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Take a bicycle ride through Stanley Park in the summer and you’re bound to see the masked face of a raccoon peeking out from the forest, a flock of Canadian Geese honking across Lost Lagoon or a sea otter frolicking on Third Beach. It's easy for kids to get up close and personal with nature in the daytime, but it's when night falls that things can really get wild. So go ahead and book your flight to Vancouver but, maybe, just this once, forget about booking a boring old hotel – over here there are plenty of wild places to stay.
Spend the night at the Aquarium, which is tucked away in Stanley Park and is home to chubby white beluga whales, dolphins and penguins, and a new sharks & rays exhibit. It’s also home to nocturnal fish which stay awake to say hello to the children who visit there after dark. Nights at the Aquarium are family-themed sleepovers which take place after the doors close for the evening and include behind-the-scenes tours to meet sea stars and urchins before everybody beds down in front of one of the marine galleries. Themed nights focus on meeting the sharks, whales or dolphins and ‘animal trainer’ evenings end with a camp out next to the beluga whale glass gallery.
Seeing whales in the wild is a real treat during the summer months. Whale watching trips are ideal for families as they can be taken from Granville Island, accessible by transit and home to the Kids’ Market, and it’s only a short journey out into the Strait of Georgia to look for visiting grey or orca whales.
If your family can sleep through lions roaring at sunset and wolves howling at the moon, take a safari out into the suburbs to the Greater Vancouver Zoo for a summertime ‘Family Night in the Wild’. A guided nighttime walk through the zoo introduces you to all the nocturnal residents and at dusk you can watch the animals preparing to go to sleep. After some hot chocolate and marshmallows it’s time to go to bed yourself – families can camp in the picnic area…. just keep an ear out for the lions!
Winter visitors can take a turn watching the animals sleep, instead of vice versa, with a family jaunt on the gondola up Grouse Mountain. When the peak is layered in snow the resident grizzly bears Grinder and Coola hibernate in a cosy log cabin. A ‘bear cam’ keeps an eye on them and beams the video footage into the lodge, so you can watch the bears sleeping while you warm up with a cup of tea – easy snowshoe trails, ice skating and sleigh rides in the snow make it a magical winter wonderland at Christmas time.
Black bears roam the North Shore so if you’re taking the family hiking in the summer months keep an eye out – they’re a lot more active when they’re not hibernating or in a zoo! Whether you’re bedding down next to great white belugas in the Aquarium or spotting an orca breaching in the bay, kids big and small will have a whale of a time meeting Vancouver’s wildlife.
Header photo © Clownfish at the Vancouver Aquarium © Vancouver Aquarium
Have you gone wild in Vancouver or do you have any animal encounter stories to share? Let us know in the comments below.
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About the author: AmyWatkinsAmy Watkins
Amy Watkins (www.amywatkins.com) is an award-winning British travel journalist who has lived in Vancouver since May 2012. Whilst on assignment for UK newspapers and magazines she has eaten thousand-year-old eggs in Hong Kong, swam with crocodiles in Australia and braved a week in the Caribbean with a celebrity chef.