Traveling to Bellingham Washington, Ferndale, Blaine, Birch Bay, or Lynden for vacation?
There are so many different ways to explore this beautiful area in Whatcom County.
This area is an outdoor wonderland with much to do.
The scenery is amazing.
You may want to plan time to visit Mount Baker and Vancouver Canada as well.
You can explore Bellingham Bay in different locations, and experience tide pools, marine life, and water activities.
Things to do at Mount Baker — A classic year-round destination
I grew up in the Midwest and while I have traveled extensively throughout the United States, I never made it to Washington state.
My first time there was when I moved to Bellingham, WA.
With mountains and Bellingham Bay as my backdrop, I packed up my house and toddlers and off we went.
I hadn’t realized Mount Baker was so close to where we would be living.
Mount Baker is the third-highest mountain in Washington State and one of the highest in the Cascade Range.
On clear days, it graces the skyline of Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, and Tacoma.
In winter, it can be one of the snowiest places in the world and draws skiers and snowboarders from around the world to the slopes of its ski area.
Mount Baker is much more than a winter destination:
It offers dazzling scenic views and year-round attractions for everyone from families with small children to seasoned outdoor adventurers.
Views at Mount Baker
It is possible to enjoy the Mount Baker wilderness without even getting out of the car – the highways and byways that traverse the forests surrounding Mt. Baker meander through meadows of heather and huckleberry bushes, past pristine lakes and ancient lava formations, and into shady stands of centuries-old mountain hemlocks.
Low-impact options for enjoying the wilderness include picnicking or renting a cabin.
There are campgrounds at multiple elevations and terrains, and one unique option in mid-to-late summer is to rent an old lookout building for overnight use.
A steep trail leads up to the Evergreen lookout; the facilities are rustic but the views are unsurpassed.
And some of the best and most scenic motorcycle rides on the planet, so grab your Harley.
Things to do at Mount Baker
One benefit of staying in the National Forest is that hiking and biking trails are literally at your doorstep.
With 1,500 miles of trails in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, there is a perfect hike for all levels of ability.
It is even possible to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail from Snoqualmie Pass, which leads to views of Mount Rainier and the South Cascades.
It is also possible to explore the trails by mountain bike or by horseback.
Small-game hunting is permitted in some areas of the forest, and fishing opportunities abound in the park’s many lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.
Sockeye salmon season opens as early as July, and draws serious anglers to Mount Baker Lake.
Kayak and canoeing are also popular ways to explore the natural wonders of the forest, and several local companies outfit and guide rafting adventures on the Skagit and Skykomish rivers.
There are also several popular swimming holes, conveniently located next to campgrounds.
Mount Baker is famous as a top winter ski destination, but it draws crowds year round with its rugged scenery and abundance of outdoor activities.
From its picturesque drives, informative visitors centers and charming picnic spots, to strenuous backpacking trails and serious mountain climbing spots in the North Cascades, aka the “American Alps,” Mt. Baker truly has something to offer every visitor.
Lots of snow at Mt Baker
I was surprised to learn that at an average of 641 inches (50+ feet) a year, Mt Baker has the unofficial record for having the highest annual average snowfall out of all the resorts in the world.
Driving up to Mt. Baker was a must-do when visitors came to town.
We have enjoyed snowball fights in August!
We could sled in May and June!
The best part is that it wasn’t that cold and often went in our tennis shoes and sweatshirts.
Skiing and snowboarding
The ski and snowboard season is always a great time.
You need chains for your car or truck but even better if you have tweens and teens is to check out the buses that drive up the mountain for the day.
There are several based in Bellingham that go.
Mount Baker skiing and snowboarding never seems to get too crowded.
You can take beginner lessons or ones to refresh your skills.
There are day passes or season passes which always make for a great gift idea.
A popular activity with tweens and teens in Bellingham is to ride the bus up to Mount Baker with their peers.
They can enjoy skiing or snowboarding for the day.
There isn’t a posh resort at the top which is another benefit to skiing at Mount Baker.
It’s for skiing, and it’s affordable, not luxury.
Artist Point at Mt. Baker
If you can time your trip right, between August and September, you may have the chance to go to the top to see the view from Artist Point.
Pack a lunch and drive up for an unbeatable view.
There are picnic tables and lookout points and easy parking.
The road is blocked for most of the year due to the snow and unsafe driving conditions so it’s worth going by early September.
There are lots of trails as well, and they are usually all open but check ahead of time of you are wanting to do a certain one.
Hiking at Mt Baker is not to be missed.
There are so many things to do at Mount Baker, whatever the season.
Hike the abundant trails or spend time at Lake Whatcom, Lake Padden or Lake Samish.
You can bike ride or enjoy the fests and farmers’ markets.
There is an eclectic downtown area filled with local, longtime favorites, including Mallard’s for ice cream, The Bagelry for bagels, and Rocket Donuts for donuts.
There is the historic Mount Baker Theater which has performances.
You can enjoy the Whatcom Museum which also includes a small children’s museum.
There’s the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention.
When my kids loved trains, we spent many hours at the Bellingham Railway Museum.
Your kids will love seeing the running Lionel and American Flyer layouts.
You will typically be able to find parking in downtown Bellingham by meter. Some areas have small lots.
Fairhaven is a section of Bellingham. It has it’s own downtown area.
You will love strolling the streets and visiting interesting shops and local restaurants.
Many nights there are movies and events. It’s a nice place to grab a gelato and walk around, enjoying music and a charming downtown.
Ferndale boasts fantastic parks, lush trails and lots of farms.
Berry picking in Ferndale is one of our favorite things to do. It’s green recreation at its best.
Green recreation abounds in this area. One of our favorite things to do is to go berry picking.
While there are many choices to u-pick in the area, our favorite is Barbie’s Berries in Ferndale, WA.
Berry picking at Barbie’s Berries
When we lived in Bellingham, we made it our summer tradition to pick berries. We would go at least twice a summer.
We enjoyed bringing out of town family there as well.
My kids were young and always enjoyed it.
We went to Barbie’s Berries often when we lived in Bellingham, Washington.
We moved far from the area five years ago, and on our trip back, we made a point to fit in an afternoon to enjoy our once-favorite tradition.
Even when we settled into our rental property and went grocery shopping, we purposely didn’t buy any berries because we knew we would load up on fresh berries that we would pick ourselves.
Barbie’s Berries, Ferndale, WA
We went back for the first time in over five years.
My kids, now 11 and 12 years old, still loved it, including my son who refuses to eat berries of any kind!
We went in July, and we had the opportunity to pick blueberries, including the massive Chandler blueberries; raspberries; blackberries; and marion berries.
There were rows and rows of all of these beauties.
Being it was mid-July when we went, we weren’t sure what to expect; however, the bushes were full, even in the beginning of the rows.
We were there for two hours and enjoyed the perfect sunny weather, no crowds, and rows of abundant fruit.
We didn’t have to hunt for berries in any of the areas we looked.
Depending on when you go, you will have different choices.
We lucked out when we were in town and were able to pick four types.
Bellingham Berry Picking Pricing
We’ve been there in years past where they charged a minimal entrance fee.
This time, we were pleased to see they only had a two pound per person minimum.
They have their prices posted in their covered area.
It’s also easily accessible online.
We love that the u-pick prices are so affordable.
Not only do we enjoy ourselves picking them, it’s a great family fun activity.
And you get to leave with fresh, local fruit to enjoy at home.
It’s a fun tradition to start with your kids if you live in the area.
Barbie’s Berries address is 7655 Melody Lane, Ferndale, WA 98264.
During the summer, you can pick during the following times:
Monday – Saturday: 9am – 6pm
Sunday: 10am – 4pm
Always check the website or call before you go to see what they have available to pick.
Like all growers and farms, their season is dependent on the weather was.
We love outdoor activities, and there’s no shortage of them in delightful Whatcom County, especially in the summer.
