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Vancouver Island with Kids: 21 Amazing Adventures for Families

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Diverse and dramatic, Vancouver Island delivers all that active families look for in a holiday destination. The island's coastal rainforest and sandy beaches draw nature lovers and adventure seekers of all ages. As home to the capital of British Columbia, Victoria, there are plenty of fun and educational attractions to explore as well. Located 173 miles from mainland Vancouver, it is the largest island off the West Coast of North America. From the sea to the land and the sky, here are 21 amazing things to do on Vancouver Island with kids.

Butchart Gardens, one of the many treasures on Vancouver Island for familie
Butchart Gardens, one of the many treasures on Vancouver Island for families (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

1. Butchart Gardens

It's hard to believe Butchart Gardens was once a rock quarry. Today this unique botanic garden is resplendent with beautiful flowers, trees, and other plants. It is home to 900 varietals of bedding plants that burst with color and scent each summer alone.

Plantings change with the seasons here. In spring expect tulips, daffodils, and peonies. Summer favorites include roses and hydrangeas. In fall, look for richly colored Japanese maples in the Japanese Garden as well as dahlias, chrysanthemums, and other blooms. In winter, enjoy thousands of poinsettias on display.

Rose Carousel at Butchart Gardens
Rose Carousel at Butchart Gardens (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Young kids will especially appreciate Butchart Garden's Rose Carousel. It features 30 hand-carved animals and chariots for guests' riding pleasure.

The gardens are in the city of Victoria, appropriately dubbed The Garden City. A mild climate with an average of 308 sunny days per year plus over 58 inches of rainfall make this Pacific Northwest city a great place for plants to thrive.

Visit Butchart Gardens on your own or book a full-day Butchart Gardens and Victoria tour with our partner, GetYourGuide.

Vancouver Parliament Building
Vancouver Parliament Building (Photo credit: Shawn.ccf, Depositphotos.com)

2. British Columbia Parliament Buildings

The imposing neo-baroque British Columbia Parliament Buildings dominate the core landscape of Victoria BC. Free guided and self-guided tours are available year-round Monday through Friday. But check their website for holidays and unexpected closures due to legislative events.

Three killer whales off the shores of Vancouver Island
Three killer whales off the shores of Vancouver Island (Photo credit: JuRitt, Depositphotos.com)

3. Whale Watching

Vancouver Island is the perfect place for whale watching. The waters here provide an outdoor playground for orcas (killer whales), humpback whales, Pacific grey whales, and minke whales. 

The inner channel between Vancouver Island and the Discovery Islands forms the Discovery Passage. This is a vital habitat for orcas and a migration path for humpback and Pacific grey whales. Dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, otters, and harbor seals can often be spotted swimming in this area as well.

Sign up for a 3-hour whale watching covered boat tour from Victoria. Learn about whales and other native animals from marine naturalist guides during your journey. Wildlife can be viewed year-round but the perfect time for boat tours is during whale migration season, March through October.

Worried about motion sickness? Don't let that keep you from this incredible adventure! Read my motion sickness tips before you go.

Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress
Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Fairmont Empress Afternoon Tea

The pretty Hotel Fairmont Empress was designed to look like a regal French chateau when it began construction in 1904. It sits just steps from the British Parliament Buildings and looks over Victoria Harbour. Plus, it boasts an indoor pool for use year-round by lucky hotel guests.

Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria BC
Fairmont Empress Hotel (Photo credit: meunierd, Depositphotos.com)

Even if an overnight stay is not in the budget for your family, consider splurging on afternoon tea at this iconic hotel. The Children's Prince or Princess Tea will make kids feel like royalty indeed. Meanwhile, Champagne Tea is available for accompanying parents.

Expect herbal or caffeinated teas, darling finger sandwiches, decadent desserts, and freshly baked scones topped with honey harvested from the Fairmont's own rooftop beehives.

Old growth forest in Cathedral Grove Provincial Park
Old growth forest in Cathedral Grove Provincial Park (Photo credit: MarinaPoushkina, Depositphotos.com)

5. Cathedral Grove Provincial Park

Explore an awe-inspiring world of giants at Cathedral Grove Provincial Park. This park is home to some of the last remaining old growth forests of Douglas fir trees in the province. Trails allow visitors to wander through the forest and around the trees themselves, many of which are 20+ feet wide.

