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What a year 2020 has been! Usually I love the process at the end of the year of reflecting back on our travels throughout the year and sharing with your our favourites. 2020 has grounded most of us this year and like so many, we have had to be very flexibility with our plans. We had big travel plans planned for 2020 – we had rented out our house and gotten leaves from our jobs and were taking a year off to drive down to Central America. Then covid hit. And we initially thought we would still be able to go, but as the pandemic has dragged on, we have had to constantly adjust our plans.
When online school ended in late June, we packed the truck and my parent’s A-frame trailer and headed west for the summer. We spent two glorious months exploring Alberta and BC, spending lots of time with my brother and his family and lost count of all of the amazing hiking and biking adventures we had.
This Western Canadian road trip was meant to be the beginning of our year-long road trip to Central America and while we were sad that our year-long trip was postponed, we felt so lucky to be able to do this portion. Camping in provinces with low case numbers allowed us to almost forget about Covid and the world that had been turned upside down. Originally we were worried how we would be perceived as out-of-province travellers, but we had no issues.
We returned home for the fall to go to school and work and see if and when we might be able to salvage part of our year-long trip. Truthfully, it has actually been quite nice. I wasn’t as devastated as I would have expected to be giving up our big trip and we learned to appreciate what we have around us. The slower and simpler way of life suited our family and gave us plenty of time to explore local destinations.
But in true Nicholson style, we haven’t given up on our year away. With Ella headed to high school next year, we can’t push the trip a year. Instead, we have come up with a Plan B (or is in Plan C or D???) to get away for part of the year. You will have to keep reading until the end to hear about those plans!
- 1 2020 Highlights
- 1.1 Best Campsite: North Channel, Lake Huron
- 1.2 Best Road Trip: Cross Canada
- 1.3 Our Favourite Memories: Family Time
- 1.4 Best Multi-Day Hikes
- 1.5 Best Luxury Experience: Jasper Park Lodge
- 1.6 BC Biking
- 1.7 Best Off the Beaten Path Destination: Hornby Island
- 1.8 Most Thrilling: Bushfires in Penticton
- 1.9 Best Swimming: Whistler Lake Life
- 1.10 New Skills Learned: Skimboarding and Surfing
- 1.11 Overrated Destination: Tofino
- 1.12 Favourite National Park: Mount Revelstoke
- 1.13 Most Exciting Wildlife Experience: The Bear on Juan de Fuca
- 1.14 Most Unique Stay: Yurt
- 1.15 Favourite Local Finds
- 1.16 Favourite Eats and Drinks
- 1.17 Most Memorable Flight: Flying During Covid
- 2 What’s Next for 2021
While I may not have multiple countries and trips to sort through and pull together our 2020 highlights, we still have some incredible travel memories from the year. This year’s edition is purely Canadian and we are so happy that the pandemic gave us the push to explore more of our very own country.
Best Campsite: North Channel, Lake Huron
I grew up spending my summer sailing in the North Channel of Lake Huron and so we made this our first stop on our way west. My parents keep their sailboat on Manitoulin Island and spend the summer exploring the rugged islands of the North Channel. We met up with them and spent 6 nights camping on Crown land, usually having the anchorages and islands to ourselves. We felt so spoiled to be able to camp in such an untouched place; only accessible by boat. The sunsets each evening were sublime and of course it was extra special spending it with my parents.
We had glorious weather for the beginning of summer and the usually frigid lake was actually quite nice. We picked blueberries, had campfires, explored neighboring islands, kayaked and SUPed and relaxed. It was the perfect way to start our summer in a place that is incredibly gorgeous and holds such special memories for me.
Best Road Trip: Cross Canada
That heading might be a bit misleading because Canada is massive and we drove the 3,000 kms between central Canada (Ontario) and the western provinces. One day, we will complete the full cross Canada trip going right out to the eastern Maritimes.
We had never driven out west before and while the idea of covering 3,000 km in 5 days might sound like hell to some, we loved it. It was so interesting to see the geography change as we moved through the provinces. From the rugged wilderness of Northern Ontario to the Prairie fields to the rolling hills of Alberta, we were reminded what a massive and varied country Canada is.
