BC’s New Family Friendly Holiday

British Columbia has a new holiday that celebrates families. “Family Day” will occur on the second Monday of February, starting this year (2013).

Here’s a quick round up of events that will happen next Monday throughout BC, including street entertainment and face painting in Vancouver, all-ages concerts in Victoria and free skating in Nanaimo.

Family activities such as skiing and snowboarding on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, ziplining and ice skating are always on the menu at Whistler and on Family Day, many local activity operators are offering discounts on these experiences.

Whistler Blackcomb is offering half-price lift tickets to B.C. residents on Monday, February 11 and including a free drop-in craft station at Millennium Place, kids’ yoga jam at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and Park Rider Ski and Snowboard Sessions.

The Whistler Museum is offering entry by donation on February 11 while the Meadow Park Sports Centre (my favorite! I love the kids’ pool) is offering family drop-in rates at half the regular price. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is offering discounted family admission passes February 9 and 10.

Now this sounds like a holiday we could all enjoy (hint, hint Washington & Oregon legislators).

Tofino with Kids: Advice from a dad insider

Tofino BC with Kids

Tofino with Kids

Tofino is where wilderness and luxury meet. It’s a wave-washed destination where even the public campgrounds are never far from million-dollar views.

John Platenius is the parent of two children (ages 5 and 7) and a resident of Tofino, a top summer vacation spot along Vancouver Island’s western shore. Platenius has just put out a fine new book on the region, Tofino Guide, retailing for $19.95. Read more at his Tofino-focused website or leave questions below in the comments.

Here are Platenius’ tips on things to do with kids in Tofino, his recommendations for great hotels and campgrounds, and even the best hiking trail with a preschooler. (Photo at right, Platenius’s son playing on a Tofino beach)

1. Can you recommend a good Tofino hotel, if you’re staying with kids?

Platenius: Oh oh — prepare yourself for long answer, because there are so many great hotels and resorts in Tofino. Most people come here for the beaches, so it’s a natural fit to recommend a place located on one of the beaches. I can truly say that you can’t go wrong by any of the hotels and resorts that are located on a beach. For many families visiting Tofino, price is the main determining factor. Luckily for budget travelers, our peak season of July and August is relatively short, and there are incredible deals outside of these months. If adventurous families want to come to Tofino in the winter months, they can find a room or even a cabin at a luxury resort for $100 per night — and that’s for a stupendous beach location with cushy amenities!

The most established family-oriented hotel and resort on the beach is Pacific Sands Beach Resort. It’s located on Cox Bay and is a great choice. But it really comes down to taste and what’s available at the time. Pacific Sand’s neighbors, Cox Bay Beach Resort and Long Beach Lodge get rave reviews and are equally stunning in terms of location and amenities.

Chesterman Beach only has one hotel, the Wickaninnish Inn. The Wick is a Relais and Chateâux property and it’s the definition of luxury. My family goes there for coffee fairly often to take in the incredible atmosphere and feel special. If price is not your determining factor for accommodation, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. They have a kid-friendly   special called “Wick Kids” which has a kid-version of a gift basket and they offer complimentary child care when guests dine at their restaurant perched over the Pacific.

And then there is MacKenzie Beach, which has two places that I often recommend — again depending on the price and need for amenities. Middle Beach Lodge is an established resort that offers an out-of-this world experience. It was built with heritage materials and is appointed with marine antiques and artifacts that create a warm and relaxing mood. The owner likes to quote a writer who visited there and said “Ralph Lauren would be happy here,” and I too think that’s a great description. Middle Beach has a good approach to welcoming kids to a resort, with family-specific cabins, which are located a great distance from their adult-specific lodge. It’s a 40-acre property, so there’s lots of room for everyone.

The last place I’d recommend on the beach is Ocean Village Beach Resort on MacKenzie Beach. It was recently purchased by a green development team that revitalized the property. It is one of the few places in Tofino that has an indoor swimming pool. It also has an expansive lawn that leads down to the sandy beach, which makes it very attractive to families with wee ones.

OK – there’s one more on MacKenzie Beach that I should mention: Crystal Cove Resort. This place has an awesome private play park for kids. While it is mostly set-up for RVs, they have some really nifty cabins for rent that are built up on stilts, so it feels like your sleeping in a tree fort.

It’s also important to point out that many families choose to stay in vacation rentals — entire houses that have been set up for nightly rentals. My family loves to stay in a vacation rental when we travel, because we can cook our own food, and the kids have more space to roam around and play freely. Most of the resorts that I mentioned above have cabins that they rent in this fashion and there’s two large vacation rental management companies in town: Tofino Vacation Rentals and Tofino Beach Homes. Additionally there are over 100 privately owned vacation rentals in Tofino, so there are tons of options available.


2. Which beach is the best for toddlers or preschoolers visiting Tofino?

Platenius: In my mind, all beaches are great for young ones. Exploring, digging, boogie boarding, skipping rope with bull kelp — what fun! In Tofino Guide, I recommend MacKenzie Beach as the calmest beach for toddlers looking to wade around in the water. It’s relatively protected from the swell and wind, which generally makes for calmer water. There’s also some spectacular tidepools at one end of the beach that make for wonderful exploring if it’s a low tide. Kids love to squish their fingers into sea anemones and giggle as the alien-like blob squirts out water and closes it’s tentacles.

3. Can you recommend any family Tofino/Ucluelet restaurants where you can take kids?

Platenius: Ooooh. That’s a tough one. Most of the restaurants in Tofino are attractive for families, and all of them are good. Three come to mind, and I’ll explain the perks of each. All three give crayons and have kid-friendly choices.

