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Kid-friendly things to do in Canada’s national parks

Kids hiking

Kids and nature—it’s a classic combination, but sometimes a perilous one. Because while kids love being out in the wilderness as much as the rest of us, they don’t always have the same sense of caution or restraint that adults do (if your kid tells you they want to ride a buffalo, don’t assume they won’t try it).

Fortunately, there are lots of fun ways to get outside and check out Canada’s parks with kids without having to worry about them getting hurt or bored (though we can’t guarantee they won’t get dirty). While kids may not be up for arduous hikes or steering the boat on your next canoe trip, there are plenty of outdoor activities they will enjoy. Since Canadians can get into national parks free in 2017, families will have more motivation than ever to find kid-friendly activities. Here are a few things you can do at Canada’s national parks that are fun for kids and adults alike.

Have a picnic

Kids may not be able to go on lengthy hikes or carry a canoe, but sitting on a blanket and chowing down? That’s something we’re pretty sure they can handle. Just being in natural surroundings makes everyday activities, like eating, feel exciting and new. So grab an old blanket, pack your picnic basket, and find a park with some grassy fields and rolling hills. Your kids will appreciate the chance to get away from the kitchen table.

Use the Parks Canada Xplorers program

Canada’s National Parks have their own way of helping to get kids engaged with the outdoors: the Xplorers program. At participating parks, kids age 6 to 11 can get a booklet full of activities that will help them engage with their surroundings. These activity books teach kids a bit about the history and biodiversity that surrounds them and also helps direct their attention and keeping outdoor time activity-focused. For a list of participating parks, check the Xplorers Program website.

Go whitewater rafting

If you think having kids with you limits you to dull, unchallenging activities, you’ll be happy to learn that whitewater rafting is extremely popular among kids. You can’t go rafting with tiny children, but many rafting companies let kids over 6 (or who weigh over 50 pounds) join for the ride. Rivers are awesome forces of nature, like naturally occurring roller coasters—so if you have a kid who’d rather go to an amusement park than a wilderness park, a whitewater rafting trip might just change their mind.

Check out a wildlife sanctuary

Wildlife sanctuaries are a great alternative zoos, which are often expensive and not the best place for animals. At sanctuaries, injured or endangered animals are protected and/or rehabilitated, and often members of the public are able to visit. As a general rule, kids love animals, and they tend to love the idea of nurturing injured animals back to health even more. So if you have a young animal lover in your family, bring them out to a wildlife sanctuary—you’re almost guaranteed to come home with an aspiring biologist or vet.

Hit the beach

Many national parks contain beaches, whether they’re intimate stretches along a lake or endless coastlines on the ocean. Prince Edward Island National Park is home to a huge expanse of sandy beach, perfect for building sandcastles, wading, and exploring. It’s also a great place for adults to get deep into a beach read while kids are busy with their pails and shovels.

Find hot springs

Ok, there aren’t hot springs in every national park, but if you live near a park that does have them, you need to get your kids there immediately. Hot springs combine all kinds of kid-friendly elements: weird science, swimming, and nature’s equivalent to hot tubs. The novelty factor of hot springs will keep your kids entertained, and the hot water will keep you relaxed—a perfect combo.

Have a campfire

Building a campfire is always a hit with kids. From beginning to end, it offers fun opportunities, from gathering kindling to telling stories to roasting the perfect marshmallow. It’s also a good chance to teach about fire safety, so make sure there aren’t any fire restrictions before you light up, and make sure to squelch the flames thoroughly before you leave.

Go mountain biking

If you’ve taught your kids to ride a bike, the next logical step is to teach them to ride a bike down the side of a mountain! Or if that’s too extreme, you can always check out some flat trails, which Canada’s national parks also have in abundance. Taking kids mountain biking is a good way to get them more comfortable on two wheels, and it’s bound to keep them more entertained than walking. Who knows? You might even ignite a lifelong mountain-biking passion.