Around 90% of Canada’s geography has no people in it. Forests, rivers, lakes, tundra, taiga, mountains, farmed prairie, yes. People, not so much. If ever there was a country for a kid to run wild, Canada is it. So why send your kids to a summer camp when you can all go to a real Canadian wilderness lodge and have the family adventure of a lifetime?
Innumerable such lodges dotted all over those non-people parts of Canada offer tiny, civilized footholds where families can snuggle in for a wild time. Here’s our hot list.
At Lake Wabatongushi north of Sault Ste. Marie, ON, for example, Errington’s Wilderness Island Resort gives kids the chance to try the venerable Canadian sport of fishing for walleye and northern pike. These are purely Canadian fish that Canadians call pickerel and jackfish, using the alternative monikers out of politeness towards American guests. We’re polite, we Canadians. But then, you already know that, don’t you?
Or you can all go hiking and wildlife viewing, or paddling. Very Canadian, paddling in canoes. So is tipping over—not dangerous if you’re wearing lifejackets. We Canadians want you to be safe while you’re adventuring.
Wabatongushi covers 3,000 ha (7,400 ac) in the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, a vast wildlife sanctuary where quintessentially Canadian creatures (loons, bald eagles, moose and bears) wander. You get there using a floatplane or by hopping onto the Algoma Central Railway wilderness passenger train.
In Quebec’s Laurentian mountains, less than a three-hour drive from Ottawa, ON, and Québec City, QC, Mekoos Outfitters specializes in brook trout fishing and wear-the-kids-out watersports: the Lièvre River edges the lodge’s territory for more than 40 km (25 mi)—seven km (4.4 mi) of it rapids for whitewater rafting or kayaking. Kids too small for that? Try the isolated beaches perfect for swimming and camping. Families can nestle into log-hewn cottages for the lodge’s July and August family vacation rate.
Even more isolated, Treeline Lodge sits in the Central Barrenlands in the Northwest Territories, straddling taiga and tundra about 250 km (155 mi) northeast of Yellowknife. It’s fly-in—just getting there’s an adventure itself in Canada’s North. Late August and early September are top viewing times for “Barrenlands” plant and animal life.
The lodge overlooks Matthews Lake, with unlimited ground hiking and 16 km (10 mi) of roads for wildlife viewing by vehicle or bicycle. Extensive “eskers”—high sand and gravel ridges formed by glaciers a millennium ago—take hikers above the tundra and lakes. They’re game trails, too; animals use them as superhighways. Sit quietly enough (hard for kids, but worth it) for long enough, and you might see fox, caribou or a wolf. Try canoeing on the lake or a river. The family can do a wilderness paddle for days if desired; the lodge will set you up.
Almost every province offers literally dozens of wilderness lodges, many reachable only by plane, some at the ends of gravel roads running into pure nature. It doesn’t get any wilder than this. Summer camp? Fooey!
Farm Fun: Rural Roots
Closer to civilization, but something few city kids ever see, ranch and farm vacations make real eye-openers for heavily scheduled urban youngsters who never get the chance to just kick back and romp outside. And a lot of ranch vacations are in spots where wilderness is the back yard. Added bonus: your kids learn where their food comes from.
At the Three Bars Guest & Cattle Ranch in southeastern British Columbia, kids get their own bathrooms and separate sleeping areas. Afternoon hikes can be easy for smaller kids, with boardwalks and handrails to the Marysville waterfalls, or more challenging for older youngsters, to Perry Creek waterfalls. There’s tennis and golf, an indoor pool and hot tub, and every ranch stay includes a river float trip.
Schwabs Simmentals south of Bengough, SK, operates as a B&B, but the family makes its main living ranching cattle. Take a walk in the nearby Big Muddy Valley; coulees (valleys) and craggy “hoodoos” (wind-sculpted sandstone monoliths) put to bed the fable that Saskatchewan’s flat.
A professional horse-training ranch as well as a cattle ranch, Parkland Ranch near Inglis, MB, offers two-hour trail rides for newbies and kids, plus longer jaunts for more experienced riders. Older youngsters may be able to help round up the herd or work a cattle drive, yee-haw! At Busted Boot Guest Ranch in Manitoba’s sandhills near the town of Holland, build bonfires and bunk in at the Outback cabin, where kids can build their own shelters and chop their own wood (shades of “Survivor”!).
