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Canoeing, Techniques & Advice, Trip Planning

Solo Canoe Trip Across the BWCA – All the essentials

May 13, 2010



Boundary Waters Crossing

Before moving to Duluth, I spent minimal time in a canoe, preferring to be hiking in the mountains.  My wife and I quickly embraced trips on the water and were hooked after our first canoe trip to Voyagers NP.  As Duluth Pack’s Marketing Director, every trip with friends ended up including a photo shoot for the Duluth Pack catalog.  We had plenty of weekend trips in the Boundary Waters, but whenever the opportunity for a longer trip came up, we headed out west. When I felt my time in Duluth nearing an end, I started dreaming up a Boundary Waters crossing.

I enjoy leisurely trips in the outdoors: taking naps or reading in the canoe, cooking great food and playing games with friends by the campfire, but I always plan one trip a year where I push myself to my limits. I’m curious what I can do, how fast and far I can go. I had never gone further than 9 or 10 miles in a day on a canoe trip, but knew if I went by myself and went light, I could go much further. I had 9 days of vacation, so I knew to cover the almost 200 miles I would have to paddle over 20 miles per day. View the route here.

vermilion-riverSolbergs on the Vermilion River

I dropped Molly Solberg (Duluth Pack customer service and social networking guru) and her husband off on the Vermilion River. They were going to paddle out to the boat launch where I was starting at Crane Lake. I told my wife that I didn’t know how, but somehow I would find a way to contact her to let her know when and where to pick me up. By some miracle, she was game.

My 10’ish essentials.

Here are some highlights of what I brought: (or you can read the whole list here)

Clothing – Crocs (these were perfect for the longest portages, odd I know), Buzz Off shirt and hat (very glad for these and yes they work), Icebreaker top for warmth,  Filson hat for the rain (every canoeist needs one of these)

Gear - Bell Magic canoe (this boat is incredible for high miles), #4 Deluxe Duluth Pack in Waxed Canvas, Bending Branches expedition paddle, map case to keep one of the ten maps I took dry

Food - I’m a whole foods kind of guy and needed all the energy I could get, so I took a lot of bulk grains and made sauces to go with them. My favorite was protein laden Gado Gado quinoa.  Quinoa, peanut butter, soy sauce, oil and dehydrated veggies.  You can read my menu here.

Below are notes from my daily journal.  You can view all my photos from the trip here.


Day 1 – Crane Lake to Loon River

I didn’t get on the water till 7 PM.  I rushed off without checking the map and got confused as to where I was.  This was not a good start, and I set my mind not to let this happen again.

loon.loonriverLoon before Loon River

I took a break on a small island on Little Vermilion Lake to watch the sun go down and watch a loon swim around.

After the sun set, I paddled into the night down the Loon River. Both sides of the river were lined with fireflies. The sounds of loons, frogs and beaver tails slapping the water filled the air. It is quite an experience to have a beaver slap its tail on the water right next to your canoe in complete darkness.  I would have thought after the first ten slaps I would have gotten used to it, but each time I filled with adrenaline.  I ran into a beaver dam which clued me in that I was off course.  I was going with the “current,” but the river on the other side of the dam was higher than me.  I pulled over and set camp, surprisingly bug free.  I went to sleep thinking “maybe the bugs aren’t so bad in June.”

Day 2 – Loon River to Crooked Lake

mirroredloonriverMirrored Loon River

After an early wake up at 6 AM, I quickly got on the water figuring out where I got off course.  If you don’t get up early to enjoy paddling through a glassy lake early in the morning, you are missing the best part of paddling.  Trust me, it will make a nap in the afternoon all the better.

PICT7228.JPGYou are here













pictographsPictographs at Warrior Hill













curtainfallsCurtain Falls

Weaving through the hundreds of islands on Lac La Croix demonstrated how important it was to always know where I was at all times. It would be very easy to get lost out there among the myriad of islands without topography. I passed by pictographs of hands and moose on Warrior Hill and portaged around Curtain Falls.

After I paddled as far as I could (this was the longest distance day, 40+ miles), I headed towards a campsite.  I heard the sound of motors in the distance, but knew no motors were allowed in the area.  I turned on my headlamp and saw a cloud of bugs, the thickest and loudest cloud of bugs I had ever seen. I went to shore and quickly started a fire with some cedar.  The bugs dissipated and I quickly went to sleep after a sip or two of whiskey. Whiskey is key for solo trips.  You don’t need much to take off the edge that makes you think every mouse running around is a bear coming to maul you.


