How to Have a Relaxing Family Vacation With Kids

They can be the best of times, they can be the worst of times. Keep these tips in mind to keep your family vacation easy and fun.

Family vacations can be overwhelming; the packing and planning alone are enough to make anyone consider scrapping the entire idea. Once underway, the task of keeping kids happy and entertained for days on end can be exhausting. But here’s the thing: family vacations can be the pinnacle of family life. These are the times you’ll all remember and cherish for the rest of your lives. So here are some tips to make your next family vacation one that is memorable for all the right reasons. 

Focus on Fun

Young boy and a woman riding mountain bikes on a forest trail.
Roll ‘em easy. Good advice for the entire trip. Photo: Colin Field

We all know fun can sometimes take a back seat to expediency (“Sorry kids, it’s too expensive,” or “It’s out of the way”). But if you maintain a focus on it, having fun can be the mission statement of your trip. If there’s something the entire family loves to do, then planning your family vacation around that activity is a great start. If your family loves to ski, snowboard, or mountain bike, you will be off and running as soon as you find the right place, like Searchmont, Lochlomond, or Blue Mountain. Or why not try something totally new? Kids love climbing, but do you? You might if you try. How about wakeboarding? You could try renting a paddleboard from Hard Wear Co. in Kenora, a kayak from Naturally Superior Adventures near Wawa, or a canoe from Fun Rentals in North Bay.

Get Outside

Kids and adults gathered around a campfire by a river.
Outfitters like Blackfeather can take your family on the French River. Photo: Colin Field

Kids thrive in nature. Ontario is packed full of amazing provincial parks, and many of them offer camping sites. There’s a wide variety of camping styles; try booking a trip with an outfitter to take all the planning out of it. Blackfeather’s family trip on the French River is a perfect choice gear for kids. Or you can go backcountry camping, where you hike or canoe into a site, like in Killarney. Most offer car camping options, where your tent is pitched close to your car, like in Killbear. Or you can go glamping with an outfitter, like Minaki Yurt Adventures north of Kenora. Pick the right level of comfort for your clan and get out there.

The More The Merrier

A young boy and girls playing in the shallow water on a beach.
Kid company is the best kind. Photo: Colin Field

Sure, Grampa may pass wind indiscriminately, but the kids love him, right? Travelling with family can make everything that much more precious and the memories even more valuable. And hopefully Grampa’s up for pulling his weight and helping out now and then. Bringing family, whether that’s aunts and uncles, grandparents, or cousins along will (hopefully) increase everyone’s enjoyment.

Of course, if bringing more family along is your idea of a nightmare, what about friends with kids? It may be counter-intuitive, but having more kids around often makes things easier; they entertain each other and can explore together. 

Keep Them Fed

Peanut butter and jam sandwiches on a table in a camper van.
The best family trips have simple ingredients. Photo: Colin Field

Getting hangry sucks. We’re all afflicted by it from time to time, but for kids, the emotions that come with hanger are way more powerful and uncontrollable. Having them sit in a fancy, five-star restaurant while you suckle at amuse bouches isn’t their idea of a good time, so find some age-appropriate restaurants. During the dinner hours brewpubs are kid-friendly places (plus you get to sample a local pint), and who doesn’t love a great taco? Outdoor classics like Herberts Fish & Chips in Killarney are the perfect place for kids to be kids while dining after a fun-filled family adventure. And of course, don’t forget ice cream—we all scream for ice cream!

Fill Your Days

Young boy in googles making a big splash.
It doesn’t take much to make a splash. Photo: Colin Field

Sometimes sleeping somewhere new is difficult for everyone—kids and parents alike. The best way to combat a restless night is by being active in the day to really tucker everyone out. While kids will moan and groan about the idea of a hike, there are some hikes that will have kids of every age awe-struck. Places like Pukaskwa’s Sentier Trail, complete with a suspension bridge over a waterfall, are amazing spots. Manitoulin’s Cup and Saucer trail has views for days. Maybe try sparking your kids’ imaginations by mining for amethyst near Thunder Bay.

Take the Plunge

Man with mask and snorkel underwater looking at a ship wreck.
Open their eyes to a new underwater world with a mask and snorkel. Photo: Colin Field

All kids love playing in the water, especially outdoors. Ontarians are blessed with endless lakes and rivers to paddle and swim in, so finding a great place is easy. Killarney Provincial Park is chock full of places to take a dip, as is Temagami. Providence Bay on Manitoulin Island features what many claim is the best beach in the province, and Batchawana Bay offers some of the warmest water on Lake Superior. And if you want to wear the kids out at the hotel, you can prioritize lodging with a pool like Kenora’s Travelodge. Scuba diving might be a lot to take on with kids, but snorkeling is easy.

Take it Easy

Man sitting on a beach under an umbrella hugging two laughing kids.
Moments to remember. Photo: Colin Field

The family vacation is something everyone looks forward to for the entire year, so take time to enjoy it. Kids don’t need every moment of every day to be planned out. In fact, unscheduled free time is when creativity thrives. So remember to relax and engage with your kid on their level. Whether that’s building a sand castle with them, quietly reading them their favourite book, or having a snowball fight, these are the times you need to cherish. 

Backup Plans

A young boy stirring a pot of pudding with a camper van parked in background.
They might even learn something along the way. Photo: Colin Field

Sometimes everything can fall apart when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Your well-laid plans can go out the window during a downpour, so have some indoor ideas to fill the gap. Places like Science North in Sudbury or the Canadian Forces Museum in North Bay are a great place to pass the day. Or try a fun indoor sports facility for climbing, cycling, or striking out

When all is said and done, the key to having a relaxing vacation with your kids is for you to lead the way. If you take advantage of the outfitters, outlets, and opportunities listed above, it will be a lot easier for you to be the relaxed role model your kids will happily follow.

About Colin Field

Colin is an award-winning photographer and writer, specializing in outdoor travel and adventure. He is the editor-at-large with Mountain Life Magazine. He is based in Collingwood, Ontario. 

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