Northwest Spring Break: Where to go for great weather

Where should you take the kids for a spring break in the Pacific Northwest? Where can you go without a raincoat, scarf, hat and boots? Below, you’ll read about the March and April temperature and rainfall averages. It’s in Imperial and Fahrenheit, just to keep it all consistent, and the site I used (Weather.com) to compile the information offered that approach first. I’m sorry, Canadians!

Low rain spring break

If you’re desperate for some sun or just a break from the rain, Central and Eastern Oregon are great places for the kids’ spring break. Bend, Oregon is mild, with average March temps of 51 and 57 in April, and about .75 inches of rain. Pendleton, Oregon has a March high of 54 and an April high of 61, and about an inch of rain in each month. Further East, Baker City sees 50 degrees as the high in March, and 58 in April, with a scant .82-.85 inches of rain over the two months.

In British Columbia, Penticton sees March average temperatures of 49 and April of 59, with low precipitation (.8-1 inch).

But my money for a great spring break might be on Lake Chelan, Washington. This little lakeside town sees warm temps in March (54) and warms up even more (63) in April, with precipitation amounts decreasing from 1.1 inches in March to .68 inches in April.

Mild weather spring break

Leavenworth, Washington warms up from March’s 53 high to 62 in April, and daily rainfall drops from 2 inches to 1.1 inches.

For a Vancouver Island spring break, Victoria is mild but not too cold and wet — 50 degrees in March, 55 degrees in April; 2.8 inches of rain in March, and 1.7 inches in April. Also on Vancouver Island, Nanaimo’s average high in March is 51 and April is 56, but April sees a giant plummet in rain averages — 4.6 inches in March (that’s a bit too rainy for me) and 2.4 in April. These are good destinations if you want to enjoy some outdoor time (but only Nanaimo in April!).

Lots of rain spring break

Our region’s big cities are rainy for spring breaks in March and April — but on the upside, there are many wonderful indoor attractions. Vancouver, British Columbia offers 4.3 inches in March and 3 inches in April, 49 degrees as the March high and 54 Fahrenheit in April. In Seattle, the March high is 54 with 3.5 inches of rain, and April isn’t much better — 59 with 2.7 inches.

In Portland, it’s a little warmer, but rainier: March has a 56 degree high (and 4.5 inches of rain) and April has a 61 degree high (3.4 inches of rain). Eugene has similar temps to Portland, but it’s much rainier — March offers 4.9 inches of rain, and April offers 3.3 inches.

Massive rain spring break

So, if you hate rain, don’t go to the Oregon Coast, which is well-sprinkled throughout March and April. Newport sees 7.75 inches of rain in March and 4.7 inches in April (54 and 56 degrees F, respectively), and Cannon Beach is walloped with 8.7 inches of rain in March, and 5.9 inches in April (53 and 55). Bring a raincoat. Or just give in and wear your swimsuit — everywhere.

How to Get Good Seats on the Victoria Clipper

The Victoria Clipper passenger ferry is an efficient, pleasurable way to travel between Seattle and Victoria, whether you’re with kids, as a couple or boating solo. While you can take ferries from Anacortes to Sidney, or Port Angeles to Victoria, the Clipper is the fastest (no-flight) way to reach Vancouver Island’s shores from Seattle, or vice versa.

However, the Victoria Clipper boards in groups, and if you’re in the dreaded last boarding groups, you won’t have your pick of seats. You may find yourself wedged between strangers in less-than-ideal spots without views of the gorgeous islands, inlets and mountains.

I personally love the window-side, table-seating area (even if I do have to share it with other travelers), the front of the boat, the upstairs, or seats with plenty of play-room nearby. So I really want a spot in one of the first boarding groups. Here are three ways to get a Victoria Clipper seat:

How to Get Great Seats on the Victoria Clipper

1. Travel with your children under age two. Parents with young children qualify for pre-boarding, so you (and your stroller and other gear) will get on first. If you have kids older than two or still need special assistance, you can ask (but no guarantee). Ask about pre-boarding options at check-in or when purchasing tickets.

