Three Must-Visit Spots in Western Canada for Summer Family Travel

We all know this is the summer to travel within Canada, right? With our dollar not doing us any favors, plus all the 150th celebrations, it’s a golden opportunity to stay within our boarders and explore the Great White North. I’ve spent the past two years sussing out the best Canada has to offer families. The result is my first book: 25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit. If you want to stick close to home this summer, here are my top picks for engaging and affordable destinations.

British Columbia

Victoria is an easy choice for a family holiday where everyone wins. Along the Inner Harbour, you’ll find one troop-pleasing activity after the next! Begin by spending a morning at the Royal BC Museum, followed by a food truck lunch amid the totem poles gracing the grounds outside. In the afternoon, skedaddle over to the Bug Zoo and Miniature World - all within steps of the glistening waterfront. You could pony up for a whale-watching expedition, but you’re just as likely to spot marine life by hopping aboard a harbour ferry. Over 80 orca whales live in Victoria’s waters, as do seals, sea lions, and porpoises.

To get a more local taste of the city, head to Oak Bay, a charming community, only a five-minute drive from downtown. Here, you’ll want to spend some time at the Oak Bay Marina feeding its resident seals with frozen fish purchased from the Marina gift shop. Oak Bay Avenue is one of my favorite places for a stroll, and the littles don’t seem to mind popping into its quaint shops, especially if you hit the independent toy store first. A few minutes drive farther takes you to Estevan Village, where littles hoist their pinkies at Crumsby’s Café during the Children’s Tea Party. From there, walk to Willows Beach for a play along the shore.

No visit to Victoria is complete without a requisite visit to The Butchart Gardens. There are over 55 acres to explore within this National Historic Site, so you’ll want to pick up the self-guided family walks worksheet before beginning. Butterfly Gardens is also worth adding to your bucket list. With thousands of free-flying butterflies, it’s an ideal spot to take a breather and refresh the senses. 

Alberta

I’m always amazed at the number of Calgary families who don’t leg it up to Edmonton. This city is an ideal family getaway! Edmonton is a festival city with loads of free family programming all summer long. Family-friendly festivals worth sussing out include: Sand on Whyte - Sand Carving Exhibit and the Edmonton
Fringe Festival.

Just outside the city, you can’t miss getting caught in a bison traffic jam (for real!) at Elk Island National Park. And Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village puts the kids to work doing old-fashioned chores with costumed interpreters. This is the place to tuck into traditional homemade Ukrainian foods such as perogies and cabbage rolls. Still hungry? Swing by Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market for equally affordable eats.

Ah, yes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a few reasons why you ought to consider stopping by the largest shopping mall in North America. West Edmonton Mall allows visitors an opportunity to swim, skate, surf, golf, ride a roller coaster, shake hands with a sea lion, and sleep in an igloo - all in one day. We all know how fickle Alberta weather can be. Should your outdoor dreams get quashed by a sudden hailstorm, you can save the day by nipping into Galaxyland, one of the world’s largest indoor amusement parks.

Hit the mini-golf course or Crystal Labyrinth, a maze-like hallway of mirrors you have to find your way out of. And that pirate ship near the Fantasyland entrance? It’s actually a replica of the Santa Maria, the vessel Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic on in 1492. Board it for a nominal fee, and feel proud that you’ve just delivered a history lesson on the sly. (Well done, you!)

Saskatchewan

Oh-so affordable Regina hits all the right buttons for families. Your dollars will stretch so much further in Regina than they do elsewhere in Western Canada. If your brood can handle a hotel without a pool, bed down at Hotel Saskatchewan. Oozing old-world charm, this swish hotel lies directly street from leafy Victoria Park and boasts a stately lobby bar where parents can sip a finely crafted cocktail. In nearby Moose Jaw, Temple Garden’s Mineral Spa offers therapeutic geothermal mineral waters in their indoor and outdoor pool.

While in Moose Jaw (only 40 minutes from Regina), go underground with a Tunnels of Moose Jaw tour. As you weave your way through the underground maze, you’ll learn about the city’s Al Capone connection or the Chinese laborers who rarely saw the light of day. It sounds heavy, but it isn’t. Kids love exploring the tunnels and learning about this history in a non-boring way.

It’s impossible not to feel incredibly patriotic when witnessing the Sargent’s Major’s Parade or the Sunset Retreat Ceremony at the RCMP Heritage Centre. Tours of this training facility run daily and are well worth taking to understand what it really takes to become a Mountie. Afterward, take a jaunt through the Heritage Centre, where hands-on exhibits enthral youngsters as they learn how the RCMP helped to form our country.

Also, it is definitely worth a visit to the Saskatchewan Science Centre. Highlights include the space gallery, bubble area, and outdoor playground. After your visit, continue along Wascana Drive to Candy Cane Park playground, one of the best I’ve come across. And there’s a permanent playroom for preschoolers and toddlers set up at the Government House, plus complimentary geocaching and scavenger hunts catered by age group to lure children outside to explore the seven-and-a-half acres of Edwardian Gardens.

Road-trip survival strategies

The best part about these destinations? They’re all easily accessible by car from Calgary. Not only do road trips save a family money, they also allow for flexibility. Because road trips are something many families dread, I dedicated an entire chapter in my book on this very topic, but here I share with you my top tips:

  • Get your car serviced in advance. If you run out of time, purchase an AMA membership.

  • Take out several audiobooks from the library. Rotate DJ duty among all riders.

  • Time your departure to coincide with your children’s nap schedule.

  • Make a rule that when you stop, everyone tries to go to the bathroom whether they have to or not.

  • Plan your breaks around green spaces versus restaurants. You’ll save money by toting food in a cooler and kids can get their wiggles out with a run around a park. Be sure to pack a ball.

  • Let your kids research the best parks and attractions to stop at along the way. If they plot out your journey in advance, you’ll have to deal with less, “Are we there yet?” whines. 

Jody is a local freelance travel writer and blogger at Travels with Baggage, travelswithbaggage.com. She recently wrote the ultimate guide on family travel in Canada: 25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit. Connect with Jody on Instragram @TravelswBaggage, on Twitter @Jody_Robbins, and on Facebook, facebook.com/TravelsWithBaggage/.

 

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