Introducing guest blogger Cassandra from Have Kids, Still Traveling
The city of Vancouver in beautiful British Columbia, Canada is consistently voted as one of the top 5 best Canadian cities to visit. As much as this family friendly city has to offer, there are even more great family activities found just outside the city limits. On your next visit, be sure to check out one of our top 7 day trips from Vancouver for families, all within easy driving distance from downtown.
This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of locals
No trip to Vancouver would be complete without a visit to Whistler. Whistler is approximately 125 kms (78 miles) from downtown Vancouver and makes for an easy day trip from the city for families. The best way to get to Whistler is by car, as the drive itself is a trip in its own right. Bring your own car, or rent one and take your time on the hour and forty minute trip over what is called the “Sea to Sky Highway.”
The stunning water and mountain views are best enjoyed at your own pace, and there are many pull outs to stop and admire the scenery. If you’re up for a hike, many easy trailheads can be found along the journey as well.
The Whistler Village and the town of Whistler were made more famous as the shared host city of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Whistler Blackcomb is one of the top-rated ski resorts in North America, and a trip here in the winter is a must if you and your family enjoy winter sports.
The village is also a great place to visit in the summer. There is ample parking on the outskirts of the village. Families with smaller children may opt for an easy-going day of strolling through the village and window shopping. There is a great playground in the middle of the village with lots of seating nearby for parents. Grab a coffee from any one of the many great coffee shops, and sit and enjoy the fresh air while the kids play.
Olympic Rings in Whistler Village
Restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating are plentiful. You are sure to find a cuisine the whole family can agree on. Most restaurants will have the menu posted somewhere out front, so you can peruse the options before you make a decision.
Perhaps after lunch take a tour on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. This 4.5km (2.7 miles) trip takes you from one mountain peak to the next. Enjoy 360-degree views of mountains, glaciers and lakes. There is even a gondola with a glass-bottom floor.
If you and your older kids are looking for something more adventurous, stop into one of the tourist activity shops in the village. Many activities can be planned, such as helicopter tours and zip-lining. Whistler is also well known for its mountain bike track. Mountain bike rentals and lift tickets can all be purchased together. Grab a map of the trails and set off on an adrenaline-filled afternoon.
If hiking is your thing, a great family hike is the Train Wreck Trail just south of Whistler. This easy Whistler hiking trail offers something no other trail offers; a train wreck! A 2 km (1.25 mile) easy roundtrip walk leads you to a suspension bridge which once crossed you will arrive at a set of colourful boxcars.
The train cars derailed back in 1956 and have been at this site, unmoved since then. Kids will love walking in and on the old boxcars, and the sight of damaged metal among the pristine forest is a unique sight to see. This walk is easily done even with the youngest of hikers.
Train Wreck Trail in Whistler
If you don’t want your time in Whistler kept short, there are lots of beautiful hotels and many residences on sites like Airbnb to reserve overnight accommodation. If you don’t have a car during your stay in Vancouver, there are many tour bus operators who run shuttles from Vancouver to Whistler and can offer you round trip pricing.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
This family-friendly activity is located just 9 km (5.5 miles) from downtown Vancouver in the beautiful city of North Vancouver. It is an easy drive on your own, or a free shuttle service from downtown Vancouver is offered with the price of your admission. All the details are available on their website.
Once at the park, there are many sections of the park to explore, most notably being the suspension bridge itself, which is 450 feet long and is 230 feet above Capilano River. Other areas of interest in the park include the cliff walk, treetop adventures, a story centre, raptors ridge, and more.
Kids will love the Cap Kids Program. At any age, kids can collect “research data” from around the park while learning about the west coast rainforest. Their data can be brought back to the guest services to receive their Rainforest Explorers reward.
The treetop adventure is another family hit. This canopy walk is built entirely out of reclaimed wood and centered around 250-year-old Douglas Fir trees. The treehouses are linked by 7 suspension bridges. None of the structures are attached to the trees by screws or bolts, so the trees still have room to grow around the structures. This unique view of the forest is one of a kind in North America and makes for a great day trip from Vancouver for families.