SoBo — which stands for Sophisticated Bohemian — is run by parents of two young ones, so it’s a natural first choice. The owners recently commissioned a local father to build an attractive but functional play toy for kids to use on their patio. He built a mini replica of the purple bus that they used to operate out of when they first opened and it’s a great draw for kids. Our kids love to eat lunch at this restaurant, and they usually order a kid-friendly version of their miso oudon noodle soup. SoBo’s polenta fries are practically a staple for many Tofino families.

Shelter Restaurant is another great choice for kids, especially for lunch. It’s a bit darker, and more lounge-like than the other three, which I think can be fun for kids to experience. They have the best booths in Tofino — big and cushy. They also play surf movies on four or five TVs, which my kids love to watch. The kid’s pizza there is a great choice.

And then there’s the restaurant at the Weigh West Marine Resort, which has been around for a long time. It’s perched right over the water on wooden pilings, so kids can lean over the window and watch the marine life below. It’s common to see river otters and sea lions swimming right by your window, and you can watch the star fish clinging to the pilings. You are literally dining in an intertidal zone! The kids fish and chips is great, and it’s a good value too.

4. What is your favorite hiking trail in the area (that would be suitable for a family with young kids), and why?

Platenius: The Rainforest Trail, Loop B is my first choice. It’s about one kilometer long (0.6 miles), which I find a perfect distance for my 5-year-old daughter. The entire loop is boardwalked, which makes for easy walking, and there are great interpretive signs about the temperate rainforest ecosystem. One section of the trail crosses a ravine by way of a huge log that fell who-knows how long ago, which impresses the kids and the adults in the crew.

5. Can you recommend a favorite family-friendly campsite near Tofino? Why is it good for kids?

Platenius: Before I answer this one, I should mention that if families are looking to camp in Tofino in July or August, they should make reservations well in advance.

All of the campgrounds are family friendly, but I think Green Point Campground, in the Pacific Rim National Park is probably the top choice for families. It’s situated up above Long Beach, which is about a five-minute walk from most campsites. The reason I choose this one is because it gets you away from it all, but still has all the amenities you’d expect at a campground. Because it’s in the National Park, it’s significantly cheaper than the others. There’s a theater in the campground that hosts naturalists and park staff who present evening shows on topics like black bears, gray whales and the local indigenous culture.

Kid-friendly Resorts of Vancouver Island

Family resorts of Vancouver Island

Family resorts of Vancouver Island: Tofino

Smart Vancouver families in the know have already made their reservations for Vancouver Island. Want to play catch-up?

I pulled together a selection of ultra-deluxe Vancouver Island resorts and affordable family accommodations, as I’m doing my own research for a trip through Vancouver Island. I found plenty of resorts where children are definitely NOT welcome; one said that kids were welcome to use the pool — for exactly three hours per day!

I’ve mostly listed upcoming high season prices. On Vancouver Island, high season runs roughly from June 25-early September. Shoulder seasons will offer savings between 10-25%. Winter season will offer discounts of up to 25-50%. You’ll find a similar pricing structure when you go to book your travel via BC Ferries, which offers car, pedestrian and bicycle transportation to Vancouver Island and the Gulf Coast Islands.

Confused about where, exactly, you’ll find the towns mentioned? I created a map:

View Vancouver Island on a larger map.

Photo above: Courtesy of Pacific Sands Beach Resort, Tofino, British Columbia.

Vancouver Island Family Vacation Resorts:

Parksville Family Resorts

This is the most popular Vancouver Island beachside town for families. Featuring warmer water, sandy beaches, easy access to Vancouver and Victoria and plenty of family activities, Parksville serves up a treasure of a destination.

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort. On the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, this family resort boasts full-fledged family packages, an outdoor playground and indoor pool, plus 3 kilometres of sandy beach. Many cottage-style and suite-style units provide full kitchens and spacious living areas for family relaxation. To top it of, Tigh-Na-Mara offers kids-eat-free hours (5-6 p.m.) at the restaurants, a children’s menu, coupons for free activities, children’s playground and a free summer drop-in children’s program. Rates: From $207/night in high season (summer).

Beach Acres Resort. Near the mild-mannered Rathtrevor Beach, this Parksville kid-friendly resort hosts families in cottages and townhouses, while entertaining kids of all ages. Weekday activities for kids ages 5 and up include craft afternoons, pizza and movie nights, family camp fires with s’mores; for kids age 10 and up, there’s mini-golf adventure, sports tournaments and pizza and movie nights. There’s an indoor pool, lots of sports activities (volleyball, tennis, badminton, horseshoes!), and a children’s playground. Rates: From $259/night in high season.

Ocean Trails. For active family vacationers who don’t need many services, Ocean Trails may be one of your best options. This resort lays out multiple sports activities (basketball, tennis, volleyball) on-site, offers a children’s playground, is surrounded by 7 acres of green space. You’re close to Rathtrevor Beach, and rates here are lower than many other resorts. No restaurant available, so bring your own food for your kitchen-equipped condo. Rates: From $149/night in high season.

Beach Club Resort. Just steps from your hotel room, you’ll wade into the warmest ocean swimming water in Canada. Explore marine life in the tidepools or create sandcastles on the wide, flat beaches. If it’s a rainy day out, dive into the indoor pool or relax in your room (1 and 2-bedroom, villas and suites available). Babysitting/child-minding services and a children’s menu available. Rates: Start at about $300/night.

 

Campbell River, British Columbia Resorts

Campbell River is known as the “Salmon Fishing Capital of the World,” but it doesn’t just reel in fish fanatics. Head here for wildlife-watching, farmers’ markets and a laid-back lifestyle.