We had to book most of our campsites in advance for July and August since there was so much demand and both Alberta and BC were limiting provincial campgrounds to residents. But, on the drive west we didn’t have bookings and just drove until it was time to look for a place to set up the camper. We spent a night at a rest stop, a night at a Walmart parking lot, among other places. I love travelling in such a flexible way and it reminded me why I love road trips so much.
Our Favourite Memories: Family Time
My brother’s family is lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places – Canmore, Alberta, right beside Banff National Park. Canmore has become our “home away from home” and a place we visit a couple of times a year. A big part of what we were most excited about for the summer was spending a lot of time together.
We spent a few days with them in Canmore with the highlight being time with our little nieces/cousins. We also hiked the east end of Rundle, swam at Quarry Lake and dusted off the mountain bikes.
We would reunite with them a few more times throughout the summer and it truly was the highlight of the summer, to be able to spend so much time together.
Best Multi-Day Hikes
Last year we did our first family backpacking trip and my goal for the summer was to do 2-3 more. We did two multi-day hikes this year and they were both spectacular. The first was in the Canadian Rockies and the second was along the coast of Vancouver Island.
We were lucky enough to get much coveted reservations to do the Iceline hike at Yoho National Park. We did a 3-day route and we had great weather for the first two days as we wore in our hiking shoes. The third day was the most epic day where we walked the Iceline ridge up into the snow. We woke up to rain and zero visibility and after packing up the tent in the rain, we hunkered down in an Alpine Club of Canada hut. Here we met up with another family and when the rain broke, we spent the day hiking the ridge together. It was great for the kids to have friends to hike with to distract them from the effort and they were all excited for the snow that we encountered on the ridge.
Iceline is always listed as one of the best multi-day hikes in Canada and it definitely lived up to that reputation. The kids did great carrying their packs, handling the rain. We did of course bring lots of gummy treats to keep them motivated.
Juan de Fuca
Paul and I had planned to do the epic West Coast Trail with friends for our 40th birthdays this year. That trail stayed closed all summer, but we settled for 5 days on the equally as stunning Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on Vancouver Island. The kids were incredible on this 47 km rugged hike through huge swatches of mud and old growth forests. Our campsites each evening were right against the beach with nightly beach fires and awesome sunsets.
The hike was hard! It challenged both Paul and I, and we were so proud of the kids for completing this challenge, that they didn’t willingly sign up for. On our 4th day on the trail, the family suffered from multiple hornet stings culminating in Ella breaking out in severe hives. We ended up deciding to hike out that evening in case she needed medical attention. Thus we didn’t complete the last 7 km and will have to return one day to finish it off. Luckily, her hives went away with antihistamines.
Best Luxury Experience: Jasper Park Lodge
After about a month in the trailer, my brother organized a stay for us at Jasper Park Lodge. The lodge features luxurious Canadian log cabins on a turquoise lake surrounding by mountains. It was such a treat to spend a few days at the resort soaking in the beauty of the area and indulging in some delicious meals and pampering.
It was also a great base to explore Jasper National Park, including my favourite highlight – visiting the stunning Edith Cavell Glacier. It was a completely magical sight made especially fun by the marmot sightings.
As a family we have really gotten into mountain biking in the last year and BC provided lots of opportunities to improve our skills.
For Gavin and Paul, the highlight was riding the Whistler Bike Park, North America’s best bike park. They suited up in full armour, rented downhill bikes and spent a day doing laps on the mountain.
The boys also rode the lift-accessed trails of Revelstoke, mastering berms and jumps. We rode other iconic Canadian bike spots like Squamish and Vancouver’s North Shore. We suffered our share of bruises and cuts and learned that in the mountains, you need pads! The boys loved the many bike parks found throughout BC and fearlessly took on the jumps as I watched nervously.
One of our favourite tamer family rides was exploring the Okanagan’s Kettle Valley Trail with its canyons, trestle bridges and winery views.
