On why we love small ski hills: Mt Baldy, BC

Over the winter holidays, we took the kids to Mt. Baldy near Oliver, BC, and I was reminded of all the reasons I’d choose a small ski hill over a big one any day.

No, Mt. Baldy does not have the number of runs as Big White or Lake Louise or Whistler, but it makes up for it in a bunch of ways. 

Our kids learning to ski at Mt Baldy

Fancy is overrated when you’re learning

Our kids are only just learning to ski, and I’m getting back into winter sports after a really long break. We lived in Asia for six years and did not touch our snowboards that entire time. When we returned to Canada, our kids were babies and toddlers. Because skiing with preschoolers is a particular form of hell, we avoided it. But with bigger kids now (11, 9, 7), we’re ready to dust off our skis and snowboards and hit the hills.

When you’re learning, you really don’t need the fanciest chair lift or an enormous menu of runs. In fact, the fewer the better. Baldy’s two chairs gave us ample runs and plenty of powder to get started.

The price is right

For us folk who prefer not to be bound to one winter sport, and who love variety, the price point at a small hill is just right. Baldy is half the ticket price of Big White and almost 3x less than Whistler. A small ski hill with a smaller price was absolutely perfect for our family.

Less waiting, more skiing

Hands down, this is a mighty draw for small hills. At Baldy, we never waited longer than a couple of minutes to get on a chair lift, and that was during high season. Even buying lift tickets was low-key. You just don't have the volume of people that you do at a bigger resort. I credit Baldy’s short lines and chill vibe with our kids going from zero to skiing blue squares in a matter of hours.

We never waited longer than a minute or two for the chair lift.

Endearing quirky culture

A place scores big points in my book when it has a quirky vibe. At Baldy, there was no pretense. It felt low-key, real, and authentic. The lift attendants were congenial and friendly and always offered to slow the lift down so we could all get on and off without incident. I needed this most of all as I struggled to nail the dismount on my snowboard. At least there weren’t that many people to see my struggle.

After two days at Mt Baldy, the kids were taking jumps through the trees.

10 trails to hike with kids in the okanagan

10 excellent trails to hike with kids in the Okanagan

From waterfalls and rugged canyons to panoramic lake views, these ten trails to hike with kids in the Okanagan dish up some of nature's best and are short enough to bring the whole family along for the ride.

A life of adventure, hiking and exploring doesn't have to end when kids enter the picture. Kids have a way of finding new thrills and obscure wonders that adults have simply forgotten how to see. Hiking with kids in the Okanagan is a great way discover beautiful scenery, get exercise and make family memories together.

We've pulled together our favourite trails to hike with kids in the Okanagan, including maps and GPS coordinates to get you off on your family hiking adventure.

10 excellent trails to hike with kids in the Okanagan

1. Crawford Falls, Kelowna

Clocking in at two kilometres round-trip, the hike down to Crawford Canyon Falls is a perfect family affair. It is a steep descent into the valley, but newly built stairways and railings make it safe and manageable for kids. Plus, you can't beat a waterfall reward at the end.


2. Kuiper's Peak

Kuiper’s Peak Mountain Park is a rocky outcrop in South Kelowna and a perfect outdoor play park. The whole area is void of trees because of the 2003 fire, but that makes for exceptional views of Lake Okanagan and the Okanagan Valley. There are plenty of opportunities to scramble and climb up jagged hills.


3. Paul's Tomb

This easily accessible trail is good for hiking or biking. With isolated beaches and caves along the way, it's the perfect hike for little adventurers. Take the trail from Knox Mountain, or use the lesser-known Lochview Trail.


4. Predator Ridge - Okanagan Lake Lookout Loop

This short trail located just off Highway 97 southwest of Vernon is perfect for the whole family. It offers sweeping views of the mountains to the west and Okanagan Lake.


5. Cedar Mountain

Cedar Mountain sits above the Mission area in Kelowna. A hike up the well-worn path offers a scramble up the final ascent and stunning panoramic views of Okanagan Lake.


6. Bear Creek Canyon Rim Trail

Located in West Kelowna, this popular walking trail loops around a gorge with a waterfall.


7. Cougar Canyon

Cougar Canyon in Vernon is all jagged rock, plunging canyon and beautiful views of Kalamalka Lake. The hiking trail is short, but the drop off to the canyon below at the top is steep - do keep kids within arms reach!


