Wednesday 29 March 2023

Trans-Canada Highway with Kids

In 2021 we packed up our home in Ottawa, Ontario, and headed west to Victoria, British Columbia with our RV trailer.  We had previously driven from Ottawa to Sydney, Nova Scotia (and back) for a holiday, so this was our opportunity to complete the rest of the Trans Canada Highway (excluding the section in Newfoundland and Labrador).

Land Rover Defender and Jayco RV ready for the Trans Canada Highway

The Official Trans-Canada Highway Route

The Trans Canada Highway is a system of roads starting in St John's in Newfoundland and Labrador on Canada's eastern Atlantic coast, and ending in Victoria in British Columbia on the western Pacific coast.  The whole route is just under 7,500km (4,650miles) and is one of the longest routes of it's kind in the world.

As a system of Provincial highways there are a number of parallel routes and off shoots (including routes to Prince Edward Island which we did in 2018 and up to Haida Gwaii some of which we did in 2022).  The main route is generally considered to consist of Highway 1 in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba; Highways 17 and 417 in Ontario; Autoroutes 40, 20 and 85 in Quebec; Highway 2 in New Brunswick; Highways 104 and 105 in Nova Scotia; and Highway 1 in Newfoundland.

Our Trans-Canada Route

As you can see from the map above, we mostly stuck to the official Trans-Canada Highway route from Ottawa to Victoria, with a small diversion in BC because we wanted to visit the wine region of the Okanagan Valley.

Our Trans-Canada Equipment

We imported the Land Rover Defender from the UK and bought the RV during the COVID lockdown.  COVID had made travel between the provinces extremely variable, and booking accommodation was almost impossible, however as we were moving as a military family we had a special exemption for inter-provincial travel.  We decided that taking the RV would give us the most flexibility and allow us to pretty much self-isolate along the way, so it seemed like the perfect solution.  As it turned out, our timing was great as we seemed to hit a low point of COVID infections in most of the country and in general travel restrictions continued to ease as we travelled west. 

As we didn't want to sell in Ottawa and buy another vehicle in Victoria we also decided to take the Dodge with us.  This meant driving in convoy the whole way, with Sarah driving the Dodge and Ridley driving the Landy.  The advantage of this was that we could take a boy each and they couldn't fight!

Land Rover Defender and Jayco X213

Our Rocky Talkie radios proved invaluable along the way for keeping in touch, arranging fuel and rest breaks, pointing out interesting scenery or wildlife, and for directions when backing up the trailer.

We also took our Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) on the roof of the Land Rover, and used them on a number of lakes and rivers on the way.  (Use the code ERRINGTONADVENTURES at Canadian Board Co for a discount!)

Land Rover Defender and SUP

How Long Does the Trans Canada Highway Take?

If you ask Google how long it takes to drive from Ottawa to Victoria, it will tell you somewhere around 49 hours of driving.  Depending on how many hours you want to drive in a day, and how many drivers you have per vehicle, you could in theory do it in 2-3 days. For our trip we took 17 days, we felt this gave us a good balance of short and long driving days, allowed us to stay 2 nights in a few places, and gave us 3 nights in Banff.

The Ottawa to Sydney section is another 17 hours or so.  When we did this section in 2018, we did there and back in 14 days, but this included 3 days of work in Halifax.  (We'll cover this section in a different post.)


Day 1 - Ottawa to Petawawa

Trans-Canada Highway Map Ottawa to Petawawa

We weren't sure what time we were going to get away from Ottawa, so we decided on a short hop for the first day.  We spent the first night at Black Bear Beach Campground near Petawawa.  It's actually part of the military base, so is only available to military families, but it's a beautiful spot right on a beach on the Ottawa River.  We had left our bookings a bit late for this part of our trip, so couldn't get a booking in Algonquin Provincial Park, but this would be a great alternative.

Yeti Go Box on roof of Land Rover Defender

People swimming at Black Bear Beach

Day 2 - Petawawa to Sault Sainte Marie

Trans-Canada Highway Map Petawawa to Sault Sainte Marie

Our second day was around 7 hours of driving and took us along the northern shore of Lake Huron, with some lovely views.  We stopped for lunch in Sudbury at the MIC Canadian Eatery and Whisky Pub.  Short for Made in Canada, they pride themselves on Canadian ingredients, only sell Canadian beer, and play Canadian music, as well as stocking over 80 Canadian whiskies!  

Land Rover Defender at Sault St Marie KOA

Go Karts at Sault St Marie KOA

Crazy Golf at Sault St Marie KOA

We don't often stay at KOA campsites, but Sault Sainte Marie (known as 'the Soo'), was about the right distance for our second day, and we couldn't source a provincial park in the area.  The campsite was better than we expected, with reasonable separation between pitches and lots of trees.  The boys loved the outdoor pool, crazy golf, and the go-karts!

Day 3 - Sault Sainte Marie to White Lake Provincial Park

Trans-Canada Highway Map Sault St Marie to White Lake Provincial Park

This was a beautiful drive along the Eastern shore of Lake Superior, with multiple places to pull over and admire the views over the lake, although the smoke from forest fires was ever present.  Don't miss the minor diversion to stop and take a look at the giant statue of the Wawa Goose.