Conveniently accessible from the highway, Cathedral Grove makes an easy and inspiring place to explore nature on Vancouver Island with kids.

Victoria Butterfly Gardens
Victoria Butterfly Gardens (Photo from Victoria Butterfly Gardens Facebook Page)

6. Victoria Butterfly Gardens

Thirteen minutes from Butchart Gardens you'll find the tropical paradise of Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Children love to watch the colorful and gentle butterflies as they float about and feast on fruits. Over 75 species of butterflies and moths fly freely inside the indoor facility.

After viewing the fluttering insects, wander through the outdoor gardens to see all sorts of flora and fauna. Animals living here include flamingos, turtles, tortoises, koi, lizards, and tropical birds. Admission to an insectarium is also included with the price of entry.

Inner Harbour of Victoria Harbour
Inner Harbour of Victoria Harbour (Photo credit: boonsom, Depositphotos.com)

7. Kayak Victoria Harbour

There are plenty of ways to explore the beautiful Inner Harbour of Victoria Harbour. Your best bet, however, is to take to the water. Head to Ocean River Adventures for both urban and island family kayaking and paddle-boarding tours.

Not only will you get a unique perspective of the capital city, but also, you’ll get up close and personal with a variety of aquatic life. Kayaking in Victoria is an easy water sport for kids to grasp. Plus, gliding across the water is a tranquil way to enjoy the natural beauty of the island.

Hiking with kids in Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island
Huge tree in Pacific Rim National Park (Photo credit: carriecolephotography@gmail.com, Depositphotos.com)

8. Pacific Rim National Park

“One of the best places to explore Canada’s temperate rainforest and unspoiled west coast beauty, Pacific Rim National Park is truly an amazing example of the power of nature and the sea,” says Pacific Northwest residents and adventure travel bloggers, The Mandagies.

Seal lion in Pacific Rim Nature Reserve
Seal lion in Pacific Rim Nature Reserve (Photo credit:

Animals

Located in the lower southeast portion of Vancouver Island, Pacific Rim National Park covers 197 square miles of protected land. The park is home to an array of wildlife like black bears, cougars, elk, and wolves. You might also spy marine animals along its jagged coastline shores, too, such as whales, basking sharks, sea lions, and seals.

Hiking Trails

Hiking trails are plentiful at Pacific Rim National Park. Adventurous, hardcore hiking families may want to hike the island's famous West Coast Trail. It includes the Logan Creek Bridge, a 34-foot-long suspension bridge with 150 above Logan Creek as it empties into the Pacific Ocean.

For the rest of us, the easy 45-minute Rainforest Figure Eight provides a nice walk for families. It's open year-round and is a popular pick for birders. Read about this and other hikes with kids recommended by AllTrails.com.

Low tide on Vancouver Island's Long Beach
Low tide on Vancouver Island's Long Beach (Photo credit: isabela1966, Depositphotos.com)

Coastline

Enjoy outdoor activities like surfing, tide pooling, and ocean swimming along the national park's varying jagged rocky and sandy shores.

Pacific Rim National Park is broken into three sections: West Group Trail, Broken Group Islands, and the largest — Long Beach. Long Beach is home to, you guessed it, a very long beach. In fact, it stretches along 10 miles of coastline.

Bald eagle at Pacific Northwest Raptors
Bald eagle at Pacific Northwest Raptors (Photo from The Pacific Northwest Raptors Facebook page)

9. Pacific Northwest Raptors

Want to see the fastest animal on the planet? Head about 37 miles west of downtown Victoria to Pacific Northwest Raptors. This wildlife center is home to 120 birds of prey including bald eagles, vultures, and owls.

Fantastic flying demonstrations take place here twice per day during summer months and run until the end of October. Watch peregrine falcons soar overhead before dive-bombing mere feet from where you sit.

Beacon Hill Park in springtime on Vancouver Island
Beacon Hill Park in springtime (Photo credit: pr2is, Depositphotos.com)

10. Beacon Hill Park

Right in the heart of downtown Victoria, the expansive Beacon Hill Park is a wonderful place to play outdoors on Vancouver Island with kids. Sprawling across 200 acres, families will find attractions aplenty.

