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33 top tips for a family Canada Road Trip – via Big Foot, the Rockies and Vancouver Island

Canada Bow Lake Canada road trip, Canada pictures, travel tales

Best things to do in Canada


Total drenching from the thunderous falls in a plastic poncho

Bow River
Bow River

Following a magical milky river to its glacial waterfall source

Horse riding Errington
Pony trek

Horse riding with bears at Errington, Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island trees
Cathedral Grove

Massive tree hugging

The Canada road trip plan is born

We were invited to a wedding in Ontario. This was therefore also a once in a decade chance to visit my sister, who has chosen to live as far away from me as she could get – Vancouver Island (should I be taking the hint?). 

And, if we were doing this – I really wanted to show the boys my favourite scenery of all time, the magnificent snow-capped Rockies, on the way. In the end the wedding venue, in the manner of the Tardis, moved in time and space to a different country, but our Canadian flights were pretty much booked by then so we went anyway, including our Canada Road Trip across the Rockies.

Here are the details of our once in a lifetime trip with top tips on what not to miss and pit falls to avoid. 

Getting there - what to know before going to Canada?

How do you book multiple flights in Canada?

Having looked into booking flights over the internet, it quickly became apparent that we needed help. There were too many options, and what if one leg of the journey fell through and we’d booked each stage independently?

Trailfinders provided the answer. We could book a flight to Calgary with free stop overs in Iceland and Toronto on the way, and fly back out of Vancouver, for effectively the price of one return ticket (about £700). They would also have our backs in case of any problems. They helpfully told us that September is the time to book for the following summer as this is when the cheapest flights are released.

(Don’t forget to get an ETA visa on line in advance.)

Car hire for a Canada road trip across the Rockies

We pre-booked one way car hire from Calgary to Vancouver – through Zest (winner of Which? awards – see travel top tips). To save money we did not go for the in-car satnav. We had google maps on our phones and there were not too many horrific city centres to navigate. Be fine.


How do you get to Vancouver Island?

A $14 foot passenger ferry was booked for the way out.

We couldn’t afford it both ways, but as a treat to soften the blow of  having to leave the family for another 4 years, we  booked the  sea plane  from Nanaimo back to the mainland ( $129 1 way per adult/ $70 for a child up to 12). 

There is limited luggage room on the flying tin can, but if you want a better chance of them being able to fit it in (and join you on your connecting international flight) you can drop off your bags the day before and they fly it over for you on an emptier fight (or, to induce a bit of panic, they can just pop it in the corner where you spot it when you turn up the next day to check in).

Where can you stay on a Canada road trip in the Rockies?

In the spirit of not very adventurous travellers, we pre-booked all accommodation for our 10 day Rockies’ tour, mainly because the mountains fill up with millions of tourists in the summer,  there are limited options for places to stay and we we had a party of 4 to house in a family room each evening without busting the bank.  In order to keep the average cost to about $150pn, we had alternated cheap hostel/tent accommodation with occasional outbursts of olde world log cabin style luxury.

Canada road trip tip 1 – Pre-book Rockies accommodation

How do you get out of Canada as a single parent?

It’s worth knowing that in order to enter or leave Canada with children and with only one parent, you need some kind of documentary proof that the other parent has agreed to this. Got husband to write a “to whom it may concern” letter. Felt very odd getting his permission, like I was in Victorian times but if you don’t you’ll be in deep water at customs.

Canada road trip tip 2 – Try a seaplane to Vancouver Island for the same price as a normal one


Niagara, Canada
Part 1 - Ontario


Lake Louise
Part 2 -- Canada Rockies Road Trip

Calgary to Banff / Sulphur mountain
Lake Louise / Moraine Lake
Bow River / Parker Ridge
Columbia Icefields / Jasper
Malign Canyon / Vancouver

Cathedral Grove, BC
Part 3 - Vancouver Island

Parksville / Errington
Cathedral Grove / The Nose
Wildlife recovery centre / Coombs
VIEX / Cameron Lake
Pony Trek with bears / beaches
Seaplane home

Part 1 - A week in the wilds of Ontario

Dorset Lake House

Week 1 was spent at the original wedding venue, a lakeside house/mansion for 14 in Dorset, 3 hours north of Toronto, complete with 17 acres, a historic wooden lodge for 4, its own lake with inflatable jumpy island and a fleet of canoes, pedalos and rowing boats. Yay.  An added bonus is that wolves prowl the perimeter, and can be summoned by the local wolf howler.  If you are not related you can rent the whole place from Home and Away

It is a very different kind of Dorset, being just down the road from Algonquin national park, Big Foot’s stomping ground. You know you’re out of town when you have to don a full-on fly suit for a stroll up the hill on the other side of the lake (having rowed across in a flotilla of small craft), and the prospect of meeting a wolf is putting you off going to the outside loo in the night.