Family eating ice cream

Wawa Goose

It felt great to be back in the familiar surroundings of Ontario Provincial Parks, camping at White Lake PP.  We also managed to get a quick paddleboard in on the lake the next morning before we left.

Paddleboarding on White Lake

Day 4 - White Lake to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Trans-Canada Highway Map White Lake to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

With another relatively short driving day, we had plenty of time to stop and admire the sights along the way to Sleeping Giant, including the very impressive Aguasabon Falls.  We also made a small diversion into Marathon to stock up on supplies at the local supermarket, as we were spending two nights at Sleeping Giant.

Agausabon Falls

Family at Aguasabon Falls Viewpoint

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, is a beautiful park on the northern shore of Lake Superior.  It is named for the group of hills on a peninsula which when viewed from the park resemble a giant figure lying on their back.  

Sea Lion at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Day 5 - Exploring Sleeping Giant

We had a great time exploring the park and relaxing.  We were visited by a humming bird during breakfast at our campsite and spent the afternoon tracking deer, visiting a fascinating graveyard with wooden headstones and picket fences, hiking out to the 'Sea Lion' rock feature, and swimming in Lake Superior (very cold!).  Unfortunately the forest fire smoke obscured the views of the Giant.

Graveyard at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Deer at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Wild Swimming in Lake Superior


Day 6 - Sleeping Giant to Falcon Lake Provincial Park

Trans Canada Highway Map Sleeping Giant to Falcon Lake

After a day off, we were ready for another longer day of driving, and made the final push out of Ontario and into Manitoba!  We always knew Ontario was big, but when it takes five days of driving to get out of the Province it really hits home.  Despite the long distance we still managed a few stops to visit the sites along the way, including the Terry Fox Monument on the way into Thunder Bay and Kakabeka Falls on the way out.  We also stopped for a picnic and a play on the beach at West Beach, just past Ignace.

Boys at Terry Fox Monument

Family at Kakabeka Falls

Falcon Lake Provincial Park is right on the shore of the lake, but was a lot busier than we expected, with small pitches and lots of RVs, so not a top pick for us.  It was pretty late by the time we arrived though, and we could walk to the pub for a quick sundowner, so not all bad!

Day 7 - Falcon Lake to Riding Mountain National Park

Trans-Canada Highway Map Falcon Lake to Riding Mountain National Park

Manitoba surprised us; as one of the Prairie Provinces, we were expecting it to be very flat, but we actually found it to be an interesting drive through (small) rolling hills with lots of tiny lakes.  This drive took us past the geographic centre of Canada (East to West) and also through (a very smoky) Winnipeg.

Centre of Canada Sign

Giant Chair at Longitudinal Centre of Canada

Riding Mountain National Park is a great campsite, which has the usual remote feel of a National Park, but is also only a short walk to the centre of Wasagaming town.  In the town you can hire kayaks and paddleboards, or take a boat trip on Clear Lake.  We had a wander along the pier, a swim in the lake and played a round of crazy golf, before wandering up to the Canoe Taphouse for great pizza and beer!  Back at the campground we were extremely lucky to have a momma black bear and her two cubs come wandering right past the RV.  We only spent one night at Riding Mountain, but wish we'd stayed longer.

Clear Lake Wasagaming

Crazy Golf at Wasagaming


Day 8 - Riding Mountain to Buffalo Pound Provincial Park

Trans-Canada Highway Map Riding Mountain to Buffalo Pound

Now that we were out of Ontario, we were really ticking off the Provinces; day 8 took us out of Manitoba and into Saskatchewan.  We stopped for a late lunch in Regina, and a beer at Rebellion Brewing before heading up to our campsite at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park.

Buffalo Pound Provincial Park Campground

We had a nice pitch overlooking the lake (look out for pelicans), but we didn't hang around for long; after quickly setting up camp we drove back into Regina as we had tickets to see Dean Brody at an outdoor concert on the banks of the Saskatchewan River.  It was a great gig and felt particularly special after the COVID lockdowns!

Family at Dean Brody concert in Regina

Dean Brody on stage in Regina


Day 9 - Buffalo Pound to Dinosaur Provincial Park

Trans-Canada Highway Map Buffalo Pound to Dinosaur Provincial Park

The next morning we packed up camp, and headed further into the park to find the bison herd.  Despite popular opinion there are no native buffalo in North America, only bison.  Buffalo are only native to South Asia (water buffalo) and Africa (cape buffalo).  The term buffalo is thought to have been brought to North America by French trappers.  The Buffalo Pound bison are a captive herd, and are usually pretty easy to spot from the viewing point.

Bison herd at Buffalo Pound

We then headed into Moose Jaw for a nice brunch at Browns Social House and a look around the town, which has some great murals commemorating its time as a famous centre of bootlegging during the US Prohibition era! Moose Jaw tunnels looked really cool, but we decided that the boys might be a bit too wee for it, and it was another time commitment so we gave it a miss, but if you have older kids/more time it would be worth look.

Mural in Moose Jaw

We then continued our journey east, through the rest of Saskatchewan and into Alberta.  After passing through Medicine Hat (look out for the giant Tipi), we arrived at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Arriving at Dinosaur Provincial Park is like driving onto another planet!  In the heart of the Alberta Badlands, the geography at Dinosaur is like nothing we had ever seen before, and as you drive down the valley into the park you get some amazing views of the landscape.

Dinosaur Provincial Park Panorama

After helping to set up camp, the boys disappeared to climb the nearest hoodoo (taking their Rocky Talkie so we could stay in touch).  The hoodoos are tall columns of rock with a layer of harder rock on top that protect them from erosion, and Dinosaur is full of them which makes for a truly awesome setting.

Boys climbing a hoodoo in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground

Day 10 - Exploring Dinosaur

The next day we had another rest day, and made the most of the time off to explore the park.  We took the boys on the 'Dinosaur Stomp' guided trip, which takes you into closed areas of the park to search for dinosaur fossils and teaches visitors about the park - highly recommended, seeing huge dinosaur bones scattered around as you explore is an unforgettable experience.  

Bone Bed at Dinosaur Provincial Park

Fossilised dinosaur femur at Dinosaur Provincial Park

Boy holding a dinosaur fossil at Dinosaur Provincial Park

We also inflated the SUPs and had a leisurely paddle and picnic on the Red Deer River, where we were treated to a free foot treatment by lots of small fish nibbling at our toes!  

SUP on Red Deer River

Swimming in Red Deer River

After dinner we climbed one of the hoodoos and watched a beautiful sunset over the park. Dinosaur was definitely a family favourite, and up there with Sarah's all time favourite places - it really was 'out of this world' and we would say a must see.

Family at sunset in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Day 11 - Dinosaur to Banff

Trans-Canada Highway Map Dinosaur Provincial Park to Banff

The drive from Dinosaur to Banff was another short day, and we stopped for lunch in Calgary on the way.  After Calgary, the Rocky Mountains appear to just rise straight up from the prairies, although there was still quite a lot of forest fire smoke about, so we didn't get the full experience.

We camped at the Tunnel Mountain II campground in Banff National Park.  Our site was about a 20 minute walk down into Banff centre, and there were also frequent free shuttle buses (recommended for the way back up the hill).  We were meeting some friends who moved from Scotland to near Calgary about 10 years ago, it was nice to catch up with them and for our kids to meet theirs!

Day 12/13 - Exploring Banff

We spent a relaxing couple of days exploring Banff and the surrounding areas, and letting the kids get to know each other and ride the trails around the campsite on their bikes.  The roof top terrace at Banff Avenue Brewing Co is worth a visit, as is Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant.

Kids at the bear statue in Banff

Roof top terrace at Banff Ave Brewery

We took a trip up to the famous Lake Louise to see the stunning blue-green glacier water.  I can vouch for the water being glacial, even in August it was extremely cold, I only went in because Struan had thrown Innes' cap into the lake!  After battling the crowds to get an 'Instagrammable' picture of the lake, we had a nice lunch at the Fairmont Chateau, and a walk around the lake with some other UK friends who also happened to be visiting at the same time.  Parking was extremely difficult and I'd recommend going on one of the busses organised by Parks Canada instead.  

Lake Louise

Wild Swimming in Lake Louise

British Columbia

Day 14 - Banff to Revelstoke

Trans-Canada Highway Map Banff to Revelstoke
The journey from Banff to Revelstoke was a beautifully scenic drive through the Rockies, although yet again it was marred by smoke.  We made a quick stop at Yoho National Park (a must on Struan's list as in Ottawa his school 'house' was Yoho but we should have explored more) and had lunch at Truffle Pigs Bistro.

Boys at Yoho National Park

We camped at the Boulder Mountain Resort, which is a handy location and has glamping pods and log cabins as well as camping pitches, and a hot tub! 

Family at Boulder Mountain Resort

The next morning we took a trip up Mount Revelstoke to view the Alpine wild flower meadows.  You can drive most of the way up the mountain, and then take a short walk through the meadows and up to a historic Fire Lookout.  We found lots of black bear hair on the trail, but didn't get lucky with the bears themselves!

Mount Revelstoke Trail

Fire Lookout at Mount Revelstoke

Day 15 - Revelstoke to Osoyoos

Trans-Canada Highway Map Revelstoke to Osoyoos

After Revelstoke, we took a slight detour from the official Trans-Canada Highway route and headed south through the Okanagan valley, past Kelowna and Okanagan Lake, to Osoyoos.  The valley was a real change of scenery from the Rockies, and we were amazed by the amount of fruit farms and vineyards, it felt almost Mediterranean.

Land Rover Defender at Nk'Mip Campground

Our camp for the night was on the shores of Osoyoos Lake at the Nk'Mip Campground, which shares its grounds with the Nk'Mip Cellars (the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America). 

Day 16 - Osoyoos to Chilliwack

Trans-Canada Highway Map Osoyoos to Chilliwack

For our final night on the mainland, we wanted to be near Vancouver so that we had an easy run to the ferry.  Chilliwack seemed to be about the right distance, and we identified the Vedder River Campground as a good spot to camp.  It was a pleasant drive through the Similkameen and Fraser river valleys. The site is run by the Parks and Recreation department of the Fraser Valley Regional District, and is situated right beside the river, with easy access to riverside trails.

Vedder River

Day 17 - Chilliwack to Victoria

Trans-Canada Highway Map Chilliwack to Victoria

The last day of our amazing Trans-Canada Highway trip was here!  We drove the last mainland section of the highway; following the mighty Fraser River to the BC Ferries Tsawwassen terminal and boarding the ferry over to Vancouver Island.  It is a beautiful passage from Tsawwassen through the Gulf Islands to Swartz Bay (just north of Victoria).  