My kids’ favorite thing to do in Lynden was to visit Million Smiles Park.
This is an outdoor wonderland filled with a very tall slide even adults will want to climb.
It’s a large park. Your child will have fun exploring and adventuring here.
You will want to make the drive out to Birch Bay to spend a few hours on the beach.
It’s a quaint town; however, all we experienced when we lived in Bellingham was visiting Birch Bay for the incredible tide pools.
When the tide is out, you can walk a mile out on the flats.
Exploring Birch Bay is an incredible experience.
And even better, in the 10+ times we’ve been there, it was never crowded.
My kids enjoyed playing in the sand.
We also brought small rafts which they enjoyed.
You can usually find parking easily.
Afterwards, take the kids to The C Shop.
This is a long-standing ice cream and candy shop in Birch Bay.
It’s the perfect way to end your day at the beach.
Located in Whatcom County like Bellingham, Blaine is on the border of Canada.
There is lots do do in Blaine.
We’ve spent time exploring Blaine before crossing over the border to Canada.
If you have kids with you — and even if you don’t — be sure to visit Blaine on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday so you can take the iconic Plover Ferry.
You can pick it up from either Drayton Harbor Maritime in Blaine or at the Semiahmoo Spit.
The Plover Ferry is a refurbished historic ferry.
It was originally in use to ferry workers to the salmon cannery at the Semiahmoo Spit.
It runs now for tourists and locals during the summer months.
You can pay a minimal fee to ride the ferry.
The Plover taxis between Drayton Harbor Maritime and Semiahmoo Spit.
You can board at either location.
It picks up on the hour in Blaine and on the half hour at the Plover Dock at Semiahmoo.
While you have to depart the ferry when it stops, you can board again for the return trip for a round trip experience.
This will take approximately one hour.
Or you can choose to exit the boat and explore the area.
Something fun is to pack beach towels and toys and ride from Drayton Harbor to Semiahmoo.
Play in the water and walk over to the Semiahmoo Resort to enjoy the views.
Then take the Plover Ferry back to Blaine.
On the way from Semiahmoo to Drayton Harbor you will likely see seals lounging on rocks.
The ride is approximately 25 – 30 minutes each way.
Plover Ferry holds a maximum of 17 passengers.
Be sure to line up early in the busier summer weekends.
This historical water taxi runs from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
When my kids were young, we did this at least twice a summer and especially when our family came to visit from the Midwest.
Seeing seals is always a highlight!
Vancouver, British Columbia
Host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver thrives in terms of visitors wanting to ski, although the city is also conveniently located on the sea.
Thus Vancouver offers you the opportunity of going for a walk on the coast and racing down a snowy slope on the very same day.
With its laid back attitude and unique beauty, Vancouver charms every casual visitor as well as every expat who moves there permanently.
With such a diverse nature surrounding Vancouver, it’s not a mystery why the city is all about sports and the outdoors!
Vancouverites spend all their free time skiing on Grouse Mountain, surfing at Wreck Beach and kayaking in English Bay.
If they can’t leave the city, there is always Stanley Park, a 400-acre park which is the city’s pride and joy.
Going to Canada for a little bit longer?
Why not take the lovely drive across the country from coast to coast?
This way, you will not only be able to see other wonderful cities like Quebec City, Winnipeg, or Calgary, but also its gorgeous scenery, which makes Canada such a special place.
Vancouver in 2 Eco-Friendly Days
If you’re only in Vancouver for a weekend, fear not.
Vancouver is known for its commitment to being environmentally friendly, so you can squeeze plenty of local food and low-impact activities into two days.
Consider if the weather is nice that you might not even need to take public transportation.
Vancouver is an incredibly walkable city.
If you’re flying into Vancouver International Airport, you will be able to enjoy Vancouver right away.
If you are driving across the border from Washington State, you may want to enjoy some sights en route to Vancouver.
Even if you have an hour to spare, you can explore the area.
Border crossing from Blaine to British Columbia
There are two ways to cross over to British Columbia from Blaine:
- Douglas Crossing also known as the Peach Arch crossing
- Pacific Highway Crossing, also known as Trucker’s Crossing (SR-543)
Try to make time to explore the quaint city of Blaine, WA.
If not, be sure to take advantage of the technology which will alert you to the border crossing times and information.
If you note the line is long, you may want to consider parking and to take some time first.
You will likely easily find parking at the beautiful, 19-acre Peace Arch Park at the Douglas Crossing.
What’s unique about this park is the United States owns the southern half and Canada owns the northern half of the park.
Whether you get out to walk around this lush, well-groomed park or not, you will still be able to see the Peace Arch Monument and the Canadian flag and United States flag, both of which are made with flowers, from your car.
These highlights are right in between the driving lanes to cross over and back from Blaine and British Columbia.
Certainly, it’s better to plan for some time at the park and walk around, but if not, at least you can see some of it while waiting to cross the border.
Peace Arch Park also hosts the International Arts and Music Festival each June.
Once you are through the border and on your way to Vancouver, you may want to make a stop at White Rock, BC and explore the beach areas.
Eco-friendly practices in Vancouver
Once you are in Vancouver, you will be astounded at the ways the City of Vancouver and Metro Vancouver inspires it’s residents and visitors to be green.
One way is that residents have separate out their food waste for city composting.
It is illegal to put food in the garbage. This is also true for restaurants and grocers.
Look for eco-friendly ways while you are enjoying the progressive city that is Vancouver.
Vancouver Day 1: The West End, Robson Street, and Stanley Park
Start your day off right with brunch of wild pacific smoked salmon scramble or blueberry banana pancakes with Canadian maple syrup at O’Doul’s Restaurant & Bar in the West End.
O’Doul’s is “committed to sustainability and local suppliers by sourcing ethically produced goods that are locally sourced and organic whenever possible.”
Then walk down Robson Street and find a spot where you can observe consumerism at its best as passersby shop at stores like Armani Exchange and Tommy Hilfiger.
If you have a sweet tooth, get in touch with the terroir side of your traveling locavore diet, and pick up some mint truffles or maple chocolates from Daniel Le Chocolat Belge.
All chocolate at Daniel is from a single Belgian chocolate manufacturer and preservative free, with “no artificial coloring and flavors, no hydrogenated, vegetable and tropical fats.”
Head over to Davie Street and swing by a local market like to pick up picnic fare like fresh cheese and croissants.
Then walk up Denman Street to a bike rental shop, and bike through Stanley Park.
Vancouver Day 2: Yaletown, Chinatown, Gastown, and Granville Island
Munch on a vegetarian breakfast tortilla wrap while you sip artistically-designed organic espresso at Caffe Artigiano on Hornby St., then cross over to Vancouver Art Gallery and browse the collection of nearly 10,000 artworks by Canadian and international artists.
Hop over to the Public Library, which was erected in 1993.
Take in the interesting architecture and peruse the library’s collection of local and alternative newspapers.
Take a stroll through Yaletown, where you’ll see abandoned warehouses converted into art galleries and restaurants.
If you’re into clubs, head back to this neighborhood after dark.
Walk or bus to Vancouver’s Chinatown, which is the oldest Chinatown in Canada.
Stop for lunch at Hon’s Wun-Tun House on Keefer Street.
Or visit Foo’s Ho Ho Restaurant on E Pender and support local business.
Warning: We learned the hard way that you should avoid W Hastings Street.
After lunch, head to Gastown.
There you’ll find Cobblestone Streets and the famous Steam Clock at Cambie and Water Streets.
Poke your head in some of the local shops.
Afterwards, watch the float planes take off while sipping local brew at Steamworks Brewing Company.
Next, you can hop on the bus and head to Granville Island Public Market.
Here, you can browse local artists’ goods and buy local vegetables, meats, and baked goods.
Pick your favorite of the food selection, find a table, and dine while you listen to the music of Vancouverite street musicians.
