Category Archives: Outdoor Adventure

Paradise in Parksville/Qualicum Beach

During low tide in Parksville Bay, on the east side of Vancouver Island, the beach stretches toward the horizon seemingly forever. Even better, when the tide’s on its way out, you can wade out into the shallow water quite a distance and never get your shorts wet. For our family, these conditions are just about perfect. Add in temps in the high 20s and it’s no wonder we packed our beach bag and hit the sand immediately after checking in to The Beach Club Resort.

There's sand for miles in Parksville during low tide.

There’s sand for miles in Parksville during low tide. The view from our room at The Beach Club Resort.

Bennett was in heaven swimming from puddle to shallow puddle, and we never worried he’d get in over his head (literally). Avery turned her attention to all the critters getting left behind as the water drained toward the Salish Sea, including sand dollars, clams and tiny shore crabs that tried to hide unsuccessfully under beach rocks. Blake and I delighted in the kids’ happiness and tossed around a Frisbee. Paradise, found.

Bennett in his happy place: a shallow pool of warm sea water.

Bennett in his happy place: a shallow pool of warm sea water.

Three tiny shore crabs at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.

Three tiny shore crabs at nearby Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.

I’d been hearing for years that Parksville and neighbouring Qualicum Beach, a quick 30-minute drive north of the Nanaimo ferry terminal, was a perfect spot for families — warm calm water, fantastic tide pools and a ton of other things for kids to do beyond the beach. We’d never been to Vancouver Island with the kids and figured this would be the perfect initiation.

After a lazy beach afternoon and a spectacular sunset, Avery and I were up at first light for a Salish Sea Tidepool Tour with Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours. My little naturalist was in her element searching for critters in rocky pools of water and then picking up everything — even the sea slugs!

Avery holds a purple ochre sea star that seems to be eating another shelled creature.

Our guide holds a purple ochre sea star. They were everywhere!

A neon green sea anemone.

A neon green sea anemone.

I was pretty amazed by all the life in the tide pools. We saw so many sea stars, shore and kelp crabs, and sea anemones that we lost count. We also spotted some unusual creatures, including a sea cucumber and the aforementioned sea slug. It was definitely worth waking up early!

I think what made Parksville special — beyond its beach beauty — was just how excited the kids were to be outside and either in or near the water, swimming or exploring. As Avery nears the teen years and Bennett grows ever more interested in iPad games and gadgets, it’s pretty cool to see them still see the natural world with wonder. Too bad life isn’t a beach every day.

Avery is in her element looking for critters in a tide pool.

Avery is in her element looking for critters in a tide pool.

Top 5 kids’ summer activities in Fernie

We’ve been coming to the small mountain town of Fernie, in the southeast corner of British Columbia, for the past nine summers. Our family is usually here for all the summer long weekends, including our favourite — August long.

Downtown Fernie had charm galore, and some cute boutiques and great restaurants (order the Switchback Salmon at Big Bang Bagels).

Downtown Fernie has charm galore, and some cute boutiques and great restaurants (order the Switchback Salmon at Big Bang Bagels!).

There’s no doubt Fernie is an outdoor destination, nestled as it is in the Elk Valley, where the Elk River cuts a path at the foot of the Lizard Range, which is part of the Canadian Rockies. Winter visitors come to ski, while summer guests spend their days hiking and mountain biking. When you bring kids, you add activities like swimming to the mix. Since we come so often with our children, aged 11 and eight, we’ve got the whole Fernie-with-kids thing dialled. Here are our Top 5 kids’ summer activities in Fernie:

1. Hike the Old Growth Trail to Island Lake Lodge

Giant cedar trees, mossy logs and a wide path that gently ascends to Island Lake are the top draws on the kid-friendly Old Growth Trail. The trailhead is located at the 4-kilometre mark on the road that cuts through Mt. Fernie Provincial Park on its way up to Island Lake Lodge. The hike is well-marked and — most importantly for children — easy, gaining just 250 metres as it climbs four kilometres to Island Lake.

We humans sure look tiny next to these giant Western Red Cedars on Fernie's Old Growth Trail.

We humans look tiny next to these giant Western Red Cedars.

What’s more, there are numerous kid distractions along the way, such as balancing on fallen trees, or measuring an 800-year-old cedar’s girth by hugging it (one of them is “seven arm spans” around, which works out to a circumference of about 28 feet!). Best of all, you can reward yourself apres-hike on the Bear Lodge patio at Island Lake Lodge, with some lavender lemonade for the kids and a Sunny Side cocktail for the adults.

2. Spend a day at Surveyor’s Lake in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Surveyor’s Lake is not technically in Fernie — it’s about a 30 minute drive south and then west on Hwy. 3 (turn left at the Kikomun Newgate Road, just past the Hwy. 93 turn-off, and follow the signs to Kikomun Creek Provincial Park) — but it’s the favourite family lake in the region, in part because of its small size, warm water and the fact that motorized craft are not allowed.