Day 3 -Crooked Lake to Basswood Lake

crookedlakeMmmmm….. glass on Crooked

I mostly paddled with a kayak paddle for mindless speed, but whenever the water was calm I switched to the canoe paddle.  There is nothing like silently and effortlessly gliding over mirrored water.


Turtles on Crooked Laketurtle

I watched an otter scurry along the edge of a cliff, saw turtles basking in the sun, heard more beaver tails slapping the water, watched an owl take off, eagles soar, fish swim under the canoe, and a deer coming to the water for a drink.  They supplied me with grateful breaks to just sit and watch.

Longer portages slowed me down and I saw many people around Basswood Falls.  A loud and strong thunderstorm whipped up and supplied a nice change.  I enjoy canoeing in the rain. As a photographer, I love the saturated color and diffused light.


basswoodstormstormy waters on Basswood











campsite on Basswood LakePICT7285.JPG

I lazily paddled across Basswood Lake with a rare tail wind.  I rounded American Point and found an almost tropical looking sandy campsite.  I had to call it quits early thanks to a migraine.  Took a long nap and cooked up some Gado Gado.  I love the way you view food on a trip – fuel.  When you need a refill, you eat.  There is no eating according to the clock.



Day 4 – Basswood Lake to Saganaga Lake

eaglekniferiverEagle over Knife River

The lakes I paddled through on day 4 are my favorite of the lakes I have seen in the Boundary Waters – loved the little duck through at the end of Ottertrack.  I started really zoning out, humming a cadence to the kayak paddle strokes.


Campsite on Sag

I navigated through the maze and finally made it into Saganaga Lake.  Dove into my tent exhausted after another long day.

Day 5 – Saganaga Lake to Gunflint Lake

Saganaga ended up being my least favorite lake.  I’m generally not a fan of the big lakes and prefer the coziness of the smaller lakes. Thanks to the blow down, Saganaga looks like a bomb hit it.  Toothpick remnants of trees silhouette the horizon.


graniteriverBlowdown on Granite River

I walked the canoe up several rapids.  It would have been great fun going the other way. All the portages were designed for those headed west.


Wild strawberry

I gorged myself on wild berries, but every time I stopped to glean, mosquitoes feasted on me.

I figured out how to paddle up smaller rapids. I would have never guessed it was possible.

I didn’t get one section of the map, relying on a map from a guide book. Bad idea, it is amazing how many options nature provides when you aren’t confident in exactly where you need to head.

I found my way out and paddled out to the Gunflint Lodge.  A Guinness and a burger did wonders.  I’m always surprised at the change in my social temperament after coming out of a long trip.  I’m always much slower, much quieter and say much less.  Too bad this fades so quickly after re-entry.

I was able to figure out my exit point and day, so I contacted my wife. I paddled down the monotonous length of Gunflint Lake and felt my batteries fading, so I pulled over to camp.

Day 6 – Gunflint Lake to Mountain Lake

By day six, I felt like I was wearing down.  I’m glad I’ve navigated out of the east end of Gunflint Lake before.  The map shows a very large opening coming out of the lake, but in reality there is only a very small opening.

I am a backpacker, and a 2 mile hike sounds like nothing, but when carrying a canoe and pack, two miles feels like 20.  I jogged down the trail, zoning out, when I almost ran someone over.  I hadn’t seen many people on the trip and did not expect to run into anyone on the ‘Long Portage.  The guy mentioned it was going to be rough up ahead due to beaver activity.  The trail was flooded in several sections which made for welcome breaks of paddling and pulling the canoe along the trail and over dams.



Lady slipper orchid

At the end of the portage I spotted a wilted lady slipper orchid that looked like I felt. Exhausted, I didn’t make it much farther before making camp.




Day 7- Mountain Lake to Pine Lake

Mergandser taking off on Royal River

I reached the eastern edge of the Boundary Waters at North Fowl Lake and looped back to make it a shorter driver for my wife to pick me up. I was cheered on by a family as I paddled up some rapids under a bridge at the end of the Arrowhead Trail.  An elderly man motored beside me for a ways on McFarland Lake, measuring my speed – 3.4 mph.  I headed back into the wilderness and down most of Pine Lake.