If you’re in the mood to sample more of Vancouver’s beer offerings, cross over to Granville Island Brewery, where brews include Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale, Robson Street Hefeweizen, and Gastown Amber Ale.
Photos from the Road: Driving Vancouver to Lake Louise
Biking in Stanley Park: Vancouver, BC
One minute, I was walking my bike across busy West Georgia Street.
The next, I was cruising past totem poles with the ocean breeze in my hair.
With its 1,000 acres of luscious grass, giant trees, goose-filled lakes, and gorgeous ocean views, Stanley Park is a green haven in a metropolitan city.
And if you’re lucky enough to visit Vancouver on a sunny day, rent a bike and ride around Stanley Park.
It’s a must.
Even on a cloudy day, the loop around the park provides amazing views of the city.
You won’t get these views anywhere else.
It houses gardens, wildlife, playgrounds, restaurants, and even arts events.
You can even volunteer with the Stanley Park Ecological Society – just be sure to contact them in advance.
On our trek, we saw a huge Pileated woodpecker, goslings and geese, swans, ducks, and even a raccoon.
Biking in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Head to Denman Street in the West End and rent a bike from Spokes Bicycle Rentals or Bayshore Bike Rentals for as little as $8/hour (with a helmet).
Stop by a local market on your way to grab bread and cheese or your favorite picnic food.
Then take a break on the shore of Beaver Lake, Lost Lagoon, or English Bay to eat and people watch.
The entire loop takes about an hour at a relaxed pace with a few short stops.
Elizabeth and I were able to steal away for a relaxing ride around Stanley Park the day before the wedding.
The laid-back alone time helped me stay sane through the next day.
Vancouver, BC Canada: First Impressions
Royal BC Museum in Victoria was our favorite about Vancouver.
We’re traveling around Alaska and Western Canada, will focus on environmentally-friendly travel, food, and activities in those areas.
I had high expectations for Vancouver.
I’d never been to British Columbia, but I had heard great things about it; it’s green (literally – tons of trees), the people are friendly and eco-conscious, and it’s on the water and the mountains so it’s gorgeous.
We were only in Vancouver for 24 hours before we hopped on the cruise ship, so I’m still on the fence about it.
We’ll be back next week and stay for four more days, so I’ll be able to form a fuller opinion then. In the meantime, here are my first impressions of Vancouver, BC.
Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee
So far, here’s what I like about Vancouver:
Abundance of locally-owned delis, restaurants, and markets
Diversity of food – you can find everything from Himalayan and Mexican to Japanese and Indian on the same block
Independent, non-conformist vibe – kind of like Seattle or Portland
Everyone rides bikes and there are lots of bike lanes
You can walk a block off of a busy, vibrant street and be in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood
People are incredibly friendly – a welcome change from Washington, DC
You can walk to the mountains or the ocean
There’s a ginormous park (Stanley Park) in the city
Recycling bins everywhere – they’re easier to find than trash cans are on some streets
Good public transportation, specifically the buses
Diversity of the people – it’s a very international city
And here’s what I don’t like about Vancouver
Tall buildings – it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as New York City, but it’s still too tall for my taste; the short buildings in DC are one of my favorite things about it
McDonald’s, Cinnabon, Safeway, Subway, American Eagle – American brands everywhere (I know, I know – it’s inescapable, but I still don’t like it)
Too much concrete, especially near the water front; the buildings and street weren’t as pretty as I expected them to be
West Hastings Street near Chinatown – unless you’re looking for prostitutes, drugs, or really enjoy the smell of urine, you should avoid it (long story about how we ended up here)
No easy way to get from the airport to downtown via public transportation; right now you have to switch buses, but they’re building a SkyTrain that will link the two areas
When we decided to expand our recent Vancouver trip to include Victoria on nearby Vancouver Island, the Royal BC Museum jumped to the top of my “things to do” list.
I’ll admit, what won me over were the photos on the museum’s website of the natural history collections — there’s a special place in my heart for ancient, extinct creatures — but there’s so much more to the museum than that.
