Wandering Tribe Blog – CANADIAN ROCKIES & VANCOUVER ISLAND

This is a fab blog on traveling to Canada with your brood from Sally at Wandering Tribe – an innovative family travel company! I hope you enjoy, I certainly did!

Days 1-2 – Calgary & Banff

After a long flight to Calgary via Vancouver we arrived pretty tired to find our luggage happily spinning around the wrong carousel. Welcome to Canada! The jet lag meant we were up bright and breezy at 5am the next morning, breakfast by 6am and the hotel pool by 7am. Our hire car was packed and we were off on our adventure.

The wild fires in the Rockies and easterly winds meant a hazy, smoky drive towards Banff. We stopped at Canmore for lunch at the street market and arrived in Banff laden with cherries and strawberries and the boys clean clothes already stained with fruit juice. The scenic beauty of Banff may be temporarily hidden by the smoky haze but we made the most of the museum’s showcasing stuffed moose, bison and bear before heading to the hot springs in the mountains to voluntarily turn to shrivelled prunes in 40° pools. Then to bed, for stage II of our time zone adjustment.

Wildlife sightings so far: Two hares in the hotel car park, a deer’s backside and a few mozzies

Day 3-4 – Bow Valley Parkway, Moraine Lake & Lake Louise

We awoke to find the haze had lifted and we were surrounded by stunning jagged peaks with icy summits. Our planned hike at Sunshine Meadows had been cancelled due to the wildfires in the area so we headed up Sulphur Mountain on the gondola instead. The 360° views from the top were eye-drenchingly lovely, a patchwork quilt of mountains, rivers, pine forests and miniature villages. We hiked the trails around the summit followed by golden squirrels and jays. It was like something out of Snow White!

It was time to leave Banff behind and head up the Bow Valley Parkway to our destination of Baker Creek. This route is apparently excellent for wildlife spotting but we literally saw nothing (although I still dispute that my furry tree stump sighting really was an elk). On the way we stopped to hike the Johnstone Canyon. It was a perfect stop to get out of the afternoon heat with narrow canyon walks, turquoise water and stunning waterfalls. We settled into our cosy wooden log cabin with a gorgeous dinner whilst teaching the kids to play chess (mainly to keep them quiet in the posh restaurant rather than any deluded vison we have of them becoming the next Magnus Carlsen).

Day 4 was all about the ‘Tale of Two Lakes’ – Lake Moraine and Lake Louise. We visited Lake Moraine early in the morning to avoid the crowds and were rewarded quite simply with sublime natural beauty. Bright turquoise waters framed by the Valley of the Ten Peaks. We scrambled up the famous rock pile for the best view and took the lakeside trail past bubbling streams and fragrant forests. An Instagram perfect few hours. Next up was Lake Louise. This had far more crowds which we mercilessly escaped by taking the relentlessly uphill Fairview Trail. The view from the top was stunning but in my opinion spoiled by the famous Fairmont Chateau hotel. For me, Lake Moraine wins this battle hands down.

Wildlife sightings so far: Numerous golden squirrels, chipmunks, jays and a false alarm elk & black bear

Day 5-6 – Icefields Parkway & Jasper

An early check-out from Baker Creek and a short drive up the Bow Valley back to Lake Louise. BUT, this was no normal drive because as we rounded the corner ambling across the road was an adult black bear! We watched it for a good 5 minutes raiding buffalo berry bushes completely oblivious to our presence. An absolute honour! It was then time for breakfast up the Lake Louise gondola where we learnt about bears, bison, moose, elk, wolverines and cougars. What a line up! Fully fuelled we started the epic drive (perhaps the most scenic in the world) up the Icefields Parkway. It certainly didn’t disappoint with perfect clear skies and the most sublime mountain scenery you could imagine. We firstly hit a ‘bear jam’ where we saw a mother & cub black bear only 10ft away from our car. We made stops and followed hiking trails at Crowfoot Glacier (missing a toe), Bow Lake (turquoise), Peyto Lake (ridiculously turquoise), Mistaya Canyon (like hells fury!) and Athabasca Glacier Sky Walk (around the corner from the glacier with no glacier in sight – talk about false advertising!). We arrived in Jasper late & tired but were instantly revitalised when we checked into our accommodation on Patricia Lake to be told they had been invaded by elk. Half an hour later, a female elk and a fawn were munching on bushes outside our bungalow. What a day for wildlife!!

