Vancouver Island delivers a fantastic mix of urban and wild. It’s the unique destination that gives my wife her “fancy shoe wearing, oyster eating” time, my son his “skate park, parkour” time, and me time to paddle, hike, sample the local food/drink and check out some museums. Everyone wins!
Just 3 hours north of Seattle, Vancouver Island offers a staggering array of hiking, cycling, wildlife, paddling, surfing and fishing options layered atop great hotels, cabins, museums – not to mention lots of craft beers, cool shops and good food . There’s lots to do for active kids – and their ADHD parents.
The problem? How slice up two weeks on the island and keep everyone entertained. Being adults and all, my wife Lynne and I are [somewhat] easy to please. Our 13-year old son Logan is harder to impress. We kept him happy with liberal doses of swimming time, skatepark time and GoPro time.
A Two-Week Itinerary
After much research and itinerary wrangling, here is how we split up our 12 nights on Vancouver Island – and kept everyone highly entertained in the process.
Vancouver – 3 nights
- Hotel Blu – Expensive ($300 CAD/night), but worth it. Beautiful suite with floor-to-ceiling (25 feet) windows and a balcony. Great pool/hot tub/sauna/workout room. Free bikes. Perfect location.
- Bike The Seawall – An easy flat ride around the perimeter of Vancouver and through Stanley Park. Suitable for the the whole family You can find bike rentals all over town but we grabbed ours at The Blu.
- Great Walking – Pace the sidewalks in nearby neighborhoods to find great restaurants and shops with interesting stuff for all of us. Micro-green smoothies? Check. Copper infused cloth for cast iron pan cleaning or rust removal – or, just because it’s awesome? Check. Bike/scooter shop to borrow an air compressor hose for scooter grip repair? Check. Local oysters with lovely Riesling? Check. Beer shop for a mind-numbing array of local beers? Check. (Teetotalers: This is still a worthy stop if only for the incredible label art!)
- Hello Parent Time! Logan went to a 3-hour open gym class at Origins Parkour Gym, twice, and we went straight to a nice, long lunch, twice. The staff at Origins was super friendly, and made him feel welcome. Logan was ready to move to Vancouver after a few hours at Origins.
- Do the Aquarium – Truly one of the best I have ever been to, and I have been to many – but get there when it opens to avoid the crush of humanity that packs in as the day goes on.
- Bottom Line? Vancouver is a great way to start your Vancouver Island trip. However, it’s all about location. We were close to Yaletown and Gastown, which meant the car could stay parked and we could explore on foot. There is lots to see and do, lots of good food to sample, and plenty to keep everyone in the family occupied and happy. For us, three nights was perfect.
Campbell River – 3 nights
- Seaside Cottage – Our favorite. In addition to total privacy, our two-bedroom/two-bath cottage had a 180-degree view of the water, an outdoor hot tub, a washer/dryer, great wi-fi, and a full kitchen for $255 Canadian. It was worth every penny – and then some. It had the perfect location and amenities. Highly recommended.
- Get Out and Paddle – So much to see: skates, jellyfish, kelp forests, schools of fish, clear, calm water – epic! Not to mention bald eagles in the trees. It rained for two days straight while we were there but thanks to the boards and wetsuits we packed, Logan and I went paddling anyway. Then we went straight into the outdoor hot tub. In the rain. So, plan for the worst, and make the best of it (see IPAs, below.)
- Skate Too – There is a very nice, clean skate park in Campbell River.
- Hike to Elk Falls – Head to Elk Falls Provincial Park for great hikes, a suspension bridge, and an impressive waterfall (and I am not easily impressed by waterfalls).
- Bottom Line? I would love to go back and spend many more days in Campbell River. There are miles and miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. With Quadra Island a five minute ferry ride away, and Courtenay a 30 minute drive to the south, the paddling options seem endless. We could have easily spent a week exploring the area and not scratched the surface.
Qualicum Beach – 2 nights
- Qualicum Beach Inn – The whole place is done in cedar wood. My wife was often found smelling the walls. The pool/hot tub area is awesome – and also encased in cedar. The views from every room are toward the ocean. The restaurant on site has smart, modern decor, and has a great happy hour with plenty of outdoor seating. For such a beautiful hotel $300/night isn’t bad, but the town is sort of boring.
- Beach Walking – The Inn is right across from the beach, which could mean great kayaking/paddling. When we were there however, the winds were on it, whipping it up into a frothy mess. However, it is a long stretch of beach perfect for running or walking.
- Go Underground – Spelunkers can drive 45 minutes east from Qualicum Beach to explore Horne Lake Caves. You can rent a helmet and headlamp and do a self-guided trip into a couple of their caves. But, to see the real gems, take a tour. The 25-minute hike to the cave entrance is spectacular and worth it even if you don’t go into one of the caves. Once inside, however, the array of limestone features will impress even the most blasé teenager. It’s like a glimpse into another world. Did I mention the helmet? I would have ended up with a concussion without one. We took the 90-minute Family Cavern Tour, but after being in there, I was ready for more. Book ahead or take your chances. We didn’t make reservations and were lucky to be on a tour with just one other couple. Be aware that their reservations are non-refundable.
- Enjoy the Lake – After the caves, spend some time at Horne Lake for a picnic lunch and some paddling. Canoe rentals are available. There are also vacation rentals along the lake that look amazing. Next time I would definitely stay on the lake for a couple days. Check VRBO for Horne Lake cabin rentals and prepare to have your mind blown. There are some spectacular places right on the water with prices in line with the rest of the island.