8. Scenic Canyon Regional Park

Marvel at some of Kelowna’s most fascinating geological wonders - Rock Ovens and Layer Cake Mountain. In recent years, the regional park has expanded new hiking trails with exciting names like Pinnacle and Black Bear. It's a great walk for the whole family.


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9. Mill Creek

Mill Creek Regional Park may be close to the airport and only 500 square metres in size, but don't let that deter you. It packs a lot in a small space, including a raging waterfall. The trail is perfect for the whole family, including small kids and is open and walkable from March through November.


10. Mt. Kobau

If you're interested in seeing the Okanagan Valley and the Similkameen region from 1500 metres, Mt. Kobau is your best choice with kids in tow. Drive to the summit on a well-graded forestry road and wander around the top where you can see the Okanagan Valley and the Similkameen region.


These are our top picks for family hiking in the Okanagan. Which are your go-to family walks and hikes? 

Road Trip: Central Kootenay Hot Spring Circuit

One of British Columbia's greatest gifts to humanity is its abundance of hot springs. While some are well developed with squeaky clean pools and spa services, others (our fave!) are off the beaten path, harder to find, and a bit more on the magic side of things.

One fine weekend in October of this year, our kids had a couple extra days off school, so we high-tailed it to BC's Central Kootenay for a little hot spring hopping.

If you haven't gone on an autumn adventure, we highly recommend it. The colours around every twist and turn were spectacular and the hot springs were a little less crowded than during summer's peak holiday season. 

These were the highlights of our Central Kootenay Hot Spring Circuit.

Ainsworth Hot Springs

Ainsworth is completely on the beaten path, right along Kootenay Lake on Highway 31 between Kaslo and Balfour.

But. But. But.

It gets on our hot spring list because of its cool factor. Plus, if you stay at the on site resort (we got a deal on a room that included our hot spring admission), you get access to the pool area a couple of hours before the public. Plus... look at that autumn foliage!  

The pool (pictured above with our two youngest daughters) is just one part of the equation. Just to the right of the Ainsworth sign is the hot spring cave network that you can swim in and meander through surrounded by stalactite-esque scenery. The cave has lighting, so it's not impossible to navigate. How fun! (Though, all of our kids were a bit scared of the cave.)

Ainsworth Hot Springs at dawn with a lovely view of Kootenay Lake. 

St. Leon Hot Springs

We had heard of St. Leon hot springs for several years, but for one reason or another had never had the time to find them. This time we did. And we were rewarded with having the place almost entirely to ourselves. 

St. Leon Hot Springs are just north of Nakusp (and just south of Halfway Hot springs), down a forestry road, and nestled on the side of a wooded hill. In recent years, it's become more popular, and of course, as popularity grows, so does the impact on the site.  

Warning -- nude bathing is very common at this location. 

Natural rock pools surrounded by fresh mountain and forest air at St. Leon hot springs. 

Halfway Hot Springs

While we visited Halfway Hot Springs over the summer, we wanted to explore one more time. We thought (wrongly) that it would be quieter in the fall. The site was overrun by a college party, but thankfully, most of the partiers were still sleeping in their tents when we rolled in at 7:30 in the morning and we had the farthest pool to ourselves.  

Halfway hot spring pool right next to the Halfway River. 

The walk down to Halfway Hot Springs follows a meandering trail through the woods. 

Which type of hot springs top your bucket list? 


wrinkly face white wildflowers

Hiking Wrinkly Face Provincial Park: Exploring Part of the High Rim Trail

Wrinkly Face Provincial Park. Hiking Wrinkly Face Provincial Park takes you along a portion of the High Rim Trail between Vernon and Kelowna, BC. 

Hiking Wrinkly Face Provincial Park

Wrinkly Face Provincial Park. What a name. Because of its name, and its strategic location on the 55 km long High Rim Trail (HRT) between Vernon and Kelowna, BC., it sat on our  Okanagan hiking bucket list for years.

I mean, who doesn't want to explore a park called Wrinkly Face? There is very little information about it online, so we knew we'd have to just go and see for ourselves.

When my parents offered to take the kids for a day up to Postill Lake Lodge on Postill Lake Road, which happens to have access to the HRT and is close enough to make a trip to Wrinkly Face viable, we jumped at the chance.

How to Get there

We parked our wee Honda Fit by the HRT trailhead along Postill Lake Road and started the 8km journey on foot to Wrinkly Face. In retrospect, parking on Beaver Lake Road and starting at that HRT trailhead would make it a far more straightforward adventure. But we've never been into straightforward now, have we?