2. Get your assignment early. Visit the Clipper offices in Seattle or Victoria, check in and get your assigned boarding seven days before departure. You don’t have to wait until day of departure to get your assigned seating — and almost everyone else will be doing that — instead, you can check in and get your boarding group up to a week (7 days) in advance.

3. Join the Commodore Club. Clipper passengers who often travel between Seattle and Victoria may wish to sign up for this club, which gives you points toward a free Clipper trip with every trip purchased. According to the person who signed me up, the frequent-boating Club also lets you join Boarding Group 1 when you purchase tickets (if this is not your experience, please let me know).

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).

Winter Break Vacation Deals & Ideas for Washington, Oregon & BC

Where will you go for the kids’ two-week break? If you haven’t yet made plans, don’t despair. There are plenty of wonderful ways to celebrate (and rooms to book) in our area. Whether you’ve got the budget of a pauper or a prince, or whether you’d rather stay in a small town or big city, there’s a getaway just right for your family’s travel lifestyle.

British Columbia winter break vacation ideas:

You know I love Victoria, BC: all those great kid-friendly Victoria activities and restaurants. Now’s the time to go, too — Tourism Victoria is promoting special Christmastime rates, starting at just $69/night. Go and enjoy Butchart Gardens’ Christmas lights, caroling and ice skating. The photo at right? It’s a pic we took while enjoying holiday tunes at Butchart Gardens.

Create your own deal for Vancouver, BC. Use my tips to do a little Priceline bidding (four-star rooms are usually plentiful over Christmas break) or take advantage of Tourism Vancouver’s third-night-free package. Then, head up to the snow-draped Grouse Mountain (just 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver), which offers a Santa’s Workshop, ice skating, reindeer, live entertainment, mountaintop sleighrides, a children’s village and classic Christmas movies for a family rate of $79.95. Oh, and there’s skiing and snowshoeing up there too. It’s really a fantastic getaway, right in the city.

If you want to go all out, Whistler’s upscale Fairmont Chateau Whistler puts on the ritz for Christmas. Check out the on-site festivities: The Family Fun Room offers an internet cafe, bouncy castles and video games to keep non-skiing kids occupied; the hotel hosts gingerbread house decorating, tea with Santa and children’s stories with Mrs. Claus. It’s not cheap — but at about $1000 for three nights (and an amazing breakfast, typically around $70/family), it’s the same as you’d spend on two (maybe three) tickets to Hawaii. If you’re looking for more affordable offerings, go before Christmas (rates can be as much as 30% less than the week AFTER Christmas) and take a look at what’s available on Whistler.com.

Washington State winter break getaways:

Take your muggley self to Seattle, where the deluxe Hotel Monaco’s Harry Potter Package offers accomodations, discounted tix to the Pacific Science Center’s Harry Potter: The Exhibition and complimentary valet parking. Down in the hotel’s restaurant, the premium desserts include a Molten Hot Cauldron Cake with Cockroach Clusters and Make Your Own Potion. You never know — you may leave Seattle a wizard, after all.

In the charming little burg of Fairhaven, the Fairhaven Village Inn will offer horse-drawn carriage rides and a Santa visit on December 18. Fairhaven is right outside of Bellingham, Wash. (read more about Bellingham with kids); the adorable village close enough to enjoy the college town but far enough to feel like you’re in a small community.

Over in Eastern Washington, in the Methow Valley, this winter will mark the first StorySki Experience among the region’s popular cross-country ski trails. The Storytrail helps kids keep moving along by posting pages from the book, “Polar Opposites” (by Erik Brookes) along a 1k loop. You’re skiing your way through a children’s picture book, reading more of the story at each stop. The trail will debut at Christmas and stay up throughout the winter ski season (mid-March or so), moving. Kids (under age 12) ski free throughout the Methow.