View from BC Ferry in the Gulf Islands

Family on BC Ferry in the Gulf Islands

It felt great to arrive in our new home, although our rental property wasn't actually available for another month, but it was also sad that our adventure was over!  We continued to live in the RV for another 4 weeks after the trip, camping on a great farm who kindly allowed us to stay there much longer than they normally book sites.

Car Trip computer at the end of the Trans-Canada Highway

Must See Trans-Canada Highway Campgrounds

Top Tips for the Trans-Canada Highway with Kids

1. Take your time  

Whilst you could blast across the country in a few days, there is so much to explore that you really want to take as long as you can, especially when travelling with kids. We felt like we had a pretty good balance of longer and shorter travel days, and a few rest days too.

2. Plan, plan, plan

Work out your own route (or decide to follow ours) well in advance.  If you are tent camping, you could probably afford to be more flexible and would likely find First Come First Serve sites, but with an RV we really advise booking in advance (unless you are happy boondocking at Walmart)!  Bare in mind that the Provincial and National Parks book 3-6 months in advance, and fill up fast for busy weekends during the summer.

3. Pack plenty of snacks 

There are lots of long stretches with very few (or no) services.  You can drastically cut down on your number of un-planned stops by packing snacks or a picnic, so that you don't have to stop every time you hear "Mum, I'm hungry". Of course you'll still have to stop for "Mum, I need a wee", but at least with an RV you can stop anywhere!

4. Involve the kids in setting up camp

Not only does it help get camp set up earlier, but it also keeps them occupied while you are busy getting organised.  Our boys' job was always setting the stabiliser jacks!

Boys setting up camp

Boys setting up camp

A personal note: It has taken me (R) a long time to write up this trip, I've been putting it off for a while and I can't end without a quick note about my Mum.  During our drive from Revelstoke to Osoyoos, we heard from my sister-in-law that Mum had collapsed suddenly while at the beach in Scotland.  Despite the amazing efforts of my brother, his family, and the air ambulance crew; Mum later passed away in hospital.  It was a tragic end to an amazing trip, but she continues to inspire us to adventure and explore - life is short; live it.

Gill Korsazanksi (Errington nee Barron)

Monday 13 March 2023

Moving On...

So, a few weeks ago we found out that I (Ridley) had been selected for promotion at work.  It was bitter-sweet news; it had been my aim since joining the Royal Navy in 2000 to get to Commander, but at the same time it means leaving Canada and heading back to the UK (at least for a while).

We have absolutely loved living in Canada for the last 4 and a half years; we've explored some amazing places, given the boys some awesome experiences, and met lots of great people we're lucky enough to call life-long friends (you know who you are!).

It's hard to capture just how much we've done in Canada, so far we've: 

  • lived in two Capitals (Ottawa and Victoria);
  • lived in our RV trailer for 6 weeks;
  • visited 10 out of the 13 Provinces and Territories; 
  • driven from Coast to Coast; 
  • visited over 30 National and Provincial Parks; 
  • some of us have learned to swim, SUP, kayak, karate, sail, water-ski, ski, skate, and snowshoe (our activities don't have to begin with 's' or 'k', but it helps!); 
  • and lived through a global pandemic.

The boys have both lived in Canada for more than half of their lives and have only been back to the UK twice; they don't really remember much about our lives in the UK and are sad to be leaving their new friends.  It's an unsettling time for all of us, as we don't yet know where in the UK my next job will be, or where we will live, but it's an exciting time too.

We're looking forward to catching up with friends and family back in the UK, and we're determined to continue adventuring when we get back.  It's easy to stay motivated to explore when you know you have a limited amount of time in one place, but as we've learned with the loss of my mum and cousin in the last two years - life is short, so keep exploring.  In the words of Cody Johnson:

    If you got a chance, take it, take it while you got a chance,
    If you got a dream, chase it, cause a dream won't chase you back, 
    If you're gonna love somebody,
    Hold em as long, and as strong, and as close as you can,
    Til you can't.

We've got about six months left in Victoria, so have lots of exciting things planned; including lots more camping, visits from friends, and a trip to the Northwest Territories which will take us up to 11 of 13 Provinces and Territories.  Maybe we'll squeeze in the last two before we go!

If you can think of anything else that should be on our 'bucket list' before we go, drop us a line in the comments.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Southern Gulf Islands

We spent a lot of last Summer backcountry camping in the Southern Gulf Islands, and we're hoping to do a lot more this season.  

Just a boat ride away from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the Southern Gulf islands contain some beautiful campsites; they're managed by Parks Canada, as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, or as Provincial Reserves by BC Parks.  Each island and campsite is very different, so we haven't ranked them in any particular order, but this is what we think are the best backcountry campgrounds (of the ones we've explored so far!) in the Southern Gulf Islands to inspire your next trip. 

Top 5 Southern Gulf Islands Backcountry Campsites

1. Sidney Island

Sidney Spit campground is technically a frontcountry campsite according to Parks Canada, however it can only be accessed by boat and has no fresh water, so it definitely feels like a backcountry site to us!