Day 6 was activity day! Yippee! In the morning we headed to Jasper Park Riding Stables for our ride along the Athabasca Valley. We were allocated Dancer, Buster, Lucky, Jerky and Shortie (who seemed to have a love/hate relationship with Dancer and an aversion to walking in a trail ride line-up). Obviously I got him. We had a peaceful walk through the forest with no injuries to report. In the afternoon it was time to turn things up a notch with white-water rafting on the stunningly blue glacial Athabasca River. The kids sat at the front of the raft to get the full force of the rapids whist we paddled like maniacs behind. It was hugely exhilarating and great fun from start to finish. We loved every minute. After steak and ribs for dinner, it was time to head back to our accommodation for wild swimming in the lake with a can of cold pear cider to finish.

Wildlife sightings so far: x3 black bear, x2 elk (all certifiably real)

Day 7-8 – Maligne Canyon/Lake & Yoho National Park

In the morning we hired canoes and kayaks and spent a peaceful couple of hours paddling around Patricia Lake. We were blessed with calm waters and sunshine and no one fell in which is always a bonus. Then it was time to hike Maligne Canyon with its six bridges, gushing waterfalls and impressive gorges. Again, no one fell in which is always a bonus! We then drove my favourite road of all up to Maligne Lake. The scenery along the way is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. At Maligne Lake we took the boat cruise up to Spirit Island set against the backdrop of ice-capped peaks and crystal clear waters. It’s just so, so beautiful. Whilst we were enjoying the view we were joined by a young caribou just to make things even more surreal. A truly magical experience. Afterwards a hike around the Moose Loop (no moose sightings unfortunately) topped off the journey. Back at the lodge we encountered a large buck elk with cartoonish sized antlers sat chilling by the log store. You just couldn’t make it up!

After another early morning wild swim, it was time to make our way back down the Icefields Parkway in reverse. We stopped at the thunderous Sunwapta Falls and made it to Yoho National Park in time for a late lunch at Emerald Lake. This is yet another lake with a ridiculously vivid shade of colour. Just so pretty and picturesque. We followed the lakeside trail but had to push on towards our destination of Revelstoke. On the way, we passed active forest fires by the highway with scores of helicopters above carrying water barrels. The skies became increasingly hazy and smoky and by the time we hit Revelstoke we were in full out smog. Some of these fires are over 5,000 hectares in size and have been burning for weeks. The freakish hot weather and thunder storms are mostly to blame and luckily the collateral damage has been minimal so far. An amazing job these firefighters do though.

Wildlife sightings so far: Caribou, x2 buck elk, sandpipers and some bad-ass wasps

Day 9-10 – Revelstoke & Okanagan Valley

After variable success making waffles for breakfast, followed by an early morning swim and spa, we made our way up to Revelstoke Mountain Resort (a ski resort in winter) for our chance to ride the pipeline coaster. This is basically a toboggan style white-knuckle ride down the mountain side. What’s not to love? Afterwards it was time to head down towards the vineyards and orchards of the Okanagan Valley (unfortunately the smog headed down that way too). We were now hitting 38°c heat therefore the lakes, beaches and water sports that this area offered were more than welcome. After arriving fairly late, our accommodation pool would have to do for now.

We were up bright and breezy the following day to head down to the lake. There were water options galore down here – giant inflatables on the lake, rope swings, diving boards, SUP, kayaks, sailing boats, jet skis etc. The kids went for the ‘wibit’ inflatable option and spent an elated few hours bouncing down slides, attempting monkey bars and being catapulted off giant inflatable air bags. Think ‘It’s a Knock-Out’ but on a lake. Dinner was overlooking the lake in a German themed bierkeller restaurant. A slightly bizarre day but loads of fun!

