Paddling with kids


Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
My name is Don and I just found the WCHA a few days ago. I promise to join as soon as possible. I have been kayaking for years and we have a 16 foot Old Town wood and canvas canoe in the family. It was recanvassed about 30 years ago, but is still in good shape. The varnish on the interior is could be redone, but is still functional. I learned how to paddle with this canoe years ago and plan on using it to show my son the great outdoors. He is only 2 years old now and another baby is on the way. With that in mind, I have been thinking of getting a trolling motor as an easy way to canoe with kids. I have paddled this canoe alone and it is a handful, especially when the wind picks up. This is just an idea and I hope not to offend the paddling purists :), but has anyone else gone this route?

I want to learn about restoring canoes and learning more about these beautiful old canoes. It is the best way to be on the water.
Don’t paddle when it’s windy! I have two daughters now 18 and 13 and I’ve had them out paddling since they were about 5. They love it, especially canoe camping. I’ve never used a trolling motor, but I wonder what happens if you go over with kids plus a trolling motor plus gas tank and or battery. I suspect the over-turned canoe becomes much less stable, much less useful as float. Maybe you think what do I do first, secure kids or the motor? If the weather conditions are so marginal you need a motor to cope with them, maybe you shouldn’t be out at all.
Pick a nice calm day, pack plenty of snacks, and remember your binoculars. My daughter (she's 8) loves to be "chauffered" around while she eats snacks and looks at the wildlife...

Have fun!!

My excuse for going over to the dark side occasionally was 4 kids, On the west coast that meant a freighter canoe, but it has become a habit (18 summers) and the motor was functional for the extended trips we have done. We still have more 'unpolluted' days with the smaller canoes, but if a motor makes the difference when they are young, it is worth the compromise.

I have two young kids and they both love paddling. My son, now 7 has been car camping in the remote areas of the North Woods of Maine with me and Grandpa since he was two. Car camping or using a campsite on a body of water as a base is a great way to season the kids. You can go out for short paddles and easily return to base if the weather turns. We pick sites with shallow beaches because the kids spend all day in the water.

My son now has graduated to short trips. Despite my efforts, my daughter is less of a "sport". She's intrigued by her brother's trips but likes to stick close to home with Mom. She's also afraid of Lions, Tigers and Bears. I hope to get her out with us as she grows up a little.

We also used the canoeing excuse to get the kids to take swimming lessons early. "If you want to go with daddy, you've got to take swimming lessons".

It's great fun. Throw the canoe on the car and go. As you can see from the attached photos, half ribs come in handy and don't forget a salt shaker to remove Allagash Critters.


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My daughter will be 4 in three weeks, and she did her first Boundry Waters trip when she was 2 1/2, and was paddling alone with me all last summer in a 17' Old Town. I would recommend a couple things. Make or buy them a appropriate sized paddle, then tie it to the boat with a longish lanyard. My daughter is doing really well now if she is not paddling backwards or sideways or just dragging it, but she has always had her own "job", which I think helps maintain interest. As do snacks. As said above, avoid windy days when it is just you and the kids. I am a strong paddler and can handle our canoe alone in almost any condition, but it takes alot of the fun out of paddling to be in conditions that test your limits while you are worrying about getting junior back home dry and unscarred. Most of all I would learn, and if you already know it, practice Canadian style paddling. It is by far the easiest way to solo a big canoe, and if you can solo, you can paddle with anyone. Check out any of Bill Mason's books or videos, or take a class if you can find one.

If I might betray my strong feelings about mechanical propulsion, showing your kids that paddling is difficult and dangerous but can be made safe and easy with a motor is getting them off on the wrong foot.


I would like to hear more about your trip to Boundary Waters. My son is only 2 and another baby is due this summer. Being on the east coast, that is a long trip and we plan on getting the kids used to paddling and canoe camping in the coming years. I have been reading about BW and Quetico. That would be a dream vacation. I'd like to hear more about your trip with young kids as well as your planning for the trip. This year I plan on getting the boy out on the water. He says he wants to catch some big fish!;-)
Hey Don,

The Boundary Waters are pretty darn cool, and Quetico is even nicer. I went a couple times as a kid, but when my wife and I started going, we just went to the library and got one of dozens of guidebooks (pre-internet days) and picked a route and tried it. Since then we've been several times, trying different routes and areas, so we had a pretty good idea what we were getting into when we first took Grace. I am sure now if you search the web, you will find more advice than you ever wanted on picking routes, and would just have to sift through it.

As far as the trip with Grace, she had been out rowing and canoeing with us since she was a few weeks old, and car camping almost as long, so , again, we had a pretty good idea how things would go. The first year we picked a lake about a half day's paddle (under normal circumstances) in, went there and set up camp. Then we day-tripped from there, so that we were never too far from being able to bail. Last summer, when Grace was 3 1/2, we did a real loop, and she did great, even though we had a day of cold rain. We try to keep the paddles and the portages reasonably short, and the trips were really only three days in the boat, plus a night of car camping on either end. We went to a seminar a couple years ago given by a family who had done serious expeditions with their toddlers, so it can be done, but with three people and a big dog in the boat, we would have to look into a frieght canoe to go much longer. All we took special was a small fishing pole for her to use while we paddled and a couple books for the evenings, though a quick Google of "wilderness canoeing with kids" suggests that some kids need more, um, stimulation. That said, there appeared to be quite a bit of useful advice on the subject.

All that said, there are alot of great places you can go on a three or four day trip without half crossing the country. We have been to Killarney and Algonquin in Ontario, and I know there is stuff in the Adirondacks and Maine. You can go into Quetico and not see other people for a week or two, but I am not sure three-year-olds fully appreciate that. I do look forward to longer and longer trips.