Photo Credit: Matt J Simmons
Kids Sleeping Outdoors: Family-friendly camping in northern BC
I watch my daughter swing in a hammock, lazily flipping through a comic. Behind her is a lake and behind the lake is a gorgeous glacier, hanging onto the side of a range of mountains shimmering in the sun. My little boy walks up with a stick he’s playing with. He’s barefoot and dirty, grinning and cute. It’s a pretty perfect scene.
Camping with kids can be great: fresh air in spectacular surroundings, a crackling fire at night, splashing in a lake, the sound of loons calling, and plenty of good dirt-under-your-fingernails fun with your little ones.
It’s not always like a scene from a movie, though. More than one parent has had no sleep whatsoever after spending a night in a tent next to a squirmy kid. But sleep is overrated. For better or worse, camping with kids is definitely worthwhile. After some time passes, you’ll forget how little sleep you had (or learn to laugh about it) and remember that your little one had a great experience.
In northern BC, there are tons of places to camp. This is, after all, a big beautiful region known for its outdoor recreation. Provincial parks are usually a good bet for camping with the whole family. Generally speaking, provincial campgrounds are equipped with water, wood, outhouses, and well-maintained sites.
Another option up here—and it’s a good one—is the campgrounds maintained (or sometimes just built and user-maintained) by Recreation Sites and Trails BC. Rec sites are typically equipped with outhouses, fire rings, picnic tables, and skookum views. Provincial parks might have more amenities, but depending on your family and your willingness to “rough it,” you might find a rec site works just as well, if not better. For more information, check their websites: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/ and http://www.sitesandtrailsbc.ca/.
Without question, there’s no better spot to spend a night—or several—in a tent than on North Beach. Drive north of Masset until you find yourself at the bottom of Tow Hill (a great, short hike that’s manageable for little legs), and the beach is just beyond. Park in the parking lot and hike your gear in, or drive right onto the beach. Adventurous motorists beware: the tides come pretty far up and many vehicles have spent a night in the drink, sunk into the sand. If you’d prefer something more predictable—fire rings, a picnic table, and a flat, cleared spot to put up your tent—stop at Agate Beach Campground before you get to Tow Hill.
An alternative camping locale on Haida Gwaii is Gray Bay. South of Sandspit on Moresby Island, Gray Bay is a recreation site with nine campsites just off the beach. The beach is definitely the attraction here: it’s big, beautiful, rugged, and often empty. Collect moonsnail shells, hike along the beach or to neighbouring Secret Cove, or just kick back around the fire and enjoy the scenery.
Near Prince Rupert, most families head to Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park for a night or two in the tent. The small campground is a great spot to bring along a couple of boats and paddle around the lake, perhaps toting a junior-sized fishing rod or two.
Across the road is another provincial park, Diana Lake. This one is day-use only, but it’s a great spot for families and a visit is worth including in your plans. There’s a roped-off swimming area, lots of grass for picnicking or playing games, and good shallow splashing spots for toddlers.
Ferry Island is first on most visitors’ lists for a family-friendly destination in Terrace. It’s municipal—meaning it’s right in town; it’s spacious—there are 103 campsites; and it’s accommodating to children—it has a playground and the trails are “watched” by faces carved in the trees.
But Ferry Island isn’t Terrace’s only family-friendly camping option. There are others, like the Red Sand Lake rec site. About 25 km north of Terrace, Red Sand is worth the drive. It’s scenic and well-maintained, with clean facilities. There are hiking trails, biking trails and, of course, the lake.
About 20 km south of Terrace is Lakelse Lake. The provincial park there is well worth the drive. The campground at Furlong Bay is well equipped, with showers and flush toilets, and plenty of activities for kids, including boating, hiking, and swimming.
Great spots to camp are ubiquitous in the Bulkley Valley. Some are so spectacular they should be in international exploration magazines. Admittedly, taking toddlers way out into the backcountry isn’t always the easiest proposition. And the scenery right around town is pretty inspiring, too.
Near Smithers, the most accessible, family-friendly option for camping is Telkwa’s Tyhee Lake Provincial Park. Tyhee is great. It has an awesome playground, a fun beach, great campsites, and trails that any age can manage. Plus, the scenery is memorable and it’s close enough to Telkwa and Smithers that you can stock up on any essentials you might need, like marshmallows, sunscreen, or a new swimsuit.
If you time it right and come for Midsummer Music Festival, there’s no better place to camp with kids than right there at the festival. Music, games, face painting, workshops and activities are all on hand, just a stone’s-throw from your tent: a perfect kid-friendly camping scenario.