Although there is a local wood shack style store a couple of miles down the road (where you can buy a bit of reindeer hide with your pint of homogenised milk),  you can also drive to Huntsville for proper shopping about 40km away.


To finish the week, we drove to sister-in-law’s city house in Toronto for a day trip to Niagara. Niagara itself is a Las Vegas look-o-like on the cheap.  Waterbeds are on offer everywhere and even the Marriott had a Jacuzzi in the open plan kitchenette. It comes with oversized plastic dinosaurs, Frankenstein themed burger bars and even the odd Elvis impersonator and generally feels a lot more American than Canadian.

Niagara Falls

We headed down to the main event, the falls. The view from the top is incredible, you can almost touch the water. We hadn’t booked ahead, so had no idea which was the best or cheapest tour, but we could see a small boat being buffeted about at the foot of the falls and really wanted a go. 

We quickly bought wi-fi, then purchased tickets for the nearest Hornblower boat  ($28/adult  $18/child) on our phone. Thought we’d skip the queue this way, but the queue was not to buy the tickets (3 people in this one) but to snake your way down to the boat once you have a ticket (about 300 in this one). Also, you enter the attraction by way of an enormous concrete queuing tunnel, totally wiping out access to recently –bought wifi and all evidence of ticket purchase. 

Canada road trip tip 3 – Buy a real paper ticket for Niagara Falls from the booth, much easier and no wi-fi required

Exiting the tunnel we donned our pink plastic ponchos in 30 degree heat, feeling a bit like vacuum packed supermarket chickens, whilst waiting dockside for the final sweaty 30 minutes for our turn to board the boat.  

On board it’s like someone repeatedly chucking buckets of water on you as you sidle up to the roaring falls (but in a good way).

Canada road trip tip 4 – Don’t wear white or any fancy holiday attire on your Niagara Hornblower. You will get wet! 

Part 2 - Canada road trip across the Rockies (Calgary to Vancouver)

Road trip day 1: Cowboy Calgary to beary Banff

Road trip Calgary to Banff - Canada

for our second leg of the journey the plan was to fly out of Toronto and into Calgary, then head straight into the Rockies. I’d line danced with cowboys in the streets of Calgary in an earlier life, but this time we were after nature

Setting off on our Canada road trip into the Rockies, we immediately regretted viewing a sat nav as an unnecessary car hire expense. The phone signal turned out to not be great at cutting through the mountains. Using paper maps we battled against foggy jet-lagged minds to navigate our beautiful mountain wilderness way to Banff.

Canada road trip tip 5 – Order an in-car satnav. Phone signals struggle to get through mountains

Banff - eating, sleeping and bears

Having chosen the Buffalo Mountain Lodge, with various animal parts providing lobby decor for £210pn, we were unable to afford tea. But not to worry, I had been to Banff 20 years previously and knew there were eating options in town. It was about a mile to the centre, but the walk was partly in the woods and not totally on the pavement-free road and also down hill and quite sunny.

Sadly, Banff was full. Literally teeming.

Canada road trip tip 6 – Book a table in Banff if you want to eat

Every restaurant had its own pet queue outside, and those that didn’t simply took your name and told you to come back in about 2 hours. We put our name down at 2 restaurants but man/boy hunger was setting in. As it was our wedding anniversary, I drew the line at McDonalds (which was also mobbed) on this occasion but the bar was set only slightly higher at the subterranean bowling/sports bar with its no-Rockies view and pizzas at $25 a pop. Not the budget or the scenic dining experience I had envisaged for our Rocky adventure. Still, the pizzas were big, too big in fact. Deciding to take some home for a late night snack, we headed back up the hill/mountain, in the semi-dark, with fragrant warm pizza. This was when I suddenly remembered the bears. And the no food outside rule. Picked up the pace to a near sprint and ended the night with an Elk based cocktail in the Wild West hotel bar under the head of a bison. 

Canada road trip tip 7 – Don’t take away pizzas into the woods

Canada road trip tip 8 – Do try an Elk based cocktail under a bison’s head

Road trip day 2: Sulphurous Mountain and sticky hot springs in Banff

This was Big Walk day. These had to be few and far between to keep the younger generation on side. I had done this walk up Sulphur Mountain in my youth and although I remembered that it was a pretty dull route, essentially just zigzagging under the cable car line all the way up, the views at the top were unsurpassed in the subsequent 20 years of big walks.