Where to even begin? There are two playgrounds, two splash pads, lawn bowling, plentiful picnic tables, a rose garden, a bandshell for live music and other performances, and much more. There's even a petting zoo called Beacon Hill Children's Farm.

Beacon Hill Park is also home to the Garry Oak Ecosystem, one of Canada's most endangered (and prettiest) ecosystems.

Wildplay Elements Parks adventure course  in Vancouver with kids
Wildplay Elements Parks adventure course (Photo from Wildplay Elements Parks Facebook page)

11. Wildplay Element Parks

Get your hearts pumping at Wildplay Element Parks. Even young children can join the fun with some offerings starting at age 5.

The Victoria location is just 15 minutes from downtown. Near the east coast of the island, the Nainamo park offers adventures near (and over!) the Nainamo River.

Adventure courses include suspension bridges, cargo nets, rope swings, zip lines, and other exciting elements. Zip line courses focus on flights through the treetops. There are jump challenges and axe-throwing at both locations, too.

Merridale Estate Cidery
Merridale Estate Cidery (Photo from Merridale Estate Cidery Facebook page)

12. Merridale Estate Cidery

Typically, wine tasting plus children is not a combination that pairs well. But, according to Jody Robbins, Travel Mamas contributor and author of 25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit, “Spending an afternoon at Merridale Estate Cidery is an entirely different matter.” This cidery, distillery, farm, and farm-to-table restaurant is located in Cobble Hill, 28 miles north of Victoria.

Robbins says, “Parents can sample a flight of ciders, many of which are international award-winning. Meanwhile, kids can tuck into homemade cinnamon buns and pizza fresh out of the brick oven. Work off the calories by running through the orchard and searching for trout in the quarry pond.

At Merridale Estate Cidery families wander along a wood-lined path in search of fairies that are rumored to roam the property. You’re sure to spot a few of their wooden homes and learn a bit about the plants and animals of the region during a well-signed, self-guided tour.”

Touch pool at Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea Aquarium
Touch pool at Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea Aquarium (Photo from the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea Aquarium Facebook page)

13. Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea Aquarium

Both little kids and older kids will be hooked upon entry to the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea (formerly known as Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre). Robbins says, “Families descend in a tricked-out elevator that invokes a submarine being submerged in the sea. Lights flash, the floor rumbles, and all the bells and whistles go off until you arrive at sea level.” 

This aquarium is devoted to discovering the Salish Sea, British Columbia's inland sea that includes Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and the waters off Vancouver.

The center offers more than the usual tanks and fish-feeding frenzy. Children interact with the ocean through a number of different stations including microscopes to watch the miniature world of marine life.

Visitors also get handsy with creatures often found in tide pools on Vancouver Island. Think starfish, sea urchins, and anemones.

Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea is located in Sidney. It's only minutes from Victoria International Airport and the BC Ferries Swartz Bay Terminal.

Rathtrevor Beach, Parksville, BC
The low, low tide of Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye)

14. Ocean Play at Parksville and Qualicum Beach

On the eastern side of Vancouver Island, you will find the lovely community of Parksville and Qualicum Beach. This area's great beaches and prime outdoor adventures are recommended by Claudia Laroye. Not only is Laroye a longtime Travel Mamas contributor and proud British Columbia resident, but also, she is the editor of A Gelato A Day, a collection of true stories of family travel.

Laroye advises, “Walk along the trails, row a dinghy, or fly a kite in the steady breeze. There are hours of fun to be had on these beaches, whether the tides are in or way, way out.”

In particular Laroye recommends the laid-back family activities at one of Canada’s warmest ocean beaches, Parksville Beach. She says, “It is blessed with more than 13 miles of beachfront. When the tide comes in over the hot sand it produces bath-like temperatures, making a swim in the Pacific more palatable. The shallow coast is ideal for water activities like skimboarding and beachcombing for sand dollars, starfish, and even crabs.”

