Hiking for Kids in North Vancouver

This year, we are trying to include more fitness-oriented outdoor activities into our days. With such a mild Spring, we’ve had our fair share of park, and even beach, time and I feel that it’s important to integrate positive outdoor fitness and nature appreciation into our lives. In years past, Aiden was prone to whining about the process, but Damien has always loved to walk, and so this year is the first year it has been a joy – no need to carry or deal with lots of whining. 

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We are extremely lucky to live in North Vancouver, where there is easy access to mountains and rivers and beaches and an endless number of hikes both long and short.

Tips for Hiking with Kids

When it comes to little feet, I have discovered that it’s important that a hike have one of two things: a destination that is exciting and/or a picnic at the destination. Kids need fuel and they need motivation, and for us those two have been key to getting little legs moving. 

Other tips for hiking with kids include going with other young legs, so they can play, or playing games like “I Spy” or a Scavenger Hunt or taking the time to go at their pace to explore the sensory experience of hiking. Some other great game ideas are here.

Top Hikes for Kids in North Vancouver

Lynn Canyon

This has been our go-to hike this Spring. Lynn Canyon is extremely family-friendly, with the by-donation ecology centre offering education and play, a coffee shop, washrooms and a free suspension bridge. Though the location offers parking challenges on the weekend, during the week it makes for a great excursion. Once you cross the bridge, there are two main directions to go. 

If you take the Thirty Foot Pool Trail, you can do a loop or hike to the pool and back (which is what we usually do). The kids love spending time wading in the water, throwing rocks, and playing with other kids who come to adventure here. Bring a spare set of shorts and take off the shoes, if you want to avoid whining!

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If you go to the Twin Falls Loop, you’ll get to a nice viewpoint of the waterfall, though you will hit a long stretch of stairs afterward. Both our kids managed ok, and it was nice to have the loop, but they prefer the Thirty Foot Pool Trail.

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Rice Lake

Rice Lake is a very easy hike for new hikers, a simple circuit around a small lake. The “destination” here is a dock where you could go fishing or have a small picnic. This hike is great with a mom’s group, as the paths are quite wide and can fit strollers quite easily. We made the mistake of taking Aiden here when he was younger without a “destination” in mind and it was a bit of a nightmare. Oops. 

Varley Trail

Varley Trail is a scenic route into Lynn Headwaters Park and runs alongside Lynn Creek. If you park at one of the “farther” lots or along the street, you can head down toward the creek and walk along the bridges and paths toward the main entrance to Lynn Headwaters Park, where the trails technically “begin.” We typically go a short distance on the “actual” trails, going over the bridge and heading off toward Norvan Falls, but other times we end up just hanging out at the creek throwing rocks. And that’s ok too!

Cates Park 

Cates Park, aside from being home to two playgrounds (Big Cates and Little Cates), is home to 6km of trails. I have many memories of walking and biking these trails as a kid, but have yet to walk them with my kids. Usually it’s hard to distract them from the first playground ;)

The hikes are flat and easy to traverse and the bonus is a playground / beach at either end.

Also of Note: Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver

Mirroring the thoughts of Bianca guest posting over at North Shore Mama, I would also highlight Lighthouse Park, though it is in West Vancouver. This park is so child-friendly that it has been a staple of our hiking experience: a great destination, a picnic on the beach, a not-too-difficult trail, washrooms and a nature centre really make it a worthwhile trip for the whole family. 

Next on our list is Quarry rock in Deep Cove, a hike that takes about an hour. I think Aiden may like it this year?

Five Favourite North Vancouver Playgrounds

Inspired by VancouverMom’s list of the Five Favourite Vancouver Playgrounds, which kicks off summer with some great playground options with some of the ‘top’ favourites (4 of which we have also tried!), I wanted to share with you my favourite North Vancouver Playgrounds. These playgrounds are not necessarily the most well known, but I consider them to be the best all-around playgrounds. 

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The Best North Vancouver Parks & Playgrounds 

St. Andrews Park

This is hands-down the best playground in North Vancouver *for younger kids*, age 0-5. The fully-fenced park offers parents a bit more security about kids who like to run away (yes, I have one of those!), while offering a variety of play areas for young children: two sand areas, a younger play structure, a 4-7 play structure, a gravel area, and two swing areas. In the summer, there is a small water feature. The whole park has a perimeter path, perfect for push toys. Many families leave sand toys or push toys for play, though they sometimes end up broken. This is a busy park, popular for picnics in the summer too. Read about St. Andrews Park here.

This is my personal favourite in North Vancouver, though it is hard to find. The toddler section really was perfect for crawling/toddling babies, with lots of options and appropriate heights. The larger play structure offers challenges to older kids, and they truly love to chase each other around the structure. It was well designed. The large grassy area makes the park appealing for picnics. The only major drawback: no bathroom facility of any kind. Read more about Digger Park here.Digger Park 

Heywood Park

This park is fairly new, bordering a calm river near Capilano Mall. The main attraction of this park is the zip line, which thankfully was rebuilt this Spring to be lower / safer, perfectly appropriate for age 3+. It’s a popular spot for the older kids too. There are two play structures, large and small, with lots of wooded open-ended structures and a sand pit. Of course, the stream holds its own appeal. Read more about Heywood Park here.