There are so many fascinating things to see that even my 18-month-old son was entertained for an hour and a half.
The bottom line: If you’re in Victoria, Canada, you should definitely plan a stop at the Royal BC Museum. Here’s why.
Royal BC Museum in Victoria
As I mentioned above, I love natural history museums and the the natural history section of the Royal BC Museum did not disappoint.
It’s full of fossils, stuffed mammals and birds, and live fish.
My favorite specimens on display were a woolly mammoth and a gigantic sea lion.
My son enjoyed the touch-and-feel animal footprint and egg replicas.
Human History of BC: Totem Poles and Ninja Turtles
I wasn’t sure exactly what I would find in the Human History collections at the Royal BC Museum, so I was thrilled when I discovered everything from First Nations totem poles and masks to a display of clothes over the decades.
These collections walk you through the history of BC, starting with First Nations cultural artifacts and ending in the 1990s (with Ninja Turtles, among other things).
The First Nations section has examples of baskets, tools, ceremonial clothes, and even a traditional house that’s been moved into the museum.
The Modern History section reminds me a bit of the American History Museum in Washington, DC (which I also love).
You can see the cabins in a boat, walk into a 1920’s movie theater, and learn about BC’s gold rush.
Race to the End of the Earth: Antarctic Expedition
The Race to the End of the Earth exhibition tells the story of two exploration teams, one British and one Norwegian, as they attempt to beat each other to the South Pole in 1911-1912.
It’s a dramatic tale that involves extreme freezing temperatures, unimaginable hardships, many deaths… and eating dogs and ponies.
The exhibition features journal entries, photos, and artifacts from the explorations and is truly fascinating.
In fact, I think I’m going to buy a book about it so I can learn more.
This traveling exhibition will only be at the Royal BC Museum until October 2013, so be sure you catch it while it’s there.
And after this expedition is gone, I’m sure an equally fascinating one will take its place.
The Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC is one of the best museums I’ve been to lately.
It has something for everyone — from a woolly mammoth to dresses from the 1940’s.
If you go to Victoria, visit the Royal BC Museum.
A bonus: You’re sure to pick up a few fascinating facts that you can share at your next dinner party.
20 Reasons to See Vancouver Island, BC
While planning a trip to British Columbia, Canada, many visitors neglect to include a Vancouver Island itinerary in their travels.
Yes, it’s out of the way (you’ll need to access Vancouver Island by ferry or float plane from Vancouver, BC , Seattle, or the San Juan Islands), but visitors who make the trek are rewarded with what’s possibly the most beautiful “detour” in the Northern Hemisphere.
This 12,000 square mile island is visually stunning and teaming with wildlife (and very few of the pesky human variety).
Below, 20 reasons to see Vancouver Island, BC, in pictures.
Wide, wind-swept west coast beaches such as Chesterman Beach, Tofino, BC
More sea stars that you can count in one day in Tofino, BC
Kayak expeditions with Majestic Ocean Kayaking in Ucluelet, BC
Rain forest hiking on Meares Island, Tofino
Scenic BC Ferries ferry crossings like this one at Brentwood Bay, BC
Sunsets on MacKenzie Beach, Tofino
Seal and sea lion viewing with on a Tofino island sanctuary
Straight of Georgia at evening high tide near Parksville, BC
Surfer-watching on Wickaninnish Beach, Tofino
Tide pooling in Tofino
Whale watching with Remote Passages in Tofino
Puffins floating on the sea near Tofino
Evening camp fires on MacKenzie Beach
Afternoon strolls through Butchart Gardens near Victoria, BC
Beach combing at Pacific Rim National Park, BC
MacKenzie Beach paddle boarding
Peaceful ferry crossings with WA State ferries
Float plane viewing in Nanaimo, BC
Island eating at Big Daddy’s Fish Fry in Tofino, BC
Swimming in the warm Straight of Georgia at Tigh-Na-Mara Resort, Parksville, BC
Have you been to Vancouver Island, BC?
What was your favorite sight to see?
What were your best Vancouver Island photos?
