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First Father-Son Camping Trip? Yeah, Dude!

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My legs are aching, my arms feel like they will be pulled from their sockets and I can’t even see the river! Clomp, clomp, clomp. Yes, I went over the list, checked it twice and made sure everything was packed. But I should have weighed the darn packs before we set out.

This was my first father-son overnight canoe trip with my Dude, age 10. We’re going with a good friend and his son on the Bow River from Ghost Reservoir to Cochrane, located roughly halfway between Calgary and the Eastern edge of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. I’ve been involved in watersports for more than 30 years and am hoping this is the trip that gets my son hooked on canoeing. We’re off to a slow start.

Have patience

When I first started paddling this section of river—a long time ago—you could drive right down to the water’s edge to unload your gear, but this is no longer an option. Clomp, clomp, clomp.

We eventually find the river, secure our packs in the canoe and put the gruelling hike behind us as we exit our eddy, head downstream and let the water’s current do the work for a while.

Our surroundings are impressive. The dull roar of the Ghost Dam is fading behind us and the valley grasses and trees are green and lush. We see eagles gliding gracefully along the valley walls, two deer swimming effortlessly and fast across the river, and even some fish jumping.

father-son canoeing and campingThis is more like it.

Bring Nature To the Kid’s Level

We practice some basic paddle strokes and work on eddy turns. But I know that the way to make this adventure appeal to 10-year-olds is to make it fun. So when I spot a nice standing wave I call out, “Dude, put in a draw on the left!” We head up stream with a few quick strokes and we catch it! The river is rushing by our boat and we’re staying in the same spot, surfing! Dude let’s out a yell of delight and I’m feeling encouraged.

This part of the upper Bow River has two great sections where you can blast through the waves and get soaked, practice your maneuvering through the rapids or try your hand at river surfing. After seeking out these fun spots for a while we need a rest from paddling. I break out the water cannons for an impromptu water fight. The boys are wet and happy. So are the dads.

Keep It Simple

a short cut to camping s'smores By mid-day we reach our island destination and claim the best spot for pitching camp. Our tent is only a few feet from the river; the view is awesome. After a quick Dads’ supper (pasta in a bag) it`s time for campfire dessert: Lazy Man S’mores. We roast marshmallows and sandwich them between two chocolate-topped Leclerc Celebration cookies. Quick, easy and no mess! For me and Dude they’re the cat’s pajamas.

Offer a Challenge

Day Two starts with a Geocaching adventure.

geocaching makes camping with kids funIt’s over there!”
“Pull into that eddy!”
“Hey, Cool there’s a little stream here!”

The boys are armed with GPS’s and they’re off into the bush in search of treasure. Geocaching, looking for a prize that someone hides for fellow adventurers to find using clues provided online, is a great way to learn to use a GPS in the wilderness (instead of just using it to find the nearest Tim Horton’s!)

We jump back and forth over the small creek wiping sweat from our brows and spider webs from our faces. Our clues tell us to look for a rock wall and broken cotton tree. We find them and search high and low but we can’t find the box of lucky stones supposedly hidden here. This elusive geocache will stay on the list for another day.

Feel Good When It Goes Well

Just a few more hours of gentle paddling and we arrive at the take-out late in the afternoon.

As we drive home in the remaining sun some random thoughts float through my head: Will I remember to weigh all the packs before the next trip? Who invented Lazy Man S’mores? Camping on an island with nobody around is amazing.

Most important, Dude thought it was a great outing and I’m glad my plans for making the adventure fun and relatable for a 10-year-old actually worked.

We’ll be back.

Darrell Everett loves traveling to off-the-beaten track places and experiencing the outdoors with his wife and son. He once wrote the travel blog
My Adventure Dad. You might find him on Facebook and twitter.

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