The plan was to take the cable car up to admire the  view and cut out the slog – but it was about $33 each and our legs were just-out-of-bed fresh so somehow we ended up doing the dull steep walk again. Doh. We arrived at the top to find the wildfires had stolen the view anyway so, jelly-legged, we took the gondola back down to the public swimming bath hot springs at the bottom. A bargain at about a fiver, but a bit too hot on a sticky wildfire summers day.

Canada road trip tip 9 – Take the gondola up Sulphur mountain and walk back down.  (The sulphur pools work best on a chilly day.)

Aiming to avoid beary woods and the dinner queues back in town, we bit the bullet and went for animal based dinner in the hotel, where all the local wildlife could be spotted, if not in real life, then on the menu at least.

Road trip day 3: 3 favourite lakes in 1 day (Louise, Moraine and take a bow, Bow)

Banff to Lake Louise – there are 2 routes:

Route 1 – the fast highway.

Route 1A –  the parallel Canada road trip route that is only open in the summer so wildlife can roam freely over it for most of the year. If you take this route, you are pretty much guaranteed to see all sorts of amazing creatures – cougar, elk, moose, bear. This is what I read the day after we followed Route 1. Gutted. 

Canada road trip tip 10 – For a summer animal safari take Route 1a between Banff and Lake Louise. Send me a photo

Lake Louise

As we pulled into the car park at Lake Louise, I was blissfully unaware of this school-girl wildlife viewing error and was simply happy to be returning to my favourite lake ever, and this time with the boys. The backdrop is straight out of a travel agent’s window display for Canada with its snowy peaks and fluorescently blue waters, towered over by walls of sheer rock. 

As it was still our wedding anniversary weekend, we’d toyed with booking the huge Fairmont Chateau Hotel which overlooks it. Sadly, it was way out of our price range at something like £700 a night. Afternoon tea remained a possibility but the building itself is a bit of a soulless monolith and we suspected the guests would be in fancier attire than our own hiking garb.

At the foot of the lake, we spotted some canoeists heading out onto the milky water and thought that could be the treat instead. You could rent them from the booth by the car park – not even a queue. As it turned out, the boys were just over the weight limit for the family canoe and it would have cost about £200 for an hour for us all to go out. We’d probably have fallen into the icy water anyway.

Mountain fun was more expensive than I had anticipated.

Instead, we followed one of the trails up to a tearoom in the surrounding hills. It was like a scene from an edgy Snow White film, as cheeky chipmunks took bites from our picnic and fingers, and over-confident nutcrackers swooped like Cornish seagulls grabbing sandwiches from unsuspecting hands. A very pretty walk up took us past hidden lakes and vertical rock faces with views over waterfalls and glacial peaks. Bit of a queue for tea in the wooden café at the top meant still no cuppa for us.

Canada road trip tip 11 – Take a spectacular mountain trail to a tearoom for a Lake Louise treat.

For the descent, to avoid the crowds, we decided not to follow the well-worn trail path, but to take the deserted bridle path instead, thereby passing a bridle party discussing how much safer it was to encounter the many grizzly bears in the area on horseback, and how one had been sighted that very morning. As they trotted off we trotted a bit faster back the car park with strains of “If you go down to the woods today, you’d better go in disguise“  Teddy Bear’s Picnic song  on an internal mind loop. Vowed to buy a bear bell.  

Canada road trip tip 12 – Stick with the crowds if you want to avoid bears and buy a bear bell.

Moraine Lake

The Chateau being too princely a sum, my second sleeping choice had been the quirky timbered Deer Lodge, next to what looked like another amazing tract of water, Moraine Lake

Despite researching accommodation options 9 months in advance however, this had already been fully booked. Even though we couldn’t stay there, and ignoring protestations from the family, who had clearly done enough lake-based exploring for one day, we took the one-way track driving detour to check out what instantly became my new favourite lake.

  It had usual towering crags, white crested peaks and piercing blue water but also had spinning driftwood log piles to play on like human beavers. And a lakeside café for the weary of leg, so finally a cuppa too.

Canada road trip tip 13 – Do not miss Lake Louise’s twin and less crowded sister, Moraine Lake (with its spinny logs and cafe).

Bow Lake

Following the chalky white Bow River along the very coolly named Icefields Parkway, on to the accommodation that had actually let us book it, we decided to bypass Mosquito Creek, for obvious reasons. Then, as if the 2 bodies of glacial water we had already been transfixed by that day were not enough to blow the mind, we arrived at, “best lake ever”  – Bow Lake (which still holds the crown for me), and which very excitingly was our base for the next 2 days.