View of Mount Baker from Sidney Spit

Getting There

Despite the backcountry feel, Sidney Spit is actually one of the easiest campgrounds in the Southern Gulf Islands to access.  It's only about 2.5 nautical miles from the boat launch in Sidney on Vancouver Island; so easily manageable in a small motor boat, or even by kayak.  If you don't have your own boat you can also get to the island as a foot passenger on the Sidney Spit Ferry from Port Sidney Marina (bookings are recommended).

It's about a 20 minute walk from the ferry landing / boat mooring pontoons, but there are wheelbarrows available for your kit.  If you're taking your own boat / kayak you can actually land on the beach near the campsites, just make sure you stay out of the lagoon, which is a protected nature reserve with no access (even non-motorised).

Sidney Island Lagoon at Sunset

The Campsites

There are 29 individual campsites with picnic benches, and one group camping area.  There is a covered picnic / BBQ area with food caches, and two pit toilet facilities.   There is no potable water. Booking is highly recommended through the Parks Canada website.

Why we love it

Sidney Spit is a great intro to boat camping, it's so close to Sidney that if you forget something you can just nip back over!  There are two great sandy beaches, one beside the campground and the other on the spit.  It is one of the larger sites we're recommending, so doesn't have the full remote feeling, but is much quieter once the last ferry leaves.  The lagoon beside the campground is full of wildlife; we saw a huge family of otters swimming right by our campsite, as well as a group of hunting harbour seals breaching out of the water, and literally hundreds of sea birds.  From Sidney Island you can also explore some of the further away Gulf Islands.  The Penders (North and South) are some of our favourites, the pub at Port Browning Marina and travelling up the Pender Canal are definitely worth the trip.  We've seen Humpbacks or Orca from the boat every time we've been out to Pender!  

Boys playing beach volleyball at Sidney Spit

2. Saturna Island

Our favourite campsite on Saturna Island is at Narvaez Bay, it's a sheltered cove protected by the East Point peninsula on the south eastern coast of Saturna.

Stryker inflatable boat moored at Narvaez Bay, Saturna, BC

Getting There

Saturna was one of our longest boat trips last summer at around 15 nautical miles from our preferred boat launch at Sidney. There are no moorings or pontoon at Narvaez, but the bay is very sheltered and we just left the boat on the beach overnight, tied to a big tree!

If you don't have access to a boat, you can also get to Saturna Island with BC Ferries from Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island or Tswassen on the mainland (as well as from some of the other Gulf Islands). If you're coming this way it's 1.7km each way from the parking area.  A few other campers had hiked or biked in to the campground while we were there.

The Campsites

There are only 7 campsites at Narvaez Bay campground, so get in quick with your bookings through Parks Canada.  Nestled under the trees, most have lovely views over the bay.  There are pit toilets, but no potable water.

Tent at Narvaez Bay Campsite, Saturna, BC

Why we love it

East Point on Saturna is a well known spot for whale watching, and last time we headed out to Narvaez Bay we were treated to an amazing display of aerial acrobatics by a large pod of Orca.  The sheltered cove is the perfect place to leave the boat overnight.  Narvaez has that great backcountry remote feel due to it's small size, but it is a longer trip in the boat to get there!

Humpback Whale Tail of Pender Island, BC

3. Princess Margaret (Portland) Island

Our preferred spot on Portland Island is the Shell Beach campground.  All of the Campsites on Portland are first come first served, so if you can't get in to Shell Beach, there are two more options around the island; Arbutus Point and Princess Bay.

Boat moored at Shell Beach, Princess Margaret Portland Island BC

Getting There

Portland Island is only accessible on your own boat / kayak or by private marine charter. Shell Beach is about 5 nautical miles from the Sidney boat launch. 
Again there are no mooring facilities, but we just beached the boat.  There can be a fair bit of swell in the bay, mostly from the passing BC Ferries, so make sure you are anchored well or firmly beached.

The Campsites

There are 6 campsites at Shell Beach, 12 at Princess Bay and 6 at Arbutus Point.  There are pit toilets, picnic benches, and food caches, but no potable water.  There are better mooring facilities at the other campgrounds, but we preferred the location of Shell Beach.

Tent at Shell Beach campsite, Princess Margaret Portland Island

Why we love it

Shell Beach is a beautiful, quiet, spot with great views from each site, but it's relatively close to Sidney, so still pretty easy to get to.  From Portland you can easily nip over to Salt Spring Island for a day trip.  Last time we visited, we took some of our friends who free dive and they hand caught us a delicious collection of crabs, oysters and scallops which we cooked up on the beach; it doesn't get fresher than that!

Fresh crabs and oysters on at Shell Beach

4. Newcastle (Saysutshun) Island

Saysutshun Island, previously known as Newcastle Island is a BC Provincial Park just off Nanaimo.

View from Newcastle Saysutshun Island Campsite

Getting There

Saysutshun is another easily accessible Gulf Island, it's only about 1.5 nautical miles from the Brechin Boat Ramp in Nanaimo, and almost the whole trip is down the sheltered channel between Nanaimo and Saysutshun.  There is a small boat pontoon and mooring buoys in the bay.  From there it's a 5-15 minute walk to the campsites, depending which site you choose.  There are wheelbarrows available to help with your kit.  At high tide you can also get through the channel between Newcastle and Protection Islands (if you have a shallow enough draught!), and get closer to the more peaceful campsites at the far end of the campground.