Vancouver Island with Kids: A 5 Day Itinerary
When people ask me why we choose to visit Vancouver Island, BC with our kids, I answer with the following travel anecdote: within minutes on a Tofino, Vancouver Island beach, my son Calvin spotted a bright pink, five-legged sea star clinging to a rocky tide pool.
Amazed with his find, he turned around to tell me about it, and spotted another one.
That first day, he endeavored to discover 100 sea stars before he left Vancouver Island.
By the time we took the ferry home, his running total had topped 700.
You may go to Vancouver Island for the natural beauty, but I guarantee you’ll remember most the stunning abundance of protected wildlife.
There’s so much uninhabited space on Vancouver Island (which is over 12,000 square miles in size), visitors need at least two weeks to reach the remote northern port towns along the Inside Passage.
But if you only have five days to explore the island, you can still cover a lot of (incredibly gorgeous) ground.
Day 1: Vancouver BC to Ucluelet, BC
Getting to Vancouver Island: There are only a few ways to arrive on the island, and you can bet that all of them involve water.
We launched our trip from the city of Vancouver, BC on a Vancouver Island ferry, as ferry passage is limited in Seattle.
Alternatively, float planes fly from both Vancouver and Seattle, but be advised that you’ll need to rent a car on the other side.
From Vancouver, book a morning passage on a BC Ferry for Nanaimo, BC.
Ferry schedules are straightforward, but you’ll want to be at the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay (20 minutes from downtown Vancouver) at least 1 hour prior to your passage.
Once in Nanaimo, drive north on BC-19 to Parksville, BC (30 minutes), then head inland on BC-4 for Port Alberni.
A must-stop pit stop is the Coombs Country Market just outside Parksville: you’ll know it by the goats grazing on the roof.
Yes, you read that right.
Pick up some makings for a picnic, then drive a little farther to Cathedral Grove, a BC state park with picnic areas amid a temperate rain forest setting.
Continue west on BC-4 past Port Alberni to your first west coast overnight stop of Ucluelet, BC.
Approximately 2 hours drive time — you won’t mind, though, as this is beautiful scenery through the island’s mountains.
A working-class fishing and logging town, Ucluelet only recently appeared on tourist maps: its harbor is ideal for kayaking, and its proximity to the Broken Group Islands makes it a great starting point for multi-day excursions.
After a long travel day, treat yourself to some nice digs at Black Rock Resort, located at the end of the Ucluelet peninsula on a dramatic rocky shore.
Soak in their oceanfront hot tubs and have a nice dinner at Fetch, their premiere restaurant.
While Black Rock Resort doesn’t have much in the way of beach access for kids, the pool will keep them entertained.
Day 2: Kayaking in Ucluelet Harbor
Wake up to the sea crashing on the rocks on the other side of your Black Rock floor-to-ceiling windows, then drive two minutes to the far end of the Ucluelet peninsula to Majestic Ocean Kayaking tours.
We opted for a half-day harbor tour because we have young kids, but if you have kids over age 12 or are without children, you may want to reserve a full day open ocean excursion.
Our guide, Jeremy, was professional and fun, and in our 2 1/2 hour tour of the harbor, we learned about the area’s history, the intertidal inhabitants, and kayaking technique.
Within minutes of our tour, we’d spotted bald eagles, harbor seals, and our first (aforementioned) sea stars.
After kayaking, drive the short distance up BC-4 toward Tofino BC, stopping en route to explore Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Easily accessed from the highway, the park’s main section, Long Beach, spans along several wide-open, driftwood-laden surfing beaches and includes many coastal hiking options.
For kids, a stop at the K’isitis Visitor Centre is very informative.
Upon arriving in Tofino, check in at MacKenzie Beach Resort, directly on beautiful MacKenzie Beach.
The oldest resort in the Tofino area, MacKenzie Beach Resort is showing some wear, but its location cannot be beat, and its no-frills beach side cottages include all you need: kitchens and BBQs, wood-burning stoves, and incredible views.
