Summertime. What to do with the kids that’s safe and won’t bankrupt the family? Luckily, the glories of British Columbia’s diverse and beautiful landscapes and temperate summer weather offer a host of affordable camping adventures that can be tailored to almost any budget.
Camping is an easy, safe way to get kids outdoors where they can learn something of the world around them and have an opportunity for the kind of free play that stimulates imaginations. Child psychologists have long advocated the value of unstructured play where kids can take risks without the requirement that they achieve some goal set by adults or the rules of organized sport.
What better place than a beach, for example, where children can collect shells, dig holes, build sand castles, splash in shallow pools or construct forts from driftwood?
Getting outdoors is more than an inexpensive relief valve for parents; it contributes to kids’ tool kits for understanding the world around them, creating their own context within it, finding leadership roles for themselves, reducing stress and spontaneously learning to solve problems cooperatively. Research shows that kids who feel confident outdoors are most likely to become competent adults with both healthy lifestyles and the ability to empathize with others.
So here’s a small sampling of the many easily accessible kid-friendly Island campgrounds, within a half day’s drive. There are day-use facilities at these campgrounds, too, so daytrips are equally feasible.
The following list includes provincial parks only, although there are plenty of private facilities that are equally kid-friendly. You can survey the private facilities on offer at travel-british-columbia.com and if you want to adventure farther afield than Vancouver Island, you can look up parks and make reservations at gocampingbc.com for every region of the province.
The beach here is almost two kilometres long. Views are spectacular across Juan de Fuca Strait to the Olympic Mountains and seals, sea lions and whales visit the waters. If a sea is running, you can take a quick trip to Jordan River or walk in to Sombrio Beach and watch the surfers. There’s hiking on Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Tide pools at Botanical Beach offer endless exploring—just be prepared for rain.
This little river tumbles through a deep canyon to an estuary that’s still in its natural state and home to eagles, ospreys, ravens and other birds. The nature centre is temporarily closed, but that could change so check for updates at naturehouse.ca. There’s a spectacular waterfall that cascades almost 50 metres down a cliff face and the chance to spot rare amphibians like the red-legged frog.
On Cowichan Lake, northwest of Duncan, this campground is ideal for kids. The sandy beach is great for lounging on a sunny afternoon and the water is almost always warm enough—the valley has the highest average temperature in Canada—for family swimming. There are walking and hiking trails through old growth forest and lots of birds to watch, including the raucous blue Stellar’s jay and plenty of waterfowl. For teens there’s windsurfing, kayaking and waterskiing. Fishing is good in the fall. And a short drive away in Duncan is the kid-friendly B.C. Forest Discovery Centre.
Miners once brought their families here for an outing away from the industrial grime when Nanaimo was a coal mining centre. Today you can catch a ferry for the 10-minute trip across the harbour. It’s an easy walk around the island with its sandstone beaches and sandy coves where kids can play. And you can find an ice cream cone at the 1930’s dance pavilion. Campsites are limited here, though, so reserve early. Sidetrips include Petroglyph Park and its ancient stone carvings, an old coal mine at Morden Colliery Historic Site, the cemetery where kids can learn about Nanaimo’s mine disasters from the old tombstones, the Bastion fur trade fort and the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame which is not far from the ferry landing.
This is a mid-Island paradise for kids of almost any age. At low tide, almost a kilometre of sandy beach is exposed leaving shallow pools in which flatfish dart, crabs scuttle, clams squirt and sand dollars are scattered everywhere. The tide rolls back in over sand flats that have been baking in the sun all day and the water warms up to temperatures that are ideal for paddling.
Midway between Courtenay and Campbell River, this is another sandy paradise for kids that features a playground, hot showers and a big family picnic area by the shore. A bit farther north is the Oyster River with estuary trails that lead to another beach, this one wild and undomesticated, with sea grass, wild roses and bleached tangles of driftwood that sweep north behind what was once a UBC experimental dairy farm. At Courtenay, the museum features a prehistoric plesiosaur. At Campbell River there’s another kind of dinosaur—a steam-powered donkey engine at the district museum.
Englishman River Falls
The river in this park thunders through deep canyons and over two spectacular waterfalls. A perpetual mist waters fern gardens that nestle in the rock walls in primeval splendour. Downstream, the torrent suddenly spills into a clear, tranquil pool that invites a refreshing plunge on a hot summer day. Just up the road is Coombs with its knick-knack and souvenir shops and the world-famous sod roof with grazing goats. A little farther north, kids can visit the Horne Lake Caves for a guided spelunking adventure.
Little Qualicum Falls
World-famous Cathedral Grove, renowned for stand of Douglas fir and western red cedar that date from the time of William Shakespeare, is nearby, so is a sandy swimming beach on Cameron Lake. Well-groomed trails permit safe viewing of an impressive waterfall and there’s pleasant hiking in the cool woods around the campground. A short drive west is the Alberni Valley where the last and only steam-powered sawmill is still in operation and there’s a pleasant quay with souvenir shops and inexpensive eateries.•