I really enjoyed the variety of scenery in the Boundary Waters.  In the western end, there is little to no topography, lots of swamps, islands everywhere and amazingly huge white pines.  In the eastern end are towering bluffs and long narrow lakes bordered by large hills.

pinelakeEscaping the bugs on Pine Lake

I spent a lot of time out in the canoe that evening, escaping the bugs that engulfed the shore.


Day 8 – Pine Lake to East Bearskin Lake

I awoke earlier than normal to wind, lightning and heavy rain.  I headed into a strong headwind for most of the day.




johnson fallsJohnson Falls

Found the unmarked trail up to Johnson Falls.  I’m surprised you don’t see that on the map.

Went past an amazing campsite on Little Caribou that I’d come back to for a catalog shoot.

Portage out of Caribou Lake portage

Caribou and Little Caribou lakes reminded me of New Zealand, thick carpets of green everywhere.

Amazingly, I arrived at the boat landing at East Bearskin Lake at the exact same time my wife was pulling up.  I told her noon. I finished four minutes late at 12:04.

Nick Kelly is the Communications Director for Christ Community Church in Omaha, NE where he, his wife and 2 boys drive endless miles to enjoy the outdoors.

Techniques & Advice

SKIJORING: Dog + Ski’s = F U N

March 10, 2010

Skijoring can make almost anyone love winter! It just takes a few simple steps and you can be on your way to another fun outdoor winter activity.

You only need a few things.

1) A dog (or dogs) that is willing to pull or can  be trained

2) A skijor belt

3) A dog harness (photo on left)

4) A tugline

The skijor belt and tugline can be purchased or handmade. Part of the tugline attachment to the belt should be made out of bungy material.  You can also teach your dog commands for right, left, slow, stop and go. We haven’t gotten quite that advanced this year, but I know we are both having a great time!


Techniques & Advice

Winter Camping How To’s: Pictorial Pointers and Helpful Hints

January 26, 2010

DSC00726When I mention winter campingto folks I get a myriad of responses from “that’s crazy” to “sounds like an adventure!’ I will try to cover the basics so you, too, can have a winter wonderland adventure!

First thing you need to do is find a buddy or two to go with you! (Preferably one with gear!) Then map and plan a route and buy the appropriate maps. Also, call up to folks in the area to check out ice conditions.


Here is a basic list of items to pack.  DSC00742CLOTHING - A complete change of clothes including extra wool pants and ice breaker long underwear. Extra smartwool socks. Waterproof shell. Balaclava (to keep condensation off your face while sleeping).

GEAR – Sled, which is easier than a backpack, (and a dog to pull it!) X-C skis or snowshoes. Ground cloth (to create waterproof barrier to sleep on). Wool Blanket. Closed cell sleeping padice chisel for water(self inflating ones tend to lose air). Mittens are warmer then gloves. A cooler (to keep items from freezing, sits well in a sled). Bees wax candles  for light.  Thermos. Head lamp. Ice chisel or auger for water (see photo). Cold weather camping stove.

FOOD – Pack a lot of  high calorie food for all the energy you will be exerting. Pre-made or just add water meals. Almond butter (doesn’t freeze like peanut butter). No alcohol or caffeine, they will only dehydrate you.

SAFETY – Ice picks. Throw rope. Sunglass or goggles. Emergency Blanket. Lotion and Suntan Lotion. Matches, firestarter (lighters don’t like the cold weather).

When you are ready to set up camp, find a level spot and stomp down the area where your tent Set upwill go with your skis or snowshoes. Allow time (average 1-3 hrs) for the snow to settle and pack down before putting up your tent. While the area is settling you can gather downed firewood and chip an ice hole for water.  Set up tent (usually a twoStove area person job).  Nearest to the door, dig out a section for the stove and cooking area. This will create a nice higher platform to sleep on and a cold air sink near the door.  Next assemble the stove while the Sleeping platform and kitchen areaother folks gather more firewood. Next set-up your sleeping platform. Lay down your ground cloth first, then a wool blanket, your closed cell foam sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. (We offen lay another wool blanket on top of our sleeping bags for the dogs to lay on and wrap them up in). Another night time tip is to fill your water bottle with hot water before you go to sleep to have unfrozen water in the morning. If you turn your water bottle upside down the water will make the cap easier to unscrew.