There are a few options for camping around Burns Lake and while I can’t make a comparison—I’ve only stayed at the one spot—I’ll happily put my neck out and say that Kager Lake has to be the best. This rec site is amazing. Just a few kilometres out of town, it’s a great spot, especially if you like to ride bikes. Below and around the lake are cross-country trails (some suitable for younger cyclists) and above are the Boer Mountain downhill trails. Right at the parking lot is a kids’ bike park, built for camping families.
Biking aside, this place is worth coming to for the tenting experience alone. The campsites are stocked with chopped, seasoned firewood, tent platforms, fire rings, picnic tables, and great views of the lake. The best sites are an easy hike or bike in, but more vehicle-accessible sites are currently being developed.
Fort St. James
Paarens Beach Provincial Park is a gem of a campground a short drive from Fort St. James. On the shores of Stuart Lake, across from the limestone bluffs of Mount Pope and not far from the national historic site bearing the same name as the town, Paarens Beach is well laid out for private sites and good lake access. It’s perfect for kids and great for adults. When you feel like exploring further afield, head into town to check out the historic site or around to the great trails up Mount Pope.
Prince George also has plenty of camping options. The best sites are out of town and two provincial parks not too far out seem like good spots for families: Purden Lake to the east and Crooked River to the north. Crooked River Provincial Park is a great spot for hiking with the kids. There’s a trail that leads to nearby Square Lake, where there are great bird- and wildlife-watching opportunities. Purden Lake Provincial Park has 78 sites, a big day-use beach area, and lots of boating, fishing and easy hiking opportunities. This is definitely black bear territory, though, so keep kids close and let them do what kids do best: make plenty of noise!
Being a family-friendly destination in itself, Barkerville is somewhere families should aim to spend a few days hanging out with a campsite as your home base. There are three sites near the Barkerville Historic Town: Lowhee, Forest Rose and Government Hill. For directions, head to http://www.barkerville.ca/camping.htm.
Being a national park, Jasper’s campgrounds are not only well maintained and family-friendly, they’re accessible and convenient. They also tend to cost a bit more than provincial parks (and free rec sites) but the cost is worth it if you’re looking for somewhere to regroup, shower and take advantage of conveniences like pay phones, toilets, and interpretive trails.
Whistlers campground is a good bet for late arrivals to town—it’s big, close to the town centre (you can walk or bike in on a trail), and there are plenty of great spots for kids to roam around. Watch out for elk!
Other good Jasper campsites include Wapiti and Wabasso. For more info, check out Parks Canada’s website: http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/jasper/visit/camping.aspx.
Tumbler Ridge is BC’s dinosaur destination. As it becomes increasingly known for its extensive dinosaur footprint site and other dino-related features, families are starting to factor the northern town into their travel itinerary. There are plenty of camping options including several provincial parks. Gwillim Lake is a good bet. It’s not too far out of town and is very family friendly, with hiking, canoeing and swimming on the menu.
If you’re heading up the Alaska Highway, you’ll eventually hit Fort Nelson, BC. This is the Northern Rockies and spectacular doesn’t quite cut it as a descriptor. It’s extraordinarily scenic in this part of northern BC. The Tetsa River Regional Campground is a great place to set up your temporary home from which you can explore the region—there are great hiking trails nearby including Tetsa #1 Trail, an easy hike into a bird-watching area.
Toddler Tenting Tips
It’s no secret that while camping with kids can be great, it can also be arduous at times. Kids have hundreds of needs and the inevitable tired whiny voice can be unbearable when you’re setting up a tent, tired yourself after a long drive. Here are a few tips that might be worth considering before your next tenting trip.
Consider an extra tent. If you’re travelling with more than one kid, you might be faced with the problem of how to put them to bed—together. Bringing a small backpacking tent can be useful to keep the sibling rivalry at bedtime to a minimum. (Although chances are they’ll squabble over who gets which tent.)
Reading material is paramount. There’s nothing wrong with being bored, as long as you don’t have someone to take it out on, and on a family camping trip you most definitely have someone to take it out on. Bring books, comics, or magazines to keep your kid occupied when you need to be doing something else (i.e. cooking a meal, having a nap, drinking a glass of beer/wine).
Bring lots of clothes. A comfortable toddler is a happy toddler. Also, if they want to be naked, let them be naked. That’s what it’s all about.
Create a comfort zone. Whether it means bringing a few extra stuffed animals or a special blanket along, make an effort to give kids a feeling of familiarity. Little ones especially can do with the reassurance that while things are different, new and exciting on a big camping trip, it’s still a family excursion.