Despite being a well-loved ski paradise, Grouse Mountain has even more to offer during the summer months. The Mountain is a 12.5 km (8 miles) drive from downtown Vancouver. In the summer months, Grouse offers a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver right to the base of the mountain.
Once at the base of the mountain, you have two options to get to the top. You can take the Grouse Mountain Resort Gondola. Or you can hike Vancouver’s most hiked trail, the Grouse Grind. The Grind, also known as Mother Nature’s Stairmaster, is a 2.9km (1.8 mile) hike with an elevation gain of 800 meters (2625 feet). It’s considered a difficult hike, due to how steep it is.
If hiking isn’t your thing, or time is a factor, tickets for the Gondola can be purchased. Tickets can be reserved online before you arrive, and are recommended during the summer months, as lines can be long, and time slots sold out.
Taking the Gondola up Grouse Mountain
At the top of Grouse, there are many activities to occupy a family for hours. If adventure is what you’re after, and your kids are over the age of 8, you could take part in the Mountain Rope Adventure which is an aerial rope course. Tickets for this can be purchased online prior to arrival. If your kids are younger, ages 3-8 can take part in the Kids Tree Canopy Adventure. This course is at no extra charge.
There are other free activities at the top for families. The Skyride will take you even farther up the mountain for a scenic journey there and back. The Wildlife Refuge currently has two orphaned grizzly bears that reside on Grouse Mountain. On top of viewing the bears in their habitat, they offer a ranger talk, as well as an owl and raptor talk, which allow you to learn and ask questions about the wildlife found in the area. For more activity, you can enjoy a round of Disc Golf. A spin on traditional golf, using frisbees instead of clubs and balls. The golf is free to play, but if you didn’t each bring your own frisbee, you will need to purchase some from the gift shop.
Be sure to check the Grouse Mountain Website to see what is running for the day, as well as current temperature and weather information. Even in the summer months, it can be cooler on the mountain so be sure to check the weather and bring layers just in case. There can be snow on the ground as late as June or July, so bring proper footwear as well.
You won’t find Westham Island on many tourist itineraries. Located 34 km (21 miles) south of downtown Vancouver, this small, quiet island is accessed by the oldest bridge in BC. Built in 1910, the Westham Island Bridge is a small single-lane swing bridge. There are many activities while on the island, including a winery, visit a farm and pick berries, walk a trail, or our personal favourite, visit the Bird Sanctuary.
The George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary is at the far north end of the island, which is only about a 10-minute drive from the Westham Island Bridge. This amazing sanctuary is home to almost 300 different species of birds and is a vital stopping point for migratory birds traveling north or south depending on the season. Even if you aren’t an avid bird watcher, you will love this hidden gem. It is one of our favourite day trips from Vancouver for families, and we frequently bring our out-of-town guests.
Tickets are inexpensive, and all proceeds go directly into maintaining the park. You can stay as long as you like. Enjoy the several kilometers of nature trails through ponds, channels, and marshes.
Be sure to buy a few packs of bird seeds when you check in. Children of any age will love to feed the ducks, geese, chickadees, and cranes. Safe and fun, the birds will flock to the kids who are offering the most food. Most mallards and chickadees will feed directly from your hand. If you aren’t up for walking the park trails, you don’t have to walk far to feed the ducks, and there are many benches throughout the park to sit and enjoy.
Feeding the Sandhill Crane at George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary
Once you’re tired of feeding the birds, make your way back along the main road. Other places to stop include Westham Island Herb Farm. Here you can purchase more than just herbs. Seasonal fruit and vegetables fresh picked from the farm are available, alongside flowers and seedlings. Local honey and soaps can also be purchased. Take a walk through their farm and see how it works. Check their hours online to be sure they are open in the season you are traveling.
The Emma Lea Farms is another family favourite. Stop in at their ice cream shop for a cool treat. Browse their selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, and homemade goods like preserves and pies. U-pick is also available for several different fruits depending on the time of year you visit.
A 45 km (28 miles) drive from downtown Vancouver, Fort Langley lies on the edge of the Fraser River. This quaint town is beautiful to explore on its own, with many small shops and beautiful architecture, and lush parks, but the most notable of attractions is the Fort Langley National Historic Site.
