Family Friendly Parksville on Vancouver Island, British Columbia
The Queen of Coquitlam ferry pushes off the terminal dock and sets sails towards the Strait of Georgia, its coordinates locked on Departure Bay. The ship’s horn blast echoes off the surrounding fjords of Howe Sound, vibrating across the village of Horseshoe Bay.
Our final destination is the seaside town of Parksville, a family friendly beach destination located on the eastern shores of central Vancouver Island.
For some, this ferry trip is a commute, a necessary form of transportation from point A to B.
But for us, it’s a 1.5 hour cruise through the Pacific Northwest, a gateway to misty temperate rainforests, fresh water lakes and endless stretches off unspoiled beaches.
Vancouver Island is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, adventure seekers and weekend escape artists. But while many flock to Victoria or the West Coast towns of Tofino and Uclulet, we’re excited to visit Parksville-Qualicum Beach, a truly West Coast destination.
Parksville offers an interesting blend of city and nature. It’s big enough to support the amenities one would expect from a town – hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, fuel stations – but small enough to maintain its roots as a quintessential Oceanside locale.
We have visited Parksville many times before, the most recent being two years ago when Nicole was pregnant with Baby B. Obviously times have changed now that he’s a full blown toddler.
Although we could have easily spent our entire time at the Tigh Na Mara seaside resort, we decided to get out and explore the family friendly side of Parksville.
Here are some of the family friendly activities found in the Parksville area.
1. Morningstar Farm
Home to Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, MooBerry Winery and plenty of cute farm animals, this was the clear winner for Baby B. Adults can enjoy samples of artisan cheeses and wine while kids can visit with the farm animals. Baby B was especially fond of petting the bunnies and baby cows.
During the summer months, check out their website to find fun events that they offer. You can do self-guided tour or pre-booked tours.
2. Coombs Old Country Market
What makes this seemingly ordinary country market so special? Well, for starters, it has goats living on its roof. Yes, you read that correctly. The market has a grass roof that is home to grazing goats. Weird – yes.
Located 6km outside Parksville, the Coombs Old Country Market is a fun place to shop for locally crafted gifts, clothing and food. The ice cream shop is hugely popular in summer months.
3. Butterfly Gardens
Located a few minutes north of Coombs, the Butterfly World and Gardens is a unique opportunity to get up-close and personal with colourful butterflies. Unfortunately we arrived just before closing and many of the butterflies had already stopped flying around. It’s best to visit during the afternoon when they are in full flight.
We learned that Baby B is not a big fan of butterflies. He pointed at them and shook his head no, with a look of fear and disgust on his face. I guess he’s a little too young for butterflies!
4. Parrot Refuge
Located one kilometer before Coombs, the parrot refuge is a fun place to witness tropical parrots. The refuge is state of the art, allowing birds to choose warmer or cooler climates, and is home to over 800 birds.
5. Paradise Adventure Park
A favourite for locals and visitors alike, the world famous Paradise Adventure Park has family fun for all ages (including the young at heart).
There are two 18 hole mini golf courses and bumper boats, along with an extensive games room. The course is really cool, complete with pirate ships, fairy tale castles and fantasy characters.
6. Visit the many Parks of Parksville
I’m not sure how Parksville got its name but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because of its many parks and beaches. Rathtrevor Beach Park (pictured above) is a popular spot to explore the sandy beach, hike through old growth forests and have a picnic by the ocean.
Englishman River Falls and Little Qualicum Falls are also popular parks, offering lush forest trails and picturesque waterfalls.
Cathedral Grove is another crowd pleaser for first time visitors to the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area. The diverse old growth forest in MacMillan Provincial Park is home to giant Douglas Fir trees that are more than 800 years old.
Make sure you visit at least one of these parks when visiting Vancouver Island.
7. Explore the underground world
Families can go deep underground and witness the incredible crystal formations and fossils found at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park, located about an hour north of Parksville.
Extreme Rappel, Ice Age Adventure and Family Cavern are a few of the guided tours offered at the park (here’s a full list). Guided tours are between 1.5 to 5 hours with prices ranging from $25 to $150 per person.
Baby B is too young for this type of adventure, so Cam did the 1.5 hour Family Cavern tour while Nicole and Baby B had a picnic by the lake.
Have you visited Parksville? What was your favourite activity?
Share your experience in the comments section below. Our readers thank you!
Disclosure – we were provided a media pass by Seasmoke PR that gave us complimentary access to attractions. Expressed opinions are entirely our own.