It’s been eight weeks since the world began its weird pandemic hibernation, and by now, parents and the children they are sequestered with are probably dreaming of the open air.
Thankfully, HuffPost Canada is unrolling a series over the next couple of weeks highlighting some of the most family-friendly provincial parks and conservation reserves reopening across the country (you can see our Ontario one here), with information on COVID-19-related measures in place at each.
Many parks in British Columbia reopened on May 14, in accordance with the province’s COVID-19 “restart plan.” Overnight camping won’t be allowed until June 1, and many of the province’s most popular parks have to stay closed because they get too busy, but there are plenty of other locations you can still visit to get some fresh air.
And if you’re lucky, you might even be able to squeeze in some makeshift lessons about zoology, geology, dendrology… you get the point.
Note: Before visiting any of these parks, be sure to check BC Parks for updates on any closures and COVID-19-related restrictions, as measures are still changing. And be sure to check this page for wildlife guidelines and safety measures.
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park
Where: Cowichan Valley, 20 km northwest of Port Renfrew
Family-friendly activities: It’s best to think of this place as a “forested sanctuary” — or, even better, a museum of ancient trees. Kids will learn plenty about plants and dendrology here, since the 16,450-hectare park boasts a dense, lush ecosystem that is home to some of the oldest and largest spruce trees in the world. They can come to witness the wonders of 800-year old trees that reach an excess of 95 metres, and they can stay to take in the peace and quiet. They might even catch a glimpse of some of the many birds that live here.
Wells Gray Provincial Park
Where: Just off Clearwater Valley Road
Family-friendly activities: It’s probably easier to list what you can’t see here — the park is a model lesson on geology and land formations. It has one of the most unique ecosystems in all of B.C., offering 5,250 square kilometres of mineral springs, alpine wilderness, and volcanic fields (don’t worry, they’re all extinct).
There are five major lakes here, 700 species of vascular plants, and some 35 archaelogical sites where evidence of ancient native cultures still remain. It’s also known as Canada’s waterfall park, and has 41 named waterfalls which peak in early spring, just after they begin to thaw. This is also the best time to walk along the corridor and see the white-tailed deers, or a bald eagle, or any of the other 56 species of mammals you can find here.
Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park
Where: 60km south of Williams Lake, near the junction of the Chilcotin and Fraser Rivers
Family-friendly activities: Wouldn’t it be nice to see a living creature that isn’t a member of your family? This 1,774-hectare park is known as the home to the largest population of non-migratory California big sheep in the world. Some 500 sheep live in the area, and you’re sure to catch them feeding on low-growing plants in the grasslands. And aside from the opportunity to give the kids a flash round of bighorn sheep trivia, you can also tack on a little geology lesson with a faraway look at some of the park’s eroding cliffs and gullies.
Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park
Where: 90km southwest of Fort Nelson
Family-friendly activities: This is the third largest provincial park in all of BC, and protects 665,709 hectares of wilderness. The main attraction might be the mountains — peak summit elevations range from 2,641m at Mount Mary Henry to 1,942 at Mount Sylvia — but you can also catch a bunch of wildlife here, like moose, elk, caribou, mountain goats, stone sheep, deer, and more.
Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park
Where: 4 km south of Vernon
Family-friendly activities: Minks, red foxes, bobcats, yellow-ballied marmots — you’ll find all sorts of animals in the grassland communities at Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. What you’ll also find is 432 varieties of vascular plants here, as well as a spectacular spring wildflower display that makes walking the trails a beautiful experience. Kalamalka Lake is also what’s called a “marl” lake, so when it gets warm in the summer, all the dissolved limestone floating around inside crystallizes, making the lake turn blue and green. (This is why it’s called the “lake of a thousand colours.”)
Strathcona Provincial Park
Where: 9km east of Gold River
Family-friendly activities: Strathcona is the largest provincial park in all of BC, and covers a rugged mountain wilderness of over 250,000 hectares. The park is mostly known for its lakes, glaciers and waterfalls — at 440m in height, Della Falls is the largest in all of Canada — but it’s also a perfect place to go birdwatching. Common forest birds include the red-breasted nuthatch, northern pygmy owls, golden eagles, three-toed woodpeckers and the Steller’s jay, which is the provincial bird of BC. (Here’s a little online birding guide you can print ahead of time.)
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
Where: 20 km west of Parksville, on the southern shore of Cameron Lake
Family-friendly activities: If you want to keep things simple, Little Qualicum Falls is a great place to see waterfalls. At 440 hectares, it’s a bit smaller than many of the province’s other provincial parks, but the beauty you’ll encounter on the shaded riverside trails makes it all worth it. The waterfalls cascade down rocky gorges and down into forested settings bordered by mountain peaks.