Best Off the Beaten Path Destination: Hornby Island
When planning our summer road trip we knew we wanted to spend time relaxing on one of Vancouver Island’s Gulf Islands. While we could have picked some of the well known ones, my brother recommended little Hornby Island. Well known and loved by locals and BC mainlanders, it was an island I had never heard of. Families return here summer after summer and after spending almost a week on the island, we can see why.
We had to take 3 ferries to get there, but were rewarded with views that lived up to its moniker as the “Hawaii of the North”. Beautiful beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, great mountain-biking, and most importantly, a welcoming and wholesome community made Hornby Island one of our favourite destinations from our road trip.
Most Thrilling: Bushfires in Penticton
My planning and booking skills were rewarded when I landed us a coveted beachfront campground for a week on Skaha Lake in the Okanagan. Usually we prefer staying in National Park or Provincial Parks, but this private campground’s location couldn’t be beat. Just a few steps from the lake with views of the Okanagan bluffs and wineries, it more than made up for the crowded sites.
While we were there, a bushfire started across the lake and we had a front seat view as over the week, the fire grew quickly to over 20 square kilometers. Since the fire was far enough away to ensure our safety, when we weren’t off exploring, we watched the firefighting crews of water bombers and helicopters pick up water from the lake and douse it on the hot spots. It was only at night that we could see the true extent of the fire as Christie Mountain glowed red.
Best Swimming: Whistler Lake Life
Whistler may be best known as a winter destination, but it has so much to offer in the summer. Aside from world class biking (mentioned above), we loved spending our days biking to the different lakes around Whistler and spending the day staying cool surrounded by towering mountain peaks.
New Skills Learned: Skimboarding and Surfing
Being near the ocean allowed the boys to practice skimboarding and even surfing. This brought back memories of Australia, including the frigid southern ocean waters near Melbourne.
Overrated Destination: Tofino
We had never been to Vancouver Island and when planning our itinerary we knew we wanted to spend a few weeks on the island and include a visit to the much-talked about Tofino. I am not sure entirely what it was, but for us Tofino didn’t live up to the hype. It might have been that it was the August long weekend and ridiculously crowded or it could have been the chilly weather after a week in the sun on Hornby Island. It could have been the freezing Pacific Ocean water that wasn’t very enticing or maybe it was just travel fatigue.
My brother was flabbergasted that we didn’t love Tofino. We did manage to enjoy some walks, killer tacos and the boys braved the icy waters for some surfing.
Favourite National Park: Mount Revelstoke
Our longest stay of the summer was in the brand new Snowforest campground in Mount Revelstoke National Park. We have listened to my brother rave about Revelstoke, nicknamed Revy, for years. After the let down of Tofino, my brother was questioning if we would like Revy any better. Luckily, we loved this cute little mountain town and it was so nice to slow down and spend a week together with my brother’s family. We managed to get in lots of biking and hiking and cousin snuggles.
Most Exciting Wildlife Experience: The Bear on Juan de Fuca
Bears are one of those animals you want to see, but just not too close. While hiking Iceline in Yoho National Park we had heard that we were very close to two juvenile grizzlies, including one white spirit bear. I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t see them, but on our Juan de Fuca hike we came across a bear feeding on shellfish in the tidal pools. It was surreal to watch at a distance, although it made the kids quite nervous.
My second favourite animal encounter was the giant banana slugs that we saw through the Juan de Fuca trail. They were giant and we passed the kilometers talking about the fictitious club we weren’t going to start to save them from extinction.
Most Unique Stay: Yurt
I love experience-based gifts and we were lucky enough to be gifted a stay in a yurt at the stunning Mount Engadine Lodge near Canmore. Last year we were gifted a stay at the Chateau Lake Louise, but this was just as magical. It was really special to cozy up in our heated yurt at night surrounded by a winter wonderland. We enjoyed delicious meals in the main lodge and hiked and snowshoed the surrounding area.
Favourite Local Finds
The pandemic forced us to look for adventure closer to home and gave us the excuse to do some fall camping.
