With pandemic travel precautions, families are rediscovering the joys of at-home vacations
By Janet Whitman
After almost a year of home-schooling stints, physical-distancing, mask-wearing, bubbling, and other on-and-off measures to grapple with COVID-19, March break won’t be like we remember.
Trips to warm and sunny Walt Disney World, or even cold and snowy New Brunswick, are off the table. But there’s no shortage of things to do around the province and right here in Halifax.
“People are discovering just how great it is here and how much there is to offer right on our doorstep,” says Jan-Sebastian LaPierre, author of the A is for Adventure children’s book and co-founder of a local business of the same name, which aims to inspire people to get outdoors and explore. “The amount of people who have gotten out is at an all-time high. I hope post-COVID this continues.”
PARENT PRO TRIP
While they’re pretty good about getting kids outfitted properly for the elements with scarves, mitts, hats and waterproof boots, parents aren’t always so savvy about dressing themselves, which can take the fun out of a day outdoors. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a bundle at an outdoor gear shop, says LaPierre, who likes layers and has been sporting his 18-month-old son on his latest hiking adventures. There are plenty more affordable options at big box retailers like Costco or Walmart, or even better deals at Value Village and Frenchy’s.
A skate on the Oval on Halifax Common or a sledding excursion are great ways to fill up with a few hours of fresh air. Top spots around the city for sledding include Citadel Hill, Merv Sullivan Park (AKA “the Pit”) in the North End, Gorsebrook Field in the South End and Flinn Park in the West End, Dartmouth Common, the Mother Hill behind Mount Saint Vincent in Clayton Park, and Bedford’s De Wolfe Park to name a few.
The Adventure Earth Centre, part of HRM’s parks and recreation service, offers free snowshoes. Families can get outfitted with pairs at Chocolate Lake Recreation Centre the head off to try out the trails at Sir Sandford Fleming Park along Purcell’s Cove Road or Shubie Park on the north side of Lake Micmac in Dartmouth.
For a bit more structure, Earth Adventures has 30-fun-filled trails in and around Halifax and the Annapolis Valley that are geared toward children from ages five to 12. On 1.5-hour, 1.8-kilometre trip on the Halifax waterfront, kids can learn how wild creatures survive in an urban landscape, or head to Woodens River for a “wizards and potions” two-hour hiking adventure. Find details at earthadventures.ca.
Geocaching is another activity that appeals to all ages. There are at least a half a dozen Facebook groups around the province for the GPS-enabled outdoor treasure hunts, a craze that started in 2000. With GPS, participants navigate to a specific set of coordinates and then try to find the hidden “geocache,” typically a hidden container with a logbook.
There are countless apps to enhance the outdoor experience. Consider Seek by iNaturalist, which helps identify flowers, trees, birds and animals. For an
evening outing, apps such as SkyView or Star Walk 2 offer a more illuminating experience, teaching about the nighttime sky and constellations. Fisherman’s Cove in Eastern Passage and Hubbards Beach are prime spots for stargazing.
A 1.5-hour drive from Halifax, 30 kilometres of hiking trails surround Sugar Moon Farm. The family-run maple syrup operation has snowshoes to rent, with a book-in-advance option, and a takeout menu of sandwiches, maple mac and cheese, and other carb-filled fair to keep the kids fuelled for the adventure.
A little further afield is Keppoch Mountain, a recreational hub near Antigonish with groomed areas with cross-country skis and snowshoes for rent and hilly trails for “fat-biking” with mountain bikes equipped with wide tires (between 4” and 5”) that can handle snowy conditions.
NOT A FAN OF THE OUTDOORS?
Downtown Halifax has an array of indoor options for March Breakers looking to get out of the cold. The Discovery Centre is free on Wednesday nights, while the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has free admission on Thursday nights. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 are free for children five and under.