Wildlife sightings so far: Water beaver by the lake

Day 11-12 – Peachland & Vancouver Island

The following morning it was time for a good bicep work out in the form of kayaking on the lake. We parents shared a double and the kids had a single each. After early chaotic scenes with each child paddling in a different direction we eventually managed to unify the troops and head off along the lake shore. The water was as flat as can be and the early morning sunshine made this a magical family experience. Plus, the kids were quiet for once so it was the height of peace and serenity.

Afterwards it was time for a latte/smoothie/cake from the local bakery before we made our way to the Kettle Valley Railway in Summerland for our 10 mile ride on a steam train along the Okanagan Lake. Along the way we saw a black bear asleep up a tree (presumable he had been raiding the nearby apple orchard and was sleeping it off) plus lots of pretty vineyards and fruit orchards with every kinds of fruit imaginable (but no bananas). We were naturally accompanied by a banjo player singing Canadian folklore songs. After arriving back in the station it was a short drive to the nearby vineyard for some wine tasting and amazing ice-cream. Raspberry wine turned out to be a pleasant fruity little number so we purchased some more for later. The day was getting late so we had to reluctantly head to Vancouver via Manning Provincial Park for our ferry the following morning to Vancouver Island.

We were up early for the 8.30 ferry crossing to Nanaimo, the low clouds luckily lifting as we reached the island. Our destination for the day was the tiny wooden boardwalk harbour village of Telegraph Cove in the North of the island. This was surrounded by offshore islands and opposite the inlets of the mainland making this one of the best places in the world for whale watching. And it was the whales and the orcas that we were here to see. For now we had to be content with learning the fascinating history of this characterful community (started as a Japanese salmon saltery then sawmill from WWII until the 1980’s) before we visited the local boardwalk pub for a Killer Whale Ale.

Wildlife sightings so far: Deer, black bear, eagles, lots of fish

Day 13-14 – Telegraph Cove, Whales & Orcas

Today was the day we were to go whale watching. The cameras were fully charged (no doubt to keep with tradition and start filming just as the whale dives down) but we had the whole morning to kill before our trip. We took a leisurely walk around the bay, spotted a bald eagle in a tree surveying the coast for potential dinner and had numerous stops for coffee and ice cream. Then it was back home to don our warm clothes for our whale watching trip with Stubbs Islands Whale Watching (highly recommended). We were barely 1km from shore when we had our first humpback sighting. Within 10 mins we had humpbacks on three sides of the boat and a pod of orcas on the other. It was truly amazing. The whales were lunge diving and blowing and the orcas were swimming in unison with their calves. The kids were mesmerized and I did at least manage to get some decent footage. Check out our wildlife list below for our sightings! It was tacos and cider in celebration for dinner.

The following day we visited the Whale Interpretive Centre to learn about the huge variety of wildlife that are present in the waters around Vancouver Island. We also learnt the sorry fate of a young fin whale that was struck by a cruise liner and dragged (unknowingly) from the island into Vancouver dock. Poor fellow! It was time to drive back down the north coast to Parksville for a couple of days of relaxation. The kids hit the pool and Rathtrevor beach (not a patch on Northumberland beaches) where they proceeded to get wet and dirty in their freshly laundered clothes. Why oh why do I bother!

Wildlife sightings so far: Northern Resident Orcas, Humpback Whales (Ridge, Squiggle, Cutter, Nick, Tag, Inukshuk, Ripple, Slash, Domino, Argonaut), Dall’s Porpoises, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Pacific Harbour Seals, Steller Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, Red-necked Phalaropes, Black Oyster Catchers, Great Blue Heron

Day 15-16 – Nanaimo & Newcastle Island

After our obliqutory early morning swim we headed down the coast into Nanaimo to get the tiny 12 passenger ferry across to Newcastle Island Provincial Park. Being from the North East it was a must visit and I’m pleased to report that it was a lovely little island with boats, beaches, walking trails, campsites, totem poles and forest. We spent a happy couple of hours wandering around but were unfortunately behind a large school party (this always seems to happen to us!) on the wharf to get the ferry back which meant it was two hours and four ferry trips later when we finally departed Newcastle Island. We were starting to think we might be sleeping on the beach overnight!