For a well-rounded farm adventure even a toddler will love, mixed-farm operation Hollyhock Haven just outside Milford, ON, can have the kids gathering fresh eggs, bottle-feeding calves and lambs, and getting to know a full gamut of farm animals from goats to turkeys. There’s an in-ground pool, shaded porch, plus bicycles available for kids and grown-ups.
Springwater Farm on Prince Edward Island gets the kids feeding sheep, picking berries or learning more about agriculture. And there's lots of space to explore the fields and adjacent wooded trails.
Short Takes: The Angle of the Dangle
If you’re in the neighbourhood for an afternoon or morning, ziptrekking’s taking some parts of Canada by storm. Most provinces have at least one somewhere. British Columbia boasts at least seven, and Quebec now has eight and counting. Find a detailed list at: http://www.out-there.com/canada_zipline_parks.htm.
One of the screamiest is Acro-Nature in Morin Heights, QC. It combines zipping with aerial acrobatic challenges that may confound nervous adults, but don’t seem to faze kids, who scoot along a series of tiny platforms, edge along wooden beams dodging dangling forests of even more wooden beams, and even scramble feet-first through aerial open-barrel staves, all in between zips—one of which is 300 m (984 ft) long. Worry not, parents; all who participate are firmly tethered to overhead safety ropes via sturdy body harnesses.
Less physically daunting, but with great views of usually raging Fitzsimmons Creek, Ziptrek EcoTours in Whistler, BC, strings together five ziplines with a network of seven suspension and two rigid bridges, boardwalks and trails through over 12 ha (30 ac) of old-growth rainforest and steep ups and downs. For the very timid, the TreeTrek Canopy Walk comes sans zipping, and babies can be backpacked (packs are provided if mom and dad don’t have one) on the trails. But even small children can zip—the guides do all the real work and the guests just enjoy the ride.
At Marble Zip Tours in Steady Brook, NL, near Corner Brook, six ziplines up to 305 m (1,000 ft) long and 91 m (300 ft) above ground whiz zippers ages six and up as fast as 80 km/h (50 mph), taking in admittedly blurry, brief views of Humber Valley. And the Zip Tours people can show you a little spelunking through the passageways and chambers of the Corner Brook limestone caves. Desire even more thrills? If you’re up to it, the guides will take you abseiling (rappelling, that is) down to the system’s underground river, where there is not a jot of natural light, only the glow of your cavers’ headlamps.
Tamer and Just a Little Corny
Corn mazes are another craze that’s swept Canada in recent years. Sometimes, what looks like corn is actually sorghum, which doesn’t produce cobs (some owners worry about kids getting beaned if someone starts lobbing cobs around in the mazes), and most mazes offer ancillary adventure in addition to the pure delight of getting hopelessly lost in a field of corn.
Corn Mazes in Canada, by no means a complete listing, notes 25 of them, most in Ontario. The ONTARIO MAZE near Newton, ON, for instance, boasts 18 ha (45 ac) of maze, as well as a straw museum, labyrinth, plus mini-golf and picnic area. Flashlight Nights notch the fun up a little higher; if you can’t find your way out in broad daylight, try it in pitch darkness.
But there are others across the country. Another directory, The MAiZE, lists mazes built with the help of the North American proprietary corn maze design company. One of them, A Maize in Saskatchewan, just east of Regina, covers 3.5 ha (9 ac) and also offers campfires (bring extra marshmallows), a Corn Box for those who just have to pitch cobs at each other, mini-mazes for mini-sized mazers, plus a hay jump.
At A Maze in Corn, just south of Winnipeg, MB, there’s a small petting zoo and hay rides. RiverBreeze Corn Maze & Farm Market in Truro, NS, offers pumpkin picking and u-pick strawberries in season. Meadows Maze in Pitt Meadows, BC, like many other mazes, changes up its 6.3-km (3.9-mi) design ever year, as well as offering a bee observatory, a 12-m (40-ft) tube slide and corn cannons. You have to see one to properly appreciate it as a weapon of mass kernel destruction—it gives popcorn a whole new meaning. Sorry, that’s corny, I know. It was just irresistible—like any family adventure you choose in Canada.
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