Cates Park

Cates Park is hugely popular in the Summer, with many events going on, so parking can be an issue on weekends. With large grassy areas, a somewhat sandy beach, good washrooms and a concession, it offers more than just a good playground. There are many play structure options, though the largest play structure has been in need of a major repair for a few months. Read more about Cates Park here.

Carisbrooke Park 

This playground is also unknown to many, but offers the nostalgic charm of a merry-go-round, something I haven’t seen at any other local park. Paired with this is a huge play structure that connects the younger-structure to the larger one, offering a lot of possibilities for climbing and chasing. The park has a big hill that kids love to run / roll on, some nice shady areas for picnics, and some bushes for fort building, which my eldest just recently discovered. No washroom. Read more about Carisbrooke Park here.

For more North Vancouver Park & Playground reviews, check out my past posts. I make a point of reviewing several new parks every year, so if you think I’ve missed a gem, drop a comment!

Did you know North Vancouver has 5 water parks? Stay tuned for a review of all 5 next week.

Outdoor Toy Storage: My Solution

My friends and family know that I can’t handle clutter in certain areas of my life, particularly with toys. Our living room uses a combination of existing cabinet space in our tv unit as well as two cube shelving units with removable bins. Our original configuration had just one unit, but we’ve since turned the unit upright and purchased a second one. Toys have a way of multiplying as kids get older! ;)

As our collection of outdoor toys grew, they became more unsightly and unruly. We had a big tupperware bin to store them in, but it was always impossible to find the “right” kind of ball for the sport Aiden wanted to play. I spent several months measuring our outdoor space and trying to find a storage unit that would accommodate the bin-based organizing that works for our family while also standing up to the elements. Harder than you’d think!

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Although there are a couple of cube-based storage solutions in wood available online, they only came in very restricted sizes and we worried that they wouldn’t stand up to the rain in Vancouver, even if they were partially covered. Most garden sheds, we found, are quite large and difficult to customize with shelves (in fact, most don’t come with shelves at all). 

We opted for the Rubbermaid Vertical Garden Shed that, while quite narrow in depth, still offered a large volume of storage space. The shed came with two wire shelves (must be a new addition, since it’s not on the manufacturer’s website) and a template to cut up to 2 more shelves. With 4 shelves installed, I went to a few different dollar stores to find bins that were the right size and really lucked out with tall bins in co-ordinating colours. I was able to split the toys into 7 of these bins, while keeping the taller toys stacked to the front of the shelves. I have a larger bin of balls at low level for easy access, along with some s-hooks to store things like our sprinkler. I just had to make labels as well. 

Our back patio looks so much better with these toys tucked away. I’d like to say that’s all the toys, but we also have the bigger dump trucks, ride-ons and bikes stacked against the wall. Still, at least it’s neatly lined up now! 

Damien Loves to Swing

I feel like I have a photo album full of deliriously happy Damien just swinging away. Of course that’s not true, but we have spent a lot of time at the park yet and I am quite pleased to have something to do with Damien while Aiden is off playing! 

Damien perks up the second he sees the swing and happily kicks away and smiles while he’s in it – at least part of the time. He is a rather serious fellow still. 

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Aiden has always been quite afraid of the swing. He always tensed up with quick movements or changes in height, even as a young baby. He hated going down the stairs! Putting it all together over time, I think it has a lot to do with his inner ear and the sudden change in pressure. There was a brief time when he’d swing a little bit, but now he barely moves more than a couple of inches when he’s seated, as you can see from the photo below showing the arc of both boys:

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Butchart Gardens in Victoria

Just down the street from the Butterfly Gardens in Victoria is the famous Butchart Gardens. Though not originally on my list of things to see with Aiden, its proximity to the Butterfly Gardens made us change our minds. Additionally, I was hoping to give Aiden something ‘fun’ to do (as opposed to another ‘observation-type’ activity with a visit to the Rose Carousel.

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Despite my best intentions, Aiden was too afraid to go on the Rose Carousel (which was an extra fee). Going a whole weekend without a nap (while still normally napping), Aiden spent most of the trip in the provided strollers (nice perk!), though he did walk and explore the Japanese Gardens, up and down the twisting paths and stairs. 

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A visit to the gardens is not something to be taken lightly. It’s an expensive trip, quite outside of Victoria, though many of the tour buses make a stop there. There are many dining options – from cafeteria-style to cafe to sit-down eating – making it possible to extend your visit with kids who may not appreciate the gardens as much as you do!

The gardens does offer a Family Discovery Walk pamphlet geared to much older kids. If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to make a second pamphlet for younger kids that is more of a scavenger hunt with pictures of flowers or landmarks that they have to seek out; would be a fun way to get them involved.

See all our photos here.