Little girl playing in the red sand of Cabot Beach, Prince Edward Island


Travel Ideas: Best Canadian Destinations for Families

Mar 30, 2017

Whether you’re fêting Canada’s sesquicentennial (say that five times fast), or the political situation south of the border has made you rethink your American holiday, there has never been a better time to explore our own glorious country than summer 2017. Here, five kid-friendly Canadian destinations to experience during this year’s sunny season.

For sport-crazy kiddos: Tofino, British Columbia 

People kayaking in Tofino

isabela66 © 123RF

Most Canadian cities offer the gamut of sporting options for young kids. That past winter, our boys enjoyed parkour and kayaking (indoors) for the first time, as well as more mainstream athletics like soccer and hockey.

But there are only a few places in the country where you can catch a wave. Nova Scotia offers some solid options, but the surf capital of Canada is definitely Tofino, in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on Vancouver Island. Pacific Surf Co. offers lessons for the whole family, even catering to young children, between 6 and 12 years. (A three-hour lesson for a family of four or five goes for $349.) If you’re not quite surf-ready, bodyboards (or boogie boards) are also available to rent, as are stand-up paddlleboards.

Bonus? Nothing tuckers out tireless children like a day on the water.

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For young patriots: Charlottetown, PEI

tourists approaching Province House in Charlottetown

Andrew Vaughan/CP Images

If your family is really gung-ho on the sesquicentennial celebrations themselves, there will be no shortage of parties happening from coast to coast to coast. The natural inclination is to visit the nation’s capital. But Ottawa on Canada Day is crawling every other year of confederation. You couldn’t pay me to schlep three boys (including an infant) through those streets this year, no matter how pretty the Rideau Canal and the Parliament Buildings are.

Alternatively, the birthplace of Confederation, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, offers myriad festive opportunities with fewer bodies per square kilometre. Take in the ten-hour live music concert on July 1, or visit the Port of Charlottetown to see up to 40 tall ships between June 30 and July 2 as part of Rendez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta.

The rest of your vacay can be spent exploring P.E.I.’s red-sand beaches: gorgeous to behold and a novelty for kids not native to the province. Provincial park beach locations (there are eight of them) have lifeguards on duty during the summer months. And don’t forget to take in a performance of the Anne of Green Gables musical at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre for the Arts.

For future scientists: Drumheller, Alberta 

The hoodoos in Drumheller

Darlene Munro © 123RF

Every year, my in-laws load up their vehicle with all of their grandchildren for a road trip from Edmonton to Drumheller. Most people think mountains when they come west, but for our kids, this Dinosaur Valley three hours southeast of Edmonton and 90 minutes northeast of Calgary is much more exciting. Located in the Canadian Badlands, Drumheller is the dino capital of the world.

Prehistoric attractions include the World’s Largest Dinosaur, the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Canada’s only exclusively palaeontological museum) and the Fossil World Dinosaur Discovery Centre.

The Badlands geography is breathtaking and exotic-looking, and the kids will especially love racing around the hoodoos — sandstone pillars formed over millions of years.

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For eager road-trippers: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

A view of the road along the Cabot Trail

Glenn Adams/CP Images

An epic cross-Canada road trip seems fitting in 2017, fêting 150 years by way of the Trans-Canada Highway. But with kids? That kind of a car commitment is totally out of the question. What’s doable, however, is the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island — back in the 90s, my parents did it with three kids under 12, and we survived.

The trail is just shy of 300 kilometres, offering spectacular views of the island’s highlands. Go whale-watching, visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park (entrance fees for all national parks are waived this year in honour of the sesquicentennial) or splurge for a stay at the Keltic Lodge.

For cosmopolitan kids: Montreal, Quebec

A street-performer creating dozens of giant bubbles in Old Montreal as a child plays amongst them

Ryan Remiorz/CP Images

The charms of Montreal are obvious: the cobblestone streets, the European vibe, the overall joie-de-vivre. But while you appreciate the subtleties of one of Canada’s great cities, there are also a bunch of things the kids will enjoy, too. Head to Île Sainte-Helene for Canada’s second-largest amusement park, La Ronde; check out the latest Cirque du Soleil show in the city where it all began, and learn about the environment at the Biosphere. Or, simply hit one of the city’s beaches and then go for ice cream in Old Montreal. Because, really, what’s a better Canadian summer experience than that?

Article Author Julia Lipscombe
Julia Lipscombe

Read more from Julia here.

Julia Lipscombe is an Edmonton-based freelance journalist and former staffer at FLARE magazine, NOW magazine and the Edmonton Journal. Julia is an arts and lifestyle specialist, and these days mostly writes about parenting, music and weddings. Alongside her husband, Jesse Lipscombe, she co-founded and runs the anti-discrimination campaign, #MakeItAwkward, which encourages people to speak up and speak out against racism, homophobia and hate of all kinds. Julia and Jesse are parents to three beautiful boys: Chile, Tripp and Indiana. In her ever-diminishing spare time, Julia likes to swim, bike, run, drink wine, and listen to lots of albums as a member of the Polaris Music Prize jury. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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