Painter’s Lodge. Painter’s Lodge attracts fishing enthusiasts but welcomes children as well. Kids can play the Wii in the activity centre, pick up their kids’ package upon check in (it contains a coloring book and other little things) or meet a childminder or babysitter if the parents are off on a fishing excursion. A tennis court and outdoor pool are keep-em-busy options when the weather’s nice. A solid family accommodations option: the large loft-style room featuring two twins upstairs and a queen bed downstairs. Rates: From $148/night in high season.

North Vancouver Island Resorts

With working-class villages and whale-watching opportunities, North Vancouver Island’s quiet, rugged pleasures are perfect for a low-key vacation.

Telegraph Cove Resort. Most families coming this far north up Vancouver Island are here for whale-watching, kayaking and hiking. Set down your tent on the resort’s campground, or settle in to one of the eclectic cabins, houses or inn-style rooms (the resort is at the site of an early-20th-century village).  You won’t find anything catering to kids beyond a swingset on a field and a few puzzles, but the diversity of affordable, family-friendly options make the resort a solid bet. A short drive from Port McNeill. Rates: Start from $220/night.

 

Tofino Family Resorts

On Vancouver Island’s wild Western shore, you’re far from manicured beaches and tamed nature. So it’s obviously a perfect place to bring your hyper toddler or run-all-day preschooler — once you manage the long cross-island drive. Tofino offers upscale, world-renowned resorts for adults and children alike.

Pacific Sands Beach Resort. This resort’s free kids camp starts at 9:30 a.m. daily and runs six days per week from July through Labour Day Weekend. Camp activities include crafts, scavenger hunts, musical instruments from seashells, sealife identification, sandcastle-building, and marshmallow roasts. Suites and villas range from 520 to 1,400 square feet – plenty of room for families. Look for the family getaway weekend packages. Rates: From $285/night per night.

Crystal Cove Beach Resort. You’ll find a nice mix of pet-friendly accommodation options at Crystal Cove. Over 30 modernized (wifi! wood-burning fireplaces! DVD players!) 1- and 2-bedroom log cabins await families looking for a splurge, while 72 serviced sites welcome RVers on a budget. Kids can play near the warm-ish MacKenzie Beach or enjoy the resort’s deluxe kids’ playground, featuring swings, teeter-totter, sandbox and more. Rates: From $290/2 people per night in high season; children 3 and over are an extra $10/night. RV sites start from $55/night.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. A very different kind of West Coast adventure awaits you at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. Families come to this summer-only spot to enjoy the all-inclusive atmosphere, which includes airfare from Vancouver, your stay in a luxe outpost tent, all activities (there are over a dozen, including bear-watching, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, cooking classes, archery). Oh, and possibly even a massage or two. Older kids, tweens and teens get the most out of a stay, as they can go on excursions while you relax into a massage or traipse off on a different excursion. It’s not cheap; all-inclusive weekly rates easily run into the five digits. Rates: From $4,750 for three nights, all inclusive, airfare included.

Long Beach Lodge Resort. This resort doesn’t offer an indoor pool, but does provide the “Surf Club,” where children learn how to surf from a private instructor (for an additional fee). Other kid-friendly amenities: Toys to borrow, a family movie library and children’s board games. Cottage rentals include a hot tub on the back deck. Children eat free off the Great Room’s kids’ menu, when dining with parents at the 5:30 seating. Rates: From $319/night.

Comox Valley Family Resorts

Color abounds in this eastern Vancouver Island community, from wildflower-dotted mountains to artwork in one of the region’s seaside villages (Comox, Courtenay).

Old House Village Hotel and Spa.These budget-minded one-bedroom Courtenay suites provide full kitchens for your in-room cooking ease. Kids can enjoy nearby beaches and the Comox Valley Aquatic Centre (a 5-minute drive away), plus the outdoor heated pool. Rates: From $149/night in summer.

 

Pender Island and Salt Spring Island Family Resorts

These tiny islands are accessible from Vancouver Island, and attract visitors seeking a bucolic, farm-dotted region full of artisan outlets. Come here to kick back in a sub-Mediterranean climate and soak up the island lifestyle.

Poet’s Cove. Stay in a Pender Island cottage or villa for plenty of family room, then head outside for pooltime (one pool is reserved for adults only, the other pool is all-ages), tennis courts, basketball, ping-pong tables, and a mini-playground with slide and swing. There’s a kid’s camp (weekends only until July, then daily throughout July and August) with fun crafts and activities. Rates: From around $300/night in high season.

Salt Spring Harbour House. While this Salt Spring Island resort doesn’t offer a pool or playground, it does provide the ultimate chilled-out island experience, right on an organic farm. Visit the farm’s goats and gardens, then hop in the car for a 5-minute drive to Salt Spring’s playground and the Rainbow Road Public Pool. Under 12-year-olds stay free. Rates: From $135/night in summer high season.

 

hikevancouverisland

5 Reasons to Travel in Fall

Fall’s official, folks. The leaves are drifting, the winds are blowing and besides, the calendar says so. Autumn’s a fabulous time to travel in the Pacific Northwest and Canada with kids, and here’s why:

1. Value. Prices in the “shoulder season” tend to be about 25-30% less than in summer. Look for discounts in popular, expensive summer destinations — Washington’s islands, Oregon’s coast and Vancouver Island. Whistler, in BC, is between ski and summer seasons and hotel prices reflect that reality. City prices drop, too. Even if it’s raining, there are always scores of kid-friendly indoor museums and attractions to keep you warm and dry.

