I consider myself a pretty good trip planner, but my primary experience with kids is either international travel to well-populated areas (think Bangkok, Paris, Normandy) or places within a couple hours of our house.
Camping-driven road trips intimidate me. There, I said it. We have two young kids who don’t love long car rides and aren’t capable of entertaining and feeding themselves the way an older child can. I worry about days with 4+ hours of driving (not including stops!), and setting up camp at the end of a long day.
That’s why every time I’ve looked into road tripping to some of the big national parks, I’ve given up and thought “maybe when the kids are older.” This never-ending pandemic is driving me to new adventures though! This summer we’re going to drive from Seattle through Idaho to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks before heading back through Spokane to get home.
I started with a Google Map (they used to call it MyMaps..) and every time I saw a random spot to visit in a Google search or blog post (like the American Field Trip’s delightful series), I threw it on the map. It didn’t need to be comprehensive, just enough to narrow down where we needed to concentrate time. I also used Oalley to test out where we could reasonably drive within 4-5 hours and then tried to look at accommodation in that area.
I waffled back and forth between driving our car and camping, staying in AirBnBs/lodges or renting an RV. We’re ending up renting a camper van through GoCamp for about 16 days and here’s why:
Food – Peter has several food allergies (corn, soy and peanuts are the biggest) that make it challenging to just stop somewhere and grab food if we’ve had a long day. We want somewhere we can make our own food, but not necessarily have to set up a full camp kitchen.
Drive length – some of our days are going to have 4-5 hour drives, plus we’ll want to stop and check out scenery along the way. I’d be okay with camping at some stops, but on those long days I want to just pull out the sleeping bags and hit the hay.
Distance from activities – these national parks are tricky. The lodges don’t typically have cooking facilities (I didn’t see any in the parks we’re visiting), but choosing an AirBnB would likely mean adding at least an hour’s commute in and out of the park every time we want to go hike.
Vehicle size – many of the campsites in the national parks have strict (and short) vehicle requirements and no hook-ups. The most famous is probably the 21′ long x 10′ high x 8′ wide requirement for Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park, but spots for large RVs are extremely limited or non-existent. As a result, we wanted something shorter to make it more likely we can (literally) fit in.
At this point, almost all our camping reservations are complete (I still need to figure out Coeur d’Alene, ID), so now I need to nail down the activities in a detailed itinerary and that’s where you come in!
If you have a blog, Instagram post or other resource that you love for the nitty gritty details of your favorite stops along our route (as seen in the header image), could you please comment here or DM me on Instagram (@suitcasesinseattle)?
We booked a last minute trip to Vancouver for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend this year and it was just the perfect little January break. We debated spending only one evening there, but I’m so glad we made it two. Here are some of the details if you’re looking for a short weekend trip with your family (skip to the end if you just want a quick list of links):
Where We Stayed:
We booked at the Rosedale on Robson Hotel (I used Booking.com since I got a discount on the room through their site). Hotels in Vancouver can be pretty pricey, so we felt like we found a good value at this Yaletown spot. We really lucked out with our assigned room, too. It was on the 16th floor (hello, views!) and at the end of a hall between a maintenance room and a fire door, so there was no elevator noise and Julia’s tantrums didn’t disturb anyone. I didn’t realize when I booked (not very clear pictures), but the double beds were in a separate room, so Peter and I were able to leisurely sip some wine in the evenings after Julia went to bed. She’s also been on a horrible kick of waking up at 5:30, so we rotated mornings when one parent would take her to the pool while the other one slept. A friend had warned us that Vancouver restaurants don’t open much before 8, so we stopped by a grocery store and picked up eggs, spinach and milk and made breakfast in our room each morning before venturing out. Parts of the hotel could use updating, but it was a great spot for us and very walk-able.
Where We Played:
We arrived late on Saturday afternoon, so after we checked in at the hotel, we figured we had just enough time for a sunset walk and a boat cruise before dinner. I had read that aquabus does a “tour” of the False Creek area for $8.50 CAD, but the first ferry to show up at the Yaletown dock was False Creek Ferries, and we basically did the same thing as a roundtrip to Granville island for $7.50. The boats are small and tugboat-shaped and were a perfect budget activity. We even saw a little harbor seal bobbing about on our trip. A note for disabled people/people with strollers – the False Creek Ferries aren’t super handicap accessible (although if your stroller/wheelchair folds up, they’re happy to help you get it into the boat), but Aquabus has an accessible boat where you can just roll right on.
On our last trip to Vancouver, we visited Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and loved it, but felt it was really expensive. I had originally intended to go anyway because they had holiday lights up through January, but then stumbled across Lynn Canyon Park in my trip research. It has a beautiful suspension bridge that wasn’t quite as long, so with Julia in the baby carrier, we felt quite safe and secure and she loved it. There are paths that have lots of boardwalks, so while it’s not wheels-accessible, it is easy for a novice walker to get around and helps with the inevitable rainy-season mud. We took the Twin Falls trail for a short-ish hike. Capilano is definitely more impressive, but with an unpredictable toddler attention span, we felt so much better about going to a free park.