[caption id="attachment_3529" align="aligncenter" width="834"] High Rim Trail Trailhead on Postill Lake Road[/caption]

So, off we went, down the High Rim Trail, hemmed in by alpine forest. The trail is well marked. However...we did somehow manage to veer off the trail at one point and only found our way back with Steve's GPS. So, if you're heading off to Wrinkly Face, do pay attention to the trail markers.

[caption id="attachment_3527" align="aligncenter" width="834"] The High Rim Trail is well marked with signage like this.[/caption]

The trail intersects swathes of forestry activity, including huge sections of clear-cut forest. Parts of the trail between Postill Lake Road and Beaver Lake Road are multi-use and off-road vehicles have left their mark.

[caption id="attachment_3533" align="aligncenter" width="834"] Between Postill Lake Road and Beaver Lake Road, the trail looks a lot like this much of the time.[/caption]

Just before the intersection with Beaver Lake road, the trail dives steeply down into a valley and crosses a roaring creek at the bottom. The bridge, hewn from a cedar log, and including a handrail, is so fun!

[caption id="attachment_3530" align="aligncenter" width="834"] A quaint, rustic forest bridge.[/caption]

After a steep climb up the other side of the valley, we hit Beaver Lake Road. This section was less remote, and we shared the path with a couple of other hikers. From the Beaver Lake Road HRT access, it's only about two more kilometres to Wrinkly Face Provincial Park. The park protects fauna found in the park's meadows, including Cedar-Hemlock and Interior Douglas Fir.

We were delighted with the wildflowers spread across the meadows and the vistas of the Okanagan Valley below.

[caption id="attachment_3531" align="aligncenter" width="834"] Views of the Okanagan Valley from Wrinkly Face Provincial Park.[/caption]

It may not be the most well-trafficked trail in the Okanagan, but part of exploring a region is adventuring to the popular places and the more obscure things. Hiking Wrinkly Face is off-the-beaten-path, and worth a visit for a romp down the High Rim Trail, and to say you did it.

[caption id="attachment_3543" align="alignnone" width="600"] Click on map for high-res version[/caption]



GPS Download: GPX | KML

Exploring With Eyes Wide Open: Taking In This One Wild Life

We tend to keep a clipping pace during the summer months. Whether it’s road trips, camping expeditions, or adventures to nearby parks and recreation areas, there is always something on our radar. Why? It's how we fully take in this one wild and precious life of ours.

Summer is good, crazy, awesome busy

So far this summer, we’ve camped a couple of times, visited off-the-beaten-path hot springs, hiked to waterfalls, rafted down a river, visited a new provincial park, and slid down ice-cold natural rock waterslides. We also road tripped the Oregon Coast, which was excellent, though more driving than we expected. We still plan to hike to Christie Falls and a ride down the soon-to-be-minted Okanagan Rail Trail.

All this is on top of working during the week so us adults can meet our professional deadlines.

Our neighbours give us looks of exhaustion when our car disappears for yet another weekend away. And truth be told, sometimes I feel exhausted too. We’ve gotten to the point, now halfway through summer holidays, where we have no clue what we’ll eat for supper every day, and the fridge is decidedly bare and empty.

Who has time for groceries when they’re out playing in the sun? We don’t. So, we sent the kids to daycare and camps this week with jam bagels and fridge scraps, nary a fruit or vegetable in sight.

Why? If we’re tired, why do we do it? Why do we keep this pace? Why bother?

I thought about this the other weekend while we hiked with friends from our campsite at Conkle Lake Provincial Park to a nearby waterfall.

As my 7-year-old waltzed down the wooded trail singing with abandon in nothing but her underwear and a costume cat tail (I kid you not), it struck me...

Adventure is our way of taking in this one wild and precious life of ours with eyes wide open. 

One wild and precious life | Eyes wide open

I mean, when else does THAT happen in my life? My kid walking around the forest in a feline costume en route to a gorgeous waterfall, that is. When else do I hear my feet crunch just so through twigs and pinecones as we wander down paths unknown? When else do I pause to really take in the sharp sweetness of a forest-foraged huckleberry? When else is my curiosity (and that of my children) piqued around every twist and turn?