Fort Langley is considered the birthplace of British Columbia. This former fur trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company is now a National Historic Site that operates as an educational resource for the fur trade in the 1800s.
Behind the wood palisades of the fort, you can enjoy themed interpretations put on by actors dressed in the part. Older kids can take part in musket firing. Watch blacksmiths make barrels and other goods. Children can dress up or play in the children’s area. Food can be purchased for lunch as well. Self-guided audio tours are available in many different languages.
An overnight excursion is available to book through the park itself that includes a shuttle from downtown Vancouver. Upon pick up, you are given the day to experience the Fort. Come time to sleep, stay in one of their oTENTik cabins within the Fort’s walls and live like a settler for the night. Wake up to breakfast around the campfire. You are then given time to explore the city of Fort Langley before your shuttle takes you back to Vancouver.
Lynn Canyon Park is located in North Vancouver 14.5 km (9 miles) from downtown Vancouver. The most popular attraction in this park is the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. The bridge suspends 50 meters (164 feet) above the canyons rushing waters and waterfalls. When the park is busy, it can be quite a feat to cross, as it shakes and sways with every step. From the middle of the bridge, you can see the entire canyon, but it can be tricky to take a good photo with the bridge swaying.
Once you are over the bridge your next stop should be the 30-foot pool. Make a left from the bridge and the pool is only a short walk away. If you brought your swimsuit, jump in for a dip, but beware, the water is very cold even in the summertime. If you just want to enjoy the view, this is a great place for a picnic. In the summer it can be quite busy, but regardless of what time of year you visit, the pool is a beautiful sight.
There are a few trails to choose from ranging in difficulty and length. You can download a map of trails before you go, or you can stop in at the Ecology Centre located at the entrance to the park and pick up a copy of the map. The Ecology Centre is free to enter, and inside you can walk through the museum and learn about the plants and animals that call the park their home.
A black bear sighting is not out of the question in this park, as black bears frequent the area. Always be sure to stay on the trails, and dress appropriately for the weather and type of trail you are planning.
Steveston is a suburb in Richmond, located 20 km (65 miles) from downtown Vancouver. This active West Coast fishing community makes for a great day trip. This historic village was home to what was the largest cannery in BC, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. It is now a national historic site, and you are able to tour the museum inside to learn more about the area and the fishing and canning industry.
While near the docks, be sure to stop in to the Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf. It is here that you can purchase the catch of the day. The public fish market is always open, but you can also buy direct from various fishing boats. What is available depends on the season, so it may be a good idea to check the Fisherman’s Wharf website beforehand. Not just fish like Salmon, Tuna, and Halibut can be purchased, but also prawns, shrimp, crabs, and sea urchins.
Looking out over the Steveston Harbour
If cooking the fish yourself isn’t your thing, there are lots of great restaurants nearby to choose from. Try the catch of the day prepared by a professional. The Britannia Brewing Company has a great mixed menu of seafood, meat and vegetarian options, along with their rotating taps. With so many options around the village, you’ll be sure to find something the whole family will agree upon.
The Cannery isn’t the only National Historic Site in Steveston. The Britannia Shipyards are also a protected site. The original wood buildings in the Shipyards area all date back to the 1880s when Steveston was a large port town and the cannery business was thriving. Take a stroll through the site along the docks. Plenty of information along your walk is to be found on the history of the area.
Other options in the area to visit include the London Heritage Farm. Walk the grounds of the farm or stop in for a cup of tea in the tea room. The Steveston Museum and Tram are a great stop if you enjoy learning of the history of the area. Garry Point Park is on the west side of the island, and not far from the Wharf. Take a short stroll to the viewpoint for a look out over where the Fraser River pours into the Pacific Ocean. Bicycles can also be rented if the family is up for a bike ride around the Steveston area.
About the Blogger
Have Kids, Still Traveling was born to inspire families to travel with young kids. Alex and Cassandra live in Vancouver, Canada and travel the world when they can, bringing along their 3 year old son Fox. They hope their shared stories, experiences and lessons will encourage other families with kids to explore the beautiful world and experience other cultures around them.
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With thanks to Cassandra for her contribution to our guest series. You may also like to read about the best summer activities in Toronto, Canada, or the best of Duluth, Minnesota.
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