Story by Jenn Smith Nelson
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Within a two-hour radius of Vancouver, a number of fun travel options exist for families on a range of budgets. With March Break here, many Canadians will be looking for family outings close to home. If you are road tripping through British Columbia and plan on driving the popular and insanely scenic Sea-to-Sky route (Highway 99 to Whistler), here are a few family-geared adventures to make sure you see.
FlyOver Canada – You will be blown away by this 8-minute sensation being shown at Canada Place. Hold on tight as your feet dangle over the edge of your seats and you lift off to discover Canada from a bird’s-eye view. Every sense will be engaged as you smell the trees, feel the mist of Niagara Falls, experience the northern lights and hear the wind as you fly across the country. Cost is $15 per child; $20 per adult. The complete adventure lasts about 30 minutes.
Rent bikes and ride the Seawall in Stanley Park – A handful of bike rental spots can be found near the entrance of Stanley Park and footsteps away from Vancouver’s scenic seawall. Make a day of it and stop at a beach, feed the birds, visit the historic totem poles or simply just pedal the route at your own pace. Rental options to suit family needs are available. Prices vary.
Visit the Vancouver Aquarium and sleep over with the belugas. Imagine a private sleep over with this incredibly beautiful and interactive species! This unique program is for ages 6 and up, must include an adult and you need to be able to visit during the pre-determined dates. Plan ahead! Cost is $110 for regular admission.
Squamish (1 hour north of Vancouver)
Climb the Chief – A 703-metre (2,303-foot) hike the whole family can do, cautiously, of course. Breathe in fresh mountain air and enjoy the view of Squamish Valley, the town of Squamish and nearby peaks such as Garibaldi and Sky Pilot. And, the best part is it doesn’t cost a thing. The hike takes up to three hours, so keep that in mind if your kids are making the trek.
Sea to Sky gondola (opening June 2014) — For those planning to visit later this year, you will be able to take a 10-minute gondola ride to 885 meters (2904 feet) above sea level and experience breathtaking views of the Howe Sound fjord, the majestic coastal forest, surrounding mountains and more. Sqaumish’s newest attraction is sure to please as once you reach the top, a host of four season activities await you. Cost: kids under 6 are admitted free, $22.95 per youth and $34.95 per adult.
White-water rafting tours – Not a fan of heights? Why not enjoy Squamish’s incredible landscapes while white-water rafting down the Cheakamus or Elaho Squamish Rivers? The Cheakamus River tour is family-friendly with more float than rapids. You can, however, make things a lot more interesting by hopping into the glacial waters and holding onto the side of the raft while you follow the rapids. Prices are $95 per adult, $65 per youth (5-12 years; 50 pounds minimum weight).
For more of a rush, choose the Elaho Squamish tour and enjoy the thrill of the 18-kilometre (11-mile) quest of almost continuous white-water. Price is $165 per person (12 years minimum and 90 pounds).
Like the gondola, this is one trip you’ll have to wait for late in spring to make as the season begins in June.
[box_info]Read more about white-water rafting in Squamish [/box_info]
Eagle Float Tours – If you happen to be in Squamish during December to mid-February, you must take in an Eagle Float Tour. Every year eagles flock to the Brackendale area to feed on salmon that spawn in the Squamish and Cheakamus Rivers. The area attracts large numbers of the birds and in 1994 set a record with over 3,700 eagles counted. Cost is $100 per person ($65 for children under 12).
Whistler (2 hours from Vancouver)
Have an Olympic moment — Rent skates and glide around the Whistler Olympic Plaza Ring in the village for free (skate rental is charged, however). Open season for ice skating is December to March 31. There are also bobsledding and skeleton opportunities at the Whistler Sliding Centre, as well as all the ski and snowboard fun you can imagine.
[box_info]See a video and learn about some of the Olympic thrills in Whistler[/box_info]
Ski Whistler Blackcomb — Itching to hit the slopes? No need for a baby sitter when you can send your kids to ski school for the day. Not only are they in great hands, they are fed hot lunches and receive hands-on instruction in skiing and snowboarding. The school is for ages three and up. Prices vary.
Bear Watching and Ecology Tours — Can’t make it for March Break? Then visit in the summer and learn about the many black bears that call the habitat in Canada’s most popular ski area home. Take a three-hour tour via 4×4 and get an intimate look at the black bear’s natural environment. Nature lovers will love the focus on learning about local ecology, flora and fauna, and bear biology. The adult rate is $189 (youth 10-18, $179).
The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre — If it’s a good dose of culture you crave, Whistler has the perfect spot for an educational and entertaining family outing — the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. Created to celebrate the joint history of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations of aboriginal peoples, the centre welcomes visitors to view art and exhibits while learning about the Squamish and Lil’wat people through performances, crafts and guided tours. Adult rates are $18; family pass is $49; kids (6-12) pay $8; youth fee is $13.50.