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Thread: British Columbia canoe camping trip with small kids

  1. #1

    Default British Columbia canoe camping trip with small kids

    Some time ago I posted a request for advice about canoe camping with small kids and wanted to share the result. Originally we intended heading up to the famous Bowron Lakes as part of our six-week road trip around BC but decided in the end to head to the less well known Powell Forest Canoe Route and was very glad we did. The reason was that Bowron is a very long detour from our road trip and would not give us any flexibility (launch dates are pre-booked or you take the risk of not getting a permit-on-arrival and boat rental) and Powell Forest does not have any permits and is only 2.5 hours from Vancouver. Lastly, We thought Bowron was too committing for a first trip with small kids (2 and 4 years old... just) and my reluctant non-paddling wife. Once on the Bowron circuit you are committed, whereas the Powell Forest is crossed by active logging roads giving us the option to get out if necessary. This last factor proved very prescient.

    The Powell Forest Canoe Route is 57 km over 8 lakes with 5 portages. The area is crown land managed for forestry with free camp sites and maintained portage trails so it is not a real Canadian backcountry experience but we did not see anyone on the route and you cannot really see much evidence of the forestry operations from lake level. One the route you are surrounded by thick cedar and spruce forest and snow capped mountains. The paddling on the crystal clear lakes was breath-taking with dead trees lying on the lake bed clearly visible 3 or 4 metres below the boat. It was also quite eye opening to see cougar prints in the mud between your feet while portaging a boat down the trail. That was a nerve wracking experience but I was later told that bears and cougars are usually scared off by people carrying boats. Very reassuring!

    This gives an impression of this lovely route:

    Our outfitting and shuttle was arranged by Christie Mitchell who did a great job and had a lot of helpful advice.

    We intended taking 5 days for the route and took 6 days of supplies, but in the end we pulled the pin at lunch time on day 3. After one and half days of scorching sunshine the clag came in and it rained solidly for 24 hours, which our 2 and 4 year old daughters put up with admirably but with temperatures around 8 degrees and water rising under the tent we decided that it was better to take the girls out. Luckily we ran into a logging team who kindly offered to drive us out.

    So although not a ‘success’ in the traditional success, our girls coped better than we expected and now my formerly reluctant wife is keen on the very keen on wilderness canoe camping. So I’m very happy with the result and am planning more canoe camping trips!

    We did have some feedback on advice we received on here and also from Ray and Lina at the Peddelpraat in Nieuwegein, as well as some of our own experiences:

    1. Small children and bear-aware camping is indeed very hard as Lina and Ray pointed out. So the girls had a day set of clothes and a night set of clothes. The dirty food covered clothes went in the bear-proof barrel for the night and the campsite was cleaned very carefully before bedtime (kids drop food everywhere).
    2. Our youngest is still in nappies so we carried a big ortlieb drybag lined with a bin bag and a good dose of bleach powder to reduce the smell/moisture. Even after only three days this became very very heavy. I would actually say it is much much easier on your back if you wait till kids are out of nappies before trying wilderness canoe tripping.
    3. It was recommended to take a huge bag of marshmellows to keep the kids happy around the campfire which we duly did but my god that was a nightmare. The girls loved it but all that sugar had them bouncing off the insides of the tent. Never again.
    4. The outfitter gave us a pond net for the girls which they loved to play with. We also took little magnifying glasses and binoculars for them to play with on the portage trails. Well worth the extra weight. Other than that we took no toys and they were not missed.
    5. We also took two key cords to attach the girls comforters and dummy to them so they would not fall out of the boat. Any parents of small kids will know what it is like to loose these!
    6. We kept lots of snacks at hand in a dry bag in the boat. A no brainer.
    7. We took the girls on a few short paddles here in the Netherlands to get them used to being in a boat and wearing the PFDs. We took their PFDs to Canada to prevent tantrums when trying to get them into unfamiliar PFDs. Probably the wisest preparation we did.
    8. We decided to cook on a gas stove rather than on an open fire. Although the more traditional approach is more in keeping with the iconic canoe camping scene practicality is the name of the game with small kids.
    9. We put a thermorest in the bottom of the boat during our trial canoe trips in the Netherlands and did the same in BC. As a result they easily went to sleep in the boat while we paddled.
    10. Portaging with small kids is brutal. I would portage the 20kg+ food barrel, then a 20kg+ canyoning rucksack and then the boat (thank god for kevlar). The longest portage trail was 2.5km. Although our eldest is happy to walk (slowly) the younger one usually needs carrying if you want to make any kind of progress.

    We had to realise that our girls will put up with anything as long as we are there but they are really incapable of keeping themselves warm and dry. It is quite difficult to be organising camp, cooking, portaging or paddling when its 8 degrees and raining and then your daughter decides to take her shoes off and run through puddles or to throw her sisters’ raincoat into the lake (caught in time)! I think our advice with hindsight is to set low expectations, keep it fun and have a flexible plan.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2008


    An excellent insight into what sounds like a wonderful trip. Who cares if you cut it short, if the weather changes, when you're with kids you do what you need to do.

    I'd recommend the Swedish lakes as a possible alternative, e.g. Glaskogen. No bears to worry about, but you can chose how remote you want to get. I'd also recommend the NW of Scotland for wild trips, but then I recommend that to everybody! There are blogs on both on SOTP, use the search or have a look here for quick links to them (Especially the Pirate blogs, as the kids started at just about the same age as yours);
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

  3. #3


    What a great website. Many thanks for the link Mal, and for being one of the original contributors to my first thread. I really liked seeing your pirate trips. A few weeks ago i took our eldest daughter and her friend on a short canoe trip and we made pirate hats, eye patches and flags for the boat. Kept them entertained!

    I have trip to NW Scotland on the horizon but that will be with whitewater kayaks! Sweden was what we were thinking for a multiday canoe trip. We’ve been to Arvika, Glaskogen and the klaralven river before but not canoeing. We were considering either Dalsland or the area around Ljungsby this time. Too many ideas too little time.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2010


    I've paddled in Dalsland a number of times but this year it was overcrowded, I think mainly due to the large number visiting from The Canoe Trip. I'm not sure if they plan the same thing next year, but it's making us reconsider taking our DoE groups there. The Ljungby area looks good.

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