Recently my family and I have really gotten into canoe camping! We fell in love after this spring’s first trip into the BWCA. We realized that there are a whole bunch of sites throughout Minnesota – that offers canoe in campsites! So this past weekend we headed up to Savanna Portage State Park and canoed in on Wolf Lake.
Here are my 10 Tips for Canoe Camping with Kids & Dogs
1.) Everyone – and I mean everyone wears a life jacket at all times! – Even the dogs!
All of us have life jackets on! Our JRT (Jack Russell Terrier) decided to swan dive out of our canoe in Boot Lake in the BWCA – and missing just one paddle stroke in the stern my husband picked her up by the handle on her life jacket and put her right back in the canoe. Our new GSP (aren’t these initials fun? German Shorthaired Pointer) puppy also fell out of the canoe this past weekend, and while my husband again was on the cell phone with one hand, paddle at waist picked our Crosby up with just one hand and put him back in the canoe. Yes. Dogs can swim. But yes, they can also get tired, and having a handle on them [literally] is invaluable.
2.) Easy meals are key!
I mean seriously. Who wants to be slaving away at the camp kitchen all day? I love easy meals that taste great! For our 2 day trip to Wolf Lake I was a bit more laxed on the cooler department and we ended up brining our big cooler – but we had brats, foil dinner, and pre-made (homemade) breakfast burritos that were wrapped in tinfoil that were an absolute breeze to whip up in the morning! Want breakfast… okay – pop one on the fire grate. Bam. Done!
Now on the otherhand – when in the BWCA – we don’t bring any cooler. We found foil chicken packets + Knorrs rice sides to be super yummy! We tried some of the soup options but they usually serve 8 – so a lot usually gets spilled on the fire and wasted. Chicken, Rice & Veggies that travel well are key for us.
3.) Everyone wears a whistle – (esp in the bwca or wilderness) and the dogs have excellent recall – or they’re on a leash.
When we were in the BWCA – EVERYONE wears a whistle. At wolf lake we did not. When we go back to the BWCA – EVERYONE will have on a whistle. There are too many incidents of lost travelers and yelling will only last so long. Our dogs have been trained on the clicker. When I click – they come a running and they get a treat.
4.) Water proof – water proof – water proof – did I mention water proof?
Even bilge water in the canoe can put a damper on your day if any of your belongings NOT inside of your pack that is lined with contractor bags gets wet right? Right. And kids – while usually resilient to the cold etc – can become miserable in a hurry if their stuff is wet! So your argument may be – start a fire and dry it on the fire right? Well thats great if you’re at a site with an abundance of dry firewood, but our stay on Fairy Lake was void of ANY dry firewood so starting a fire was tough stuff.
5.) Wool sox and great shoes!
Oh man. Can I even preach more on this!!!! I had a pair of amazing Keeen Targhee’s and a pair of Bog Boots. The Bog Boots were absolutely AMAZING around camp! We camp shoulder months so its usually pretty cool when we camp. Also… wool sox – wool sox – wool sox! I stepped into ankle deep water on more than one occasion with water spilling into my boots while wearing wool sox and want to know if I was miserable? No… I wasn’t.
6.) Remain Flexible
I had this absolutely amazing idea of paddling hardcore and straight through up to Beartrap lake – which is a simple 11 miles away – for my husband and I… but I forgot to factor in my daughters actual skills – not the skills I hoped she would have. So we make it up to Fairy Lake… got snowed in – which was an adventure all in itself and never stood foot on Beartrap lake [yet]. So I had a few choices. I could be sad and sullen that my read: 8 months of planning didn’t go exactly as planned… but instead I decided to embrace what the new trip had become and I cannot wait to get back!
7.) Dog food and our food goes in singular zip lock bags marked with the meal and the day.
This just makes everything super simple to find! What I do it put each “meal” into a quart size bag. So I put four packs of oatmeal into a quart size bag and label it “Thursday Breakfast” if we are bringing Mac and Cheese – I spill the contents of the box into the bag – and mark on it “Thursday Lunch” or whatever… and same with dinner. Then all of the “Thursday” meals go into a large gallon zip lock and I label it “Thursday”. I also made up a few extra bags for extra hungry days – or if anything were to happen. The nice thing is that the empty zip lock bags can be used for trash to seal in all of that… smell 😉
8.) Do not overpack
Because obviously then you will have to carry it – or double or triple portage. Any of which we’re not interested in.
9.) Practice Canoeing
This is definitely more for the dogs than anyone else. Paddling frequently helps the dogs understand proper canoe etiquette. (re: Stay in the canoe and sit or lie still)
10.) Bring along some fun and easy games!
There are going to be some days when the weather does not cooperate – and you’re stuck under a tarp or in the tent. During our first trip into the BWCA we encountered a snow storm – so we all hunkered down in the tent and played pictionary. We had brought along a coloring book with colored crayon sticks, a water proof deck of cards, and nature yatzhee. These three items proved to be invaluable on our trip.
Some other amazing tips from my friends over at bwca.com
* Be careful around the fire, little ones (and dogs) can get burned easily
* ID tags for both the dogs and young children on the off chance you get separated. If dogs get separated people can call your phone number to be reunited. Older kids may know your phone number, but younger kids in a scared situation may not or may have forgotten.
* Cut the dogs nails or leave the tent open a hair for emergency exits by your dogs. Nobody wants a torn tent!
* My dad always stayed on Islands. He’d put a life jacket on us, and let us rome the island. He figured he could limit how far we could get lost that way. His rule was go where we want, but stay on the island. It was great for us. It allowed us the freedom to explore and enjoy the adventure.
* allow the kids to help in the planning, the packing, the navigating etc. Let them own it. Even the car ride up, see if they can tell you when to turn.
* s’mores or some other dessert for night