Oregon winter break vacation packages:

A mere 20 minutes from Central Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor, and about 20 minutes from Bend, Oregon, Sunriver Resort hosts Traditions, a holiday celebration that reaches across generations and includes innovative activities like snowmobile excursions, cocoa mug making, holiday trivia, elf tuck-ins, an ornament workshop and more. Check out Sunriver’s page of packages, because the Sugarplum package starts at $149/night, and includes a $50 resort credit toward your on-site activities, including the appropriately named Ft. Funnigan (which both of my children enjoyed, despite their disparate ages — 4 and 10!).

Portland is another wonderful, family-friendly and discounted destination for families during winter. Plenty of kid-friendly Portland activities and plenty of kid-friendly Portland dining, and Travel Portland is offering an unequalled Portland Perks deal AND $50 in cash. But only through December 20th! I’m sure it will revert to the usual Portland Perks deal after the 20th, but you should take advantage of that $50 rebate. A great destination to visit with toddlers and preschoolers — visit Zoolights and the take in the Christmas Ship Parade.

Do you have any favorite family holiday getaways in our region?

Where to Go for U.S. Thanksgiving Getaways

Not everyone heads across the country (or county) to visit relatives at Thanksgiving. If you’re looking for a four-day getaway, here are a few ideas:

A four-star hotel Thanksgiving stay in Vancouver, BC:

The obvious benefit of traveling to Canada? Canadians don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving any more than they celebrate the Fourth of July. Which means schools are in session and hotel rooms are plentiful. You can breeze in and out of museums (like Science World) and attractions without fighting the hordes of summer or school’s-out masses.  I love Vancouver’s rainy day attractions and almost always get the perfect, upscale Priceline hotel for a great price (typically around $80/nt).

Don’t miss: Robson Street holiday shopping with kids is a fine idea, on the day after Thanksgiving.

A four-day stay in Victoria, BC:

All the bennies of Canada, but with more traditional small-town charm. Many Victoria shops have their Christmas décor up, and you can even do a little shopping without fighting crowds.  Attractions like Butchart Gardens offer discounted fall entrance fees and hotels are about half the price of a summer stay. Take the Clipper if you want a car-free Victoria vacation or bring the car (we typically do) if you want to stay completely dry. Don’t miss the Fairmont Empress’s Festival of Trees, which features dozens of beautiful and wacky decorated trees.

Don’t miss: Discovering 35 free and cheap things to do with kids in Victoria.

A tree that even a toddler can love, at the Festival of Trees

A pre-season Thanksgiving vacation in Whistler:

In December, the crowds descend upon Whistler. But this year, it’s already snowed several times in the village, and there’s plenty of fluffy stuff on top of the mountains. Village hotel prices are still reasonable, the kids’ ski clubs are open and the village is completely sane (vs. INSANE in peak season). The only downer: cross-country skiing is not open. We typically visit Whistler every year at Thanksgiving and find a decent deal through the Suite Secrets program.

Don’t miss: Taking the awesome Peak 2 Peak.

A discount Thanksgiving stay in Portland:

So, most shops will be closed in Portland on Thanksgiving and the shopping madness begins the day after (as typical in the U.S.). However, you should find a great three-night stay through Priceline, and Powell’s Books will be open for business – so you can take the kids and hang out in the cozy children’s area and the coffeeshop. For Thanksgiving dinner, I like the McMenamins’ buffets, which serves up heaps of goodies for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Don’t Miss: Once Thanksgiving Day is over, there are all those wonderful kid-friendly restaurants and kid-friendly, affordable attractions.

The Washington or Oregon Coast:

If you’re inside the just-right hotel or condo, a coastal Thanksgiving offers spectacular natural beauty mixed with cozy indoor stay. A few recommendations for a coastal getaway include Newport, Ore., (incredible views at the Hallmark Hotel and great kid-friendly attractions, including the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center); Cannon Beach, Ore. (read more on my activities for Cannon Beach); and the Westport area (if you want a beach to yourself — this is your spot, and there are a few rooms left at Vacation By the Sea).