There is also a foot passenger ferry service every half hour from Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo. 

The Campsites

There are 18 individual campsites and 5 large group campsites.  There are pit toilets, and some flush toilets, food caches, covered BBQ / picnic areas, a small shop and even hot showers!  Reservations are through the BC Parks Camping website.

Newcastle Island Campsite

Why we love it

Saysutshun is easy access to from Nanaimo so can be fairly busy during the day, but feels completely different once the last ferry has gone.  It's a short trip from here to the stunning curved sandstone cliffs of Malaspina Galleries on Gabriola Island, or you can even nip into Nanaimo Harbour if you fancy it.  Neighbouring Protection Island is home to a floating bar and restaurant called the Dinghy Dock Pub, it's great fun to boat over there for lunch and a cold beer!

Stryker boat at Dinghy Dock Pub

5. Discovery Island

Discovery Island Marine Park, just off Oak Bay, is managed by BC Provincial Parks.  Half of the island makes up the park, with the other half being a First Nations Reserve.

Migratory geese over Discovery Island

Getting There

Discovery Island is easily accessed from the Cattle Point Boat Launch in Oak Bay.  It's about a 2.5 nautical mile trip each way, but is relatively sheltered by the islands which make up the Oak Bay Islands Ecological Reserve. 

The Campsites  

There's just one camping area on Discovery, and no marked pitches, it's basically open field camping within the designated area, so you are free to choose your pitch.  There are pit toilets and food caches, but no potable water.  Camping is first come first serve, but you can purchase your permit in advance through BC Parks.

Discovery Island Campsite

Why we love it

Discovery Island was the first place we boat camped, so holds a special place in our hearts.  When we camped there last, we were the only visitors and had the whole island to ourselves, admittedly it was only March and dropped to almost freezing over night!  Discovery Island is easy to access from Oak Bay, and the freestyle camping field means you can choose where you want to camp, having a view of the ocean from the tent door is really special.

Stryker boat at Discovery Island

Top Tips for the Gulf Islands

  • The weather can change quickly, check the forecast and be prepared for all eventualities.
  • Make sure you have the necessary safety and navigation equipment onboard.
  • Take a good supply of freshwater.
  • File a trip plan with a friend or relative.
  • Practice leave no trace principles, pack out what you pack in.
  • Keep a good look out for whales!

Backcountry Camping Gear

Check out the Gear Page for more details on the gear we use and recommend for backcountry camping, including our Stryker inflatable boat.

Other Gulf Islands

While you are here check out our posts on GalianoPender and Denman and Hornby.

Friday 10 February 2023

Ski Trip Packing List

We're heading off to Whistler shortly for Struan's birthday; what else would a soon to be 9 year old want to do for their birthday!

I've just been gathering all of our ski gear together for the trip, and packing it all up, so thought now would be a good time to put together a packing list.  Nothing worse than getting to the ski hill or resort and realising you've left something essential behind.

What do I Need to Pack?

Ski Gear Packing LayoutKids Ski Gear Packing Layout

Ski Equipment

Lift Pass!

Skis *

Ski Boots * - be sure to get well fitted boots, they won't feel comfortable as such but shouldn't hurt, as the boys say they are 'ski boot comfy'. Badly fitted boots won't only ruin your day they can cause injury so spend time with your shop or hire store to be sure you have the right fit. We have also had Struan's boots heat fitted as his feet have grown and slightly changed size, but not enough for a new pair of boots so if your older boots start to pinch it is definitely worth doing. It didn't even cost us anything!

Poles *

If you are travelling by air, or new to skiing you may want to rent this equipment at the resort.

Helmet - many resorts now (quite rightly) insist on helmets for kids, but with Sarah and I having a couple of accidents over the years, I think you'd be mad not to wear a properly fitting ski helmet.  The picture below was taken shortly after an accident while wearing a helmet, it could have been so much worse without one.

Black eye ski injury

Goggles - a well fitted pair of goggles makes a huge difference, skiing blind is not fun! Sarah struggles with goggles and opted for a helmet with a built-in visor but this proved problematic in very rainy or snowy conditions when the inside got wet. We are yet to hit on the ideal goggles for Sarah but if we find that elusive beast we will be sure to let you know!

Backpack - not essential, but really handy for carrying extra layers, snacks for the kids, water etc.  I'd recommend a waterproof bag if possible - we really like our Seal Line Skylake Dry Backpack (and not just for skiing).

Ski Clothing

Ski socks - a decent pair of ski socks won't wrinkle up in your boots, and will keep your feet warm and comfortable.  Avoid cotton!

Base layers - thermal base layers are one of the most important items of ski clothing.  We're massive fans of merino wool for base layers; they're warm, comfortable, and naturally odour resistant!  Icebreaker make a great range of thermals in various weights, and I'm a massive fan of my new BN3TH full length merino bottoms. (Use the link above for $15 off your first purchase.)

Mid layer - depending on where and when you are skiing, and the weather on the day, you may need more or less mid-layers.  Quite often Innes and I don't bother with a mid layer, but Struan and Sarah almost always do.  An extra thermal, fleece or hoodie, will work just fine.  Like most outdoor activities, layering is key; so that you can add or remove layers as necessary.  This is where that backpack comes in handy!

