Hiking with kids can be a wonderfully memorable family experience. It can also be a nightmare of epic proportions. We’ve had both experiences with our young boys. Through trial and error we’ve learned a few tricks to make family outdoor adventures enjoyable for everyone. Check out our top picks for family-friendly hikes.
Tips for a Successful Hiking Experience:
- Don’t push the kids too hard. I speak from experience. Hiking Lynn Canyon when our youngest was barely 2 years old was a massive parenting fail. Our littlest hated walking at the best of times; he literally used to say “Mom, my legs felled off”. Dragging him through Lynn Canyon resulted in a screaming fit witnessed by an alarming number of unimpressed tourists. If you are embarking on your family’s first hiking experience go for a walk that’s under an hour. Start small and increase as you encounter success.
- Bring water, and lots of it. Yes the parents usually end up being the ones lugging the water bottles, but I’ll take that added weight over thirsty kids. And, if it is hot day, lots of water is essential.
- Pack snacks, and lots of them. Kids are constantly hungry at the best of times. The hike will increase their energy burn turning them into ravenous monsters. Be sure to pack snacks with extra protein; it will keep the little ones going longer.
- Remember that you are in the woods and wild animals live there. Don’t let the kids wander too far in front of you. Encourage everyone to talk, make noise (which is never hard with kids in tow), and avoid straying far off the marked path.
- Tell people where you are going. Even if your family hike seems relatively mundane, you are out in the wilderness and things can go sideways. Let a few people know where you are hiking and when you expect to be back.
- Have a look at the comprehensive hiking safety guide put together by the North Shore Rescue. You can’t get better advice than that!
Did you know that Golden Ears Park in Maple Ridge is one of the largest provincial parks in BC? Everyone knows about Alouette Lake with its swimming and fishing opportunities. But how many of us have ventured beyond the popular lake? From the main parking lot be on the lookout for a wide trail heading up a small hill. After meandering through a typical West Coast rainforest for roughly 15 minutes you will spot Gold Creek on your left. Keep the kids engaged during the hike by asking them to point out mountain peaks. They should be able to catch glimpses of Alouette, Edge, and Blanchard mountains. Soon your hiking party will hear the rushing water of Gold Creek Falls. At the top of the hill you will encounter the Gold Creek Falls in its full splendour. At this point you can either turn back and head home or hike a little higher up for a bird’s eye view of the falls. This is an easy hike of approximately 5.5 km with only minimal elevation gain. The family-friendly hike takes approximately 2 hours to complete.
If you want to see West Coast scenery at its finest, a hike through West Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park is a must. Your hike to the Lighthouse lookout starts with a 10 minute bumpy, meandering wander through a lush West Coast rain forest. There are ample logs to clamber over, benches to rest upon, and rocks & sticks to inspect. After a steady downhill trundle you emerge from the woods onto massive rocks overlooking the water. You can either peer down from higher up, or pick your way down more treacherous paths to get to the water’s edge. Of course our boys decided the water had to be visited, so down we went. Your ability to get down to the beach depends entirely on the tides. When the tide is out there is ample space for beachcombing and picnicking. The only downside of this hike is the trek back to the parking lot. The return hike is almost completely uphill. I strongly recommend having a treat or fun game planned in order to minimize the whining of the littlest hikers. The complete circle hike is approximately 6km and can take 2 hours to complete. However, the most kid-friendly portion of the hike should only take 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
We’ve been doing the Othello Tunnel hike with our kids since they were very young. The Othello Tunnels, which are located inside the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, were originally intended for train cars. But the tracks are long gone and the series of five tunnels now form part of the Trans Canada Trail system. The tunnels were formed by blasting through granite and reinforced by concrete and wood interior supports. The five tunnels are connected to one another by gravel pathways and wooden trestles crossing over the roaring Coquihalla River. The tunnels are massive! The scenery is spectacular. True BC beauty: soaring and luscious green trees, rocky river beds, and coursing blue/green water. The tunnels are free to visit but please be sure to check the BC Parks website prior to heading out as the Othello Tunnels are closed during the winter months. Flashlights are strongly recommended; the tunnels are unbelievably dark. The terrain is quite uneven in the actual tunnels (though strollers manage just fine) so make sure you wear sensible shoes. There are a few rocks/hills for the kids to scramble up; ours always need a change of clothing after this walk. At the trailhead are a number of picnic benches and outhouses. As the drive is slightly over 2 hours from downtown Vancouver, having a picnic is a necessity before hopping back in your vehicle for the drive home.