Don’t miss: Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, seen in the photo at the right.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving weekend getaway in the Northwest or Canada? Where do you like to go?

15 Haunted Spots in BC, Oregon and Washington

What’s that strange noise in the hotel? Hopefully it’s a ghost, not a blown-out water heater. Here are 15 goofy, ghastly spots in Cascadia to delight your easily-spooked big kids. At right, the Davenport Hotel’s lobby. Can you spot a spectre? (I can’t, either!)

Washington Haunted Spots

Mt. Baker Theatre, Bellingham

Judy didn’t want to leave, but she was evicted from her home to make way for the 1917 theater. So she’s supposedly returned, year after year, to haunt the theatre, showing up as gusts of cold air and the sound of old-timey skirts. Read more about Mt. Baker Theatre’s ghost stories.

Roche Harbor Resort, San Juan Island

The cemetery mausoleum (in the resort) hosts a ghost (or three), which you’ll hear on full-moon evenings. These specters are supposedly having a fine time – laughing and chatting. Makes sense, because it’s one of the most gorgeous resorts I’ve ever seen.

Hotel Andra, Seattle

Rumors of Prohibition-year partying swirl around this hotel (the former Claremont), what with the Jazzy tunes and smashing glasses. The ninth floor is the focus of most ghastly behavior.

Pike Place Market, Seattle

A Native American woman’s ghost supposedly walks the alleys and tunnels of Pike Place Market; she walks through crowds, arms heavy with baskets. Hungry for more? Check out the Ghost Tours in Pike Place Market.

Davenport Hotel and Tower, Spokane*

What’s that knocking at the door? Ghostly room service, perhaps? A flapperesque 1920s-era woman is said to haunt this historic hotel’s restored mezzanine and stairwells. And hey, if you’ve ever slept at the Davenport (I have), you might want to stay forever too. *Thanks to Washington State Tourism Office for reminding me of this one.

Oregon Haunted Spots

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Yachats.

“The Lady in Gray” – possibly a former lightkeeper’s wife – peeks around corners, cleans up broken glass and bustles about in the kitchen. She certainly picked a picturesque spot to haunt, right on the Oregon Coast. There’s a bed and breakfast here, but it’s only open to adults.

Pendleton Public Library, Pendleton

Say, does that librarian look a bit pallid? A librarian that passed away suddenly during the 1950s reenacts the Ghostbusters movie – opening and shutting windows, knocking books off the shelf, flipping lights on and off. Rabble rouser.

Oaks Park, Portland.

This amusement park – one of the oldest in the Pacific Northwest – is home to a groovy 70’s-dressed kid apparition, dressed in bell-bottoms and stylin’ lapels. Even if you don’t see the superstar, Oaks Park is a fantastic way to roll away a Saturday.

McMenanamin’s Edgefield, Troutdale

This hotel/brewery/restaurant/music venue can add “ghost hotel” to its repertoire. Stay a night and ask to see the ghost logs to find out which rooms have had the most paranormal activity. If no one’s in those rooms (well, no one visible), book a night’s stay.

Oregon Vortex, Gold Hill

At this sideshow destination, people and buildings list northward, objects roll up hills and there may even be an appearance from the ghost of John Lister, who once lived here. Spirits aren’t to blame for all the toppling and rolling, according to current owners — but supposedly an incomprehensibly strong magnetic force, which causes people to list northward.

British Columbia Haunted Spots

Old Spaghetti Factory, Vancouver

Kids always want to dine in the OSF’s train car. Ghosts seem to call “FIRST” and jump into the Gastown restaurant’s trolley car, rattling plates and talking quietly. This chain restaurant is always a family favorite in the region.