2. Leaf-peeping. Much of Cascadia’s western half is covered by firs and other evergreens. But if you move a little east, you’ll encounter spectacular displays of vivid, multihued maples, aspens and cottonwoods. For a showcase of color, head to the Columbia Gorge along the Washington/Oregon border, Washington State’s North Cascades country roads and into BC’s Fraser Valley. Let the kids pick out a few favorite leaves to press at home, or play ID-the-tree with a guidebook.

3. Seclusion. Midweek getaways reveal another side of popular tourist destinations. Yes, you’ll have to take the kids out of school for a day or two — but on a sun-filled fall day, you may feel like you’re the only souls at the coast. Locals have more time to chat, prices are lower and you’ll get better service in fall, particularly when you head out mid-week.

4. Harvest time. Apples and pears (east of the big cities) are in full swing and farmstands are overflowing with pumpkins, corn and tomatoes. There’s an Oktoberfest here, a lantern-festival there, and a Greek festival everywhere. It’s a time of celebration and sustenance, and a lovely time to visit rural Washington, Oregon and BC. Visit the close-in farming communities of Skagit County (near Seattle), Fraser Valley (near Vancouver) and Sauvie Island (near Portland).

5. Thanksgiving deals. Canada’s Thanksgiving falls on October 11 this year, while the U.S. waits until November 25 to celebrate. But here’s a cool secret — you can typically find bargain-basement rates and open attractions at the neighboring nation. So Canadians can head to the U.S. to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with shopping (and Trader Joe’s, of course). U.S. residents can traipse north for U.S. Thanksgiving and enjoy the holiday decorations, open attractions and low hotel prices.

Why do you like traveling in fall? Does your family have a favorite farm or leaf-peeping drive?

Camping with Kids in British Columbia

Looking for a BC vacation deal? British Columbia offers pitch-perfect camping options for every family: seven national parks, 900 provincial parks and hundreds of private campgrounds and RV parks. BC’s provincial parks typically only charge between $10 to $24 per site for car campers.

Jayne Seagrave is an expert on BC camping, and a mom to two boys (aged 10 and 11) — two lucky boys who’ve been camping since birth. She’s also the author of Camping British Columbia and Camping With Kids: The Best Campgrounds in British Columbia and Alberta.

Let’s find out what Jayne recommends for BC family camping.

1. For families visiting Vancouver, can you recommend a close-in campsite with a playground or other kid-friendly features?

There are no provincial park campgrounds within Vancouver. The nearest is Porteau Cove, about a 30 minute drive away. There is a small beach here (on the road to Whistler – Highway 99). (Lora’s note: I love the dramatic viewpoint at Porteau Cove — check out the photo at right).

Better to drive 90 minutes up to Alice Lake. Alice Lake is near Vancouver and the town of Squamish, so if it rains or you decide you don’t like camping, a Squamish motel is only 10 minutes away. Alice Lake offers a great kids play park, very safe beach, easy hiking trails, and a play park.

2. If a family wanted to take advantage of Whistler’s fun but didn’t want to pay for a hotel, what would you suggest?

Nairn Falls Provincial Park is fine and is the nearest to Whistler and there is a great 30 minute return trail to the falls, but no flush toilets, nor kids play area (although they can cycle around the campground). Nairn is about a 20 minute drive from Whistler, Alice Lake about 40 minutes, and there is so much more to do at Alice with children.


3. Can you recommend a campground on Vancouver Island for families? Why is it fantastic?

Rathtrevor Beach has everything for families and is close to the popular town of Parksville. You’ll find a huge beach, showers, easy paved roads to cycle upon, nature house and programs.

4. Any other favorite BC campgrounds for families with kids?

All campgrounds offer own personal attributes, below is a list of those I feature in Camping With Kids as they are the better ones for children, in that they might provide playparks, showers, flush toilets and kids’ programs.

Lower Mainland campsites:

1. Alice Lake Provincial Park
2. Porpoise Bay
3. E C Manning Park

Vancouver Island campsites:

1. Rathtrevor Beach
2. Gordon Bay
3. Miracle Beach

Okanagan campsites:

1. Ellison Provincial Park
2. Bear Creek
3. Haynes Point

Northern BC/Rockies campsites:

1. Kokanee Creek
2. Lalelse
3. Kikomun Creek

5. Why is camping in BC such a great experience for both BC families and visitors to BC?

Larger provincial parks have Jerry’s Rangers Programs specifically for kids which teaches nature courses, safety outsides, talks on bears and insects and frogs and fish and beaches, depending where the park is located. Only the larger parks offer these.

There are also evening talks and interpretive programs suitable for all age groups. Most of the campgrounds I recommend will have the talks but only in peak summer months and some only on certain days. I’ve attended loads, the evening ones are an easy way to pass an hour in the early evening and usually involve audience participation, which kids really like.

At a BC campground, you can get away from electronic devices and can explore in a very safe environment. Camping is also very reasonably priced in BC. Make sure to use the reservation system to avoid disappointment at www.discovercamping.ca. You can reserve most of the best family campgrounds.

6. And I understand that you suggest new-to-camping families might try taking a spin in an RV first. What was your experience with an RV rental?

I used Go-West Campers, we flew to Calgary and “delivered” an RV back to Vancouver. When the kids were under 2 you are only paying for adult flights to Calgary and the Camper was free as we were delivering it back for rental company. BUT the gas was VERY VERY expensive. There are millions of RV Rental companies. Cruise Canada RV Rental and Sales and Fraserway RV are both well-known.

Thanks, Jayne! I can’t wait to make my reservations for a BC camping vacation with my kids.

Read more about camping in BC with kids at The Travelling Mom’s The Best Campgrounds in British Columbia.