Day 3: Whale Watching and Island Hiking with Remote Passages
Head into the town of Tofino, BC and park all the way at the water on Wharf Street to join Remote Passages for a morning whale watch.
The guides here actually call it a “whale watch plus” and it’s easy to see why: during our half-day tour on one of their 12-passenger Zodiac boats, we saw not only gray and humpback whales, but seals, sea lions, sea otters, puffins, jelly fish, and more.
The small boat size made for incredible 360 degree views, and I loved that our captain and guide Tyson took us on both the open water and in-between the many small islands hugging the coastline.
Of note: throw a stone, and you’ll hit a tour operator wanting to show you whales in Tofino.
What sets Remote Passages apart is their customer service and professionalism.
We were treated royally throughout our adventure, and everyone was very knowledgeable and passionate about the area’s wildlife.
Picnic in the friendly town square of Tofino, or grab a lunch at Big Daddy’s for traditional fish and chips, poutine, or burgers.
Head back to Remote Passages in the afternoon to catch a ride to nearby Meares Island.
This First Nations protected island sports a cedar plank boardwalk visitors can take approximately 1/4 a mile into the dense tangle of the coastal rain forest, where they can view some of the oldest cedar trees in the region.
It’s a beautiful walk, and a fun way to experience the Zodiac boat even if a whale watch is out of your budget.
When you return to your lodgings at MacKenzie Beach, be sure to explore the tide pools at low tide.
Families can build small fires on the beach: perfect for roasting marshmallows while waiting for a stunning Tofino sunset.
Day 4: Tofino BC to Parksville BC
After experiencing the wild, remote stretches of Vancouver Island’s west coast, returning to the east coast’s milder coastline and warmer weather is a shock, albeit a pleasant one at this stage in the journey.
Once back in Parksville, check in at Tigh-Na-Mara Beach Resort and Spa, Parksville’s most full-amenity resort.
Families can choose from private log cabins tucked into the woods surrounding the resort’s recreation space, or oceanfront units overlooking the long, wide beaches for which Parksville is known.
This is a place to relax after so much touring: kids can join the Tigh-Na-Mara kids’ club activities at no extra charge, or check out tennis rackets or ping-pong paddles.
There’s a basketball court and an indoor pool, and beach access is just a few steps away.
If you’re still looking for more to do, Tigh-Na-Mara has a wonderful array of family excursions available for an extra charge: our kids tried their Twilight Golf lesson with a local pro and their tide pool exploration with a local marine biologist.
Both were well-run. While the kids are busy, consider purchasing a day pass to the Grotto Spa to enjoy BC’s most famous mineral pools for less than the cost of a spa treatment.
Day 5: Parksville to Victoria or Sidney, BC
To leave the island by ferry, visitors must either drive north back to Nanaimo or farther south down the east coast to Victoria (to return to Vancouver) or to Sidney (to return directly the US via the San Juan Islands and Anacortes).
Not surprisingly, the drive toward Victoria is scenic — though less so than the drive across the island to the west coast — and below LadySmith, BC Ferries offers the “most scenic shortcut in Canada,” a 25 minute ferry ride from Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay, which cuts off a good deal of time.
Reservations cannot be made, and ferries run back and forth all day.
On the other side, you’ll find famous Butchart Gardens, which is a good place to wait for your US-bound ferry since the Washington State ferry terminal at Sidney, BC is less than 20 minutes away.
If you’re sailing out of Victoria, continue another 20 minutes in the opposite direction, and take high English tea at the Empress Fairmont Victoria before departing back for Vancouver.
Have you been to Vancouver Island? What were your favorite activities there?
Visiting Bellingham and surrounding area
Make time to travel to the glorious Pacific Northwest. Bellingham is a gem as is the area surrounding it.
You will find interesting things to do in Ferndale, Lummi Island, Lynden, Birch Bay, and Blaine. During your stay, make time to cross over to Vancouver, British Columbia as well.
There is so much beauty and outside recreation all around Bellingham and this lush area. It’s the ultimate destination for a green vacation.