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How To Ace A First Father-Kid Camping Trip

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Clomp, clomp, clomp.

My legs are aching, my arms feel like they will be pulled from their sockets and I can’t even see the river I’m walking toward with a canoe, a load of gear and my son.

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, and maybe lightened our load a bit.

This would be 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.

putting canoes in the water for a camping adventure near Banff

I’ve been involved in watersports for more than 30 years and am hoping this trip gets my son away from the Fortnite and his phone and hooked on canoeing. We’re off to a slow start.

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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 canoes 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.

Father-son canoeing on the Bow River

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.

This is more like it. And the Dude seems impressed, or at least interested enough that he’s not saying he’s bored.

Bring Nature To the Kids’ 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.

Learning to Paddle a canoe can be fun for a kid if you have the right attitude

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!

these water canons are light and slim for camping, with huge firepower

Dude let’s out a yell of delight. 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.

Don’t Forget: Lightweight, high-powered water canons
Download our Outdoor Packing List

Keep Things 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, available from most outdoor stores) 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.

marshmallows are essential to camping with kids.

(Note from Eileen at  FamiliesGo!: This is the only way we do s’mores now.

The cookies are delicious. And it’s much more manageable than that stack of marshmallow, Hershey bars and graham crackers that falls apart as soon as you bite into it. I do mine open-faced!)

Offer a Challenge

Day Two starts with a Geocaching treasure hunt.

“It’s over there!”
“Pull into that eddy!”
“Hey, Cool! There’s a little stream here!”

handheld GPS system for Geocaching from GarminThe boys are armed with handheld GPS systems and they’re off into the bush in search of treasure.

In Geocaching you hunt for a prize that someone hides for fellow adventurers to find using clues provided online. It’s a great way to learn to use a GPS in the wilderness, instead of just using it to find the nearest Chipotle!

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.

Try This: Pocket Geocaching Tool from Garmin 
• Plus, The Idiot’s Guide To Geocaching 

Pat Yourself on the Back When It’s Over

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.

Kids and dads bond when they get in the woods

Most important, Dude thought it was a great outing and is willing to do it again!

I’m glad my plans for making the adventure fun and relatable for a 10-year-old actually worked.

We’ll be back.

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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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