Algonquin Outfitters

Camping with Kids

I’m willing to bet that your first canoe trip with kids in Algonquin Provincial Park won’t be your last! Don’t let the thought of portaging with little ones in tow dissuade you… pick a route where you can load all your gear into the canoe, climb in and paddle to your backcountry campsite with no portaging at all!  This was our plan for camping with kids in Algonquin Park.

This summer I did just that, with my friend Cheryl and our 3 girls, ages 13, 11 and 10. We had a fantastic 4 days in Algonquin’s backcountry. On our way to the park we stopped at Algonquin Outfitters (AO) in Huntsville to rent a second canoe, a Swift Prospector. We watched closely as an AO employee strapped the canoe down, so that we could reproduce the technique at the end of our trip!



We had decided to start at the Rain Lake access point on the West side of the park (Algonquin Park access point #4) because we knew that we didn’t want to portage, but at the same time we wanted to be able to paddle for a while before choosing a campsite. Having already made a reservation (for the lake, not a specific campsite), we stopped at the park office at the Kearney Community Centre to pick up our backcountry permit. Next we drove the 23 km or so to the access point, and soon enough, we were paddling away from our vehicle, the 2 adults, 3 kids, and gear split between the 2 canoes, and everyone wearing a personal flotation device (a must!).Rain Lake Access Point

If your children are too little to sit in the bow or stern, give them a paddle anyway and let them use it when they feel like it (paddles float, so even if they end up overboard, you won’t lose them!). Be on the lookout for cool things to show the kids, if they don’t spot them first. We were all amazed at the cobwebs we paddled through – out in the middle of the lake! If the little ones get antsy, play I Spy, or make a running list of all the wildlife you see, sing songs, see who can spot the orange campsite signs or yellow portage signs first, or talk about what you’ll have to do to get the campsite set up. If all else fails, get out the snacks!

After paddling just under 6 km, we settled on a campsite very close to the portage to Sawyer Lake. We worked together to set up the tents (kids in one, adults in another), found a tree to hang our bear bag, and cooked our dinner.

If your kids are old enough, get them involved in trip planning – in particular, meal planning – the 5 of us got together one day and planned out the menu, taking into consideration everyone’s likes and dislikes. We were able to make some minor modifications to meals to accommodate particular tastes (e.g. peanut butter and chocolate chips with oatmeal instead of nuts and re-hydrated fruit).

The girls encountered – and became emotionally attached to – a snapping turtle at our campsite. Let’s just say it added a little trepidation to our swims! Later in the trip they witnessed “Buddy” being attacked by another turtle, which resulted in tears, and in one case, a refusal to ever drink water from the lake again! Thankfully, no one perished from dehydration as Buddy (with a very distinctive nose and breathing noises) made a reappearance  – he hadn’t met his demise after all, as we all feared. Disaster averted.

Snapping TurtleOn the second day, we decided to paddle over to the portage to Hot Lake, where we left our canoes and connected with the Western Uplands backpacking trail. We wore hiking boots, and carried our camelbaks with our snacks, lunches, swimsuits, goggles and quick drying tiny towels. We hoped to find a lakeside lunch spot, and we were not disappointed! On Islet Lake, an easy 3 km hike from the canoes, we found an unoccupied campsite with a bonus rope swing. After swimming – with slightly less fear of having a toe bitten by a snapping turtle – we had our lunch. The most recent campers hadn’t doused their fire, so with a few strong breaths, we had flames. We made a small fire to toast our naan bread, and when hikers arrived at the campsite, we cleared out (despite their very generous offer for us to “stay for 2 hours”)! Just before arriving back at the canoes we started gathering firewood for an evening fire.

Later that day we decided to explore a little beach not far from our campsite, so we paddled over, swam, fought off giant biting flies and used mugs to dig and build sandcastles. Don’t forget to pack a small shovel and pail! Bug spray and sunscreen too!

On our third day, we decided to explore Sawyer Lake, which involved a short portage, but no big packs to carry – all we brought with us was our paddles, throw ropes, bailers, snacks, lunch, first aid kit, camelbaks and toilet paper (yes, I dropped it into the lake, but no, it wasn’t our last one!). It was just a 300 m walk, which is doable even with little kids. When we paddled around without the big packs, we switched up who was in each boat, sometimes sending the 3 girls off in one boat. Musical chairs kept things interesting!

Consider bringing extra rope with you. Our campsite was conducive to building a rope swing, which the girls spent hours playing on. Only minor injuries ensued, but the tree was not damaged. The rope was also used to make a low ropes course in the trees.

Our last morning was spent packing up and heading for the parking lot, but not before we took one last opportunity to swim.

We were very fortunate to have amazing weather – it only rained for a few minutes all weekend, and no one’s spirits were dampened. I would recommend bringing a few small wet weather activities, just in case, such as cards, a colouring book, or travel games like magnetic checkers.

Back at the parking lot we loaded everything up, ate our lunch, and headed back to AO in Huntsville to return the canoe.

Once you’re home from your trip, let your kids choose a few of their favourite pictures, print them out, and encourage them to make a scrapbook about the trip. For littler kids, it could be a rainy day family activity.

Before you know it, you’ll be planning your next family canoe trip!

Camping with Kids Rain Lake Map

Rain Lake Map

Other Useful Links

Photo Gallery

Kyra Paterson

Kyra of Waterdown, Ontario spends her free time swimming, biking, running, competing in triathlons and running races, orienteering and adventure racing, planning her next backcountry adventure and hanging out with her family.


  • Daryl Phillips says:

    Great article Kyra! We started our kids out on canoe trips at 1 and the other at 5 months.

    • Thanks Daryl! We started camping with our kids when they were just shy of 3 and 1, but we didn’t start canoe tripping with them quite that early. Later, we realized we had a problem when we outgrew 1 canoe and needed 2 for the 4 of us. 🙂 Now we can have canoe races.

  • Chris Bell says:

    This was awesome to read as I am just looking into doing more with the kids and how not to overwhelm them. I have 2 step kids 12 and 8 and our daughter is 5. I really want to have an experience like this with them. But debated how to do it. This seems perfect.

  • Ben Land says:

    This is a great article and I loved this route in my younger years! First time I went with my Family as a teen – and then solo one summer. It’s a really straightforward route with enough challenge for that sense of achievement and wilderness seclusion. I did route several times on the thanksgiving weekend and we paddled in t-shirts one year and a snow storm the next year! Article makes me want to go!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *