Deciding where to go with your kids in Canada can be a daunting decision. Mountains, prairies, beaches and easy-going cities are strewn across six time zones. Between wildlife sightings, cowboy encounters, hands-on pirate history, hunting for dinosaur fossils and ice-skating on mountain lakes, it's impossible to make a bad choice.
Sandwiched between sea and mountains, build a sandcastle one day and go snowboarding the next while enjoying the comforts of the city.
Hike, ski, camp or snowshoe while looking out for moose, bear, elk and whistling marmot.
Get a taste of Québecois bonheur in the historic streets, year-round ice-skating, inner-city beach and the Biôdome full of critters.
Climb a lighthouse, sail on a pirate ship, whale-watch and beach hop in summer; see the trees turn red, orange and gold in fall.
Chase through parks in summer, ice-skate in winter and don't forget to visit Niagara Falls!
As if seeing moose, eagles and whales or running around in the snow, on the beach or in the woods all day isn't fun enough, everywhere you turn, those crafty Canadians have cooked up some hands-on learning experience, living history lesson or child-oriented theater.
Most large Canadian cities have science museums that specialize in hands-on activities, while at historic sites strewn across the country costumed thespians get you right into the period and often have demonstrations of everything from blacksmithing to cooking. At some of these places there are also puppet or theatrical performances for children and other events such as hayrides. Teens usually enjoy these sites as well since they are often large and diverse enough for self-exploration and touch on subjects they've studied at school.
Canada is all about open spaces, fresh air, rivers, lakes and mountains, snow, sand and wildlife.
Everywhere you turn in Canada you'll find fast food and fried fare. If you're health conscious, a hurdle can be finding more wholesome options in small towns; however, you can usually find at least one cafe with sandwiches and wraps or you can self-cater. Fortunately, there are plenty of cabin and family suite–style options that allow you to cook for yourself, and some B&Bs will also let you cook. In cities, every restaurant option is available from vegan to steakhouses.
Easy-to-find Canadian foods your kids will love if you let them include poutine (French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese), fish and chips, Montréal-style bagels (wood-fired, dense and slightly sweet), pancakes or French toast with maple syrup, bear-claw doughnuts, butter tarts, and Nanaimo bars (crumb crust topped with custard and then melted chocolate). You may all gain a few kilos on this trip!
Most Canadian restaurants offer booster seats and child-friendly servers as soon as you steer your progeny through the door. However, families with even the most well-behaved children may not feel comfortable at fine-dining establishments.
Traveling around Canada with the tots can be child's play. Lonely Planet's Travel with Children offers a wealth of tips and tricks. The website Travel For Kids (www.travelforkids.com) is another good, general resource.
Children who are traveling to Canada without both parents need authorization from the nonaccompanying parent. Sometimes this is enforced and other times not but to play it safe you're better off with a notarized letter. Divorced parents should carry copies of legal custody documents.
Festivals fill Canadian calendars year-round and most are very family-oriented. Summer is the most festival-heavy time, with lots of outdoor get-togethers from jazz festivals to rodeos. Fall is a lovely time to visit Canada if you can arrange it around your children's school schedule. At this time the trees are changing colors, daytime temperatures are still manageably warm and most of the crowds have gone.
The best time for fresh snow and snow sports is January to April. Santa Claus parades usually kick off the holiday season in November and early December. Around the same time or just after, come the festivals of light where you can expect fireworks, parades and Christmas tree lightings.
Hotels and motels commonly have rooms with two double beds. Even those that don't have enough beds may bring in rollaways or cots, usually for a small extra charge. Some properties offer 'kids stay free' promotions, while others (particularly B&Bs) may not accept children. Ask when booking.
Another good option are cabins, which are usually rented out by the week and come with kitchens, any number of bedrooms, and other perks like barbecues. You can find full listings with each province's visitors guides online and in print (order them for free at each province's tourism website).
Camping is huge in Canada and many campgrounds also offer rustic cabins (bring your own bedding) that sometimes have kitchens, fire pits or barbecues. Some grounds offer exotic options like tipis or yurts, while others have swimming pools, minigolf or might be on a lake. Bring bug spray.
Canada is very family friendly so anything you forget can probably be purchased in-country. Breastfeeding in public is legal and tolerated, although most women are discreet about it. Most facilities can accommodate a child's needs; public toilets usually have diaper-changing tables.
What you will need is layered clothing for everyone, as it can get spontaneously cool even during the summer months. Sunscreen is a must – you'd be surprised how much you can burn on the greyest of days – as are rain gear and bug spray. It's also a good idea to bring activities for lengthy car rides since getting anywhere in Canada can involve very long distances.
Vancouver's outside action Capilano Suspension Bridge, Stanley Park
Ottawa's museum mission Canada Agricultural Museum, Museum of Nature, Science & Technology Museum, Museum of Civilization
Toronto's heights & depths CN Tower to the subterranean corridors connecting downtown
Montréal's culture infusion Old Montréal, Little Italy
Halifax's pirates & the Titanic Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Titanic graveyards
Moose Nearly everywhere but especially Algonquin National Park (Eastern Ontario), Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland) and Kananaskis (Alberta)
Polar Bears Churchill (Manitoba)
Whales & Orcas Vancouver Islands (British Columbia), Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick & Nova Scotia), Newfoundland
Bald Eagles Brackendale (British Columbia), southern Vancouver Island (British Columbia) and Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia)
Canada's Wonderland (www.canadaswonderland.com) Amusement and water park, Toronto
Galaxy Land (www.galaxyland.com) World's largest indoor amusement park, Edmonton
La Ronde (www.laronde.com) Amusement park, Montréal
Calaway Park (www.calawaypark.com) Amusement park and campground, Calgary
Playland (www.pne.ca/playland) Oldest amusement park in Canada, Vancouver
Beaches Prince Edward Island and British Columbia
Surfing Lawrencetown Beach (Nova Scotia), Tofino (British Columbia)
Kayaking Salt Spring (British Columbia), Georgian Bay (Ontario),
Canoeing Algonquin National Park (Ontario), Bowron Lakes (British Columbia), Kejimkujik National Park (Nova Scotia)
Fishing Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (lobster), Point Prim, Prince Edward Island (clams), Northern Saskatchewan (freshwater fish), Maritime Provinces (deep-sea fish)
Winter Carnivals Québec City Winter Carnival, Cavalcade of Lights (Toronto), Vancouver Festival of Lights
Ice-Skating Rideau Canal (Ottawa), Lake Louise (Alberta), Harbourfront Centre (Toronto), Lac des Castors (Montréal)
Skiing, Snowboarding & Sledding Whistler-Blackcomb (British Columbia), Norquay (Banff), Mont-Ste-Anne (Québec)
Dogsledding Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), Iqaluit (Nunavut)
Dinosaurs Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller (Alberta)
Aboriginal Peoples Haida Gwaii (British Columbia), Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump World Heritage site (Alberta), Aboriginal Experiences (Ottawa), Wanuskewin Heritage Park (Saskatchewan)
European Colonization L'Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland), Louisbourg National Historic Site (Nova Scotia), Fort William Historical Park (Ontario), Fort Edmonton (Alberta)