Located within the boundaries of Mount Seymour Provincial Park, Mystery Lake is a must-visit during the endlessly hot days of August. The round-trip hike takes about 90 minutes. While the family-friendly hike is short, the ascent to Mystery Lake is about 180 metres and you will be walking on loose rocks and tree roots. However, on a hot summer day, your efforts are well rewarded with a dip in the warm waters of Mystery Lake. This popular swimming spot can get busy on the hottest days; if you are looking for a quieter spot to lay your belongings follow the path to the left which wraps around the lake (the path on the right eventually joins with the Mount Seymour trail). And don’t bother bringing your fishing gear – there are no fish in Mystery Lake. To start this hike, leave your car in Parking Lot 4 and follow the gravel chairlift right-of-way at the north end.
Will they be there or won’t they? For years Teapot Hill was festooned with charming teapots squirrelled away by visiting hikers.Teapot Hill, located in Cultus Lake Provincial Park, got its name from a logger who found a tea pot on the hill back in the 1940s. The endearing name stuck and a tradition of hiding teapots began. On occasion the staff from BC Parks comes through and removes the teapots. Apparently Teapot Hill is home to a variety of rare orchid and hikers veering off the path, in search of teapots, were trampling the orchids. However, the teapot enthusiasts have not been easily persuaded, and the charming little teapots keep reappearing on the walk. This easy path has an elevation of 250 metres over 2.5 km. The complete hike (out and back) is 5km and takes approximately 2 hours. In addition to hunting for teapots, the view of Cultus Lake makes this hike a worthwhile family adventure. The trek out to Cultus Lake is definitely an all-day activity for families making the drive from downtown Vancouver.
The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is situated on Delta’s Westham Island, just west of the community of Ladner. The Bird Sanctuary consists of nearly 850 acres of managed wetlands, natural marshes and low dykes in the heart of the Fraser River Estuary. Do NOT forget spare change as feeding the birds – both at the start and mid-point of the hike – is a must-do family activity. The walk, along groomed gravel paths, can be completed in 30 minutes or take all day. There is much to explore: dozens of pathways, countless birdhouses, hundreds of birds, blinds to peer out, picnic areas to rest, and a lookout tower to climb. Before you start your hike around the George C Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary have a gander at the board at the main office. The volunteers list which birds have been recently spotted. It is also worth chatting with the volunteers; we enjoyed a fascinating chat about the newly born crane and its parents on our last visit. The family-friendly hike (or rather walk) at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary is stroller-friendly and perfect for kids of all ages.
Most parents know about the wonderful Rocky Point Park playground and water park. But did you know that there are myriad winding trails throughout the park? A favourite with families is the Shoreline Trail. The waters’ edge path starts at Rocky Point Park and follows the eastern-most end of Burrard Inlet around to Old Orchard Park. The 6km round trip is considered easy walking and takes about 2 hours to complete. The kids will enjoy the wooden areas, boardwalks, raised platforms and wooden bridge. The close proximity of the water is great fun too. As a large section of this walk is gravel strollers are okay but bicycles are discouraged. Bring along your furry-family members as the path is dog-friendly. If kids are feeling tuckered on the walk back to the car, remind them of the fun playground or offer a delicious treat Rocky Point Ice Cream as motivation to keep those little feet moving.
No matter where your feet may lead you this summer, we hope that you spend lots of it outdoors exploring nature with your kids on any one of these family-friendly hikes. Have fun, start easy, and breathe in that fresh air. Happy hiking!