Families Travel! Amber goes to Parksville BC

Could any trip be more kid friendly? A BC beachside vacation, combined with a tour of a family farm and an artisan cheese factory.

kid on Parksville beach near parksville accommodations

Running on the Parksville Beach

Vancouver mom and blogger Amber Strocel and husband Jon recently returned to Parksville, BC with their kids Hannah, age 5, and Jacob, 22 months. Parksville is about 45 minutes north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and one of Strocel’s favorite vacation spots (she’s been to the retreat three times now).

And after reading over their vacation, I’m jealous! I’m ready to book my stay – read this over, and see if you’re not ready to go, too.

Where are you staying? Did you find a family-friendly Parksville, BC, hotel or other Parksville accommodations?

We stayed at the Beach Acres Resort. We really like it. It’s right on Rathtrevor Beach, which is quite possibly the best beach ever. All of the units have a full kitchen, so we can cook our own meals. We have a two-bedroom townhouse with an ocean view, and it’s very affordable and really spacious. The resort also has a pool, playground, tennis courts and beach toys for the kids to use.

What kinds of family activities do you enjoy on a Parksville vacation? What kinds of things do you do with kids in Parksville?

We love Rathtrevor Beach. It’s very sandy, and has amazing low tides and very warm water. At low tide you can walk forever, exploring the tide pools. And at high tide, the water is the warmest in Canada and not too deep. If you’re not staying in one of the resorts on the beach, you can visit Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park for the afternoon, or for camping.

Parksville Rathtrevor Beach at Low Tide a Parksville beach

Parksville Rathtrevor Beach at Low Tide

Lions Venture Park in downtown Parksville is a not-to-be-missed playground. It is one of the biggest playgrounds I have ever seen, with an incredible variety of playground equipment. There is also a water park and a concession, and it’s right on Parksville’s main beach. During the summer there is a sandcastle competition in the park, as well.

The Old Country Market in nearby Coombs is also a must-see. There are goats on the grassy roof, and people come from all over to see them. The market itself is amazing. It has grocery store including a deli and bakery with some of the best pies going, toys, dishes, hats, bamboo cutting boards and cooking utensils, hammocks, rugs, art and other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. There’s also a restaurant, an ice cream stand, a produce stand, a garden centre, clothing stores, a surf shop and a bunch of other shops in the open street market. Adjacent to the Old Country Market is the big, open plaza, with a collection of statues that the kids can climb on. Coombs is only about 10 minutes away, and it’s totally worth the drive.

The other fun thing about Parksville is all the deer. Local gardeners don’t enjoy the way they eat their plants, but kids think they’re so cool. They’re pretty comfortable around people, too. During four days in Parksville we’ve logged six deer sightings. My toddler learned the word ‘deer’ pretty early on.

Can you recommend any Parksville restaurants?

We haven’t really eaten out in Parksville, because we have the kitchen to use, and we have an almost 2-year-old kid. I can say that the last time we were here that Lefty’s in Parksville and Qualicum Beach was really good, and pretty kid-friendly, too.

You visited a Vancouver Island farm with kids, right?

Yes, we went to Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, which is located on Morningstar Farm. I would totally recommend Little Qualicum to others, especially people who are interested in local food, and cheese in particular. Little Qualicum produces some artisan cheeses, and lots of amazing spiced and flavoured cheeses. They use raw milk for their aged cheese. This is really quality crafted cheese. And the berry wines, also, are one of a kind.

Parksville with kids: Goats at family-friendly Little Qualicum Farm

Goats at Little Qualicum, located on Morningstar Farm

Can you tell me more about your Little Qualicum cheese factory tour?

The tour is self-guided, and we spent about 30 minutes. There is a half-hour walk around the farm that we didn’t take, because of the ages of our kids. The farm is well laid-out with maps in the farm store and lots of signs, so you can really structure it for your family and your children’s attention span. They also have guided tours on the weekends, and for large groups.

things to do with kids in parksville: See the Milking Parlor at Little Qualicum farm tour

Milking Parlour at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks

They have samples of all the cheeses in the farm store. I tasted at least six different kinds. My kids were big fans of the cheese curd, which makes a fun squeaky sound when you eat it. It’s made every Thursday, so we were able to have some super-fresh curd by visiting on a Thursday.

What do your kids like best about the farm and cheese factory?

My kids most enjoyed seeing the animals. Kids can go into the bunny enclosure with the rabbits, and that was the highlight for my 5-year-old. There were also calves and goats in their own enclosures.

My toddler especially enjoyed the way that one goat stuck its nose through the wire fence and nibbled on his hat. I didn’t as much (I like the hat!) but Jacob cried when we took him away from the goat. For them, the visit was less about the cheese and more about the farm animals.

As part of the tour you can see how the cows live, walk through the milking parlour where all of the milk comes from to make the cheese, see the pigs they raise for meat and peek into the window and see the cheese being made. You really get a glimpse into a fabulous local food producer. And it’s fun for kids, to boot, with animals to see and an old tractor to climb on and cheese to eat.

What’s the best age for visiting a kid-friendly farm in British Columbia?

I think that the best age for visiting Little Qualicum would be around 4-10. My toddler had a good time, but keeping him out of cow patties and keeping him contained in the farm store was a challenge. Also, I was somewhat concerned about him around the electric fencing that is used on the walk around the farm. That was one reason we didn’t attempt the walk, actually.

So, you’d recommend it? Is there anything you’d do differently next time?

The farm is on my list of must-see things in the Parksville area. If I were to do anything differently, I might show up on a weekend because they have ice cream on the weekend, as well as guided tours. My 5-year-old was disappointed that there was an ice cream stand and no ice cream.