University of British Columbia, Vancouver

A ghost hitchhiker asks for rides outside the museum, and the university’s library is haunted by an elderly lady in a white dress, walking among the stacks and tipping a book now and then. And even if you don’t see a ghost, you can always visit the past at the Museum of Anthropology.

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria

This landmark mansion’s home to a ghostly woman dressed in all-white. She walks up and down the building’s stairs (good thing, because the staff hate to see anyone running). The piano sometimes plays vintage tunes – but no human is tinkling the keys.

James Bay Inn, Victoria

At this haunted budget hotel in Victoria’s bustling Inner Harbour, phones ring (with no one on the other line), lights flicker for no reason and chilly spots crop up in rooms. Who is this spectre? It’s rumored to be the spirit of artist Emily Carr.

O’Keefe Ranch and Mansion, Vernon.

Visitors and staff tell of a non-paying customer ghost who walks the halls and peeks outdoors from upstairs windows at this Okanagan Lake heritage site. The building was constructed in 1867, so there’s a long history of residents — human and otherwise.

Do you have a favorite haunted destination?

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Victoria with Kids

Victoria, BC, is a family-friendly destination we return to over and over again. Not just because I have a Victoria-based friend with impressive culinary skills (Hey, it’s a nice perk!). But also because Victoria offers so many affordable and free options.

35 free and cheap things to do in Victoria BC with kids:

    1. Enjoy outdoor festivals and celebrations in one of Canada’s sunniest cities.
    2. Watch for bald eagles and salmon at Goldstream Park.
    3. Ride trail-a-bikes or pull your toddler in a bike carrier along the 55 kilometre (34 mi) long Galloping Goose Trail.
    4. Go on a self-guided spooky Victoria tour with your preteen or teen – discover the haunts of spectres, poltergeists and ghostly pianos.
    5. Paddle around (with hands or oars) with kids onto Elk / Beaver Lake.
    6. Meet the farmer! Visit a Vancouver Island farmer’s market, go on a farm tour or go on a u-pick farm on Vancouver Island.


  1. Go to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria on the first Tuesday of the month, when admission is by donation.
  2. Ride the double-decker bus to Sidney, BC.
  3. Visit Victoria’s parliament building on a free public tour.
  4. Buy some fish scraps from The Fish Store and feed the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf.
  5. Picnic and play in the Watering Garden at Beacon Hill Park, then count blooms along pathways.
  6. Relax in the lazy river in the Gordon Head Pool or the Esquimalt Recreation Pool.
  7. Catch a summer concert performance from Victoria Symphony Canada.
  8. Watch the running of the goats at Beacon Hill Farm.
  9. Visit the gun batteries and watch historical re-enactments at Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites of Canada.
  10. Along Victoria’s Inner Harbour, watch buskers perform and seaplanes land.
  11. Pack snacks and enjoy a family hike in Victoria.
  12. Count the hanging flower baskets in downtown Victoria, then learn to make a proper Victorian Hanging Basket.
  13. Walk through Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest alley in Canada.
  14. Go to a star party at the Centre of the Universe.
  15. Climb through an giant octopus eye and slide down a fish tale in the trippy Cadboro-Gyro Park.