Very out of character, and only because I had the anniversary excuse, I had pushed the boat out and added a lake view at Num ti jah lodge, an old trading post complete with obligatory taxidermy for £210pn.

Canada road trip tip 14 – For olde world charm and turquoise waters book at night Num Ti Jah at Bow Lake.

The lodge had been founded in the 1800s by a red haired 19 year old Englishman who guided scientists, mountaineers, hunters and artists through the Rockies entertaining them with his wild character, quick wit and tall tales. 

As there were no cafes or mini marts for hundreds of miles we booked in for another buffalo-based tea, under moose heads this time.

Road trip day 4: Bow River waterfall walk

This was the best walk of the Canada road trip, and mainly on the flat – my favourite kind. From right in front of the lodge, we took a trail around the edge of the lake, along the frothing river, following its course through canyons, trees then more of a rocky lunar landscape to its glacial waterfall source. 

We lay on the hot flat black rocks as the white water thundered down them inches to our side. Perfect.

Canada road trip tip 15 – Best walk of the trip, up the glacial river from Bow Lake.

Road trip day 5: Drive up to Jasper in search of big game

With as yet no sightings of any decent sized wildlife, all our hopes were pinned on Jasper, where herds of deer reputedly roamed freely about town.  On the way we stopped for a picnic by the never ending and always beautiful, Bow River.

Parker Ridge

On the road up to Jasper made an impromptu stop at a sign for Parker Ridge, which promised a walk to the tongue of a glacier. Rude not to. The flip side of the spontaneity was that we were not really prepared, resulting in an unintentional 3 hour hike (classed as “moderate” but fully up hill all the way and above the  snowline) equipped only with camera, one small water bottle and clad in shorts. This was not Big Walk day either, and the ranks were mutinous, but perked up at the prospect of a mid-summer snowball fight on the way up.

Turning left at the top we were somewhat distracted in attempts to photograph the full sweep of the Saskatchewan glacier, by an attack of Jurassic sized horseflies munching angrily on our calf muscles.

Canada road trip tip 16 – See the tongues of 2 glaciers and have a snowball fight on the Parker Ridge trail (shorts are not ideal).

Heading further over rocky plains at the top, we sought respite from the incredible winds in some handy rock shelters. It was at this point, having run out of water and with no food, the 3 more sensible party members, decided to return and wait impatiently by the vehicle while Bear Grylls strode off to the right, on the longer trail into the wilds. And to be fair he didn’t die and did get the best photos.

Athabasca Glacier

We had used up most the day, but Athabasca glacier was still on the Canada road trip itinerary before our next accommodation for the night. We rocked up to the Columbia Icefield centre too late for a bus tour over the ice, but still had time for the shortish walk from the car park to the base of the icefield. 

 Husband, still with more energy and derring do/death wish (you decide) than the rest of us, ducked under the rope (with about 200 others), past the signs indicating risk of death by crevasse and on to the ice, whilst we admired the view in the safety zone standing like Jack and Rose in Titanic, as the icy wind poured down the valley over us.

Canada road trip tip 17 – You can join a bus tour over Athabasca Glacier itself if you get there in time.


Back on budget night, we had tried to stay in the YHA on the Icefields Parkway, just before you get to Jasper and next to a pretty waterfall  (Hi Athabasca Falls hostel –  £65 through ) but our booking got bumped so we spent 2 nights in Jasper instead, one in the budget Central Jasper YHA and the next in the fancy Pyramid Lake Resort for £158.

As we pulled into Jasper we were pleased to see some real elk cruising across the highway right in the middle of town, just as promised. Hooray. Finally!

Canada road trip tip 18 – Wildlife really does roam free on the streets of Jasper

The hostel is pretty basic. We had not gone for an en suite, which, as soon as we check in somewhere, I  always regret. The room was quite cupboardy, but the kitchen/lounge area was spacious and there was a bit of an outside area for communal BBQ’s and children’s play (although boys very wary of straying too near any bushes for fear of what could lie within). 

Canada road trip tip 19 – You can use your YHA card to get a 10% discount internationally

Road trip day 6 - The cavernously deep Malign Canyon

Spent a lot of this Canada road trip day on the road, driving around looking for more animals (without success this time), and heading in the general direction of Malign Canyon, so named because, before the invention of bridges, it was pure evil to cross. One look at it and you could see they had a point. Deep and raging. 