[caption id="attachment_3520" align="aligncenter" width="834"] One of our kids hiking just the way she likes it.[/caption]

There is a certain intentionality in exploring. As we enter the moment fully, we notice things we wouldn’t otherwise. The burst of colour as a butterfly flutters past; the vibrant yellow of lilies on lily pads in calm, cool mountain lakes; the moment of awe when you see the waterfall crashing hundreds of feet down volcanic rock to a crystal clear pool below.

As we make space for adventure in our lives, we widen our experience of life itself. From the big, vast vistas to the tiniest of creatures, adventure causes us to take this one, wild and precious life with wide, open eyes.

In a strange way, adventure is rest

It takes a certain hectic frenzy to ready ourselves for an adventure. We pack our Honda Fit to the brim with luggage and camping gear; we cross of grocery lists and pack our cooler as full as we can. And that’s not even getting to the swimming suits and towels and clothes and paraphernalia a family of five needs.

But when we’re off, we’re off.

Adventuring is a bit like Sabbath for me. It causes me to stop and remember that right here in the middle of it all we can take the time to pause and enjoy each other and the world more fully. Once we’re out the door, we stop thinking about the dishwasher we forgot to empty before leaving, or the pile of clean laundry that needs to be folded, or the perpetual to-do-list of home improvements weighing on our minds.

As paradoxical as it sounds, when we adventure, we end up creating space for much-needed rest.

The great adventure - seizing each moment

The ins and outs of every day, normal life, are good and necessary and we will head into September like the best of them more than ready for a new school year and a calmer rhythm. We’ll welcome the routine of the school bell and consistent bedtimes and swimming lessons and a Monday to Friday schedule.

But this season of exploration is good too.

It occurs to me that as we choose adventure, we have to say no to other things. You have to make the space to go, actually booking time off the calendar and not letting the stress of the “what ifs” win.

To go, you first have to let go.

The journey itself, the exploring, the adventure, is meditative in a way. We focus on what is immediately before us – the open road, the hiking trail, the blooming flower, the deer, the river, the waterfall, the gorge, the beach, the mountain. Moment by moment, we take it in.

Rush adventure? No way! Instead, we pause to drink it in. Drop by drop, we embrace the joy, the richness, the beauty of each moment.

So. Even though summer is busy, it also gives moments to see life as we’ve not seen it before, to consider the world and our lives from a different vantage point.

[caption id="attachment_3521" align="aligncenter" width="834"] The Oregon Coast as seen from the top of Devil's Punchbowl.[/caption]

Ashton Creek - Enderby Natural Waterslides

Ashton Creek (Enderby) Natural Waterslides

*Warning -- Summer 2021 - several who have recently tried to access Ashton Creek Natural Waterslides found the trail blocked off and No Trespassing signage.  Private land owners in the area are fed up with irresponsible people making a mess and causing a disturbance.  It is recommended to not try accessing the waterslides at this time.

When we heard about the Ashton Creek (Enderby) natural waterslides 10 minutes east of Enderby, BC, we went for a fun, totally off-the-beaten-path adventure. It was a few years back that we were first acquainted with these mysterious, magical natural waterslides and it took us until this summer to find the gumption to finally go!

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Ashton Creek - Enderby Natural Waterslides
Ashton Creek (Enderby) Waterslides

Getting To Ashton Creek (Enderby) Natural Waterslides 

Head out of Enderby east along the Enderby Mabel Lake Road until you hit Ashton Creek. Just past the Tempo gas station, you'll veer left onto Rands Road, passing in front of Ashton Creek Christian Fellowship church. Follow Rands Road until you see the intersection with Olich Road and hang a right. The day we went, there were at least half a dozen cars parked along the street, so you know you're in the right place.

It's a dead end road, and the trail begins where the road stops. Follow the path for five minutes or so, and voila! You'll be at the natural waterslides.

Heading with Kids? What You Need to Know

  • It's more of an older kid experience. Our 7-year-old couldn't get enough while our 5-year-old was done after one run down the small slide. Our 3-year-old stuck to dry land and poked rocks with sticks the whole time.
  • The trail to the natural waterslides can easily be walked in flip flops or sandals. It's a straightforward and mostly flat walk. To make it a more comfortable experience when actually exploring the falls, bring along your Keens or sports sandals, or your water shoes. We didn't bring ours and wished we had.
  • Water coming down the slides is really cold!
  • We brought our kids' lifejackets and were glad we did.
  • Our kids stuck to the bottom slide only. The potential for knocking heads and possible concussions increases the higher up the falls you go.
  • On a hot day, expect to share the experience with dozens of other people, including many a folk keen on having a wee party at the slides.