Parksville Sand Sculpting Competition
Parksville Beach Fest Sand Sculpting Competition (Photo from ParksvilleBeachFest.ca)

15. Parksville Beach Fest Sand Sculpting Competition

Dig sandcastles? The Parksville Beach Fest Sand Sculpting Competition is held annually from mid-July to mid-August in Parksville's main oceanfront park. This global event is one of the biggest sand sculpting competitions in the world.

Goats-on-Roof of the Old Country Market in Coombs
Goats-on-Roof of the Old Country Market in Coombs (Photo credit: olegmayorov, Depositphotos.com)

16. Goats on the Roof at the Old Country Market

A 10-minute drive west of Parksville is the unique and quirky village of Coombs. Where else can you see the Goats-on-Roof at the Old Country Market? You've probably seen these celebrity goats munching on rooftop grass in your social media feed.

The Old Country Market has become one of the top tourist attractions on Vancouver Island. In addition to roof-dwelling goats, it offers four shops, an open-air produce market, an international grocery, and a deli. There are also three great restaurants onsite: a taqueria, an outdoor café, and an Italian trattoria.

Save room for a sweet treat. At Market Bakery order a signature Bee Sting, a Danish pastry filled with Bavarian cream and drizzled with caramel. Go for a s'mores donut from Billy G's Doughnut Shop. Or, cool off with a handmade gelato, sorbetto, or ice cream cone from Billy Gruff Creamery & Bistro.

Woolly Mammoth display at Royal B.C. Museum on Vancouver Island
Woolly Mammoth display at Royal B.C. Museum (Photo credit: imagex, Depositphotos.com)

17. Royal B.C. Museum

When visiting Vancouver Island with kids, get a royal dose of education and fun at Royal B.C. Museum. Children will love seeing “Woolly” the full-sized and appropriately nicknamed mammoth in an ice age exhibit. Thunderbird Park displays totem poles created by British Columbia's First Nations. The museum is also home to the island's only IMAX Theatre.

Read about more highlights for families at Royal B.C. Museum recommended by Reader's Digest Canada.

Praying mantis at Victoria Bug Zoo
Praying mantis at Victoria Bug Zoo (Photo from Victoria Bug Zoo Facebook Page)

18. Victoria Bug Zoo

Fans of all things creepy and crawly will want to visit Victoria Bug Zoo. Even if insects and arachnids make you squeamish, a short self-guided tour of this mini zoo will make a memorable experience.

View tropical bugs from around the world. Fascinating insects on display include giant walking sticks, pretty praying mantises, glow-in-the-dark scorpions, and hairy tarantulas. Victoria Bug Zoo is also home to Canada's largest ant colony!

Two fairy houses in Milner Gardens & Woodland
Two fairy houses in Milner Gardens & Woodland (Photo from Milner Gardens & Woodland Facebook page)

19. Milner Gardens & Woodland

The serene Milner Gardens & Woodland is the creation of one plant-loving woman, Veronica Milner. This hidden gem is now administered by Vancouver Island University in Qualicum Beach.

The 70-acre oasis features a heritage rhododendron collection and acres of tall cedar and Douglas firs trees. Plus, an array of fairy houses will delight children here.

Trying to decide between Butchart Gardens and Milner Gardens? One TripAdvisor reviewer says, “Where Butchart Gardens is well-groomed, Milner Gardens is a bit more wild.” Some visitors prefer Milner for exactly that difference! Of course, true garden lovers will want to visit both.

The gardens also offer a traditional English Tea service in the historic Milner House, with an unsurpassed view of the ocean.

Horne Lake Caves on Vancouver Island with kids
Horne Lake Caves (Photo from HorneLake.com)

20. Horne Lake Caves

Are you afraid of the dark? Then Horne Lake Caves is not the place for you. But adventurous folks will want to sign up for a guided headlamp-lit tour of these caves on Vancouver Island.

There are family cave tours for those who can handle confined spaces. And for the really adventurous, there's a rappelling cave tour. Gulp.

Storm-watching as sport in Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Storm-watching as sport in Tofino (Photo credit: edb3_16, Depositphotos.com)

21. Tofino

Situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a mecca for outdoorsy folks. It's been known as a summer destination for many years. This area of the island is popular with surfers, whale-watchers, campers, sightseers, and nature enthusiasts.