A map at the top showed a 2 hour walk crossing all 7 bridges they have now managed to build (almost felt like showing off), with a welcome café to boot. We ended up doing the walk twice as a child lost the binoculars half way round.

Checked into Pyramid Lake resort and watched people become stranded in canoes in waves and tides you would not expect to see on a lake. Popped in the hot tub, lounged on the pontoon and drank wine on the balcony wearing hoods (nippy this high up, even in summer).

Road trip day 7: The big drive - Jasper to Kamloops

Let’s just say that this was not a good day.

The Canada road trip itinerary I had made, with a bit of help from Google maps, suggested that we would travel 6 hours to a point between Jasper and Vancouver. The guide book advised that we take  Highway 1 (not Highway 5) via the Thompson  river and Lytton, “one of most scenic highways in the world”. 6 hours in a car would be off-set by the magnificent scenery, was the line we fed the kids.

Also as instructed by the books, we had checked with the hotel in the morning to see if there were any road closures on our intended route.  The wildfires were particularly prolific this year, several larger ones were raging out of control. We were reassured that all was good  with the roads. To be fair we may not have said how far we were going. As we set off, we could see that the smoke had enveloped all of the mountains, leaving an eerie burned out post- apocalyptic world and very little majestic scenery.

We tried to tune into local news, but the reception was fuzzy. As it turned out, 96 miles down one of the roads, it was closed. Alternative routes and indeed roads in general are less plentiful than at home, and the result was a 200 mile round trip back to the main road, on top of a 6 hour journey, and requiring an in-car route re-plan without internet access. Or sat nav. Yikes.

The mood was low. As we headed into Kamloops, the radio came back to life and locals bemoaned the smoke pollution, which had pretty much confined them to their houses for a week. The smog got thicker. Radio reception crackled. We were on a motorway with no other traffic. We thought we heard through the static that this new road was also closed ahead, and, after a bit of panicked shouting, effected a u turn on the dual carriageway and were now heading back into the Big Smoke of Kamloops with no plan C.

Canada road trip tip 20 – Double check on the internet if any roads are closed due to wildfires before you set off. Have a route b plan anyway.

Kumsheen Rafting Resort

We cobbled together a third new plan with old-school paper maps as dusk set in and cruised down windy roads which fell off sharply around us. We were driving through wild animal territory,  past Indian reservations and along gold panning rivers straight out of the wild west, before eventually arriving at Kumsheen rafting resort, 12 hours after setting off. Not surprisingly, it was closed. There was one lady still mopping up in the bar who could give us a map to our tent. Without a torch we were useless. A friendly neighbour showed us how to operate the Victorian era gas lamp which magically illuminated our Colonial, tenty cabin.

As if we were in the actual olden days, everything had a sepia tinge. Again, we had not really considered the bear factor when booking a canvas room. The prospect of loo trips in the night was not a welcome one.  To make the night even less relaxing, mile-long trains thundered past on an hourly basis, whistling eerily, and lighting up the valley (and tent), casting 100 foot monstrous shadows across the mountain side.

Canada road trip tip 21 – Think about bears before booking a tent.

Road trip day 8: Lytton to Vancouver

Canada road trip tip 22 – Schedule note: Double driving estimates and schedule in time for some white water rafting

By the light of morning, we discovered  the resort came with a lovely pool and café, at which it would have been great to hang out for the day, and maybe even try some rafting. But there would be no rafting for us – we had another appointment on our Canada road trip with a budget YMCA in Vancouver, the only vaguely affordable accommodation in town, at £90 a night. Having broken the back of the journey, it was scheduled to be a relatively short 3 hour drive today. We could do this.

No wildfires this time, but confusing motorway closures, gridlock and the American style town planning system with a traffic light on every block through the suburbs, meant another unenjoyable doubling of the time estimate entering Vancouver itself. Overshot the hostel. One way systems. Couldn’t park. Frayed tempers. The usual. 

Where to stay as a family in Vancouver?

The YWCA was better than it sounds. With a spacious foyer, breakfast café and tables set amongst potted plants on the terrace, it was more than we had hoped for. (We had once stayed in the San Francisco YMCA where the pool was closed due to an unspecified virus and with swing saloon doors fitted in the communal bathrooms.) 

Inside was fine, it was outside that was the problem. As we headed down town we started to notice that a zombie apocalypse had beaten us to it. Crowds of people scratching their heads until they bled, or rocking to and fro in their own worlds, lined both sides of the pavement. Abandoning our trip to China Town, we took refuge in a Starbucks behind a table of 10 policemen, who really would have been better off out on the streets tackling the forces of darkness, before returning to the safety of our room.

