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 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 two tandem kayaks for a family of four and you’ll have plenty of space for gear. This is the kind of tandem kayak that we have and love from Mountain Equipment COOP.
|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.
|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.
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