The next day was time to head over to the other side of Vancouver Island. On the way we stopped at Little Qualicum Falls for an excellent hiking trail to the lower and upper falls and then Cathedral Grove with its colossal 80m red cedar & douglas fir trees. The kids looked tiny in comparison. It was then time for the car sickness tablets for the long & winding road towards the Pacific Rim National Park. We arrived vomit free in the late afternoon to a beautiful sunny scene. The surfers were out in full force as were the beachcombers, skateboarders and roller-skaters. Tofino where we were staying is a gentrified fishing village that had long welcomed draft dodgers, new-style hippies, university students and tourists. We felt right at home – a throwback to our times travelling around the world. We had burgers from a roadside grill in celebration!

Wildlife sightings so far: Diddly squat

Day 17-18 – Tofino and Ucluelet

We awoke in the morning to a heavy mist which meant our bear watching trip later in day was not looking good. We took a stroll along Chestermans Beach where we could barely see 10ft in front of us but after a leisurely coffee and cake the mist magically lifted and the sun broke through. The bear trip was back in the game! After a short trip to Tofino it was time to go. We were all dressed in large red, rubbery Arctic survival suits. We looked ridiculous – like a giant Jelly Babies. But after 10 minutes going full pelt on the inflatable zodiac we really didn’t care. For the first hour or so the sightings were pretty sparse – some birds and a few seals. But then we spotted a mum and cub coming down to the shore to search and crabs and molluscs and then a large male bear on his own on a small island only 10m away from our boat. He didn’t really care that we were there and proceeded to turn rocks looking for food before he jumped into the water and swam back to the mainland (apparently a very rare sighting). I obviously missed that bit with my camera! Doh! We watched him for around 30mins before setting a new zodiac speed record getting back to the marina. The Thai noodle bar next door was the perfect stop to complete our epic day!

The next day we visited Ucluelet at the opposite end of the Pacific Rim NP. This was also a fab little town which I think actually edged in front of Tofino for family suitability. We visited the excellent hands-on aquarium where the kids got to touch starfish, hermit crabs, and sea cucumbers etc. – all local sea life. We then hiked the Wild Pacific Trail around the lighthouse which had amazing views of the rugged inlets and rocks. The kids loved it and did their fastest hiking ever!

For dinner that night we visited a nearby beachfront restaurant with lovely fire pits to keep us warm and hammocks for the kids to fall out of.

Wildlife sightings so far: Black bears, seals, bald eagles, blue jay

Day 19-21 – Vancouver

We were up early for the winding road back to Nanaimo and the ferry crossing to Vancouver. It was a Sunday but you could tell we were in a big city as the roads were snarled. We arrived in downtown Vancouver where we were staying, dumped the car and headed straight out on foot to Stanley Park. I could tell straight away that we were going to like Vancouver. Lots of boats, shops, cafes, parks & cycle lanes all surrounded by mountains and ocean. It was a perfect mix. Temperatures in the mid 20’s were also a huge help.

The next day we hired bikes to cycle around the city sea walls, stopping along the way to see totem poles, sculptures and swim in the large lido by the coast. We took a tiny ferry boat across to Granville Island where we watched street entertainers, drank cocktails (us not the kids), ate gorgeous sea food, bought more food at the amazing street market and window shopped for expensive art work and yachts (very tempting!). We then walked the streets of downtown back to our apartment (with only a few slight grumbles from the kids along the way). A tiring day.

The next day was our last in Canada before our early evening flight back to the UK. We made the most of it by visiting the Vancouver Aquarium where we saw sea otters pups, rehabilitated sea lions and dolphins and some of the most amazing jellyfish ever. It was the perfect end to our spectacular trip. Three weeks crammed full with hiking, gondolas, lakes, mountains, wildlife, white-water rafting, horse riding, cruises, kayaking, orchards, vineyards, whale watching, beaches, bear-watching, coastal trails, cycling and city sightseeing. What an adventure!