Canada road trip tip 23 – Avoid downtown Vancouver with kids and head for Granville Island markets and music 

Road trip day 9: Granville Island

What to do in Vancouver? Granville Island

After the previous night’s escapade, we headed in the other direction down to the marina for a completely different experience, catching one of the bath tub ferries to Granville Island, with its buskers, arty shops, and farmers’ food market.

You can book all sorts of dolphin and whale watching boat trips. The whale boats promised to keep going until you saw a whale – up to 7 hours if needed, which put the boys off somewhat. We opted instead for a brewery tour and a couple of glasses of fizz in the sun, listening to the music before heading back (as a bonus, past the restaurant featured in the Canadian First Dates show on Earl St.) to the tragic land of trolleys and blankets.

Canada road trip day 10: Ferry to Nanaimo

It was time to say good bye to the Canada road trip section and Husband, who had a real job to go to, and for the remaining party of 3 to catch a ferry to Nanaimo. (I really should have given him the house keys at this point.)

The original plan had been to catch a bus to the ferry terminal, but I really did not fancy hanging out at a bus stop with the crystal crew – so splashed  out on a taxi  for about $35.

The 2 hour ferry journey is a bargain at $14 per adult.  I’d booked in advance as it can get busy in the summer, but we would have been fine as walk on passengers.  We hadn’t gone for the whale trip, but were hoping for a free show on this ride. I’d been told there is a decent chance of at least a dolphin, but no luck this time.

Canada road trip tip 24 – Look out for dolphin on the ferry to Vancouver Island.

Part 3 - Vancouver Island

Best things to see on Vancouver Island


Spent a lovely 3 weeks hanging with my sister in Parksville. The town is part retirement village, part tourist destination with a boho/back to nature twist to it. There is a cool weekly evening market at Craig Street in the summer which has a bit of a party atmosphere. There are also some comedy shopping experiences:

The town fronts a shallow, sheltered beach where you can walk for miles and still only be knee deep in water. The wave-free tide comes in as fast as you can run, Canadian geese really do fly over in V-formation and eagles pepper the huge fir trees which line the beach path.

Top tip 25  – Parksville .beach good for boating and v formation geese

Errington "Hi Neighbor" day

Tip 26 – Dress up, eat big pancakes and race courgettes at Errington “Hi Neigbor” day

This annual event is straight out of an episode of the Simpsons – Ned Flanders eat your heart out.

You literally get to be a good neighbour for the day, starting with a humungus pancake breakfast whipped up by the local fire brigade in the community hall, all proceeds to the local fire service. Firemen go for big dinners. A “small” involved 4 pancakes, several sausages and  an entire plate of fruit – do not go large.

Weeks are spent designing and decorating courgette monster trucks for The Greater Errington Zucchini Race. There is a 2 page rule book with regulations relating to wheel and zucchini size. There is also a zucchini workshop at the weekly market before the big day, following which we had hot-tailed it down to the  thrift store to load up with old roller skates, a glue gun and sequins.  We shared out the best wheels which tactically was a blunder – using  1 decent wheel each in hindsight was not going to win us any trophies.  Also, working out how to attach them to the vegetable so that they spin is a lot trickier than you’d think (parallel lines turned out to be quite important, and too many attempts at holes, a disaster on the courgette integrity front).

Prior to the race you get to place your zucchini on the display table and view the terrifyingly efficient looking competition (some children clearly had parents with tools and engineering knowledge way beyond our own). Even the dog zucchini looked more roadworthy that ours. Still, we managed to muscle in and pop ours in front of the local reporter’s camera anyway – we might not be going to win but at this point we still had all our feathers.

Inevitably, as our pride of courgettes shot down the near vertical 10 foot ramp their wheels fell off and they generally disintegrated back into vegetable form.  At least dinner was sorted.

Seeking fame was also the order of the day in the next event – the parade, where a variety of non-themed costumes are available. We’d left it all a bit late and had to run a good half mile to the starting point in 30 degree heat and dressed variously as a bearded lady, Indian princess, batman, a duck and a hairy-faced  troll. Having found the rest of the (quite small) parade, we blew bubbles and generally shamelessly paraded in front of the same local reporter. Excitingly, we did make it into the Errington News, so fame at a last (behind the various beards).

Also available – a farmer’s market, free corn on the cob, knitwear for trees, country music (of course) and ladies dressed in traditional costume.