Ashton Creek (Enderby) Natural Waterslides
Our oldest daughter, aged 7, steps down onto the natural waterslide. She couldn't get enough of it.

Hiking on Private Property?

To be honest, we're still not sure. There is almost no information to be found on the web, and we were given directions by a friend who visited a couple of years back.

This is what we DO know:

  • There are 'No Trespassing' and "Private Property" signs on the fence where the trail starts, but the trail swings around the side and follows the fence, without going onto that particular property.
  • While the trail snakes its way along through forest and is never barricaded or blocked itself, there are No Trespassing and Private Property signs on trees on both the left and right of the trail.

We don't know if the natural waterslides are on private or public land. It's just not clear. The trail could meander between two property lines, but we aren't sure.

So...go at your own risk.


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Moul Falls Base

Chasing Waterfalls at Wells Gray Provincial Park

Recently, we went chasing waterfalls at Wells Gray Provincial Park, a large wilderness park in central British Columbia. Wells Gray protects numerous waterfalls and much of the Cariboo Mountains.

Chasing Waterfalls At Wells Gray

On a recent long weekend, we explored a new (for us) British Columbia highway and provincial park. Wells Gray sits just shy of 300km north of Kelowna, or roughly a 3.5 hour drive. We headed up Okanagan Highway 97 to Kamloops, where we stopped for a pit stop at the Riverside Park (a fantastic place for kids to run their beans out on a hot day), and then up the Southern Yellowhead Highway 5 to Clearwater.

The road follows the North Thompson River, hemmed in by green rolling mountains on each side, and is packed full of holidaymakers, transport trucks and RVs. It was busier than I expected, but with a better look at the map, it became clear that it is the main thoroughfare from south-central and Western British Columbia to Mount Robson and Jasper. It is, in fact, a very well-trod trail.

We drove through Barrière, sharing a chuckle at the "Station House Family Diner & Great Barrière Reef". Humour along fine country roads is always welcome. Construction snagged our style for a bit, but soon enough, we were through the mess and nearing Clearwater. For three nights, we stayed in camping cabins at Watauga Village, which provided a bit of protection from the fierce mosquito population in this part of the province.

Helmcken Falls

The moment it opened on Saturday morning, we hit up the Wells Gray Visitor Centre to find out which walking trails and hikes would best suit our group of four adults and five kids ranging in age from 9 months to 7 years. Staff suggested Helmcken Falls, the 4th tallest waterfall in Canada (measured by total straight drop without a break), a short drive away and a 5-minute walk from the falls' parking area.

[caption id="attachment_3477" align="aligncenter" width="834"] Helmcken Fall, the 4th largest waterfalls in Canada. Also, part of the reason why Wells Gray become a protected natural wilderness area.[/caption]

Though you can't get up close and personal to Helmcken Falls, you don't walk away without a feeling of wonder. There is a particular magic when standing before a column of water cascading nearly 150 metres high over volcanic rock. The magnitude is mesmerizing.

But we wanted a closer waterfall experience too, so we explored where we might hike with our kids to see a Wells Gray waterfall up close and personal. We stopped by the Canyon Rim trailhead, only to be deterred by its length -- at 8km (at least 3-hours) round-trip, which we assumed that hike would only end in epic failure with two 3-year olds, a 5 and 7-year old and a baby.

Moul Falls

We settled on Moul Falls, which the staff at the visitor centre recommended, on the road back towards Clearwater. The Moul Falls trail is a popular one, and we found ourselves parking on the side of the road because the parking lot was full. After a quick picnic lunch in the parking lot, we were off on our way down the dirt track heading towards the falls.

Moul Falls Wells Gray

Our kids managed the mostly flat first section of the hike like champs. We even foraged for the odd huckleberry and thimbleberry right beside the path. As we neared the falls, the thundering sound of water rose. From the top of Moul Falls, you can see down, far down below, to the people who have managed to trek down to the base of the canyon. Off we went, following the narrow pathway that clings to the hillside, sheer cliff drop on the right. The final descent to the base of the falls is on stairways over a small creek.

Moul Falls Steep Hike Down

Finally, at the bottom, Moul Falls is picture-perfect, the mist casting rainbows. With the rushing water, the force of nature that is the falls, and the sheer beauty of it all, makes one feel awfully small.