So now that you know some of the winter camping basics, get out there and enjoy winter! Winter camp

Camping Recipes, Techniques & Advice

Camping Recipes – Staff Favorites!

July 30, 2009

We talk about our trips all the time here at Duluth Pack Store and Factory, and what we ate is always high on the list! After I was bragging about my
super easy dinner on my recent kayaking trip, I thought why not compile a list of all our staff favorite camping recipes! Some for backpacking, canoeing, or car camping.  WARNING, this blog entry will make you hungry!

Molly - I suppose I could start with the picture above. Mine really isn’t a “recipe”.  I just head to the Asian (Indian) section of the grocery store or your local Co-op. They have ready made Indian Curries in foil pouches, also seasoned rice in a foil pouch, and now, near the tuna, they have chicken breasts in foil pouches. I just put all three pouches in boiling lake water and 5 minutes later, dinner! Gourmet and super easy and the only clean up is a plate and spoon.

Jeff the Cutter (canvas)
– Omelettes in a Bag

2-3 Raw Eggs / Choice of Meat / Raw Veggies / Cheese / Salt & Pepper

Mix all ingredients and pour into a pint-sized ziploc bag. Boil in pot for 10-15 minutes. Slide out and enjoy! Everyone can mix their own ingredients!  (you can also make and freeze in bags before your trip)

Tom, President – French Fries

1)Cut potatoes into French fries (thinner is better). The larger the potatoes you start with the easier/better.

2)Pour oil into cast iron pan. Heat over a wood fire/liquid gas or propane flame until the oil is hot enough.  You will know when the oil is hot enough if a wooden match in the oil flames up. Simply throw a wooden match into the oil as it is getting hot and wait for it to flame up.  Presto, your oil is hot enough.

3)Put a bunch of the thinly cut up potatoes into the hot oil.  Make sure all of the potatoes are covered by oil.

When the fries are floating and turning golden brown scoop them out put them on a plate with a bunch of paper towels sprinkle salt and seasoning salt on the fries shake on the plate and eat until you are stuffed.

Laura, Receiving Duluth Pack Store

Camping Smores (for 4 people)

4 bananas / 2  Hersheys chocolate bars

I pkg. mini marshmallows / Aluminum foil / Camp Fire

Cut a slit in each banana length-wise (do not peel them!). Break up the chocolate bar into the individual squares.  Alternately place a square of chocolate and a marshmallow down the length of the banana.  Fill each one up as much as you like. Cut a square of foil for each banana.  Roll up each banana into the foil.  Place each one in to the fire (near the edge -enough so that you can retrieve them later).  Let cook as long as you like-the longer, the gooier the inside gets (about 10-30 minutes). Once you’ve taken them off the fire, unwrap the foil and eat the banana/smore mixture right out of the banana. Kids love these! (PS – Laura, I have done these with Caramello bars, Mmmmmm carmel!)

Susi (husband Rocky), Human Resources
– Best Fish Batter!

After years of fishing and taste-testing the winner hands down is the combination of 1/2 Shore Lunch and 1/2 Fryin’ Magic. Coat fresh caught fish, fry and eat!

 Erik, Associate Store Manager – Campfire Breakfast

A stick / 1 egg / 1 piece of bacon

1 brown paper bag (lunch size) / Salt and Pepper to taste


Open the paper bag and place the piece of bacon inside on the bottom. Crack the egg into the bag over the bacon. Fold the bag a couple times and take the stick and poke it through towards the top.  Now the fun part.  Hold the bag over the fire, finding that perfect level where the bag won’t blacken, but close enough that the egg will cook.  The grease from the bacon prevents the bag from burning and allows the egg to cook and not stick to the bag. When the egg is opaque and the bacon looks cooked, simply tear open the bag, add salt and pepper to taste and dig in.  When done, just throw your plate in the fire!

Linda, Seamstress – Hobo Stew

A Square of Foil / Hamburger Patty / slices of onions, carrots, potato’s

Place Hamburger patty in the middle of the foil, top patty with a slice of onion, slices of carrots and potato’s (or whatever veggies are your favorite) top with a tablespoon of butter.

Pull sides of foil up to form a pouch, set in coals and cook until done (approx. 1 hour), enjoy!

Jessica, Customer Service – Breakfast Sausage Balls

1/4 cup butter / 1 lb. bulk sausage / 1 egg / 6 oz. grated cheddar cheese / 3 cups “Bisquick” mix

Coat bottom of dutch oven (or layer of foil) with butter. Mix all ingredients with hands, pull off small pieces and roll into 1″ balls. Place layer of balls in dutch oven or foil and cook for 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!

Sue O., Seamstress – Banana Pancakes

1 banana mashed / 4 slices dry bread / 1 egg / dash cinnamon / butter

Mix all ingredients together. Heat butter in skillet or griddle. Break bread into small pieces, mix all ingredients together. Makes 4″ – 5″ sized cakes, cook on both sides. Top with syrup, fresh fruit, or peanut butter.

Bonus tip from Sue – Freeze drinking water in 1/2 gallon jugs. Use it for ice in your cooler. As it melts you can use it for drinking water and the contents of your cooler doesn’t get soggy!

Betsy, Distribution Coordinator
– Sloppy Joe’s



(This will serve up to 4 people)

1lb ground hamburger /½ medium onion / 1 cup ketchup / 1 tbsp mustard / 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce / 1 tsp garlic powder OR 1 garlic clove / Salt and Pepper

 1. Brown the hamburger. When it’s almost brown add the onion and crushed garlic clove or garlic powder.

2. When the onion and garlic is cooked, add the ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.  (You may want to add more or less of an ingredient to suit your taste. With this specific recipe it should have a more of a tangy taste to it)

3. Add salt and pepper to your likeness and then simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

These taste great on your favorite buns, bread, or even on top of chips for an appetizer! Also good frozen and reheated on the trail.

Becky, Customer Service - Smudgie Pies

These are great when you are car camping.  My friend Sara and her family introduced them to me as a teenager. They are fun to make, but daylight is recommended for better toasting (I prefer mine without the charred edges). You may toast them over the coals or warm them over an open flame.  You can make different flavors like: pizza, peanut butter and jelly, or use pie filling for dessert.  I like using the squeeze bottle for pizza sauce because of the easy clean up.

 Non-stick spray / Bread / Pizza Sauce / Shredded Cheese / Pepperoni

 Cathy, Sewer – Cathy’s Backpacker Pasta

1 pkg. baked tofu / small box rotini / 4-6 sun dried tomato’s / 1 each small onion, zucchini, yellow squash

In the AM start soaking the tomatos and cut into smaller pieces (in a water bottle). In a large pot bring soaking water and tomato’s to a boil, add rotini, add water sparingly as it will not be drained. Add veggies. Do not drain. When pasta is nearly done add the tofu (cut into bite sized pieces) and cook until pasta is tender and ingredients are hot.

Mike, Marketing  – Bannock Bread

4 cups flour / 1 tsp. salt / 4 tsp. baking powder / 4 tbls. oil(if frying) / 1 1/2 cups water

Mix all ingredients, add water, knead for 10 minutes. Wrap on stick and cook over campfire until done. If frying, add oil to skillet, pat dough into small pancakes, fry on each side until golden brown. Eat with dinner or add raisins, cinnamon and sugar for a dessert bread. A true Northwoods tradition!

Lisa, Seamstress
- Ceviche

3/4 lb. salmon / 1 1/2 Tbls. salt / 6 Tbls. lemon or lime juice / 4 ripe chopped tomato’s / 4 scallions chopped

Wash salmon, dry and rub with salt. Sprinkle lemon/lime juice on both sides. Cover and place in refrigerator (or cooler) for 12-24 hours. The lemon/lime juice “cooks” the salmon. Debone and add tomato’s and scallions.

*Lisa also submitted a bonus recipe using 1 lb. Bass or Trout instead cut into 1/2″ pieces. Use 1 cup lime juice 1/2 tsp chili juice and 1 tsp canned chilies minced. (you can also add chopped celery, red onions, red pepper, olives) Follow same directions as above and serve with crackers or chips!