Tip 27 – Get back to nature at Errington’s weekly farmers’ market

Errington pony trek with the bears

Bit of a treat for the gang (none of whom can ride), donning authentic Canadian riding boots and heading off in convoy into the sun dappled dusty woods at Tiger Lily Farm (sadly now closed but I am sure there are other riding schools – let me know!). Bit of a moment when the group leader revealed that the reason we had stopped for a while was that she had startled a berry munching bear on the path ahead and had to wait for it to move back into the woods (which presumably we would then have ridden RIGHT PAST) before proceeding. Gutted not to see it or be aware of any of the bear’s presence until after the event- but problies best in terms of containing children’s trauma whilst still on horse back. With a bear loose in the woods.

Tip 28 – Ride like a real Canadian in authentic boots

Cathedral Grove

My husband once told a rubbish story about a big fish. When asked “How big?” he replied “Really big”, and  this description is in danger of falling into the same trap. But the trees really are big enough to swallow a small boy. You can stroll round an easy forest walk for about half an hour and feel like a pixie lost in the Jurassic era. How many children does it take to encircle Giant Redwood? More than the 4 we had available.

Tip 29 – Climb inside a giant tree at Cathedral Grove

The Nose (Top Bridge Park)

At Top Bridge Pare lies a stretch of clear green watered river, where it is just deep enough to ride on a rubber ring in the rushing shallows (there will be stone/bum scraping for larger participants). Alternatively, you can drift at a more leisurely pace in the gentle deeper water, under “The Nose”, a pointy rock jutting out about 25 feet above the water, which a string of braver local teenagers launch themselves off regularly throughout the afternoons. For the smaller, more safety conscious child, there is a mini jumping rock just down the river. There are also snakes.

Tip 30 – Try river tubing and jumping at Top Bridge Park

North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

This kooky wildlife sanctuary costs $15 adults, £6 for kids. The grounds have a bit of a hippy farm feel with rough hewn wooden sculptures and faces floating in the ground. By contrast, the bears are caged and fed white rolls (surely not their natural prey). One display cage housed a “rock dove” which was clearly a pigeon. Perhaps in far flung places, our humdrum become the exotic.

Coombs Market

Many things can be bought here, Canadian trinkets, tie-dye clothes, 10 foot marble statues but the best bit is not the shop selling all-the-ice cream–flavours-in-the-world (although this is also amazing), it is the shop with the goats grazing on the roof. We had to buy the t-shirt.

Tip 31 – Check out the goats on the roof at Coombs Market

VIEX, Nanaimo

At this annual festival you get to be a human football, participate in it’s a knock out style padded pugilistic fights, roar at wrestlers and spin completely upside down, all to a country rock soundtrack. An all-round winner with the kids.

Cameron Lake

Cameron Lake is a pretty much idyllic crystal clear swimming lake edged with a small stony beach and twisty rooted trees. If you are lucky enough to find someone with a paddle board or inflatable food item (pizza/cup cake or bourbon biscuit) you are pretty much sorted for the day/week/life.

Paddle boarding on Cameron Lake, Vancouver Island

Tip 32 – Be amazed by the crystal waters of Cameron Lake

Despite availability of all the above mentioned inflatable toys, the kids became bored and decided to make and sell “pretty cloths” to a pretty captive audience of about 10 other lake-siders who had little choice but to shell out about $10 in “voluntary“ contributions.

Deep Bay

Where else do you have the opportunity to handle starfish and urchins in a research laboratory and then go and spot the same creatures hanging off the marina outside (child and sea varieties), whilst looking out for whales busy upturning local fishing boats.

Pipers Lagoon and Miracle Bay

And last but not least we ran along giant driftwood in the rain at these wild and deserted East Coast Island beaches.

Seaplane home

Sea plane ideas for bucket lists

The fabulous Canadian sun had set on our 3 weeks of sisterly love it was time to return to the real world and for our teary seaplane treat.

I had thought that there was a shuttle to the international airport on arrival in Vancouver itself– but this is only if you book the plane to Vancouver airport. Not the one I’d booked to the harbour, apparently. 

Bit of a moment on arrival, with emotional children and a flight to England leaving in a couple of hours, to have to navigate our way carrying 6 weeks’ worth of luggage for 3 (2 of whom unable to lift their own bags) from the seaplane docking area to the airport many, many miles away. After pacing up and down the marina manically, someone told me there was a bus I could catch from a nearby multi-storey car park to down town Vancouver. I waited, not very patiently, at the dark concrete-y entrance as plane departure time tick tocked ever closer.

Alighting from the bus, we shot across 3 lanes of traffic with 6 bags, to a train station, only to be faced with a machine displaying an array of ticket choices but with no clue as to where I was or where I was supposed to be going.  I blindly relied on the advice of the lady behind me in the queue.

Flights of train station stairs negotiated, thumping bags down one step at a time, we managed to board a train to what I hoped was the right airport. On disembarking, the exit barriers said no to our tickets, requiring us to tailgate (in the manner of 3 incompetent massive-bag-toting-spies) some correct-fare paying strangers to get out.

To complete the hat trick or incompetence, I had decided to pack some souvenir forks in my hand luggage, which these days is not a great idea. To the general dismay of the whole party, I had to go and check another bag at 11th hour and rejoin the massive security queue. Tick tock. Gin was required on the 15 hour plane journey home.

Tip 33 – There are 2 seaplane landing spots. Pick the right one (I didn’t)

Canada road trip - Lessons Learned

  • Take the route 1A on your Canada road trip (with all the animals) from Banff to Lake Louise
  • Think about bears and tents and hot food and outdoor toilets
  • Do pack a bear bell and stay with the crowds (but don’t pack forks in hand luggage)
  • Check where the sea plane lands
  • Avoid downtown Vancouver zombie apocalypse
  • Listen to the local radio if there is even a chance of fire stopping play

In Summary

Choose bears, wolves, apocalyptic wildfire scenery, glaciers, pink poncho waterfall drenching, giant trees and purple starfish – choose Canada.

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28 thoughts on “33 top tips for a family Canada Road Trip – via Big Foot, the Rockies and Vancouver Island”

  1. That is an epic amount of territory you covered! I love British Columbia as I consider it part of my beloved Pacific NW, we adore the San Juan Islands and Victoria region, but I’d love to get to Nanaimo and explore more of the west side of Vancouver Island. It’s a bit disappointing to see the level of kitsch that has cropped up near Niagara Falls, it has been 30+ years since I’ve been there. Banff is definitely on my wish list and Bow Lake looked like the perfect spot outside crowded Lake Louise and Moraine. Thanks for the honest insider tips and for sharing with #FarawayFiles. Cheers from Copenhagen!

    1. What I love is the variety of the scenery from lunar baked rock surfaces to chunky glacier snows to apocalyptic wildfire hazes. Incredible trip!

  2. Another utterly epic road trip that’s fired my wanderlust all over again, especially with children. I did a month in Whistler and Vancouver before kids and this is a fantastic itinerary with kids. Bookmarked! #FarawayFiles

    1. A month in Whistler would be amazing! We are lucky to have relatives on Vancouver Island to explore and hang out with on a semi-regular basis. Looking forward to discovering some more of it soon!

  3. What an amazing road trip! Canada is such a massive and beautiful country and I feel like this trip helps you experience some of it. Also reminds me of a trip I took to Niagra Falls with my dad back in the day. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks – road trips really allow you to see behind the scenes of a country – although it’s always hard to get the balance the inside/outside car ratio.

  4. I can’t believe I’ve lived in Canada for over a year and haven’t seen any of these places! It is still so high on my bucket list, really hope to do a road trip next year, so will definitely have to bookmark this because these places just look stunning!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I was expecting the mountains to be ind=credible but was blown away by the lakes! Enjoy exploring!

  5. This trip looks and sounds incredible, the scenery is stunning. Your children must have loved the whole big adventure.

    Thanks for sharing and your post is full of really useful information. #farawayfiles

    1. Thank you. I think they do love the snowballs in July and glaciers and at the same time hate big fly bites and long car journeys – but you can’t have one without the other. All part of the adventure.

  6. Aw, you’ve brought back very happy memories of my honeymoon, where we spent a week in Vancouver, then 9 nights touring through the Rockies and ending with 2 nights in Calgary. I think we had much better luck than you however. We managed to just avoid a land slip on the Kamloops to Jasper route which apparently got closed near Mnt Robson about an hour and a half after we passed through. Was so glad as it would have been one hell of a detour and we wouldn’t have made it to Jasper that eve that’s for sure. Next time we go back to this area, the idea is to spend at least a week on Vancouver Island as we didn’t get to do that then. Would also love to do an Alaska cruise from Vancouver too! Maybe at our 10 year anniversary… fingers crossed! #farawayfiles

    1. Yes, detours are certainly lengthy in this neck of the woods. You were lucky to miss that land slide! Alaska is on my bucket list too – hope your cruising dreams come true!

  7. Wow that’s such a detailed post ,Canada is a beautiful comments ntry and I would love to visit it someday ..Niagara fall from Canada is much more better I guess

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