After some friends moved to Vancouver at the end of last year, my wife and I decided to make the trip to British Columbia before our second child arrived and before Amelie (16 months) turned 2 as it will take her years of saving pocket money before she can afford her own aircraft seat. With a little trepidation at the thought of a 10 hour flight with a toddler, we booked our tickets and got chatting to Anna, our Canada specialist and Mike from Last Frontier Heliskiing, about what to see and do.
The sheer size of BC is hard to overstate. At nearly 1 million square kilometres, it is four times bigger than the UK and twice the size of California. The best advice we received was not to travel too much as BC is an easy place to spend hours staring at trees through a car window. We settled on a three centre itinerary including Vancouver, Tofino on Vancouver Island and Whistler – the perfect combination of city, beach and mountains for an active family.
Sue, our flights specialist worked her magic to ensure we had bulkhead seats with a bassinet (sky cot) and the flight proved to be a lot less traumatic than we expected. Amelie was delighted with her playpen area at our feet and while she was too big for the sky cot on the way out, the Airbus on the return journey had a sky cot for children up to 11kg and she slept, well, like a baby funnily enough. Virgin take surfboards free of charge so dad was happy too.
Vancouver is one of those places that doesn’t really seem like a city. It has a similar feel to Cape Town or Queenstown in New Zealand and is endowed with incredible natural beauty.
We only went to downtown Vancouver once but mainly spent our days exploring the mountains and waterways that surround the city. Our first treat was a boat trip from Deep Cove to Granite Falls and even some of BC’s legendary rain couldn’t dampen our spirits (apart from Amelie’s if you look closely).
Stanley Park is a national park as big as the downtown district and it seems hard to believe the skyscrapers are little more than a stone’s throw away. Grouse and Cypress Mountains offer skiing right outside the city and the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a great family day out. Amelie and Max were completely unphased by the sheer drop below them although the same could not be said for their fathers who are now the proud owners of several kittens.
Vancouver is a great place to eat especially if you love fish and ‘Pacific Rim’ cuisine and after some superb eating, I needed some exercise and couldn’t resist the challenge of the Grouse Grind, a speed hike up Grouse Mountain and managed to beat 40 minutes, but more importantly Adam – although I won’t be challenging the record (under 24 minutes) any time soon. At the top of Grouse Mountain, Adam and I rejoined our families to watch a lumberjack display and were lucky enough to catch a sighting of a grizzly bear in the enclosure.
Three nights in Vancouver was perfect before taking the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Tofino. Having made the adjustment from my Audi to the rather larger Ford Escape I borrowed, I was left in no doubt that ‘size isn’t everything’ on arrival at our accommodation in Tofino.
I also learnt that “drivers with cellphones (rather than guns) kill people” from my neighbour’s bumper sticker.
Tofino was a highlight for me as the waves turned up right on time and the surfing was made even better by the friendliest locals I have ever encountered. One chap rather generously described one wave as “a sick ride, dude”, which made my day, although I am not sure he will be joining the pro tour’s judging panel any time soon.
The walking trails in the Pacific Rim National Park are spectacular, easily accessible and reasonably undemanding, yet give you access to some of the most spectacular old growth forest in the world
And Amelie seemed to thoroughly enjoy being portered through the forest in her backpack carrier to deserted sensational beaches.
BC is known for its rainy climate but provided you take decent waterproofs, the walking trails are just as good in the rain and the beaches offer spectacular storm watching. The Ucluelet aquarium is another thing to do on a wet day and what it lacks in scale and spectacle, it makes up for with its friendly, experiential and environmental approach. All the fish are returned to the ocean at the end of the season and touch tanks allow children to touch and hold certain species.
After 3 nights in Tofino (I could have done more but I think Kirsty was happy to head for a little luxury), we headed to a warm welcome at the Four Seasons Whistler.
The Four Seasons Whistler offers surprisingly good value for money, especially in summer and the steaks at the Sidecut restaurant are just spectacular. For families, the heated outdoor pool and free food for under 5s are a real bonus and Amelie was thoroughly spoiled by the team there.
While Whistler is better known in the UK for the skiing, it is as busy in summer as in winter. The Lost Lake Park is right outside the front door of the Four Seasons and is a great place to walk, cycle, run or lie on the beach at the Lost Lake itself.
For families with older children the summer options in Whistler are almost endless – kayaking, white-water rafting, zip-lining, quad biking to name but a few. The big thing in summer is mountain biking and if cycling uphill is not your idea of relaxation, Whistler’s chairlifts can ensure that your arms will be more tired than your legs at the end of the day.
It has to be said though that the downhill trails of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park are not for the fainthearted but for any keen mountain biker, they are just phenomenal.
Don’t be put off by the somewhat intimidating sight of hordes of bikers in full face helmets and body armour. I soon realised that most of these riders were, like me, intermediates with rental gear and the trails are clearly graded, blue, green and black, like ski runs so it is easy enough to build up confidence gradually even if this is your first proper downhill experience. After four hours, Adam and I were excitedly throwing ourselves into banked corners and rolling jumps like a pair of teenagers (rather than the nearly forties dads that we are).
Finally, no trip to Whistler would be complete without seeing the mountain properly so a trip on the Peak to Peak gondola left me with a lingering feeling that I really need to come back soon when the ground is white rather than green.
Overall British Columbia is just such an easy destination to combine a bit of luxury with a bit of adventure. The Canadians are some of the friendliest, most helpful and enthusiastic people I have encountered and they are under no illusions about how lucky they are to have such a natural playground to live in. Vancouver is a great city destination for people with young children – between splash parks, bike rides, bear viewing and the most child friendly restaurants I have come across, they are so well catered for. In all honesty older children would get a little more out of it – the kayaking, float planes, whale watching and endless activities in Whistler mean they will never get bored, but I suppose that means we will have to come back!
Our Action and Adventure Canada itinerary takes in many of these highlights – Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino, Whistler, Cowboy Country & Rocky Mountains – but as each Scott Dunn holiday is tailor-made this is just for inspiration and can be tweeked and changed as much as you wish to create your ideal trip.