On Sunday afternoon, we visited Granville Island. Everyone has their own preferences, but while several people had recommended the space to me and I’ve seen it compared favorably to Seattle’s Pike Place Market, it was just too much for me. We enjoyed snacking on some cured meat, but most of the lines were long and not super well-organized, and it was rainy enough that sitting outside wasn’t a great option. We ended up finding a great spot behind the kids market where Julia ran through a toy boat and waved at the ducks while I enjoyed a much-needed coffee. Take the Aquabus/False Creek Ferries to get there.
On Monday, we walked to a small park by the hotel to kill time because nothing opens early enough for a family with toddlers. We then headed to the Bloedel Conservatory to arrive precisely at their 10 a.m. opening time. It was a rather chilly and gray day, so stepping inside a balmy greenhouse filled with tropical plants and birds was perfect. The place is small, but there are several pathways and a little bridge and it wasn’t particularly busy on a weekday, so Julia had lots of fun running around and pointing at the birds. They offer laminated guides showing the bird population and she enjoyed matching the ones we saw to their photographs. We spent about 30-45 minutes here and saw everything at least once, so it’s a nice pre-lunch activity, but not a full day excursion.
Where We Ate:
We loved Flying Pig when we came to Vancouver pre-kids, but were a little worried it wouldn’t be very baby friendly. We shouldn’t have worried, though, because we went for an early dinner and had a great experience. They don’t take reservations except for brunch/large groups, but because we arrived early (5:15ish), we were able to sit right away at a communal table. Julia was willing to sit in a high chair, so it already felt like a huge win. My husband is allergic to a number of things (corn and soy are the primary offenders, but he’s also testing out a sensitivity to gluten and dairy), but the staff were super happy to accommodate us. We shared a charcuterie plate and a beet salad (no cheese), and then Julia and I ate a steelhead dish with risotto while Peter had enjoyed some seriously amazing steak frites (I know because he shared some with me when my starving child ate almost my whole dinner). The bonus to arriving early (besides a couple of other families with kids for Julia to ogle), was that we got to take advantage of happy hour (read: more grape juice for mommy, please!).
After our morning activities on Sunday, we went to Tour de Feast for brunch. I would never have found it without Yelp (it’s a small place North of Vancouver that also does catering), but it was so good! We didn’t have reservations since it wasn’t a planned trip, but they made room for us at a counter that faced a window, so Julia was entertained. Peter had duck confit while Julia and I shared an amazing braised short rib dish with jammy eggs. The coffee was only so-so, but the food was really excellent.
We had contemplated eating dinner on Granville Island, but it was so crowded and there weren’t a lot of gluten/dairy-free options, so we headed back to the mainland. We were deciding between Nuba and Chambar based on friends’ recommendations, but decided on Chambar since it looked easier to adjust to dietary restrictions. Chambar was a little more upscale than we had bargained for, but even though Julia did a toddler scream while we were there, the staff were really friendly and never made us feel unwelcome. We had some beautifully balanced cocktails (a Becher mule with housemade ginger beer and mint syrup for me, and a Fumé Rouge with bourbon, strawberry lemongrass liqueur and chipotle for Peter) to start off. Julia decided not to help me with a delicious crudité appetizer that came with hummus and a mint dipping sauce. Peter loved the ratatouille (modified to exclude the cheese) and I had duck with gnocchi and a celery/apple salad. I won’t lie, this was not Julia’s best meal out, but she behaved reasonably well since I brought toys, and the restaurant was only a few blocks from the hotel, so it was easy to make it back for bedtime.
On Monday, we lunched at House of Dosas. Dosas are $5.99 all day on Mondays, and it’s a giant plate of food. Peter ordered lamb vindaloo and when I ordered the mixed veg and told our server that I would share with Julia, he responded “Oh no, we will make her a special dosa. Baby dosa!” True to his word, about 5 minutes later, he came out with a little cone-shaped plain dosa that Julia devoured. Our dosas came with sambar and a couple of chutneys, one of which was coconut and it.was.everything. Adding to the pluses for being delicious and inexpensive, there was also a coffee shop right across the street so I could caffeinate before the long drive home.
Vancouver was a weekend of firsts for us – first time traveling with tantrum-era Julia to a non-family destination, first trip with Peter and his new dietary restrictions, and first time using our NEXUS passes through a land entry. The weekend was a pleasant surprise since I did relatively little planning for a last minute trip and all of those things went well (especially NEXUS, which saved us 50 minutes on the drive back).
Do you have recommendations for Vancouver with a toddler (I’m already thinking about when we can go back)? What’s your favorite long-weekend destination?