    Cadboro park with kids

    The crazy-cool playground at Cadboro-Gyro Park

  16. Treasure a storytime at children’s bookstore Tall Tales Books.
  17. Look for a golden-crowned sparrow or barred owl at Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary.
  18. Bring a copy of Peter Rabbit to the University of Victoria campus, where you’ll see rabbits here, there and everywhere.
  19. Try one of Saanich’s free family events.
  20. Catch a Stars and Strollers first-run movie (with baby!) at SilverCity Victoria.
  21. Pick out a cute, vintage comic book at Legends Comics or pack of Pokemon cards at Curious Comics.
  22. Go for a kids’ tea at Crumsby’s Cupcake Cafe, walk among the old-fashioned tudor buildings in Oak Bay, then dip your toes in the ocean at one of the Oak Bay beaches.
  23. Challenge your child to identify the animals on the totem poles in the Thunderbird Park, east of the Royal BC Museum.
  24. Bring binoculars to spot Caddie (Cadborosarus) in the waters off Vancouver Island.
  25. Sit inside the second-story, luxe lounge area at the Fairmont Empress hotel and people-watch new hotel arrivals (don’t forget to make up silly stories about each one).
  26. Reflect in the gothic-style Christ Church Cathedral or the stained-glass gorgeous St Andrew’s Cathedral.
  27. Walk along Ogden Point breakwater. Stare up at the giant cruise ships or look down and watch divers surface.
  28. Make a splash at the Beckwith “frog pond” splash feature in Saanich.
  29. Drive or hike up Mount Douglas, where you can look out over the city and out to Washington State’s Olympic Mountain Range.

Can you suggest a free or cheap family-friendly Victoria attraction, restaurant or activity?

The Great Road Trip: 5 fantastic, family-friendly trips

Are the kids are out of school and bickering already? Here are some excellent, longer BC road trips, Washington State road trips and Oregon road trips, along with links to Google maps, so you can customize each one.

I tried to choose points en route that are really worth a stop for families, and create circles, so you’re always seeing something new. I suggest always spending a few nights in one destination along the drive — it’s too easy to get burnt out on the road otherwise.

1. Waterpark Fun on Google Maps

Starting Location: Vancouver or Seattle
Distance: 767 miles / 1,215 kilometres (15 hours drive time)
Days: 8
Route: If starting in Seattle, drive a little over three hours to the always-sunny Lake Chelan for the Slidewaters waterpark. Stay for two nights. Next, drive an hour up to Osoyoos, BC, home to one of BC’s warmest lakes. Spend one night. Drive to Lake Okanagan, BC for two nights near the Vernon Atlantis Waterslides. Spend two nights in Kelowna, Vernon or Penticton. Then head down for the long drive (4+ hours! Pack lots of movies!) to Cultus Lake WaterPark or Harrison Hot Springs for one night. Spend a night in Vancouver, BC and take the kids to the Variety Kids Waterpark at Stanley Park. Drive home!

2. Spectacular City Escape on Google Maps

Starting Location: Victoria, Vancouver or Seattle.
Distance: 340 miles / 513 kilometres (some by ferry) (9 hours + ferry)
Days: 6

Route: Take the ferry from Vancouver, BC to Swartz Bay, then drive to Victoria. Spend two nights in Victoria. From Victoria, take the Black Ball ferry to Port Angeles. Swing by the historic seaside town of Port Townsend and spend one night. Head to Seattle for two nights, then return home. This route can be reconfigured a number of ways, but it’s rare to drive for more than two hours in any direction – except between Seattle and Vancouver. A great choice for those with younger children, because some of the time is spent on child-friendly ferries.

3. Salish Sea Islands on Google Maps

Starting Location: Seattle, Victoria or Vancouver
Distance: 461 miles /742 kilometres (about 15 hours drive time plus ferry)
Days: 10

This meandering trip creates a necklace of Salish Sea island jewels. Starting from Seattle or Vancouver, take the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands. Spend one night. Continue on by ferry to Victoria for two nights. Next, take the ferry to the gentle farmlands of Salt Spring Island. Spend one night. Continue up to Nanaimo. Spend two nights to prep yourself for the next big haul to Comox BC, then taking the hour-long ferry across to Powell River. From here, you’ll hopscotch to Vancouver via ferry along Hwy 1. Choose three more nights to stay from the child-friendly Sunshine Coast accommodation options. With very young children, halve this trip and return to Vancouver via Nanaimo.

