August of 2020, we embarked on an adventure of great mystery. We had no idea what to expect, BWCA with a baby? Were we crazy? No… just ambitious. But ambition did not get the better of us. Through careful planning and thorough packing, we managed to have a very successful trek. Here’s how…
When Scott and I decided to tackle a trek in the BWCA with our 10 month old son, Killian, we knew we had to be very picky about the location of our journey. I searched on maps, blogs, google, bwca.com, etc. Finally, after a long while of picking through all of the information I could find, we landed on Kawishiwi. I had a few requirements, and this lake met them:
Launch at the Lake: The biggest draw to this lake was that there was no portage to the lake. That’s right, you can load your canoe right from your truck! That means no portaging with a baby. Ideally, we like to be farther away from civilization, but not with an infant in tow. The launch at the Kawishiwi access was perfect.
Smaller Lake: It’s not a tiny lake, but when you compare it to Brule or Sea Gull Lake, the lake is dwarfed. The wind will not pound as hard on this lake as it would on larger lakes with some similar attributes.
Numerous Camp Opportunities: Seven campsites are available on this lake, that is quite a few compared to many of the other lakes out there. It gave us a good chance at finding a campsite. Seven is still a small enough number to keep the lake from being crowded. There are 9 permits issued per day at this entry point. Don’t worry, a lot of folks use this lake as the start of a route; not a destination.
Backup Plan: If the campsites are all taken on this lake, there is a lake that offers two more opportunities to find a site. That is Square Lake, it’s just up a little creek from Kawishiwi. There is no portage between the two lakes, you simply follow the creek all the way to Square. However, you will need to pull your canoe over one beaver dam, not a difficult task when the water is at a good level. If you don’t need to camp on Square Lake, it makes for a great day trip.
Beach Campsite: We were fortunate enough to land a sweet campsite that was just off to the right of the entry point. It’s a lovely little beach site. Beach sites are perfect for kids! Our daughter, Sandy, and Killian spent most of the weekend on this beach. We weren’t at our campsite more than 30 minutes before they were playing in the water. Sandy has always been a beach baby!
Quick Exit: This isn’t something a lot of folks like to dwell on, and don’t let it hang over you and ruin your trip with worry. But in the event of an injury or illness, you’ll want to be able to make a quick exit. No fuss with portages or excessively long paddles. We haven’t had any injuries or illnesses occur in the BWCA, but while having a little one out there, I liked the idea of being able to get to assistance quickly.
One Drawback: There is one negative attribute about this lake that I feel I must mention. Kawishiwi Lake Rustic Campground is right on the lake. Those using this campground must have a self-issued day permit to enter the lake. These are available at the campground. It may be a blessing in disguise for some. If you are unable to land a site on the lake, you may be able to secure one at the campground. They do not take reservations and it is first come, first serve. Some may be put off by the traffic. Honestly, we didn’t really notice. I think those campers were looking for a quiet getaway just like the rest of us who seek the peace of the Boundary Waters.
So many things can affect the duration of a trip. Work, school, weather conditions and whatnot. If you are the type to make a long route that takes two weeks, you might wind up with a rough time. Take into consideration how much food and formula you’ll need to pack and diapers you’ll need to haul back out with you. It adds up.
Short and Sweet: We like to stay a bit longer, but with a new little adventurer, short and sweet was best. We stayed for two nights. Very short and oh so sweet. Keep in mind that this is an experiment. Testing the waters with your little one.
Leaving Early is Okay: If your first night is absolutely dreadful, spend the first part of the next day enjoying camp and then head out. We entered our adventure knowing that we could leave at anytime and that relieved a lot of pressure. Scott and I agreed that if we weren’t having a good time, we would pack it up and just have a nice weekend on the north shore. Knowing that you have an “out” takes a big weight off your shoulders. Two nights was plenty for a first introduction with an infant. In fact, we actually made our next trip with Killian a two night trip as well. Also perfect for a toddler on the move!
Packing for Baby
You might be thinking that babies require a lot of stuff, how are we going to bring everything!? It’s not as much as you think after you consider what’s actually necessary. There is a lot of baby camping gear out there. You don’t need it all, or any of it really. Just the necessities.
Clothing: The great thing about packing for your little one is that their clothes are tiny! They don’t take up much space, which is great because you’ll want to bring extras and a variety to accommodate for weather changes. Just like packing for yourself for a camping trip, dress them in layers. Pajamas should be warm. Even in the hot summer months, the nights up there can be quite cool. Our trip was August, but as you can see from pictures, Killian was in long sleeves much of the time. Summer months don’t guarantee warm weather.
Sleep Sack: We brought Killian’s sleep sack. He was used to sleeping with this and it was great for giving him some extra warmth. We had a lightweight fleece sleeping bag as a spare. This was folded in a way that it could not go over his head and most of it was under him to keep him from sleeping on the cold, hard ground. It worked quite well and he slept all night. When it’s cooler out, you might consider having your little one sleep with you in your sleeping bag. Just remember safe sleep tactics.
Pac & Play: You can bring one of you’d like, but I think this is a waste of space and energy. I don’t like brining extra gear if I don’t have to.