This is a working farm, and you are visiting someone’s home. You can expect to be in the midst of farm activity and farm animals like dogs and cats. You are getting a real picture of what’s happening on this farm. But it’s also important to respect the work that’s happening around you, and to be considerate of the family that lives there.

Thank you, Amber! Read more about Little Qualicum’s sustainable practices on Amber’s blog.

Read more about family-friendly Parksville at the Qualicum Beach & Parksville BC Tourism website.

Read 49 Things to Do in Parksville from BC Tourism.

Cycling Across Canada with Kids

Joe Kurmaskie and his wife Beth set out on a cross-Canada adventure with their three boys, ages 9, 7 and 1. Method of transport: bicycles. Really. And it was awesome.

Kurmaskie’s crew started out from their home in Portland, Oregon, cycled to North BC’s Prince Rupert, then east across Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia. They started out on a three-seat tandem bicycle, pulling a trail-a-bike with a baby trailer attached. But always conscious of safety, the couple soon switched to a two-seat tandem for Joe and one son, pulling a trail-a-bike and baby trailer, with Beth riding alongside on her own bike.

Q: What was the best part of your journey?

Having the whole family join a wheeled adventure, all of us, for the first time. Beth had never joined one of these long trips before, nor had my youngest son. So this was a high risk, high reward deal — road testing a perfectly good marriage if you will. And it broke my way. Beth turned into Xena Warrior Cyclist and I couldn’t have been more proud.

So the best of it was to spend so much quality time in and out of the saddle on an adventure with some of my favorite people. To quote the Avett Brothers on the subject of family, “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”

Q: What was surprisingly challenging?

It came as no surprise, but the most challenging part was when I had to adjust to Beth being off the triple, pedaling her own bike. Which left me to pedal a tandem trail-a-bike trailer combination with three sons aboard: 16 feet long and in excess of 450 pounds of gear and boys
and diapers and fishing poles.

It was the equivalent of a rolling Bowflex on wheels. But once I got the rhythm of it … man, just talking about it now makes me miss those days of labor. The pay off — the amazing places and things and people we saw and met, and the quality time spent with my sons in the saddle talking about stuff you don’t get to in the workaday existence.

Q: Which part of the Pacific Northwest did you enjoy cycling most?

That’s like asking me which part of paradise was exceptionally sparkly… but here goes. The Olympic Peninsula. You feel like you are pedaling through Lake Country in Switzerland.

Q: Which part of BC did you enjoy cycling most? Why?

Discovering so many oases and hidden spots on Vancouver Island, from the Galloping Goose Trail to Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. You can’t get tired of Vancouver Island
and all it has to offer, even if you went up to pedal it every summer for the next dozen years. Which is what we intend to do — spend at least a week every summer exploring some spot on that island.

That said, the Yellowhead Highway from Prince Rupert to Smithers in Northern British Columbia is like something from the Land That Time Forgot – like you’ve pedaled right into a landscape from Lord of The Rings.

Salt Spring Island with friends

Q: How would you recommend a family start out with a cycling vacation? What are the “baby steps” to a bike vacation?

Everyone must decide what their comfort zone is – a weekend trip out to the regional state park or even starting with a few day rides that put them in their bed that night. But soon you want to push it just a bit beyond what you think is your comfort zone.

I recommend that no matter what time frame and length you chose you get everyone comfortable on the bike rig.

I choose to keep the family – at least all the kids, attached to me – that way I don’t have to worry about everyone’s judgment when it comes to traffic and routes and safety. I stay hyper aware and alert about traffic issues, but don’t have to burden a nine-year old or even an eleven-year-old with that responsibility. This formula has worked for two continents and 10,000 miles of family bike travel. So they get to pedal and ride and get exercise but they don’t helm their own bikes.

Q: What kind of bike set up will you use on your next trip?

As my family is growing up we are planning to shift over to two tandems and one of us pulling a trailer and one pulling the trail-a-bike. Why does that seem to add two more people than my family? We aren’t Catholic, just careless. We just welcomed our fourth son, Sawyer Ray Kurmaskie, into the world. He’ll be the one in the trailer this time. Matteo will graduate to the trail-a-bike and Enzo to the other stoker seat on the second tandem.

Of course I might end up pulling both the trailer and the trail-a-bike again – you’ll have to ask my wife before we set out on the next adventure.

North BC

Q: Did one community in the BC or the NW really stand out for you?

Gosh – again that’s a horse race – there were so many great experiences in Victoria, BC, Smithers and Courtney. If you read my new book, “Mud, Sweat and Gears” you’ll learn why these towns stand out – it’s for different reasons, characters and moments – if pressed we’d
vote for Salt Spring Island, BC, for the combination of people, experiences, food, moments of tenderness and acts of kindness given and received.

Q: What did you do when the kids got whiny or tired? How did you inspire them to keep going?

The gang had digital cameras and plastic lightsabers and lots of new experiences every moment. Because a bicycle adventure is active and  keeps them involved and lets them stop for things they spot or want to do or check out the kids NEVER once asked if we were there yet. Because we always were.

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Curious? Want to hear more about how this all went down? I sure do. And now my husband wants to follow Joe’s trail (the compromise for mom — cycling between spas, ha).

Buy Joe’s book at discount AND support Joe’s project “Camp Creative,” when you order “Mud, Sweat and Gears” at Metal Cowboy.

Mention that you read this article and he’ll take 20% off the price. Check out Joe’s website for more info on Camp Creative or his other endeavors. I would also encourage you to check out his funny and fascinating slideshow of the adventure.

