Family vacations in British Columbia

British Columbia is a province with a population that can’t sit still. If it’s not a quick ski before work, it’s an evening kayak, a half-day hike through rainforest-clad canyons, or a long weekend on ‘the island’.
Of course, this being Canada, the vastness of the landscape is mind-boggling. ‘The island’ is Vancouver Island – a playground of rainforests, surf beaches, salmon rivers and orca-friendly coves that takes six hours to drive from top to bottom. Back on mainland British Columbia, there’s 1,590km of road between the most southerly city, Vancouver, and the most northerly ex-trading post, Fort Nelson. The mountains include 10 branches of the sky-scraping Canadian Rockies.
There’s a joke that children in British Columbia are born with a canoe paddle in their hands and skis on their feet.
So how do you unleash the kids on this wild province? Easily, as it turns out – especially if you let an expert tour guide lead the way through the expansive terrain. After all, British Columbians are folks who learn bear safety alongside their ABCs and send their kids to ski schools while they’re still in preschool. That means this province is fully prepared for families who fancy meticulously well-kept trails, smooth roads through grandstanding mountains, and waterfall-side picnic spots.

Where to go on a family vacation to British Columbia

Yoho National Park

Yoho National Park bumps up against the Alberta border, squirreled away between the more popular Banff and Jasper National Parks. White water rafting guides rocket you down the aptly named Kicking Horse River. Hikes include Emerald Lake, where you can snap a photo of the photogenically Canadian – but eye-wateringly expensive – canoes for hire before losing the coach park crowds just a mile or two along the easy lakeshore paths. Takkakaw Falls is the 80-storey-tall cherry on top. A guide will lead you to the tumble of rocks at its base or families with older children can tackle the trickier hiking paths at the crown of the falls.

Wells Gray Provincial Park

You can delete your Calm app when camping in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Campsites tend to rock up to the water’s edge, so the rushing water of the Thompson River or the eerie call of loons greeting sunset will lull you to sleep – especially after a day on the trails. The best trips will take you to see Helmcken Falls, before escaping the busy viewpoint and fanning out to the scores of other waterfalls that avoid the bucket-listers.

Most family vacations don’t plant you in wilderness camps. You’ll be at a site where tents, decent toilets, bear-proof lockers and cooking stations are included; all you’ll need are your sleeping bags. It’s all-hands-on-deck – you’ll help set up, clean up and grill a classic BC ‘cookout’, where you’ll get stuck into a feast with your new campmates.

Whistler

It’s hard to recommend Whistler in winter, when snow cannons dump the ski runs with snow and the village turns into a bizarre Disney-esque replica of a Swiss ski town. Come summer, however – when most family vacations to British Columbia run – Whistler proves its mastery at year-round tourism and swaps alpine skiing for less damaging activities like zip wires and hiking.

It’s British Columbia, so it’s easy to escape Whistler village and tap out into the wilderness. What’s more, it’s really, really fun. Cable cars glide up to the Whistler and Blackcomb mountain peaks, delivering you and the family smoothly to 50km of high-altitude trails that range from easy to difficult. The views – and absolute peace – are enough to impress even the most cynical teens.

Your tour guide will be able to point you to the kid-friendly hikes 2,436m below the peaks. Cycle paths and mountain biking trails swoop through the forests, through luminous green buttercup meadows, shadow bright turquoise glacier rivers, and loop around lakes still enough for even the littlest kayaker or stand up paddler.

Vancouver

Many family vacations to British Columbia begin or end in its most family-friendly city: Vancouver. Casually spectacular, Vancouver offers up rainforests for public parks, Coastal Mountain views and bald eagles that nest in eye-line of salmon-rich shores. It’s all really accessible, too, with wide cycle paths that skim along the coast all the way from downtown Stanley Park to the sandy beaches of Spanish Banks. The North Shore is a treasure trove for adventurous families, too: you can wobble across Capilano Suspension Bridge and catch the salmon run in action.

Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is a 90-minute ferry ride from Vancouver via the mystical Gulf Islands. The capital, Victoria, is strangely faux-English (Victorian tea rooms and pubs called The Churchill, The Beagle and The Penny Farthing), thanks to its colonial past and hefty British expat population. That surreal straight-lacedness is kicked to the kerb as soon as you escape the city limits.

Family vacations give you chance to get the salt in your hair and whales, bears and bald eagles in your sights. You can go whale watching with responsible skippers who keep their distance and let the humpbacks and orca call the shots, instead of crowding them in. Kayaking is an even better approach; there’s nothing quite like seeing the 1.5m dorsal fin of an orca scythe past you. (Don’t worry – they’re about as dangerous as Free Willy in the wild.)

Our top British Columbia family Vacation

Canada family adventure vacation

Canada family adventure vacation

The perfect outdoor adventure for the whole family

From US $2479 to US $2599 12 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2021: 25 Jul, 31 Jul, 2 Aug
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about British Columbia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Practicalities

Most family vacations to British Columbia are small group trips of up to 13 people. Tour guides, accommodation, meals, camping equipment (barring sleeping bags) and transport are usually included. You probably won’t just stick to British Columbia; following the Canadian Rockies over the Alberta border to Banff and Jasper is usually irresistible. Trips usually run in July and August. The trails and campsites are all open and school vacations are in full swing, so expect company. These vacations aren’t for families looking for a true wilderness experience. The minimum age for activity vacations is eight and under-16s rarely have to pay full price. Read up on safely camping and hiking in bear country. It’s not just for your health: a fed bear is a dead bear, as British Columbians like to say. As soon as rubbish and food becomes easy to access, bears lose their wariness of people and become accustomed to raiding campsites – dicey for both bears and people. The distances are vast, so you’ll need at least a week to explore British Columbia with the family. Two weeks is ideal.
Photo credits: [Page banner: andy_c] [Yolo National Park: Jack Borno] [Vancouver: Lee Robinson] [Practicalities: Nick Kenrick]
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