The world has changed beyond recognition since the Colony of Vancouver Island was established 150+ years ago. Distances that took many weeks or months to cover by ship now take hours by plane. And we like to travel by air: according to StatsCan there were more than half a million passenger flights in B.C. alone last year. But as exciting as our 21st century mobility is, it comes at a cost. Air travel is responsible for about six per cent of the climate change impact attributable to human activity, while transportation in general accounts for 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Happily for those of us who live on Vancouver Island, we don’t have to travel far to seek adventure. We may not have any large theme parks, but we do have a mountain range, 3,400 km of coastline, and an extensive network of rivers and lakes. These geographical features form the backdrop for an impressive mosaic of marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, which in turn offer endless opportunities for exploration.

My online dictionary defines adventure as a “daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.” A low carbon adventure takes this a step further, relying on human power, and beginning as close to home as practical to limit transportation emissions. Look around your own corner of the Island, and chances are you’ll find many options suited to your family’s abilities and appetite for thrills. A copy of the 7th Edition Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook is an invaluable resource when searching for local ideas. Here are a few to get you started:

Climb a Mountain. There’s something extremely satisfying about reaching a summit after a challenging climb—and it’s excellent exercise. I don’t know of a single Island community that doesn’t have a mountain or two somewhere nearby, and many of these mountains have trails to the top. Set realistic goals based on your children’s ages and family fitness level. Start with a smaller hill if your children are young, or aim for a viewpoint partway up a higher mountain. Ready for a serious climb? Try Mt. Finlayson (415 m) in Victoria, Mt. Tzouhalem (536 m) in Duncan, Mt. Benson (1,019 m) in Nanaimo, or the Judges Route to Mt Arrowsmith (1,819 m) in the Parksville/Port Alberni area. Be prepared and check the weather before you head out, and be aware that many Island summits will be unreachable during the winter.

Take an Epic Bike Ride. While our steep geography often makes cycling challenging, the Island’s many converted railway trails offer ideal routes for even the youngest riders. In the Victoria area cyclists can choose from sections of the Lochside Trail, which stretches 29 km from Saanich to Swartz Bay, or the Galloping Goose Trail, which runs 55 km from Victoria to Sooke. (The Galloping Goose Trail from Matheson Lake through to the Sooke Potholes is especially beautiful, but be alert for sharp drop-offs on the side.) Further north, the Cowichan Valley Trail offers easy riding, and some gorgeous pastoral views. The Kinsol Trestle is one of six historic trestle bridges along this trail, which stretches from Shawnigan Lake all the way to Lake Cowichan. The northern section of Port Alberni’s Log Train Trail is another option for a family cycling trip. To access the northern section of this 25 km trail, start from the McLean Sawmill National Historic Site. If your family’s taste runs to more rugged cycling adventures, visit for an ever-expanding guide to the Island’s best mountain biking.

Visit an Ancient Forest. There’s nothing like standing beside an ancient giant hundreds of feet high and centuries old to make you feel a sense of wonder. Vancouver Island is the perfect place to commune with these venerable conifers. With a circumference of over 18 metres and an estimated age between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, the Cheewhat Lake Cedar is considered to be Canada’s oldest and largest tree. We can also claim Canada’s tallest known tree, a 96-metre Sitka spruce known as the Carmanah Giant. To find out where the old growth is in your area, visit, and click on the ‘See Big Trees’ tab.

Explore the Water. Vancouver Island is a premier destination for every kind of water sport and every level of experience, from ocean, lake or river swimming in the summer, to paddling year-round. You don’t need to make a big investment to get your family out on the water—many Island businesses offer canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals, as well as beginner classes. Use Google to see what’s available in your area. For family-friendly destinations—from sheltered coastal waters to glacier-fed lakes—consult the Paddling Adventures section of the Backroad Mapbook.

Take it Up a Notch! For the real thrill-seekers in your family, a visit to the nearest eco-adventure business might be in order. Guided tours of the Horne Lake Caves range from one to two hours for participants ages five and up, all the way to the five-hour Extreme Rappel Expedition for ages 15+. Two of the wild caves are also accessible for self-guided tours during opening hours. If you’d prefer to stay above ground, consider a ziplining adventure in Sooke or on the highway to Tofino, or a challenging obstacle course high in the trees of Nanaimo or Victoria. For adventure on the water, consider family surfing lessons in Ucluelet or Tofino.

Try Something New. Not all adventures need to take place outside or involve adrenaline. Every time you introduce your children to something new, you expand their horizons. Visit a new bakery, or an ethnic grocery store. Try a new vegetable, a new recipe, or a new restaurant. Learn a new craft or skill. Read aloud a classic adventure story. Participate in a community or cultural event. Take your kids to a family-friendly concert or an art gallery opening. Bring home interesting music from the library—the Putumayo Kids series is a great place to start. Most of all, teach your kids to keep their eyes open. With the right attitude, every day can be an adventure!

Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.