Tofino with Kids … er, a Baby

Vancouver-based mom Elaina Spring Eden, husband and adorable 9-month-old daughter Ava just traipsed off to Tofino, BC for almost a week. Tofino — located off the west shore of Vancouver Island — is well-known for opportunities to hike, whale-watch and unwind from the world.

But that last part (unwinding) isn’t always so easy for new parents, as we all remember.

“My husband I both realized that our days of laying in bed in terrycloth robes and staring out at the ocean for hours on end are on hiatus for a while,” Eden says. “The idea of rest and relaxation has taken on a whole new meaning in our lives at this point.”

“I find it humorous that I would easily trade a million dollar view for a microwave and a few extra feet of ‘crawl space.’”

So let’s find out how Eden successfully chilled out with her little one:

Q. Did you stay in any kid-friendly Tofino hotels on Vancouver Island?

Yes!

The first three nights we were at the Long Beach Lodge. Overall, the property was kid friendly. They happily provided a pack n’ play and high chair for our room.

However, if you are traveling with little ones, I highly recommend one of their two-bedroom cottages over the beachfront rooms in the lodge. It is nice to have the privacy and the extra space (1,000 sq. ft) as well as a full kitchen.

We put baby upstairs in a pack n’ play and enjoyed having the entire downstairs area to ourselves after she went to bed.  There is a gas fireplace as well as a private hot tub off the master bedroom.  We used the BBQ one night and ordered food to go from their restaurant another night (they don’t offer room service). I emailed in advance to make arrangements for a babysitter one evening. It was $15 an hour and allowed us to enjoy a nice dinner in their restaurant that was not particularly family friendly in the evenings.

standing at tofino hotel for families with a kid-friendly windowWe also stayed two nights at the Wickaninnish Inn. In a word, it was amazing. Their attention to detail was truly extraordinary. Riedel stemware in our guest room, homemade butter with every meal, cedar carving lessons, rain jackets, pants and boots, a hybrid Lexus for borrow, the world’s best hair dryer, HBC wool beach blankets, a caring smile at every turn and breathtaking scenes of rain forest, rock and ocean. The staff could not have been more accommodating and courteous.

We were in a fairly standard “deluxe” guest room and it was extremely spacious and absolutely lovely.  The bathtub was enormous and provided our baby girl hours of enjoyment.  It was as if she had her very own swimming pool!  They also provided a microwave in the room, which made heating up her baby food a breeze.

On their third floor they have a wonderful little library with all kinds of children’s books, puzzles, games and videos. Perhaps the best part for us was the complimentary in-room childcare for guests who wish to dine at the famous Ponite Restaurant. We were fortunate to experience the chef’s five course tasting menu during our visit and it was simply amazing truly incredible. The meal was simply amazing.

We also ordered room service a couple of times, which was just as delicious.  I was impressed that they came to our room four times to bring us our dinner in courses: appetizer, starter, entree and dessert.  It was expensive but I have to say the return was worth every loonie.  This is the ultimate “family friendly five star” resort in British Columbia.

We also spent one night in a cabin at the Tigh-Na-Mara Resort in Parksville. This place prides itself on being family friendly and it shows.  We stayed in a private cabin that was adorable and had everything we could wish for, including a full kitchen (with a dishwasher and microwave), a back deck with a private picnic table and BBQ, and a wood burning fireplace.

The resort itself has a link on the website for “families” and features several different organized activities, programs and amenities for kids.  We used their babysitting service to visit the spa and have dinner and were extremely happy.  The restaurant is also 100% kid friendly for all meals. Apparently it is also a great place to bring the family during the winter holiday season.

I had no idea how easy it was to arrange an in-room baby sitter at each of these properties.  What a pleasant surprise!

Q. Some families would be worried to leave their baby with a babysitter they’re unfamiliar with. What reassured you?

Regarding the babysitting service, it was easier than I thought it would be.  I did some research in advance and all three resorts have such a good reputation it immediately gave me some confidence.  It also helped that I knew we were just a few moments away on the same property.

The Wick and the Long Beach Lodge interview and train existing in-house guest services staff to provide childcare.  At the Tigh-Na-Mara Resort they also hire and train staff.  As noted on their website “All of our sitters have been interviewed by Tigh-Na-Mara and have their Babysitting Certification. Babysitters will provide their own transportation to and from the Resort. Children under the age of two years require a mature sitter, 18yrs and over.”  The person who looked after Ava was the mother of the woman who ran the hotel gift shop.  She was delightful.  We were truly happy with all three babysitters.

My advice is to trust your gut instincts when the sitter arrives and if everything feels okay … escape and enjoy a leisurely two-handed paced meal.  You will be so glad you did.

Q. Did you eat any memorable Tofino meals? Did you find a great baby-friendly or kid-friendly restaurant in Tofino?

At the Trans-Canada Highway with kids at Tofino BC A friendly mum on the ferry recommended we try Sobo while in Tofino and I am so grateful.  It was a bit hard to find (a couple of blocks off the main drag) so it isn’t a place you would just stumble upon but it is definitely worth seeking out.

Not only was the food fresh, local and seasonal, but the restaurant is perfect for families. There is patio with a play area for kids as well as some fun picnic tables. Our server  (also the mother of a nine month old) was incredibly kind and even offered to bring out some special “baby friendly” food for Ava.  They also offer all kinds of items pre-made and ready to take-away. Their fresh cookies and other decadent desserts are to die for.

