Notable Stops on our Trip Across Western Canada

When we travelled out West in April, we went for a serious reason, but we knew we had to make it a family vacation, too, because we didn’t know if we would have any more travel time this year. Most of our time was spent in British Columbia, with a little bit in Alberta, due to visiting and time constraints. I wanted to share with you some notable stops along our trip, in no particular order. There were many more smaller things, but these are some of the big stops that really made our trip:

Granville Island (Vancouver, BC)

Ever since I learned about it, this has been one of my favourite Vancouver destinations. It is very touristy, but not in the blatant, overt, tacky way. Granville Island is home to an amazing food market, artist studios, art and dance classes, restaurants, high-quality art stores, souvenir stores, playgrounds, an entire building dedicated to childrens’ stores (including a magic store), and so much more. In the summer, you can buy fresh seafood from the docks or sit and eat by the water, careful to keep your food away from the overbearing seagulls. It’s also the stepping-off point for several water-based tours. The entire island is a unique blend of cheaper tourism and exceptional quality. One of my favourite stores is actually two stores: Maiwa. The indoor plaza store is a clothing and home goods store, selling well-made, organic, fair trade clothing, bedding, and table linens hand-dyed with natural dyes in incredibly detailed patterns. The outdoor-access store is called Maiwa Supply and contains hand-dyed fabrics, fabrics and scarves for dyeing, natural dyestuffs, fibres and felting supplies, handmade buttons, books galore…If you are crafty with fabrics at all, all I can say is go.

Golden Ears Provincial Park (BC)

A year-round campground. Over 62,000 hectares of park means that there’s a lot of wilderness here! Campgrounds are about 11 km north of the park gate, and have no cellphone coverage. They do have showers and flush toilets (get a campsite near the showers, not near the outhouses). They do not have electrical or water hookups, but there is a $5/use sanitary dumping station for the park. Each site has a sturdy picnic table and a fire pit. Accessible sites also have cement pads. There is a beach and there are walking trails, and the park allows horseback riding. Some of the hiking/climbing trails are extensive, necessitating an overnight trip over ice fields and to places where water must be brought in. These climbs are not for the faint of heart. There was a film crew shooting in the park when we were there, but they weren’t near the campground. The campground itself was $35/night for a family, and although you can reserve a site, there was no need to do so in mid-April. We hear that summers (especially weekends) can become very busy. There are also double sites and group bookings are available for groups of more than 15 people. If you come during a quiet time, you can just pull into an empty and unreserved campsite and the park staff will come around to collect your fees and reserve your site for you for the duration of your stay. The campgrounds having hiking trails through and around them, and you truly feel like you’re in the deep woods, especially when the campground is mostly empty and it’s dark out. No city glow here. There are marine-accessible camp sites available in the park, but I’m not sure where. The showers would certainly be frosty during the winter, as the shower houses are screened in and not heated or insulated (though the water is heated). Use of the park for hiking and other non-overnight recreational uses is free, as per most provincial parks. Trees and ground are mossy at the campground levels, making the trees almost look like plush tree toys. Near the provincial park are an outdoor tree adventure activity place and an amazing, large playground, as well as stables.

Area around Kamloops (BC)

The area around Kamloops is rich with chalcedony deposits, and that means amazing agate rockhounding. Search for areas of crumbling rock on public land. Avoid provincial or national parks, railroad land, aboriginal reserves, and private property. West of Kamloops, just northeast of Kamloops Lake can be good, as can areas near Monte Lake. Kamloops Lake has larger agates, but Monte Lake has lace agate and red and green jasper.

Upper Banff Hot Springs (Banff, AB)

According to writings at the hot springs, these are the first hot springs, around which the town was built. Don’t expect to be sitting in rock pools with steamy water; the water has to be cooled down to around 38 degrees Celsius for human immersion. Public hygiene requirements mean that the water is chlorinated and fed into a regular-looking pool. Don’t be worry about getting cold, either, since you walk right into the pool from the change rooms. At less than $20 for a family of three, the hot springs are an affordable and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. The best time to go is in the winter, as you can sit in a hot pool, outdoors near the snow, with steam rising up around you and frost on the pool’s ladders.

Salt Spring Island (BC)

About a 20-minute ferry ride off the coast of Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island has been collecting artists and free thinkers for decades. The island has all the necessary amenities, including grocery stores, gas stations, and accommodations, but it also has a vibrant artisan community, a strong drive toward organic food production, walking trails, bike paths, and more. Accommodations on the island can be pricy, but if you can manage to stay a few days, it will be well worth your time. There are also two weekly markets in Ganges run by local producers and artists.

Royal BC Museum (Victoria, BC)

This was my absolute favourite museum growing up. I loved walking through the century village and poking my head into the kitchen to smell the apple pie baking, or sitting in the train station waiting for the train to arrive. The submarine voyage was another favourite, as was walking through the caves and panning for gold. Many things have changed, but it seems entirely for the better. The museum is as interactive as ever. The mammoth has a new home, in a room with real ice on the walls. The submarine has become a live tidepool display, a tank, and all sorts of interactive computer stations at which different things can be learned. There is no apple pie in the kitchen anymore, but the century town is as immersive as ever, with movies in the cinema, cobblestones, and shops. The native section contains a lot of the pieces I remember (some not updated to more current terminology) but is still immersive in different ways, and was a joy to share with my daughter.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (BC)

The ultimate hiking experience. Why settle for a trail here and there when you can have dozens to choose from? These hiking and walking trails range from short to long, flat to lots of elevation changes, and sea walks to forest walks. Expect old growth and the circle of life to be evident amongst bubbling brooks and incredible forest beauty. Many of the trails are raised on cedar planks to protect the delicate wilderness.

Royal Tyrell Museum (Drumheller, AB)

I remember going to the Royal Tyrell Museum when I was small, and now I have shared it with my daughter. Unfortunately, spring isn’t the best time to fully appreciate all the outdoor areas around the museum. Indoors, there are all sorts of dinosaur fossil displays explaining how fossils are dated, how evolution works, how the fossils are found, preserved, and excavated, and more. Large picture windows allow you to watch first-hand while palaeontologists work on exposing fossils and a movie plays explaining the process and tools. Later in the display, walk through an interactive timeline that starts movies and presentations when you arrive. See an indoor garden with plants and animals similar to early life on earth. Finally, arrive at a large room filled with full fossil displays talking about the different dinosaurs and animals found in the area and in other areas.

Other places/activities I wanted to visit/do but didn’t have time:

  • Other islands in the Strait of Georgia
  • Queen Charlotte Islands
  • Sunshine Coast
  • Nelson, BC
  • Jasper, AB
  • West Edmonton Mall
  • Wanuskewin Heritage Park
  • Tunnels of Moose Jaw
  • Souris Agate Pits
  • Stanley Park Seawall Walk
  • Okanagan Valley
  • Bancroft, ON (Rockhounding)

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