4. Golden Circle Route on Google Maps

Starting Location: Portland
Distance: 575 miles / 925 km (about 12 hours travel time, but traffic can impact)
Days: 8

Drive from Portland to Cannon Beach, Oregon, a family-friendly favorite. Spend two nights, then pack snacks (and your mental energy) for the long, gorgeous drive along The People’s Coast down to Newport, Oregon — be sure to stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for lunch and a quick visit. Spend two nights in Newport, visiting the aquarium and hanging out on the beach. Then get ready for a big change in scenery — you’ll drive almost three hours east along Hwy 20, through the forests and into family-friendly Bend. Spend two nights. Then head north to Mt. Hood, spending one night at the historic Timberline Lodge. Return to Portland! You can shave time and distance off this trip by halving it — and driving back up I-5 to Portland.

5. Olympic Glory road trip on Google Maps

Starting Location: Seattle or Victoria
Distance: 361 (Seattle)- 581 km (9 h)
Days: 4-6

For this trip, you’ll need to pack a raincoat — and garlic! Leaving from Seattle or Victoria, drive (or ferry) to Crescent Lake, Washington to stay in the Lake Crescent Lodge. Spend one night. From here, swing by the Hoh Rain Forest, then drive to one of the Olympic Park’s campgrounds. You can reserve a spot at Kalaloch, take your chances at the first-come, first-served campgrounds or stay in a Forks, Washington hotel if you’re living with a vampire fan. Spend one night in any destination. Then, drive to Lake Quinault Lodge to spend one more night before driving home. If “home” is in Victoria, spend two extra nights in Seattle, fortify yourself, then drive home via Port Angeles or Anacortes.

Vancouver Flower Power Giveaway: Tix to VanDusen

Today, I have a fun giveaway for Vancouver-bound readers and Vancouver parents!  Even if you haven’t gone to Vancouver, BC recently, I’ll bet you’ll want to — if you win this. I’ve pulled together a $10 gift certificate and a four-pack of admission tix to two great Vancouver attractions for families, and they’re both in my book, Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver as well.

Dandelion Kids is a hip little kids’ store on Commercial (or “The Drive”) Ave, nestled among cafes, restaurants and funky boutique. I like visiting whenever I’m in town, because the owners are super-picky about their finds and always stock something I’ve never seen before, whether Canadian-made or imported.

Looking through the window at Dandelion Kids. (Photo courtesy Dandelion Kids)

I particularly like the toys and baby items – and it’s a great place to stop for a gift. Last year, my son picked out a swanky cowboy hat that looked like it had just fallen off Roy Roger’s head.

I suggest stopping to spend your $10 gift certificate at Dandelion, then heading out to VanDusen Botanical Garden to redeem your four-pack of admission tickets.

VanDusen is a lovely Vancouver destination – Vancouver’s answer to Victoria’s Butchart Gardens. Far too many families skip this gem – including my own! We’d been over a dozen times before we went – and my husband said, “Why haven’t we been here before? This is great.”

At VanDusen, kids love the hedge maze, pond fountains (don’t jump in, kids), huge grass lawns, roses and hydrangeas, funky sculpted bushes and sheltering trees. There’s even engaging family programming, if you time your visit right.

A pony made out of plants at VanDusen. Curiouser and curiouser...

The only trick with these tix? They’re only good in July, and not good for special events. So you need to use ‘em up quick! But the summer gardens are open until 9 p.m., and I highly recommend an evening walk in the cool air. It’s a great way to wind down before bedtime.

How to enter? Leave a comment below and let me know whether you’re planning to visit Vancouver or if you’re a Vancouver resident. That’s it!

Good luck. Entries must be in by noon, June 29, and I’ll draw the winner that afternoon.

Please be patient when waiting for your comment to appear. I hand-approve each one. No spam will be approved.

Kid-Friendly Hikes Near Victoria, BC

To find out more about family-friendly hiking and camping near Victoria, BC I interviewed Kari Jones, a mom to one son and the author of the book “Hiking Adventures with Children: Southern Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula” which you can order from Kari’s blog or from Amazon.com.

Q: Is there a kid-friendly hike within Victoria’s city limits that you recommend? What do you like about it?