The dock at Surveyor's Lake is a busy place on a summer afternoon.

The dock at Surveyor’s Lake is a busy place on a summer afternoon.

Over the years we have collected buckets, water noodles and even a four-person raft, and we love to paddle to the lake’s small inlets in search of the Western Painted turtles that like to sun themselves on fallen logs.

It's easy to spot Western Painted turtles at Surveyor's Lake.

It’s easy to spot Western Painted turtles at Surveyor’s Lake.

Don’t worry — if you don’t own a water conveyance, you can rent a kayak, stand-up paddle board or pedal-boat from Turtle Haven Rentals. We also always hike the two-kilometre-long trail that circumnavigates the lake, and we spend plenty of time swimming and jumping from the dock. It’s pure lake bliss.

3. Practice wheeled skills at Fernie’s Skate Park and Dirt Jump Park

Confession: I would likely kill myself if I tried to scooter or take my mountain bike over a jump at the Skate Park or adjacent Dirt Bike Park, which are both conveniently located next to the Fernie Aquatic Centre and its outdoor splash park. But it’s pure entertainment to watch the local kids defy gravity on wheels, even if it’s terrifying to see your own offspring attempt new tricks.

I love the contrast between urban graffiti and nature's mountain splendour at the Fernie Skate Park.

I love the contrast between urban graffiti and nature’s mountain splendour at the Fernie Skate Park. Here, Avery scooters with two friends.

Our daughter likes going to the Fernie Skate Park because it’s small and isn’t very crowded, so there’s no pressure to perform. She also likes navigating the mountain bike skills area, which is next to the Dirt Jump Park.

4. Mountain bike the new Lazy Lizard trail

This wide, leisurely bike path wends its way from Island Lake Lodge down 339 metres over seven kilometres to Mt. Fernie Provincial Park. You’ll see mountain bikers pedalling up the trail, but if you’re bringing children on this ride, the best way to do it is to have someone drop you off at the lodge and ride (mostly) down hill.

The Lazy Lizard trail covers seven kilometres between Island Lake Lodge and Mt. Fernie Provincial Park.

The Lazy Lizard trail covers seven kilometres between Island Lake Lodge and Mt. Fernie Provincial Park.

Avery has biked the Lazy Lizard twice. The first time she was very cautious and had to walk her bike on the uphill parts; the most recent time she rocked it, pedalling hard, going fast and letting loose with some, “Woo-hoos!” She totally schooled me, in fact, as I wiped out twice! It’s not what you’d call a technical trail — it has berms and wide bridges for stream crossings, plus the odd feature for Dad to catch air off of. Kids (and this mom) can take it slowly but still have a blast.

5. Ride the chairlift at Fernie Alpine Resort for some wildflower hiking

In the summer, the slopes at Fernie Alpine Resort blossom with wildflowers. You can purchase a single-ride ticket and catch the Timber Chair express four-person lift for some chairlift-assisted hiking.

The best way to access alpine hikes at Fernie is to ride the Timber Chair. Sadly, summer operations ended this weekend.

The best way to access alpine hikes at Fernie is to ride the Timber Chair.

The Lost Boys Lookout and Lost Boys Loop trails are easy hikes from the top of Timber Chair. You can also sign up for a guided hike or tour, like the one with “Nature Bob,” a local who has been leading hikes for over a decade and who can point out everything of interest.

The children loved jumping over rocks at the Mammoth Droppings, the hike highlight.

The children and some friends loved jumping over rocks at the Mammoth Droppings, the highlight of our hike four years ago (!) with Nature Bob.

Whatever you do on your long weekend in Fernie, make sure to get outside in this beautiful mountain town!

Long Hot Summer

The dog days of summer officially arrive this weekend, and we’ll see August stretch before us all hot and hazy. The holiday weekend marks the halfway point of summer break (cue tears) so if you need a drink to cry into — or one to cheer you up while cooling you down — I found just the one at Island Lake Lodge near Fernie, B.C.

The Long Hot Summer is light and refreshing with just a touch of heat from muddled jalapeños to keep things interesting. I love that it uses fresh raspberries and Chambord for sweetness, plus ginger beer for spice and fizz. It’s totally crushable, and even more so if you’re lucky enough to drink it on a patio with a view of the Lizard Range. Cheers!

Beat the heat with this spicy cooler -- aptly named a Long Hot Summer -- from Island Lake Lodge.

Beat the heat with this spicy cooler — aptly named a Long Hot Summer — from Island Lake Lodge.

Long Hot Summer

  • 2 raspberries
  • 2 jalapeño slices
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz Absolut vodka
  • 1/2 oz Chambord
  • Top ginger beer
  • Garnish: Lime wedge and a raspberry

Method: In the base of a cocktail shaker, muddle raspberries and jalapeño slices with lime juice. Add vodka and Chambord, plus ice, then shake. Strain into a rocks glass filled with new ice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge on the rim and a raspberry dropped into the glass.

— Recipe courtesy Island Lake Lodge