- More Skating – The skate park in town was mellow.
- Bottom Line? As a plus, Qualicum sits on the intersection between BC19 which runs north and south, and BC4, which heads west toward Tofino. While the town itself is somewhat boring, it’s location is convenient. Next time, I will go directly to Horne Lake and stay there.
Tofino – 2 nights
- Ocean Village Resort The location on the sand is absolutely spectacular but at $355/night, the room is overpriced for what you get. Lousy lighting, a medieval fold-out bed, and a kitchen with an outdated coffee maker and a couple of thrift store-grade pans for cooking.
- Tide Pool Time – With a high tide of 10’ and a low of 1’, tidepooling possibilities abound. I recommend spending several hours exploring low tide around Makenzie Beach. This is also the place for calm paddling, since it takes a huge northwest swell to reach here.
- Surf Cox Bay or Chesterman Beach – There are lots of surf schools and rentals, but be prepared for crowds, and summer onshores. With water temps in the mid to upper 50’s, you will need a wetsuit.
- Hiking! – There are countless hikes in the area. We went on the Bog Hike (which wasn’t too boggy without rain) and the Rain Forest Hike, which included raised sidewalks and 800 year-old cedar trees. A must.
- Skate Report – There is a large, but busy skate park right in town.
- But Touristy – Be prepared for summer crowds and high prices.
- Bottom Line? Even though Tofino is beautiful and there is a lot to do, I probably would have skipped it because there are other gorgeous spots on Vancouver Island that aren’t expensive and packed with tourists. Tofino is small and just cannot handle the crush of humanity that pours in during summer.
Victoria – 2 nights
- Hotel Zed – A water slide at the end of the day! (And yes, I might have been the only adult on it…) We got the 2 bedroom, 1 bath cottage for $160 – but it’s now $350. It was killer for $160 – and probably a decent deal for $350 – but I didn’t price other hotels in Victoria. They also have a ping pong/Wii lounge. Score!
- Cruise-tastic – Downtown Victoria is very clean, with lots of shops and restaurants and all geared toward the cruise industry. Venture a few blocks out of the Disney-esque perimeter and Victoria abruptly becomes very uninteresting.
- Royal BC Museum – Unlike many museums with cases of artifacts/stuff, the different rooms of the Royal BC Museum recreate the cultural heritage of Vancouver Island, starting with the First Nation, through the Gold Rush, and the rise of the European fishing industry. Every room in unique, and the exhibit includes the walls, ceiling, and everything inside. Well worth a visit.
- Food Trucks! – Make sure to visit the food trucks on the back side of the museum when you are done!
- Zed’s Ruby – The Ruby is a fantastic restaurant on the Hotel Zed property that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They specialize in rotisserie chicken – yum.
- Skate? – Victoria has a large – but crowded – skatepark.
- Bottom Line – If you’re heading to Vancouver for the wilderness, two days/one night in Victoria will be perfect.
The ROAM Report : Vancouver Island
Date : July 2015
Itinerary : 12 nights (see details above)
Budget : Approximately $500 per day for hotel, activities and food for a family of three.
Travelers : Lynne Giandomenico, Paul and Logan (13) Puntous
The Good Stuff
- Jaw-Dropping Scenery – Everywhere.
- Amazing Accommodation – Every place we stayed was unique, on the water, and/or had a pool/ hot tub. Some were funky, some had great views, all were interesting and in perfect locations.
- Lots to Do – Hiking, cycling, paddling, surfing, skating, fishing, caving, wildlife watching, tide pools, shopping, dining, hot tubbing, museum hopping – really just about everything!
- Easy Driving – All the roads are well maintained and every destination is well signed, so getting around is easy.
- Geographically Compact – The distance between sights is short, but traffic and single lane roads can extend drive times.
- Very Safe – Nice to not have to worry about safety.
The Not So Good
- Unpredictable Weather – Everyone told us June is really wet and July is normally dry. This year they got zero rain in June, and – you guessed it – July was rainy and windy. Maybe next year… We came prepared with both shorts/t-shirts and insulated jackets/rain gear. But the whole island is pretty casual, fashion wise. Even Vancouver seemed more like San Diego and less like San Francisco.
- No Deals – Prices are the same as California.
Good for Next Time
- Sunshine – Given the potential for wet weather, I might stay on the east side – the ”Sunshine Coast”- and search out some out-of-the-way places and offshore islands to maximize the potential for warm weather.
- More Stuff to Do – I would plan more time for mountain biking and caving – there are more than 1,000 recorded caves on Vancouver Island.
- More SUP – I would bring three inflatable paddle boards so we would not have to deal with kayak rentals. (Read more about the greatness of packing inflatable boards.)
- Drive It – I would also think about making it a longer trip and driving in order to bring mountain bikes, a slackline (a huge thing in Vancouver!) , and maybe some other things I haven’t even thought of yet. Yet.
Good Family Trip?
Even with weather that was even wetter than expected, we all appreciated the wild fun of Vancouver Island. The variety of experiences kept even our teenager (and me) entertained. This is not a tropical summer getaway, but I would return in a heartbeat.
by Paul Puntous, September 2015
© ROAM Family Travel 2015 – All rights reserved
Keywords: family vacation, family travel, family holiday, travel with kids, Vancouver Island family vacation, Skating Vancouver, Vancouver with kids