Surrounded by British Columbia’s natural beauty, Vancouver is a very family-friendly destination. With lots of choice in activities year-round, there’s no shortage of things to do for locals and tourists.
Today we are sharing a few of our favourite activities just a short drive from downtown Vancouver. In winter and summer, these activities are sure to be a hit for the entire family.
Walk across the iconic Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge is a popular destination located in North Vancouver, only a 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. This park is a great destination, especially for families, because it offers lots of activities throughout the year.
The most well-known part of the park is the suspension bridge, which stretches 450 feet across and 230 feet above Capilano River. It does sway a little and it can be pretty nerve-wracking to cross. Take a deep breath and start walking because there are some great activities waiting for you on the other side.
The Treetop Adventure is made up of seven suspension bridges situated among the evergreens, taking you up to 100 feet above the forest floor. Each bridge connects to a platform that’s built around the trunk of a tree. No bolts or nails are built into the trees; instead, a compression system is used to ensure that the trees stay healthy and happy. It’s a cool opportunity to get a bird’s eye view from high up in the trees.
Another attraction to the park is the Cliffwalk, a cantilevered walkway clinging to the granite cliff above Capilano Canyon. With 16 anchor points supporting the structure, it is high and narrow. And in parts, where you walk, the bottom is glass (very strong glass) so you can see how far above the cliff you actually are.
The park also offers seasonal activities. In the summer, you can visit Raptors Ridge – an educational facility dedicated to public education about birds of prey and wildlife conservation. In winter, you can check out the Canyon lights and see the park lit up with hundreds of thousands of colourful lights.
The park gets busy, especially in the peak summer season and in winter. It’s best to check out their website to find their opening schedule and suggested times to visit. If you’re staying downtown, they offer a free shuttle from various downtown Vancouver locations.
What to do at Cultus Lake
You’ll want to visit Cultus Lake in the summer since most of the activities close in the winter. It’s located only an hour and a half away from Vancouver.
The Cultus Lake area is stunning. The water is warm in comparison to other lakes in British Columbia and the lake is large, so boating and water activities are plentiful. You don’t need to have a boat of your own; you can rent power boats and jet-skis with wakeboards and tubes. Plan to spend a few hours there.
Outside of the lake itself, the two main attractions are the Cultus Lake WaterPark and the Cultus Lake Adventure Park.
The WaterPark is suitable for all ages, although some of the slides have height restrictions. You can easily spend the whole day at the waterpark, just don’t forget your sunscreen and hat. If you arrive early enough you can grab one of the shaded tent structures complete with tables, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis and provided free of charge. The waterpark has a total of six different places to eat, including a burger joint, a cafe, an ice cream shop and a pizza place. The water park is open from June 1 until early September.
Cultus Lake Adventure Park is another great activity for those not interested in getting wet. It’s full of fun amusement rides and depending on how long you wish to spend at the adventure park, you can buy tokens or a full-day pass. Some of the rides have a height restriction, but again, there are lots of rides for all ages.
If you don’t live in Vancouver, you’ll want to rent a car to get to Cultus Lake so you can fully explore the area. It won’t be hard to fill your day with activities and, if you’re looking to get into nature, the area also has a number of fantastic hiking trails. We suggest that in peak season you arrive early to avoid the traffic.
Ride one of the largest aerial trams to Grouse Mountain
Built for the four seasons, Grouse Mountain is a great destination for everyone. One of the unique features of visiting Grouse Mountain is its Skyride – North America’s largest aerial tramway system.
To ride the Skyride and get to the top of Grouse Mountain, you do need to purchase a ticket. If you can, try to get a spot by the window so you can see the views on the way up. If you’re looking for an adventure, Grouse offers the Skyride Surf Adventure in the summer, where you travel on the rooftop of the Grouse Mountain Skyride!
One insider tip to avoid paying for the Skyride is to have dinner at The Observatory restaurant at the top of the mountain. Just make a reservation ahead of time. It’s open for dinner seven nights a week from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. You won’t be disappointed. We think that the top of Grouse Mountain offers some of the most beautiful views of the city on a clear day or night.
In the winter, there are lots of activities to do even if you’re not a skier. Just be prepared for the weather and dress in proper winter gear as it’s often cold and snowy at the top. Some of the winter activities include: skating on the frozen pond, snowshoeing on the surrounding trails, or sledding on the designated hill. You can rent equipment for all those activities on-site. If you’re visiting in the evening, you’ll also want to check out the enchanting lights on the Light Walk which opens at dusk. In December, Grouse offers a special celebration called the Peak of Christmas, where you can visit Santa, write wish lists and have fun in the snow.
In the summer you won’t want to miss the wildlife refuge, lumberjack show, theatre in the sky and birds in motion, all included in your Skyride ticket. The birds in motion shows you the incredible hunting skills of the eagle, hawk and falcon. The lumberjack show features log rolling, a 60-foot tree climb, axe throwing and an exciting springboard chop. A unique experience at Grouse is visiting Grinder and Coola – Grouse Mountain’s famous grizzly bears who live in the wildlife refuge on top of the mountain.
Of course, we can’t forget about the infamous Grouse Grind, which is exactly like it sounds: a grind. It’s not a leisurely walk up the hill. To do the grind, come prepared. Proper shoes, clothing and water are a must. It’s been touted as mother nature’s Stairmaster and it definitely is!
Get on the Sea to Sky Gondola
The Sea to Sky Gondola is located 2 kilometres south of Squamish, directly on the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99). It’s about a 45-minute scenic drive from Vancouver, and is one of BC’s newest attractions.
The comfortable 8-seat gondolas are mostly windows from top to bottom, offering panoramic views of Howe Sound and the Sea to Sky Highway below. It takes about 10 minutes from base to top, traveling 885 metres above sea level.
Take the gondola and have lunch on the sundeck. It’s an ideal day trip from Vancouver. There’s a cafeteria-style restaurant inside the lodge that serves sandwiches, salads, snacks and baked goodies. Or you can sit back and enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine while taking in the spectacular views.
When at the top, try walking over the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge which connects the Spirit Trail and Spirit Viewing Platform to the Summit Lodge Viewing Deck. The bridge is approximately 100 metres long and is a must-do for anyone taking the gondola. It’s a suspension bridge and does move as you walk along it, so be prepared!
The gondola, lodges, trails, suspension bridge and viewing decks are open year-round, but the hours of operation will change depending on the season. There are some seasonal activities, like a Santa visit with pictures, so you’ll want to check out their website for suggestions.
Summer and winter are both great times to explore the area. Visitors mainly come for the views and to hike the various trails. Many trails are kid-friendly and they do offer guided hikes with kids if you’re uncomfortable going on your own.
You’ll want to arrive early at the base of the gondola (we suggest around 10 a.m.) because parking is limited during peak season and the lot can fill up quickly, especially since parking is free.
If you want to see more of the area you can visit Shannon Falls, the third highest waterfall in British Columbia. It’s very close to the Sea to Sky Gondola – only 2 kilometres south of Squamish along the Sea to Sky Highway. The trail to get to the falls is an easy walk, so kids of all ages will be able to walk to the platform to view the impressive falls. Parking at the falls is free, but it does get busy in the summer so you may need to wait for a spot.
Nicole and Cameron are family travel bloggers from Vancouver, BC. They have two boys, ages 5 and 7. Their blog is recognized as a top Canadian blog, and together they’ve traveled to 70+ countries. All opinions expressed are their own.