** We would love to hear from you and your recipes! Just click the canoe and camping comment button below, when the page refreshes scroll aaaaaallllll the way to the bottom of the page to leave your comment! Thanks for reading!

Canoeing, Techniques & Advice

How To Measure Your Canoe Paddle

July 23, 2009

Does your canoe paddle fit properly? Are you in the market for a new paddle and unsure what size to buy? Well we hope this will help you find that perfect paddle!  There seems to be an ongoing debate with our staff on how to properly fit one for a paddle, so in the interest of staff unity, (and my sanity), I am including both methods!


The first method, “the chair method”, involves sitting in a chair and measuring the distance between the seat of the chair and eye levelTake that measurement from the seat of the chair to eye level and add 18 for a bent shaft and 24 for a straight shaft. Take that measurement and use that to measure the proper length for your shaft and grip of your paddle only, not the blade.

This method works best for the straight shaft paddle.  Straight shafts work best for rivers (easy maneuvering) and for windy days on lakes.


The second method, “the kneeling/canoe seat method”, involves kneeling on the floor with your “rear end” 6″ off the floor.  Hold the paddle upside down with the handle on the floor.  When the paddle is in this position, the blade of the paddle should begin around nose and eye level.

* If you are measuring for a bent shaft paddle (best used on lakes) deduct 2″-4″ from this length.

If you have another method we would love to hear about it (and debate it’s merits)!  We hope this helps you find that perfect paddle for years of paddling enjoyment!

Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown


July 9, 2009


There are many knots out there, for many different purposes. Utility knots, fisherman knots, decorative knots to name a few.  Our favorite knot book is the Morrow Guide to Knots.

The three types of knots you need to know fall into three categories, Securing (tying down), Hitches (pulley type knot), and one to lengthen rope.

  1. For the first category I have chose Duluth Pack’s favorite knot, the Bowline. This knot is extremely helpful to tie down the front and back lines of a canoe when on top of your vehicle.  Here is a helpful website that shows how to make The Bowline with animated drawings. Another helpful tip, if you are tying down the front and back of your canoe to your vehicle is not to use the very tip of the canoe but to start the rope back on your seat or thwart then loop it to the front of your car to make sure it doesn’t shift in transit.

    Bowline Knot

    Bowline Knot

  2. In the second category, another popular knot we use a lot around here is the Trucker’s Hitch.  Here is an animated drawing of the Trucker’s Hitch. This is a helpful knot because it can act like a mechanical pulley system.  It is a knot we use  to tie around our canoes when on top of our vehicles.

 Trucker's Hitch

3.  The third category is a knot that can be used to lengthen rope. This can be a water knot or a fisherman’s knot. These type of knots are also helpful for joining two pieces of rope together. Here is an animation of The Water Knot. (thank you to knots by grog)  Here is another link for an animation of The Fisherman’s Knot.

Water Knot

Water Knot

Fisherman's Knot

Fisherman’s Knot

Techniques & Advice, Trip Planning

Always Be Prepared – Voyageur’s National Park

July 2, 2009

Voyageurs National Park is the only National Park located in Minnesota and is unique because it is a water-based park. Leave your car at a Visitor’s Center and explore by boat, houseboat, canoe, or kayak.

For this trip we chose kayaks. We left on a beautiful, calm, summer day.  Make sure you obtain navigational maps of the area. Very important! And a
too!  After a few hours of paddling we found our own private island to camp for the weekend. Our own private slice of paradise.  We also had the bonus of a great fishing spot!

Our second day the wind started to pick up. We weren’t too concerned since we weren’t leaving for another day and wind usually dies down in the morning.  All night long the winds seemed to get louder and stronger. It was looking like we weren’t going anywhere soon.  The lake changed from serene to turbulent. After 26 hours in a tent we decided to try to make a break for the car, we were going to seek shelter behind islands. The last 3 mile stretch to the car was straight into 30-40 mph winds. We were stopped in our tracks! We had to set up our tent in a make shift campsite. We were lucky that we always pack a spare change of WARM clothes and by chance we happened to pack an extra meal.  We were trying to get out to make it home in time to meet family and head back to work.  We learned it is more important to arrive SAFE.  ALWAYS be prepared for the worst! Do you have an “always be prepared” story to share?