Diapers & Wipes: Bring a fresh package of wipes, you shouldn’t need more than that. Don’t go for the travel size, it would really stink to run out without a convenience store for at least 20 miles. So how many diapers? Figure out how many diapers your baby uses in an average day, and bring a whole extra days worth of diapers. You’re little one will likely be drinking more liquids than usual. I like to have extras in my vehicle as well, for a fresh change when you arrive back at your starting point.
Formula and Breast Milk: Formula is easy to bring, all you need to do is pack it in a sealable container that won’t bust open in your food pack. Breast milk would be simple enough, bring a small, soft sided cooler that fits in your food pack.
Hammock: Yes, a hammock. Hammocks are so perfect for naptime. Just don’t let your infant nap alone in the hammock. They could easily turn over or get tangled. Napping in the hammock is perfect bonding time with your baby. Be sure it has a mosquito net. Our hammock with built in mosquito net has been my favorite camping purchase so far!
Life Jacket: You’ll need an infant life jacket that is Coast Guard approved. Our favorite is the Full Throttle brand infant life jacket. It has majority of the floatation device on the front with a smaller piece around the neck. This keeps them face up if they fall into the water. It’s also less bulky around their middle, Killian was very comfortable in it and was able to wear it for hours at a time. Be sure to check the weight limits of your child’s life jacket before your trip.
Diapers: Now you know how many diapers to bring along. But where do you put them when after they are used? In your trash bag. Disposing of diapers and wipes in the latrine is not permitted in the Boundary Waters. Pack in, pack out. You’ll want to change your little on a changing pad, I didn’t bring one and regretted it. Killian wound up with dirt and debris in his diaper. When you go to bed at night or are away from camp, make sure you hang your trash bag up with your food pack. It’d be a real bummer to have to clean those diapers up twice if an animal got into them.
Cloth Diapers: Cloth diapers are great for at home. Not so great out in the BWCA. You will have a difficult time getting them clean enough. You might be thinking you’ll have plenty of water to wash them in. Nope. Washing is not allowed in these pristine waters. You must wash items 200 feet from in from any water source and burry the used water. No harsh cleaning supplies can be brought in. I would imagine cloth diapers would not be sanitary for long and your baby would end up with a rash. Disposable is the way to go, at least for this kind of trip.
Bathing: Like I had said, washing is not allowed in the lakes. If your are going to suds up your baby, it needs to be done 200 feet from shore and the water needs to be buried. The other option, is to take a dip in the water without soap. This is what we did. A little skinny dipping for a baby will wash them right up. With a beach campsite like we had, that was an easy task. As far as food on the face, we used baby wipes and tossed those in our trash bag.
Feeding your little adventurer is not a difficult task as it sounds. It’s just a matter of being prepared and knowing what to bring.
Formula: Formula was so simple to bring along. We brought a smaller square container along. It was more than we needed, I wanted to have extra. Little ones really work up an appetite when they are outdoors. Some babies are used to having their bottles heated up when they are fed, we didn’t do this with Killian. He always had room temperature formula. This played to our advantage, all we had to do was mix up a bottle without heating it. He was good to go. This is the only time that I have brought in bottled water to the BWCA. I felt ridiculous, but I didn’t want to risk parasites with an infant. Any leftovers need to be buried 200 feet away from water and away from camp.
Breastmilk: Though I didn’t experience this first hand, it seems quite doable. Pack your pre-frozen milk in a reliable, soft-sided cooler that fits in your food pack. To heat it up, place one package into a small pot of water over your camp stove. Easy peasy. And just like with formula, left overs need to be buried 200 feet away from water and away from camp. If you need to pump while out there, you’ll need a small portable pump that is battery or hand operated. I suggest using the fresh milk first as it won’t freeze all the way in your cooler.
Food Pouches: Food pouches are fantastic for the adventuring baby! Test out a few flavors beforehand and only bring the ones they like. Try to make them heartier types, protein packed. Depending on the age of your little one they might be eating most of what you are, food pouches are still a great way to make sure they are getting what they need out there. Bring a few more than you think you’ll need.
Solid Foods: If you have an older baby, you will probably want to pack some snack foods too. We brought teething husks, yogurt bites, and puffs. These were great little snacks, especially on our day trip to square lake.
Would We Do It Again?
This was an amazing trip. I would do it again in a heartbeat. My only regret is not getting our oldest out there sooner. She loves it up there too! Kawishiwi was the right decision for Killian’s first outing. We had a fantastic time out there. We were well stocked and lucked out with the perfect campsite. I know it doesn’t always end up like that, but truly a motivating experience to keep at it.
We received a few comments while planning and on our way in. Folks couldn’t believe we were attempting a trip with an infant. But it’s really not as daunting as it sounds. Plan you location, bring enough supplies, keep them fed, and you’ll have a very memorable trip with your baby.
If you are looking for further safety tips for camping with little ones click here.
Bonus: We saw a moose on our way out! It was Sandy’s first moose sighting. Unfortunately, Killian was sleeping. We were not about to wake him up, he earned that nap!
I’d love to hear about your trips with your babies! How did it go? Where did you go?