[caption id="attachment_3473" align="aligncenter" width="683"]Moul Falls Base Our family at the base of Moul Falls[/caption]

Spahat Falls

On our second morning, we stopped at Spahat Falls, one of the first waterfalls as you enter Wells Gray from Clearwater. The viewpoint is only a few minutes' walk from the parking area, easily accessible, and awfully spectacular.


[caption id="attachment_3481" align="aligncenter" width="834"] Spahat Falls at Wells Gray[/caption]

Whenever we do head to Wells Gray next, we hope to explore more backcountry options. What are your favourite Wells Gray waterfalls? 




Adventure and a little magic at Halfway Hot Springs

Magic at Halfway Hot Springs

What could possibly be better than a dip in hot springs surrounded by British Columbia's lush beauty? Why, undeveloped and secluded off-the-beaten-path hot springs, of course. We discovered adventure and magic at Halfway Hot Springs near Nakusp, BC.

Half the challenge is getting there and it's all part of the experience. It's a long and arduous 11km drive on a bumpy and potholed forestry service road. But once you get there, it's worth the effort.

This secluded slice of paradise is maintained by Recreation Sites and Trails BC and has natural hot pools of varying temperatures that are tastefully surrounded by rock, with rocky and sandy bottoms. The minimal development and the hot springs being so far off the beaten path, make it a truly magical experience.

There's a day-use parking area with ample room for vehicles. For anyone interested in staying the night, there is also a basic campground on site.

From the parking lot, the trail to the hot springs heads down a steep pathway. Some of the steepest sections have stairs and railings. After meandering through the steep, wooded forest, you arrive at the valley floor where there are pit toilets, a wooden platform to keep personal items dry, and a network of pools varying in temperature. Poison Ivy was growing wild and rampant. This is less magical, so do pay attention!

If you keep following the pathway, you'll find another pool adjacent to the river.


Getting There And Away

From Nakusp drive approximately 26km north on Highway 23. Keep watch for a forestry service road on your right just before the bridge that crosses the Halfway River. This is where you turn. The road is bumpy and potholed, as you'd expect for a FSR. Follow this road for roughly 11.5km until you see a fork in the road. Head left if you plan on camping at the newly developed campsite. Otherwise, keep going straight to day use parking.

It's a long stretch on the bumpy road, but worth it! Even small cars can manage the road as long as you go slowly. Our Honda Fit took us safely there and back with no mishaps.


Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Big Island: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip with Kids

Are you travelling with the whole family to the Big Island? Keen to see more than the resorts and beaches of the Kona coast? From black sand beaches to active lava flows, the Big Island really does boast it all, but some of the best experiences are the ones where you sneak off the beaten path. We've collected our absolute favourites in Hawaii Big Island: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip With Kids.

Hawaii Big Island: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip with Kids

Off the beaten path big island hawaii road trip kids

Big Island Road Trip: Kona Coast

Starting in Kailua-Kona, we spent a few days exploring the Kona coast including Spencer's Beach Park and the Pololu Valley.

Hawaii Road Trip Map

Samuel Spencer Beach Park

This slice of beach paradise is a family’s dream. With calm water, white sand, and plenty of shade, it’s a great option for families with kids. It’s also quieter than Hapuna Beach.

Bonuses: free parking and full-service change rooms with warm showers.

Google map here. 

Pololū Valley

[caption id="attachment_3187" align="aligncenter" width="834"] A view from a lookout point on the Pololū Valley hike.[/caption]

Getting to and from the Pololū Valley lookout is half the fun. Driving up from the Kona area, we took coastal Highway 270 with its unmatched views of the Pacific. After going through the town of Hawi, the road narrows noticeably, winding through lush forest and curving over one-lane bridges which is magical and particularly fun!

The Pololū Valley hike is 2.5 miles (4 kilometres) round trip which is manageable for families with small children. It's a steep climb to the valley below, but once you arrive, the area is perfect for beachcombing, exploring and hiking further inland. The trees are great for climbing as well, which was a hit with our kids anyway.

On the way back, we stopped in Hawi again for its famous ice cream (totally worth it!) and then took the Kohala Mountain Road through utterly stunning scenery that is completely different from the lush tropical feel of coastal Highway 270.

Google map here.