Outer Layers - Ski pants (trousers) / Salopettes / Bibs and a Ski Jacket; waterproof and breathable are the keys here.  Outer layers designed for skiing also tend to be insulated for extra warmth.  We're big Spyder fans, and although they're pretty pricey, they are really well made and long lasting.  Their kid's range even has a 'grow with me' feature, which allows the cuffs and hems to be dropped as the kids grow.

Neck Warmer / Scarf / Buff - these contribute a lot more to keeping you warm than you would think; keeping the cold air from getting down your neck and also stopping snow from entering your jacket if you do take a head plant!  We tend to use thinner Buffs on most days (which you can use in loads of different ways) and a thicker balaclava type when it's really cold.

Gloves - I recommend two pairs of gloves, a thin inner pair for warmth and a waterproof outerlayer.


There a few other bits and bobs that aren't essential, but can make life easier (or more fun), so we think they're worth adding to your ski trip packing list.

RUX - we love our RUXs, they're perfect for carrying all of this kit!

Go Pro - if you don't have video for your favourite social site did your ski trip even happen?

Radios - we find our Rocky Talkies to be invaluable for keeping in touch on the mountain without digging around in your pockets for your phone.  We generally give one to Struan, so when he bombs off without us we can find him again!

Re-usable Water Bottle - we're all about reducing unnecessary plastic waste and if you've read any of our other posts, you'll know it has to be Yeti!

Flask - the boys love a hot chocolate to warm up, but often they come in giant servings, pop any left overs in the Yeti for later!  Also handy for your morning coffee fix while waiting in the ski lift queue.

Toe / Hand Warmers - sometimes these are necessary, especially if you are 'skiing the East', like we used to when we lived in Ottawa.

Carry Straps - the boys got these straps for Christmas from Sarah's cousin, you wouldn't believe the number of arguments they have saved about the boys carrying their own skis.  Highly recommended, in fact i'm not sure why we don't have them too!

Kids with Sklon ski carry straps

GoggleSoc - ski goggles can be expensive, protect your lenses from scratches with these great covers made from recycled bottles.  They also look cool.

Apres Ski

Canadian ski resorts are pretty relaxed, so you don't need much in the way of special clothing, you may just stay in your ski gear!  There are a few items worth adding to the list though.

Snow Boots - you probably won't want to wear your ski boots all day, so a warm pair of boots are great for heading down to the local bar or restaurant.

Toque (Hat) - a warm hat is handy for the evenings, although you can just re-purpose your Buff.

Sun Glasses (and Sunny Soc) - if you're partaking in some lunchtime or early afternoon apres, you may not want to wear your googles, but it can be bright on those patios!

Swim shorts / suit - if you're lucky enough to have a pool or hot tub for some apres ski relaxing.

Printable Ski Trip Packing List

If you'd like to print off the packing list, you can download a copy here.

Thursday 2 February 2023

Whitehorse and Dawson City, YT

We're very excited to have just started planning a trip to the Yukon and Northwest Territories, after all it is February so time to start planning Summer adventures.  All this planning reminded me that we hadn't written up our trip to the Yukon in March 2022, so here goes!

(By the way, talking about planning for Summer adventures; BC Parks are now taking camping reservations four months out, which means you can now book out to the start of June.  If you need some suggestions of parks on Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands check out our previous post.)

While most Canadians were travelling off to warmer climates for a break from the winter weather, us crazy Brits decided to spend March break in the Yukon, and it was amazing!

Yukon, previously known as Yukon Territory and more commonly known as 'the' Yukon, is the most westerly of the three Canadian territories and is also the smallest.

Getting There

We flew into the territorial capital, Whitehorse, from Victoria with Air North.  They fly a triangle route between Victoria, Vancouver and Whitehorse, briefly stopping in Vancouver on the way north.  Air North is a great small airline, with friendly staff, great customer service, and the best warm cookies on the flight!

Things to Do in Whitehorse

You really need a vehicle to get around the Yukon, so we picked up a rental at the airport and headed into Whitehorse for a night in the Best Western Gold Rush Inn.  The hotel was centrally located downtown, and let us explore the city and get our first close up view of the frozen solid Yukon River. 

Frozen Yukon River, Whitehorse

We had a great meal in the Miner's Daughter restaurant, which is attached to a lively bar known as the Dirty Northern. 

 The Woodcutter's Blanket is a cool micro brewery / bar / restaurant which is also worth a visit.

The next day, after a quick detour to Yukon Brewing for some essential supplies (beer, gin, and what has turned out to be Sarah's most worn hoodie!), we picked up some groceries and headed up to Sky High Wilderness Ranch.  

This adventure tourism business has been in operation for over 40 years, and was one of the highlights of our trip.  The ranch is only about 15 minutes drive from Whitehorse, but feels like it is in the middle of nowhere, and has amazing views over Fish Lake.  We spent three nights in the Aurora Cabin.  

The cabin sits alone on the ranch away from other guests so is very private and looks right down the length of the lake.  It is off-grid, so no electricity or running water, but the ranch provides plenty of fresh water in drums which you can heat on the woodstove and it has gas lights.  Bring a charging block if you need to charge up your devices, or just embrace the lack of connectivity.  Obviously there is no fridge or freezer, but they do provide a cooler which you can leave out on the deck to keep your food fresh, and icicles seemed like an appropriate addition to the Yukon Gin and tonic!  

