1. Big Tree and Old Growth trails, Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island’s Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park is truly a stunning sight—and smell. The way the light filters through the green canopy, the gentle swaying of the fern-carpeted floor, and the incredible scent of the fir trees—all of this will leave everyone (even the kids) hushed in awe. Wide gravel trails (less than one kilometre long) loop through the park on either side of the highway. Big Tree trail, on the south side, is known for its towering Douglas fir trees—some 800 years old and three metres in circumference—while Old Growth trail, on the north side, takes you through ancient western red cedars to the shores of Cameron Lake. Family photo op: join hands around the trunk of an enormous tree.
Go hiking: Hwy 4, east of Port Alberni Free env.gov.bc.ca>
2. Kenna Cartwright Nature Park, Kamloops
Families have their pick of nearly 40 kilometres of easy to moderate trails in Kenna Cartwright, the largest municipal park in British Columbia, just a 10-minute drive from downtown Kamloops. The natural landscape is semi-arid, which means you’ll see prickly pear cactus, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and fragrant sagebrush. Try the Tower Trail (about 1.8 kilometres each way), with a gradual uphill and great views of the city below. Good news for dog owners: Off-leash dogs are permitted.
Go hiking: Hillside Drive, Kamloops 250-828-3551 Free kamloops.ca>
3. Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver
If you want a taste of wilderness but don’t want to leave the city, head to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver, which offers a network of not-too-tough trails for your crew. Combining the Valley of the Giants trail with Arbutus and Valley trails (a 1.5-kilometre loop) takes you into old-growth forest—with some of the biggest Douglas firs in Vancouver—while Beacon Lane (about one kilometre each way) takes you directly to the Lighthouse Viewpoint and stunning coastal views on the granite outcropping. Enjoy a picnic on the rocks and take a tour to imagine the life of the Point Atkinson lighthouse keeper and his family.
Go hiking: Beacon Lane, West Vancouver 604-925-7275 Free lighthousepark.ca>
4. Spirit Trail, Harrison Hot Springs
A local artist has placed several dozen masks high in the trees along this one-kilometre loop through a tranquil cedar forest in Harrison Hot Springs. It’s a short walk, but plan for time to spot the masks and make up stories about the whimsical faces. Dog-friendly.
Go hiking: McCoombs Drive, Harrison Hot Springs Fraser Valley 604-796-5581 (Tourism Harrison) Free tourismharrison.com>
5. Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, near Victoria
There are two distinct parts to this nature sanctuary: Walk an easy 2.5-kilometre loop around the marshy lowlands of Swan Lake and take in the sights and sounds from the floating boardwalk and flat trails; then walk the 0.8-kilometre path that connects to the rocky, oak-treed highlands of Christmas Hill, where more (uphill!) trails await. Stop by the Nature House, a kid-friendly interpretive centre with hands-on displays about the area’s many birds, as well as live turtles, frogs and fish.
Go hiking: 3873 Swan Lake Road, Victoria 250-479-0211 Free (donation box on site) swanlake.bc.ca>
6. Square Lake and Bear Lake trails, Crooked River Provincial Park
Attention, little animal lovers: You’ve got a good chance at catching a glimpse of wildlife at Crooked River Provincial Park in North Central BC. The loop around Square Lake and Bear Lake is long (about nine kilometres), but you can break it up. Bear Lake has several sandy beaches—perfect for taking a mid-hike dip or a sandcastle-building break—and there is a picnic area with flush toilets and a playground.
Go hiking: Crooked River Provincial Park Hwy 97, 70 km north of Prince George 250-387-3463 (BC Parks) Free env.gov.bc.ca>
7. Pacific Spirit Regional Park, Vancouver
Located beside the University of British Columbia, Pacific Spirit Regional Park is a 35-kilometre network of short, intersecting trails, so you can pick and choose your length. Huckleberry Trail is a popular one for kids because of—you got it—the huckleberries that line the path. Combine it with Deer Fern, Cleveland, Salal and Sherry Sakamoto for a short loop (under three kilometres) that starts and ends near the Park Centre building with washrooms and parking.
Go hiking: 5495 Chancellor Blvd, Vancouver (with many points of entry) 604-224-5739 Free greatervancouverparks.com>
8. Hardy Falls Regional Park, Peachland
Kids will love crossing over the eight bridges en route to the narrow, three-metre-high Hardy Falls. The stroller-friendly, mostly shaded path (one kilometre each way) winds through a steep canyon and criss-crosses Deep Creek, with plenty of benches along the way. Taste-test the salmonberries that grow along the trail in summer. If you go in September or October, there’s a chance you’ll see the annual salmon run that fills the creek with shiny red kokanee salmon. (Note: Bears like salmon and berries, too, so be aware!)
Go hiking: Hardy St, off Hwy 97 Free peachland.ca>
9. Gibson Lake Trailhead Loop, near Nelson
This 2.5-kilometre circle around Gibson Lake is flat and well maintained—perfect for young hikers. And it will be an adventure just to drive up the gravel road to the parking lot, which sits at an elevation of 1,536 metres. You’ll find picnic tables and a pit toilet on site, but views of beautiful Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, with stunning mountain peaks, pretty alpine flowers and a pristine mountain lake, are what you’re really here for. Pack your fishing gear to try your hand at landing a feisty rainbow or cutthroat trout. You might see critters like hoary marmot, pika, ground squirrel and marten, and keep an eye on the skies for the majestic golden eagle.
Go hiking: Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park Hwy 3A, 19 km north of Nelson (take gravel road) 250-387-4363 (BC Parks) Free env.gov.bc.ca>
10. Othello Tunnels, near Hope
BC clearly has an abundance of beautiful forests and trees, but if you’re looking for a change of scenery, head for the tunnels. The Othello Tunnels in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park are a 3.5-kilometre round-trip hike through a series of five decommissioned railway tunnels: tall, arched, above-ground passages blasted through solid rock beside the rushing Coquihalla River. The trails are flat but may be wet or uneven in the tunnel sections, where you’ll definitely need flashlights or headlamps and perhaps a jacket. (Trivia time: The cliff above Tunnel 2 was the site of the famous jump scene in First Blood.)
Go hiking: Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, off Hwy 5 Free env.gov.bc.ca>