Big Island Road Trip: Hilo

After a few days on the Kona Coast, we made our way to Hilo, which was the perfect base for exploring the east side of the island.

Kilauea’s Active Lava Flows

Hands down, our tip-top experience on the Big Island was taking the time to hike to Kilauea’s active lava flows. It was a rigorous, arduous journey, but worth every hard-earned step (which involved carrying all three of our children at various times).

We've got a whole post about that here.

Kehena Beach

[caption id="attachment_3188" align="aligncenter" width="834"]Kehena Black Sand Beach Kehena Black Sand Beach, a perfect slice of island paradise.[/caption]

Not only is Kehena beach spectacularly gorgeous, set against a volcanic cliff backdrop, it also plays host to truly fascinating visitors. The beach boasts perfectly soft black sand in a quiet cove, accessible only by a steep walking path off Highway 137. We loved the spot so much, including the very interesting company, that we visited twice. Kehena beach is frequented by families, musicians, artists, hippies, yogis and quite a few folks enjoy nude sunbathing.

After a nice long afternoon at the beach, head over to Uncle Robert's Awa Bar and Night Market (especially on a Wednesday evening when the market really really fires up) for delicious eats and live music.

Google map for Kehena Beach. 

Google map for Uncle Robert's Awa Bar.

Volcanoes National Park

[caption id="attachment_3190" align="aligncenter" width="834"]Blowing steam at Kilauea Caldera Steam billowing from the Kilauea Caldera provides lots of photo ops.[/caption]

Okay, so this doesn’t exactly fit the bill of “off the beaten path” adventures since it is a busy park and saw over 2 million visitors in 2017. But it made it onto our list because it is really cool.

Here are just a few of the amazing things to do in Volcanoes National Park:

  • See a smoking volcano crater
  • Meander through a lava tube
  • Hike down, across and up a crater (Klauea'Iki Trail)
  • Marvel at how lava transforms a lush landscape into an eerie scene from another planet on the Chain of Craters Road
  • Walk through volcanic steam
  • Visit what feels like the end of the earth and feel the Pacific's power as it carves sea arches out of the volcanic shoreline

You won’t have any of these experiences to yourself in Volcanoes National Park. In fact, you’ll be sharing them with hundreds of other people. But the sights and wonders in this corner of the Big Island are worth braving the crowds.

Kapoho Tide Pools

This was a crowd pleaser for everyone. These interconnected tide pools link the shoreline to the breaking surf with perfectly-sized pools for snorkelling. Tropical fish find refuge in the calm waters. Bring your reef shoes, the volcanic rock is sharp. Life jackets are a good idea for young children as some of the pools are deeper than you expect.

A parking area with visible signage is just outside the vacation rental area. It takes a walk to get to the tide pools, but it is worth it!

Google map here.

Richardson Ocean Park

After being on the lookout during our entire Hawaii trip, we finally found sea turtles swimming in the small tide pools around Richardson Ocean Park. The calm pools, protected from the raging surf, are a perfect spot for the turtles to rest and sun themselves. What marvellous creatures! Richardson Ocean Park is an easy access beach in Hilo, great for beachcombing, exploring, and of course, turtle watching.

Google map here.

Mauna Kea

[caption id="attachment_3191" align="aligncenter" width="834"]Mauna Loa in the distance A prime view of Mauna Loa from the viewpoint near the Mauna Kea Visitor Center.[/caption]

The day we drove the Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa was a perfectly bluebird day. Driving towards Mauna Kea, the telescopes at the summit shone brilliantly and clear. Behind us, Maua Loa rose like a behemoth, and we could actually see the summit – a bit of a treat after days of cloudy weather.

A short hike up to the viewpoint near the Visitor's Center was about all we could manage with three kids.

It is possible to drive to the summit if you have a 4WD vehicle and a full tank of gas (check with visitor's center / not recommended for children). The day we were there, the road was closed for a long time because of snow and ice! Who knew in Hawaii?

The views on a clear day give a sense of the scope and magnitude of Mauna Loa and Hualālai in the distance.

These were our top off-the-beaten-path experiences on the Big Island of Hawaii. What were yours?

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Big Island Lava Hunting

Walking to Kilauea Volcano's active lava flows on Hawaii's Big Island are a huge highlight. If your kids are coming with you, no problem! Here are our top tips for getting to the Kilauea lava viewpoint and lava hunting with kids.

