Monday, April 15, 2024

Kid-friendly Kamloops scores big on adventure this winter

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Hosting an average of 100 sporting events a year, Kamloops has earned its title of Canada’s Tournament Capital. However, the small city in the heart of B.C.’s interior boasts more than world-class sporting venues, including uncrowded year-round outdoor adventure, an eclectic winery and dining scene, and an authentically unpretentious vibe. Another plus for what locals call the ‘Loops’ is its proximity to the epic featherlight powder and 2,000 hours of sunshine on offer at Canada’s second largest ski area, Sun Peaks.

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My 11-year-old daughter Brooklyn and I spent a weekend this February visiting her cousins and exploring Kamloops’ many family-friendly attractions. Amidst the city’s well-known highlights, we stumbled upon some hidden gems.

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Meet the stars of the BC Wildlife Park with a private Animal Encounter. Courtesy, Mary Putnam / Tourism Kamloops cal

First up was learning about animal conservation and rehabilitation at the B.C. Wildlife Park. The not-for-profit sanctuary provides a permanent home for injured and orphaned animals unable to return to the wild. While the park’s top attractions – black, grizzly, and white Kermode bears, were enjoying their winter slumber, we found many of the other animals, including Arctic wolves, cougars, foxes, elk, mountain goats and bighorn sheep, to be quite active and playful during our visit. The birds of prey enclosure – housing bald and golden eagles and five species of owls – was a favourite among Brooklyn and her cousins, as was our private burrowing owl Animal Encounter.

Together with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society, BC Wildlife Park operates the world’s largest breeding program for this tiny migratory species. Alongside her feathered assistant, Finn, our park educator shared fascinating facts about burrowing owls’ physical makeup, activity, habitat, and the environmental and human impacts contributing to their endangerment. Private experiences and park admission fees help fund the sanctuary’s conservation projects and Fawcett Family Wildlife Heath Centre. This specialized hospital provides veterinary and rehabilitation services for over 500 animals annually.

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Post-park, we drove to the area’s largest winery for a quick tasting and charcuterie plate. Monte Creek is family-friendly, like most Kamloops’ wineries, breweries, and restaurants.

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Warm up by the fire, roasting marshmallows at Snow Town Tube Park on Harper Mountain. Photo, Mhairri Woodhall cal

Due to unseasonably warm weather and lack of snow, our evening tubing trip to Harper Mountain, a small family-owned winter ski hill just 20 minutes outside Kamloops, was cancelled. However, thanks to recent snowfall, the downhill runs and tubing have reopened, and the prices are very wallet-friendly. Full-day tickets for the T-bar and chairlift runs range from free for five and under to up to $66.67 for adults 19 and over. Two hours in Harper’s Snow Town Tube Park costs $22 per person, except if you’re three, you ride for free. After a day of play, you can cozy up by one of the outdoor fire pits with a hot chocolate or roast marshmallows and hot dogs if you plan and bring picnic provisions. My sister-in-law hits up Harper every Saturday with my nieces and nephew for cross-country skiing along the three-km forested loop, or they’ll strap on their snowshoes and explore the 11 km of snowshoeing trails that connect with the day lodge.

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Rather than let the lack of snow get us down, we jumped for joy at Apex Adventure Plex. While not as easy on the budget as Harper, the kids had a blast bouncing, cartwheeling, and swinging across the 30,000-square-foot trampoline park. An hour of bouncing costs $22, and our energizer bunnies were spent – red-faced, out of breath and ready for bed by the end of our session. We managed to rally them for a quick grab-and-go dinner at the city’s newest culinary extravaganza, Yew Street Food Hall. The kids refuelled on authentic woodfire pizzas from Inferno Pizza while the adults toured the hall, grazing on a medley of Greek comfort food, Vietnamese salad rolls, and delicious gooey arancini.

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Take a stroll along downtown Kamloops’ vibrant Back Alley Art Gallery. Photo, Mhairri Woodhall cal

Downtown Kamloops is also worth exploring, beginning with the vibrant Back Alley Art Gallery. We took to the streets, referencing the self-guided tour map on DowntownKamloops.com, to uncover the stories behind the 33 larger-than-life colourful murals tucked behind Victoria and Seymour streets. From there, it’s just a short stroll to Riverside Park, which we love to visit in summer for the nightly live music performances. The splash park and Thompson River are key for cooling off during July and August’s sun-drenched days, but over the winter, the Park is popular for its walking paths, a long stretch of sand beach, and children’s playground.

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Another downtown attraction to check out with the family, especially when travelling with younger kids, is the Kamloops Museum and Archives. Here, you’ll find a collection of 20,000 historical and cultural artifacts telling the city’s story – from past to present. Plan at least two hours to explore the permanent and travelling exhibition and the Children’s Museum downstairs. When my daughter was younger, she loved trying on the costumes and playing shopkeeper in the pioneer log cabin. Museum admission is by a suggested donation of $3 per adult and $1 per child.

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Riverside Park is an urban oasis in every season. Courtesy, Olsen Imaging / Tourism Kamloops cal

Finally, for families craving an exhilarating adrenalin rush in fresh mountain air, head into the wild with Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures at Sun Peaks. Ideal for kids ages four and up, Brooklyn first embarked on the thrilling one-hour Bucket List Experience when she was five – and loved the fast-paced twisting and turning through the snow-dropped lodgepole forest. Every moment was memorable, from meeting the excitable pups before take-off to thanking the team with tasty treats upon our return. Mountain Man’s animal-loving guides are also highly knowledgeable and eagerly share their passion for Alaskan huskies and dog sledding.

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If You Go

As a dedicated Marriot Bonvoy member, I always stay at the pet-friendly Delta Hotels Kamloops for its fantastic outdoor heated pool, hot tub, and central downtown location. The property is within walking distance of our favourite breakfast haunt, Hello Toast, which typically has a lineup from about 9 a.m. Cordo Resto & Bar, inside the Delta, also serves a delicious egg Benedict without waiting in line. Just around the corner, Stills Co. Tapas and Cocktails is another excellent choice for families with adventurous eaters. Brooklyn devoured the tower of parmesan and balsamic glazed shoestring fries, ginger pork belly and crispy truffled brussels sprouts, and the autumn carrot cake ice cream sandwich is pure heaven for dessert.

Before departing for your trip, sign up for the Loops Explorer Pass on KamloopsTourism.com for significant savings on area restaurants, hotels and activities, including two-for-one B.C. Wildlife Park admission.

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