167135,-123.93516|49.353923,-124.457002|49.712271,-124.956968|49.67128,-124.927515|49.892229,-125.653689
MAP LEGEND
  1. Parksville
  2. Duncan
  3. Nanaimo
  4. Qualicum Beach
  5. Courtenay
  6. Comox
  7. Strathcona Provincial Park

Duncan and Nanaimo

BC Forest Discovery. Photo Credit: Kalevi Sissonen

Explore trestle bridges, trains and timber at the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan, about an hour south of Nanaimo. Ride a train, check out the many indoor and outdoor displays - including an impressive collection of locomotives - and see what life was like in a logging camp in the 1930s. 

 
Next, head to the historic seaside city of Nanaimo, where the ferry from Vancouver arrives. Visit the Sports Hall of Fame exhibit in the Nanaimo Museum, then stroll to the waterfront for a cannon-firing demonstration at the Nanaimo Bastion, a 160-year-old fortress.
 
For an energetic day out, tackle the aerial adventure course at WildPlay Element Parks, where ziplines, bridges and rope swings are suspended high in the trees (daring parents can try bungy jumping), or head out to the harbour to snorkel with seals (Sundown Diving offers snorkelling trips). In summer, hop the Nanaimo Harbour Ferry for a day of biking, hiking and beachcombing on Newcastle Island, a car-free island in the harbour.
 
Book your family’s overnight stay at a suite overlooking the harbour at the historic Best Western Plus, Dorchester Hotel. In the morning, it’s French toast at Mon Petit Choux, a French bakery and café near the harbour. For lunch, grab burgers at Tina’s Diner, an authentic 1950s diner downtown, or take the kids on a fun passenger-ferry ride to the Dinghy Dock Pub, Canada’s only floating pub and restaurant.
 
A great time to visit Nanaimo is during the World Championship Bathtub Race, part of July’s annual Nanaimo Marine Festival. Watch competitors race bathtubs around the harbour.

Parksville and Qualicum Beach

Parksville Area. Photo Credit: Paul Horsley/All Canada Photo

 

Just north of Nanaimo is a long string of pristine beaches linking Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Nanoose Bay.
 
With its wide sandy beach and warm water, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is a top spot for beachcombing with the family at Parksville. Build sandcastles at the beach, play a game of mini-golf in Parksville or drive to nearby Coombs to see goats grazing on the sod-topped roof of the Old Country Market. Take the family sea kayaking in Nanoose Bay or go below in the Horne Lake Caves on a family spelunking tour at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park.
 
Where to feed an adventure-filled family? Lefty’s restaurant, with locations in Parksville and Qualicum Beach, serves up tasty burgers, wraps and potato wedges, and Morningstar Farm is known for its yummy artisanal cheeses and fun farm tours.
 
For overnights, a cottage at a seaside resort is a good option. Try Oceanside Village Resort – it has an indoor pool, a beach and private patios. Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort has a mile of sandy oceanfront, a lavish spa complete with mineral pool and waterfall, and a roster of kids’ and family activities ranging from swim lessons to campfire stories.

Courtenay and Comox

Further up island are the outdoorsy twin towns of Courtenay and Comox. At Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community in Courtenay, villas with kitchens overlook the fairways. When mom or dad aren’t golfing, the family can hike and bike at nearby Mount Washington Alpine Resort (the Tread Shed at the base of the mountain rents downhill bikes and accessories). In downtown Courtenay, check out the Elasmosaur (a dinosaur-era sea creature) skeleton at the Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre, then stop at the Atlas Café, a popular local hangout nearby, for quesadillas and peanut stir-fries.

Strathcona Provincial Park

Mountainous Strathcona Provincial Park is a great place for families to connect with the wilderness. At Strathcona Park Lodge the whole family can try rock climbing, tree climbing, kayaking and survival skills with expert guides. Race your kids across the ropes course then relax in the wood-fired sauna on the beach.

Vancouver Island Transportation

BC Ferries sail from Horseshoe Bay (just north of Vancouver) and Tsawwassen (south of Vancouver) to Nanaimo several times a day. Ferries from Powell River (on the Sunshine Coast) sail to Comox four times daily. For a scenic and quick trip, Harbour Air, Westcoast Air and Seair Seaplanes fly from Vancouver harbour to Nanaimo harbour in just 20 minutes.