Q. Which family-friendly activities you enjoy with your baby daughter, in Tofino?

At a Tofino beach with baby and family

Photo credit: Christopher Pouget

One cool thing we did was hire a professional photographer to take some family shots.  The scenery is so extraordinary that we simply couldn’t leave without capturing it.  We worked with local photographer Christopher Pouget and he was great … personable, professional and patient.  His price was extremely affordable and his images are priceless.

kid-friendly Pacific Rim National Park hike

Rainforest Walk

Another fun thing was the “Rainforest Walk” in the Pacific Rim National Park. The path we did was an easy half hour journey on a raised boardwalk.  It is not stroller friendly but we managed beautifully with our baby carrier.

Q. Did you find that it was easier to meet and talk with people when your infant daughter was traveling with you on Vancouver Island, compared to before kids?

Yes, we found people to be extremely friendly.  Having a baby is great conversation starter but then again, I am much more outgoing when I am with Ava. I enjoy talking with people who have kids and never hesitate to strike up a conversation. I guess it is the same as always … you tend to find what you are looking for, in that regard.

Families Travel! Sarah Goes on a Quadra Island Farm Stay

In August 2009, Sarah Pugh, her husband Stirling and 3-year-old daughter Rowan rented a kitchen-equipped cottage from Bold Point Farmstay for six nights. Their hosts, Rod and Geraldine, run the farmstay on the secluded and rustic Quadra Island, BC. Quadra Island is located about three hours north of Victoria (and involves a quick 10-minute ferry ride). Here’s why Sarah thought her family’s stay on a functioning farm was so fantastic:

Q: What did you do at the family-friendly farm?

Sarah: We went for long rambles in the woods, picked berries and fruit, went swimming in the lakes, and fishing and paddling in the ocean.

We went to the market, popped over to Campbell River for a day, chatted with Rod and Geraldine, played on the lovely lawns around the garden on the farm, cooked fabulous meals with the vegetables from the farm and mutton we purchased from Rod.

We also enjoyed communing with the sheep, seeing how the chicken flock worked as new chickens were added, collecting eggs, and feeding the ducks. Daisy, our dog, enjoyed herself immensely. (Pets are welcome as long as they can be leashed or trusted around livestock.)

We also enjoyed dessert and other home-made treats with Rod and Geraldine. Rod and Geraldine do a LOT of food preserving and are happy to share tips, techniques, samples and stories.

Just being there was lovely. Fresh air, clean water, beautiful stars at night, misty mornings, deer everywhere, birdsong all around.

The only downside to our week was that it was a bit windy on most days so we didn’t go canoeing. The farm has a canoe that guests are welcome to use but neither Stirling nor I are competent paddlers so we didn’t use it. We would have on a calm day but it just didn’t work out for us.  Next time!

Q. Which activities did your daughter like at the farm?

Sarah: Helping to feed all the animals and leading the ducks to and from the pasture every day. She would walk and quack like a duck, to encourage the ducks to follow (although sometimes they ended up leading)

Taking the ducks to pasture at the Lower Mainland family-friendly farm

Taking the ducks to pasture

She also enjoyed napping on the lawn with Stirling, following Rod around, playing on the old swing, picking and eating blackberries and tomatoes and little plums, fishing and swimming (LOVED the swimming).

Q: Do you have any farm-related caveats for traveling families?

Sarah: There is no TV and the radio reception is spotty.  My cell phone couldn’t find a signal at all.  If you want entertainment beyond conversation, cute animals and exercise, bring it with you.

The roads are not paved around the farm (pavement ends about 15 km before you get there) and sometimes, logging trucks drive by, which may mean chips in your windshield. Make sure your car insurance covers you appropriately.

Not a bad way to clean up.

Urban types may experience a bit of culture shock.  The shower in the cottage isn’t great – we relied more on the lakes for swimming to get clean. Water restrictions are often in place as Quadra typically enjoys a couple months of drought in the summer so don’t plan on daily showers for everyone even if you don’t go to the lakes to swim.

It really is a place to get away from modern life and just enjoy simple pleasures like somersaults on the grass, reading, walking, and making ducks quack at you.

Thanks, Sarah! Once a week, I’ll interview a family about a favorite Washington, Oregon or BC destination, attraction or experience. Do you have one to share? E-mail me at lora@cascadiakids.com.

Victoria Pick: Beacon Hill Children’s Farm

Yesterday, one of Victoria, B.C.’s most wonderful (and affordable) little attractions reopened after a winter hiatus. Beacon Hill Children’s Farm’s menagerie of farm animals, peacocks and flamboyantly-crowned chickens offers an off-the-beaten path experience to visiting families.

There are bunnies and donkeys to fawn over, plus a bird-filled building, where tiny finches flit from branch to branch. Many of these animals have restrictions on touch, so don’t feel disappointed if you can’t hug a pot-bellied pig.

But then you arrive at the African Pygmy goat pen, a glorious exception to the rules. In this family favorite, baby and adult goats meander and mill about in a large enclosure. Children mingle with four-legged friends, and use grooming brushes on dozens of patient goats. Parents snap pictures, and the kids (goat and human) interact playfully, bleating at one another. It’s the best part of the Beacon Hill petting zoo.

At 10 a.m. daily, the “Running of the Goats” (or “Goat Stampede”) occurs. The petting zoo’s staff clear families from the main pathway – and the entire goat herd gallops from their pens into the petting enclosure. Children erupt in squeals and applause as hooves gallop past, leaving plumes of dust behind.

My pictures don’t do justice, so check out this YouTube video or this video on the farm’s website.

And at around 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in summer), goats return to their pens in a cloud of frenzied fur. The stampede offers a great transition for children who don’t want to give up the grooming brushes.

Best for: All ages, even kids who think they’re too cool to chill with goats.

Find it:  In Beacon Hill Park, Victoria. Use this map to find the exact location. Open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in summer). Phone number is 381-2532

Suggested donation: $3.00 adults $2.00 children.