The details on how to do this are surprisingly few in travel literature and online, but seeing the Kilauea caldera ooze red lava was our top experience on the Big Island. No, it wasn't necessarily easy with kids in tow, but it was incredible and totally worth the effort.

[caption id="attachment_3179" align="aligncenter" width="834"] On the hike to Mt. Kilauea's active lava flow.[/caption]

Where does Kilauea's lava flow?

Good question. It changes from day to day and from week to week, so check in with the National Park Service website and prepare for the reality that there might not be much to see depending on when you go.

Sometimes, Kilauea's lava flows all the way down to the ocean, thrilling onlookers with a spectacular display as hot steam and molten rock collide with salt water. Other times, the flows are slower and closer to the caldera itself.

The day we went lava hunting with kids, Kilauea's lava was actively flowing, but inland. And so we hiked! With a two, four and six-year-old and our parents along for the ride, we decided a daytime trek was the most prudent decision. And we were glad we made that choice in the end; hiking over hardened basaltic lava with all its rough and ragged edges would have been a nightmare in the dark with three young children.

Getting to Kilauea's Lava Viewpoint

From Pahoa, drive south on Highway 130 until you hit the end of the road. It's totally obvious with signage and gates blocking further passage. That's where you park. Next, you'll need to pick your mode of transport to the trailhead: walking, biking or van shuttle. There are dozens of rental outfitters to choose from and they all offer similar services at similar prices. The parking area is roughly 2.5 kilometres from the trailhead.

[caption id="attachment_3175" align="aligncenter" width="834"] Tandem cycling from the 'End of the Road' to Mt. Kilauea's Lava Viewpoint Trailhead on the Emergency Road.[/caption]

Lava Hunting With Kids

A jaunt down the emergency access road is like a trip on another planet. Hardened lava flows from the past two decades have covered vegetation and old housing communities, and left a strange and eerie landscape. At the third gate, we stopped and locked our bikes, and joined a number of other lava hunters for the long hike towards Kilauea.

The hike was roughly 7 km round trip along sharp and jagged lava rock. It is a long, arduous walk, with no trail markers. Several times along the way we thought about stopping as the kids got tired and whiny and demanded more piggybacks.

I'm glad we didn't! As we neared the caldera, it became noticeably hotter; rocks became hot to the touch and steam, heat and the smell of sulfur dioxide seeped out of cracks in the ground.

And then we saw it! Molten lava oozing red from the hillside, breaking off chunks of rock and slowly flowing down the side of the volcano. With enough photos and videos collected on our cameras and the memoried lodged in our minds, we turned back. It's a long way back with kids in the heat of the day.

Top Tips to Make Your Lava Hunting With Kids Experience Awesome 

1. Don't Forget Your Kid Carrier

In the excitement of ACTUALLY SEEING LAVA, we forgot our kid carriers. Oops, big mistake. We ended up taking turns piggybacking and carrying all three children. Our youngest, 2.5 years, fell asleep in our arms.

2. Start Early

As the day progresses, the black basaltic rock gets hotter and hotter. The earlier you start, the earlier you finish, avoiding the hottest part of the day.

3. Talk to People Along the Way

If you can find people who are returning from the lava flows, intercept them and ask them where to go. They can point out key reference points and visible landmarks to aim for. There are visitors who hike a long way in but don't actually see lava. Try not to be one of them!

4. Prepare Your Kids

Our youngest two children were terrified of lava. Like screaming, crying, and on the verge of panic, terrified. We didn't realize it, but at the time, their only reference point for the words "lava" and "volcano" was the movie Moana, where the volcano explodes in an episode of raging fire and flying boulders. That's not what you'll find at Kilaeau, so kids can relax. The lava is pahoehoe, the thick, oozing type that slowly flows down the volcano.

5. Pack In Everything You Need

There are no services on the hike (for obvious reasons) and that means there are no places to fill up water, no shady areas to rest, and no private locations for going to the bathroom. Be prepared with enough water, snacks, and adequate sun protection, including sunglasses. It gets really hot, and dehydration and heat stroke are very real possibilities. Heed the National Park signs and follow their guidelines - you will be happy you did.

6. Bring a First Aid Kit

Basaltic lava rock is notoriously uneven, rough and jagged and easily draws blood with a fall. There were dozens of cuts, scrapes and scratches and we went through approximately 1000 band-aids.

That's it! We hope you enjoy your own lava hunting. Do you have your own lava hunting story? Share it in the comments! 

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