McGregor Point Camping with Friends
Camping with friends is the best especially when you end up with a gaggle of loud children that love to hang out and adults that are equally interested in sharing a bonfire. A great Provincial Park on Lake Huron combined with good friends was a great way to get away in the fall. Especially when my parents again lent us their trailer so we didn’t have to hack it in a tent in the cold.
Restoule Provincial Park
Thanksgiving looked a little different for us this year. Instead of a big dinner with family, we went camping and enjoyed the fall colours of Restoule Provincial Park. It was the perfect way to cap off a great season of camping.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Sleeping Giant is a 15 hour drive from our house (and we still didn’t leave our home province!). Our drive out west took us right past this beautiful park near Thunder Bay. We only had a couple of nights here but loved the warm swimming lake and the sense of accomplishment of hiking to the Top of the Giant.
Favourite Eats and Drinks
When staying in Canada’s premier wine region, we had to visit some of the beautiful wineries of the Naramata Bench. It turns out that during Covid, you can’t just show up at the wineries, especially when you are toting sweaty kids with you. With some helpful recommendations and advance planning, Paul and I managed an afternoon sampling some of the region’s wines. We were particularly impressed with LaFrenz and weighed down the truck with bottles to bring home.
Hands down the best part of our time in Tofino was eating at the very famous for a reason, Tacofino food truck. We loved it so much that we went back twice and then visited one of their Vancouver restaurants too. We love Mexican food and these tacos were delish – even worth the 30-60 min wait!
Sushi Village in Whistler had the most delicious sushi we have had in a long time. Tasty classic and inventive rolls had us scarfing down plate after plate. I am salivating just typing this…
Most Memorable Flight: Flying During Covid
Other than flying home from Alberta after New Years, the family didn’t fly at all in 2020. Shocking for us! However, since I needed to be back in Ontario for September to start work, I did get to experience a flight during the pandemic, while Paul drove the 3,000kms home solo. Flying definitely wasn’t enjoyable for me; it felt so strange and unsettling to be sitting so close to complete strangers. I couldn’t wait to get off the airplane and out of the airport. I can’t say that flying during a pandemic was on my bucket list, but I survived and tested negative a few days later, just to be certain.
What’s Next for 2021
By summer we realized that it would be unlikely that we could head south in the new year. So we moved to Plan B (or C or D) and decided to be ski bums in BC for the winter. We absolutely loved our time out there in the summer and we loved being able to spend so much time with my brother’s family.
We thought we were being creative with our ski bum plan, but it turns out many people in Canada, from university students to professionals working from home, had the same idea. We had a really hard time finding accommodation in these small mountain towns that are being overrun this year by people wanting to base themselves there. Luckily we found a great place at Kicking Horse in Golden. It is ski-in, ski-out, so it will be really convenient to hit the slopes in between virtual work and school. One of the things we are most excited about is that my brother’s family will come out every weekend so we will have lots of family time.
We have gone all in on this plan: season passes purchased, new equipment and gear purchased, lessons signed up for and lots of charges on the credit card. We will be driving out there when school ends in December, doing our second cross country Canada trip in 6 months. We will stay in Golden until mid-April when the ski hill closes and then… well we aren’t sure.
We have a number of contingency plans depending on what is going on with that pandemic then. We might still be able to take a road trip down to Mexico or the southern US for a few months, we could base ourselves in BC for the summer and transition from skiing into biking or we could end up with a completely different plan. This year has taught us to be flexible, make plans in the sand and take advantage of opportunities that come our way. What is certain is that we will be back in Ontario for September for Ella to start high school. In the meantime, we will be sharing lots of winter adventures as we take on the BC mountains.
I am hoping to getting back to blogging more regularly and sharing more about our adventures last summer as well as our new winter ones. We hope you are all staying safe during this time and we can’t wait for the day we can all get back to travelling. If you are looking for inspiration to plan your future trips, check out our 2019 Year in Review, 2018 Year in Review, 2017 Year in Review and 2016 Year in Review.
Happy Holidays! I think we are all ready to move onto 2021!