Canoeing, Techniques & Advice

Paddling with Kids! Fun, Easy Tips!

June 25, 2009

We have concluded our river-a-week series for the year. There are an infinite number of rivers,  too many to discuss, so we may have to venture back to rivers next spring.  For now, it’s time to move on!

This is a favorite subject for me! Paddling with my family is one of my favorite pastimes. With a few helpful tips, I have learned it can be an enjoyable experience for all.  First off, you have to make sure your child has ample water and food. I pack a waterproof bag with items just for him that I carabiner to the side of the canoe for easy access.

In the bag, I put a few small toys he can play with in the canoe when bored. I also place some snacks and candies just for him.  He loves looking in the bag to pull out his next surprise. We also play a lot of “I Spy” games, 20 Questions, and other fun games to pass the time.  Another important factor is to pack enough clothes that they are comfortable in all situations. Pack long underwear, swimsuit, rain gear, and a change of dry clothes. One fun thing to pack has been an umbrella! The smaller the better. He has used the umbrella as a fort, sun shelter, rain shelter and the most fun, a sail! Binocularsare also a hit. Kids love to spy all kinds of wildlife.

We also bought a kids sized paddle so they can feel like they are helping out and to train them to take over some day. Make sure you stop a few times a day on your journey so your child can run around, burn off some energy, and stretch their legs.

One other tip to keep them interested, is to provide them with there OWN set of maps in a waterproof case. They love to follow along and feel like they are important and in control of navigating. I have found by following these few simple tips we have all enjoyed our paddling trips and can’t wait to plan the next! Please leave comments about tips you have used for an enjoyable family paddle!

Gear Talk, Techniques & Advice, Trip Planning

River Canoeing

May 7, 2009

When one thinks of canoeing, a calm peaceful lake at sunset with loons calling in the background, often comes to mind. While lakes are beautiful things, don’t forget the peacefulness and often WILD excitement of a river.


Rivers are great because most have a flow that make paddling (or not paddling) easier! I do recommend that you take a paddling river course to learn a few basic strokes to avoid obstacles, mainly rocks, and to learn how to “read the rapids”.  The Duluth area has a great course offered through Community Ed.

Consult a map for local rivers and ask stores in your area that carry canoes for tips on close river trips. Local book stores and sporting goods stores should carry books on local paddling spots.  Local DNR offices are also a great resource.

If you are just getting into river canoeing, the canoe does make a difference.  River canoes should be made from a material that can handle bouncing off of rocks and other obstacles. Royalex is a canoe material favored by our staff. Another important part of the river canoe is kneeling pads. The lower you are the more steady the canoe will be. When approaching rapids, get on your knees!

Bending Branches Expedition Plus Paddle

Bending Branches Expedition Plus Paddle

The canoe paddle also makes a big difference. Don’t bring your new bent shaft paddle on the river to get splintered on the rocks! A straight shaft is the way to go (you need this to post and pry, two popular paddle strokes). Above is our river paddle of choice. This paddle,  the Bending Branches Expeditional Plus paddle,  also had a T-grip, helpful for holding on tight to perform quick stroke movements.

And of course don’t forget your life jacket/PFD! Always have your life jacket on, now matter what the weather or calmness of the river. I made this mistake ONCE when approaching rapids, I was sitting on my PFD and we overturned on a river in a Colorado canyon and I will never make that mistake again (check back for that story).

Always scout the river if you encounter rapids! You could do a stretch of rapids 100 times and that 101st time could have a fallen tree, log, or other obstacle.  Yes, I do have another “mistake” story to tell about this, but that can be a whole other blog post.

Other necessities are first aid kit, water, bug spray, hat/sunglasses, sun block, snacks, change of clothes, rain gear, and a map. Make sure all your gear is fastened down in the canoe. Strap it all in!  Keep our rivers clean!

Rivers are often great  fish habitats, so ask around at local bait shops and bring your fishing pole!

So don’t just limit your canoeing experiences to lakes only, give rivers a try, you may just get hooked! Stay tuned for more on my top 5 rivers in the area…

  1. Bois Brule River, WI
  2. Namekagon River, WI
  3. Kettle River, MN
  4. St. Louis River, MN
  5. St. Croix River, WI & MN

*Always remember canoeing can be a dangerous sport, canoe at your own risk.