Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Easy Overnight Paddling Trips for the Whole Family

A few years ago we did our first overnight paddling trip as a family and I learned a couple of valuable lessons:  One, you don’t have to actually carry your gear to get into the backcountry if you use a boat, and Two, you don’t have to carry small children either!

Canoeing or kayaking into a backcountry campground is by far one of the easiest ways to access beautiful wilderness locations as a family.  No backpacks, no child carriers, no strollers – and you can do the trip in sandals! 

Overnight paddling trips give you access to great campsites like this at the Point on Upper Kananaskis Lake

What kind of boat should you take?

Canoes and kayaks both work very well for overnight paddling trips and I’ve even used my stand up paddle board to get to camp while our kayak carried the family gear.   Tandem recreational kayaks work especially well and you can even fit a couple of lawn chairs in the middle of them.  We’ve also seen friends pull a second boat with their gear so that they could bring everything they’d normally bring for car camping. (Just make sure you don’t try this technique on a river and that it’s an easy short paddle to camp!)

Backpacking with our tandem recreational kayak

If choosing to canoe (and you won’t be doing any long portages), try to rent a large tripping canoe, 16-18 feet long, and you’ll have plenty of room for a couple of children and your gear in the middle. Otherwise, rent one or two two tandem recreational kayaks for a family of four and you’ll have plenty of space for gear. 

Most people canoe to camp.  I use a stand up paddleboard.

How to pack for an overnight paddling trip

If you’re going to be doing a lot of overnight paddling trips, you can invest in gear barrels and dry bags but for the occasional trip, heavy-duty garbage bags will work just fine to keep your sleeping bags, tent, and other gear dry and safe.  One dry bag is recommended though at least for your keys, wallet, phone, and other vital accessories that absolutely cannot get wet.

If you expect to be walking any distance at all from the shore to your campsite, it is recommended that you pack in the same way as you would for a backpacking trip.  Put all of your gear in packs wrapped with a couple of heavy-duty garbage bags.  That way, you can easily shuttle your gear to your campsite. 

And if you’re going to be on a river, don’t forget to tie down your gear into a canoe in case you should tip!

This method of shuttling gear will work on a calm lake for short distances

Where to camp

The Point Backcountry Campground in Kananaskis is an ideal spot for a first overnight paddling trip with the kids. In good conditions without a strong wind, you can make it across Upper Kananaskis Lake in under an hour.  Start early in the day when the lake is always calmest and plan to do day tours on the lake once you’ve set up camp. 

If you are nervous about taking small children in a boat, you can also hike to camp with the kids while a couple of adults paddle the gear in. It’s a short 3.4 km hike via the Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit from the North Interlakes day use area.

Disclaimer: as of 2021 there are no more firepits in backcountry campgrounds in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The gathering of wood to build a fire is also prohibited (and you can not bring your own wood in by boat.)

Paddling on Upper Kananaskis Lake to the Point

Other Water-accessible Campgrounds near Calgary:

Jewell Bay Campground on Barrier Lake, Kananaskis – A short 20 minute paddle or an easy 4km hike takes you to a  small backcountry campground on Barrier Lake.

Scenic campsites on Barrier Lake at Jewell Bay

LM8 on Lake Minnewanka, Banff – This backcountry campground is accessed by an easy 8km hiking trail or a paddle along the shores of beautiful Lake Minnewanka.  Note that winds can pick up on this large lake so early starts are of importance when water is calmer.  There are also wildlife restrictions in place at certain times of the year so visit the Banff National Park website for more information.

Paddling on Lake Minnewanka

Steveville Campground on the Red Deer River, Southern Alberta – An easy two day paddle spread out over 30km will take you from Emerson Bridge to Dinosaur Provincial Park with a night at the Steveville Campground.  You’ll paddle through the Dinosaur Park badlands and you can extend your trip with a night or two at the Dinosaur Provincial Park Campground to enjoy hiking in the area. The Steveville Campground is road accessible as well if you need an early escape off the river.

Easy paddling on the Red Deer River with inflatable and recreational kayaks

Reservations are required at most campgrounds so check in advance before planning your trip.  Also, it is advised to talk with staff in local parks when choosing the best time of year to paddle with your family.  Rivers can range from easy class I float trips to class II trips with big rapids depending on the time of year.

More Reading

Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddleboard

5 Reasons to Introduce Stand Up Paddleboarding to the Family

Stand up paddleboarding in Banff

Family Canoeing and Kayaking in the Canadian Rockies

The Annual Family Backpacking Trip - worth fighting for

The Red Deer River is great for family overnight trips

How to Fit 7 People in a Canoe  - Backcountry Adventures in Kananaskis

5 Years of Family Backpacking Trips

You can fit a lot of gear + two kids and a dog in a canoe for a weekend

Paddling and Camping on the Columbia River with Kids   

Paddling the Alberta Badlands 

1 comment:

  1. Um, yeah, I know what our next family adventure will be! This looks awesome.