In winter, thrill seekers flock to Tofino to witness spectacular coastal storms with huge ocean waves. Intrigued? Read more about winter storm watching in Tofino!

No matter when you visit Tofino, plan to walk the Wild Pacific Trail with your brood. You'll spy shipwrecks, the Amphitrite Lighthouse, and maybe some whales and other ocean creatures along the way.

Whistler Children's Festival
Whistler Children's Festival (Photo credit: Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane)

Explore More of Canada

Whistler is an awesome playground for families. Discover summer activities in Whistler.

A springtime tradition, read about maple syrup festivals in Canada.

For a unique Canadian vacation, learn what's it like to embark on a houseboat holiday on the Rideau Canal in Ontario.

Take a look at all the snowy fun in Quebec City in winter with kids.

Amazing Things to Do on Vancouver Island with Kids

Save These Vancouver Island Family Activities

For future reference, keep this list of the best things to do on Vancouver Island with kids. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. I hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

What kid-friendly Vancouver Island activities would you like most? Let us know in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, TravelMamas.com. She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. christiana Onuoha says

    Wow. There’s so much fun things to do in vancouver, then there’s also food!! Count me in.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      The tea at the Fairmont Princess is divine! And dining with goats on a roof? So fun!

  2. Faith Stephenson says

    I’ve never seen a place like this before! I appreciate you sharing your photos with us. It feels like I am there too.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Vancouver Island really is a unique place to visit with kids or without. Hope you can experience it firsthand someday!

  3. Wow they looks like so much things to do here, the butterfly gardens sound so nice!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I love botanic and butterfly gardens and the ones on Vancouver Island are beautiful!

  4. Eileen M Loya says

    All these places are so picturesque! The parliament building is so majestic looking! I love all the nature spots. Vancouver is a must visit place for families! Bookmarking this post for future reference.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Eileen – Vancouver Island’s architecture and natural landscapes are simply gorgeous. I hope you can visit someday. Thank you for bookmarking!

  5. Rose Ann Sales says

    Wow! What a wonderful and amazing place to visit! There’s a lot to do there! So awesome!

  6. Liam Smith says

    Amazing places! Thanks for sharing keep posting.

  7. Wow! The forest, the architecture, the water, everything looks spectacular!

  8. Fransic verso says

    This is awesome, I will add this to the list to visit in the future. It would be fun to visit a place like this. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Patricia Chamberlain says

    I have always wanted to go whale watching! Vancouver Island is on my travel buck list! I have only been to a few places in Canada, but they were all beautiful.

  10. This is an amazing guide which I will deffo be saving for future travel plans. The British Columbia Parliament Buildings look like an ideal place to tour x

  11. Gervin Khan says

    Wow! Every place you’ve featured here looks so cool and just mesmerizing! Perfect for the whole family to have some fun and enjoy these places! Thanks for sharing this with us! Loved it!

  12. Ntensibe Edgar says

    Nnniiiccceeeee….I’d love to watch a whale! I’ve never seen that animal up-close!

  13. April | Dreaming in French says

    This was such a great read! I’ve always wanted to visit Vancouver Island, and now I have plenty of reasons to.

  14. Wow those places are breathtaking. This is a must visit one day. Thank you for this great share!

  15. There is so much to do! The butterfly gardens sound especially interesting.

  16. Such a beautiful places to visit thanks for sharing with us.

  17. What a fun place to visit! So many things to do and perfect for families. I know my son would enjoy visiting the Butterfly Gardens and Whale Watching.

    Maureen

  18. Holy cow! There’s so much to do there. I love how family-friendly the area is. This looks like a great family vacation spot.

  19. I love that there are so many things to do with kids there! My family loves to travel but we haven’t left the US since having kids yet. I think this would be a great place to try for their first international travel since it isn’t too far from home and they would love so many of these.

  20. Jody Robbins, The Saucy Travel Mama says

    I think you and your daughter would love it. There’s so much for families to do in B.C. Let us know how you make out!

  21. Jody Robbins, The Saucy Travel Mama says

    Thanks so much, Alisha!

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