There are so many walks within Victoria; it’s hard to choose just one. But if I have to, I’d say Mystic Vale is my favourite. The walk starts at the University of Victoria, which is easily accessible by car or bus, but once you are in the Vale, it’s hard to remember you’re in the middle of the city. It’s a little bit of wilderness.

Mystic Vale (This photo and one at right — also Mystic Vale — courtesy of Sarah Pugh)

There are tall trees, wildflowers, and a little stream that runs its length. With small children, going to Mystic Vale can be a whole morning’s outing. The best place to park is along Cedar Hill Cross Road, and if you go by bus, you have to walk across the campus to Cedar Hill Cross Road (not far, about 5 minutes of walking). The Vale itself is probably only one kilometer or so, but I will see if I can get a specific length. If you look at the map at this link, the vale is the red line. As you can see, you can make a loop out of it by walking on the red line, which is up above the vale (in the valley).There is no cost, and it is always open, though I wouldn’t recommend visiting it in the dark. It would be easy to trip.

Can you recommend a hike (within 45 minutes of downtown Victoria) that’s good for families with toddlers? Is there a spot accessible via public transportation?

Francis/King Regional Park is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Victoria, and is a fantastic place for toddlers. There are several hikes, the easiest of which is the Elsie King Trail. This park is inland, so it’s drier than some of the coast walks.

Francis/King park, photo courtesy Marci Zoretich

The area is home to so many species of plants and animals I can’t name them all.  In the spring there are wildflowers all along the trails, and we have seen newts, moles, owls, and other hard-to-see creatures there.

If you are on a bus, Beaver Lake is a nice place to walk. It’s flat, and the trail is well defined. It’s less “wild” than Francis King, but there is still a lot of wildlife to entertain a toddler with.

Q: Can you recommend a hike (within 45 minutes of downtown Victoria) that’s good for elementary-age kids — children who can go a little further without complaint?

Witty’s Lagoon is a fantastic place for families with kids of any age. It’s a bit of a hike from the road to the beach, so be prepared to carry toddlers. Any kid will enjoy watching the water cascade down the waterfall and running along the lagoon. Once you reach the end of the trail, the beach opens up and you can spend a whole day amusing yourself in the sand and water. On a sunny day the water warms up on the sandy flats, and many people enjoy swimming when the tide is high.

Q: Where is your favorite kid-friendly hiking spot mid-island? What do you like about it? Who is it good for (age-wise)?

In the winter, people visit the ski resort at Strathcona Provincial Park, but many aren’t familiar with the great summer hiking. This park is really best in mid-summer, once all the snow has melted. There are lakes to swim in, mountains to climb, and alpine meadows to walk through and camping platforms to erect your tent on. It is a wilderness destination, so you have to carry in everything you need and carry it all back out again. It’s great for families with children small enough to carry or old enough to carry a small pack.

Q: Do you have a favorite Victoria post-hike spot to take your kid for treats?

After a hike we often stop in at Demmitasse (1320 Blanshard Street, Victoria) in Oak Bay for a baked treat and a hot chocolate or coffee (depending on your age!). It’s a family-run bakery on McNeil Avenue, which has seats outside where you can sit, even if you are stinky from hiking, and sip at lattes, cappuccinos or hot chocolates. My son always chooses a popsicle, even when the rest of us are having hot drinks. They cater to all our needs.

Q: How about camping? Can you recommend a great car-camping location not too far from Victoria, with trails or a lake (or similar) nearby?

My favourite car camping location is Ruckle Park. It’s on Saltspring Island, and what I love about it is that you drive to a parking lot, park the car, and walk to your campsite a few meters away. So when you’re camping, you have easy access to your car, but your view consists of ocean and trees. There’s a lovely hike from the campground to a small beach where kids can safely wade or play in the sand or search for purple shore crabs. The campsite is very near to a working sheep farm, which you can also walk around if you want a longer hike.

Thanks, Kari! Readers, can you suggest any hikes?