The cabin has its own private wood fired sauna, with a huge picture window sharing the same panoramic views of the lake.  Unfortunately we didn't catch the elusive Aurora Borealis during our trip!  There is also a shower cubicle out in the sauna, and they provide a solar shower bag which you can hang in the sauna to warm up or fill from the pot on the woodstove in the cabin, so despite being off-grid you can still have a nice warm shower.

Dog Sledding in the Yukon

On our second day at the cabin we finally achieved one of our Canadian bucket list items with a dog-sledding trip.  One of the owners of Sky High is a veteran of the infamous Yukon Quest sledding race, and they have a great collection of friendly dogs who are clearly well looked after, some of the retired dogs may even come and visit you at the cabin!  

We did the 'Husky Rush' trip, which included some time meeting the dogs and learning about their care, before heading out onto Fish Lake for the sled trip.  Racing across the frozen lake is a surprisingly peaceful experience, the dogs really calm down when they are pulling, so all you hear is the swoosh of the sled rails over the snow and the occasional command from the experienced guide.  After the sled trip, we fed the dogs and headed up to the fire pit for hot chocolate, delicious local 'smokies'  (sort of like hotdogs but made from bison), s'mores, and a talk about the history of mushing.  It was a great experience and is highly recommended.

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

The next day we took a trip out to Yukon Wildlife Preserve.  The preserve has 12 Yukon species, including Bison, Musk Ox, Elk and Lynx, in over 350 acres of natural habitats, and is only a 30 minute drive from Whitehorse on Takhini Hot Springs Road (sadly the Hot Springs were closed for renovations while we were there).  

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

You can take a guided tour of the park in a minibus or walk around the 5km loop on foot, but the best way is definitely on the kick sleds if you are there in winter.

The Klondike Highway

Dragging ourselves away from Sky High was a challenge, but we had more of the Yukon to explore.  The following day we set off on the next leg of our trip, driving the 6 hours or so along the Klondike Highway 530km north to Dawson City.  The Klondike Highway is paved and was well maintained with only a few patches of ice/snow on the route.  It's worth stopping at Braeburn Lodge to pick up one of their famous (and ginormous) cinnamon buns; the lodge is also a checkpoint on the Yukon Quest.  

About 20kms north of Carmacks is the Five Finger Rapids viewpoint.  The rapids are mentioned in Jack London's 'Call of the Wild' and were one of the most dangerous sections of the Yukon River journey undertaken by gold prospectors during the Klondike Rush.  There are a series of steps down to the river, but these were not accessible in winter.

Things to Do in Dawson City

Arriving in Dawson is like arriving on the set of a Western movie; it looks and feels like a film set, until you realise that the buildings are real and still in active use as hotels, bars, shops, restaurants, and homes.
We stayed at the Downtown Hotel (which appears to have been taken over by Coast Hotels since we stayed).  The Downtown is famous as the home of the Sourtoe cocktail, which is served with a preserved human toe.  Unfortunately the hotel bar didn't allow children, so we missed out on that cultural experience!  In fact finding places that did allow children was pretty difficult in Dawson in the winter, but I'm sure would be better in the main tourist season. The Eldorado Hotel did allow kids, and we had a couple of nice meals in their Bonanza Dining Room. Bonton and Co was a really cool cafe/bar/eatery, with great small plates and charcuterie, which was also kid friendly.

While in Dawson you must take a drive (or hike if you're feeling fit) up to the Midnight Dome.  People have been gathering on this hilltop overlooking Dawson City to watch the midnight sun for hundreds of years.  Dome Road winds its way up the hill to almost the very top of the 887m hill, so it's a popular view point.

If you are lucky enough to be here at the right time, you can also cross the mighty Yukon river from Dawson City to West Dawson over the ice bridge, which is a cool experience.  There's not much in West Dawson, apart from a few off-grid cabins and a campsite, but it is the start of the Top of the World Highway which continues on to Alaska.  The George Black ferry runs a similar route once 'break-up' is over.

It's also worth a trip out to Dredge No4; a well preserved example of the mining dredges which used to ply the Yukon River in search of gold.  It was closed when we visited, so we couldn't get onboard, but was still worth the short drive up the mining road.

Dredge No4 in winter

Dawson City is also home to Robert Service and Jack London's cabins, and both are worth a visit.  Robert Service was a British immigrant to Canada; a banker by trade, he spent large periods of his life travelling Canada writing poetry and became known as the 'Bard of the Yukon' because of his poems inspired by the Klondike Goldrush.  The American author Jack London actually lived about 120kms south of Dawson, but his cabin was reconstructed here using some of the original timbers.

After two nights in Dawson, which felt like enough in the off season, we headed back down the Klondike Highway to Whitehorse.  

Our final night in the Yukon was spent in the Moose Cabin at Caribou RV Park, a cozy cabin which makes a great last stop due its proximity to the airport.  They also provide a lovely hamper of Yukon goods, on request, which we actually picked up early and took up to Sky High.

The Spell of the Yukon

We were definitely taken in by the 'Spell of the Yukon', and can't wait to go back this summer.