Best Age to Tackle The Boundary Waters for Kids

What age is best to bring your kids into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the first time? That all depends on you and your determination. This amazing wilderness can be enjoyed by ALL ages. Everyone has different skill levels and enthusiasm for the great outdoors. You can instill in your family a great appreciation for this spectacular wilderness at any age. It’s never too late or too early. Here are some examples that my family has experience to help guide you in your decision.

Teens/Tweens

Lets talk teens and tweens. In general this group of kids can handle a more intense canoe trip, and they may be in need of it. There are number of reasons to get your teens/tweens out there.

  • Disconnect- getting away from screens and distractions
  • Reconnect- with family and nature
  • Slow Down- Take a break from the insane schedules kids have now.
  • Rebuild Relationships- With the phone off, the schedules paused, and the distractions at bay, you have a chance to spend uninterrupted time with your kids.

This is really an experience they won’t forget. There are a few things to keep in mind when getting your teen out there and making sure they are prepared and ready to go. These are just some notes from my experiences that I felt should be mentioned for this age group.

  • Proper clothing– We had a brutal exit one year, 4 foot waves on Brule Lake. Our whole group celebrated once we made it back to the entry point. As we hauled the gear back to the truck we witnessed the most atrocious attire for the wilderness. This kid had skinny jeans that were two sizes too small, skater shoes, and the thinnest sweatshirt that can still be considered a sweatshirt, also too small. I don’t understand fashion. Don’t let your kids do this, wear the appropriate clothing.
  • Phones down– The only thing they’re going to do is kill the battery. I can think of just a single reason we have our phones on and that’s for photos. We don’t have a camera anymore, so the phones act as our cameras. Stick it on airplane mode to save battery if you are in the same boat. But there shouldn’t be games being played, this is family wilderness time. Without any cell service, this shouldn’t be too hard.
  • Practice– Be sure to have them out in a canoe prior to your trip. Most teens/tweens will be paddling, give them a few lessons before the trip. It was only my husband’s second trip when we encountered foul weather, those waves on Brule that I mentioned earlier. Thankfully, my dad is a fairly decent instructor. He gave Scott a crash course in rudder work and Scott put those new skills to the test and we made it safely to our exit point.

My Husband, Scott, took his first trip when he was 16 years old. He went along on our annual summer trip with my family while we were dating in high school. It was amazing to share my favorite place in the world with him. Scott’s most favored part of the trip was the fishing, the bass fishing on this lake is fantastic. We also spent a lot of time exploring the woods and shoreline. There had been a prior fire, the ash laden forest springing with new growth was brilliant. Scott’s first trip was on Clove Lake, entering in at the Larch Creek Entry Point. This experience must have left an immense impression as he was more than willing to go along on the next summers B.W.C.A. trip, and nearly every trip after.

Children

There is no greater wilderness experience than watching your children take in the wilderness and grow to love it. With so many screens in todays world, it’s so important to get them in touch with nature and set them free into the wild. Catching their interest at such a young age can impact them for the rest of their life, it did for me. Benefits of getting your kids out there are endless, but here are a few:

  • Learning new skills
  • Bonding
  • Growing confidence in their own skills
  • Gaining appreciation for the wilderness around them
  • Learning to respect nature

My first trip into the Boundary Waters… Wow! My family went to Lake Isabella, I was 6 years old. I have such vivid memories of the stream near our campsite where my sister and I jumped on rocks for hours. I have a not so clear memory of a red bridge, my dad argues that it was not red nor was it in the B.W.C.A…. He may be right about that. Anyway, 6 was a great age for my first trip in. My parents had made several trips prior to my first adventure, they were experienced and confident in bringing us kids in. Their willingness to introduce me to the wilderness as a kid inspired my love of the great outdoors. I am forever grateful for the experience.

Our daughter, Sandy, took her first trip was when she was 4 years old. My goal was to take her in when she was potty trained. She potty trained at 2, but we were living in a different state and didn’t have the opportunity until she was 4. Scott was deployed at the time, but I was able to take her with my parents. We took her to Clove Lake, a great lake for a first timer at that age, and it was her dad’s first lake too. She was hooked!

Now Sandy looks forward to it every summer and loves to help plan the trip. That first trip really had a great impact on her. I love how eager she is to get out and see new areas. For this summers’ trip we invited my parents, they started it all and hadn’t gone on a trip with us in a couple of years. One of my dad’s favorite lakes is Clove, he suggested that we go there. Sandy was bummed at first, she wanted to go to a new lake! She got her wish, our dates were taken for the Larch Creek entry point, a new place it is! Hog Creek was next, She was very excited! See here why planning early is a must.

Infants/Toddlers

This age group requires more work. These little adventurers come with more gear and less help. But it’s so very worth it. If you plan it just right, you can really have an enjoyable experience with your tiniest explorers. It was a debate in our house whether it was a good idea to bring Killian along, and I’m so glad we did.

Our boy, Killian, was the youngest to enter the Boundary Waters in our family at just 10 months old. He did great! As long as you are prepared for the trip and have a little experience in the wilderness yourself, bringing an infant into the Boundary Waters can be a wonderful experience. We also chose an easy lake for his first time, that was important. Killian’s first trip was on Kawishiwi Lake. Those entering at the same entry point were amazed that an infant was taking his first trip in while this fellow paddlers son was too nervous to take his 4 year old on a trip. This gentleman assured us that he would be letting his son know so he could get his grandkids out there. More on Killian’s first BWCA Trip here.

Killian’s second trip up to the B.W.C.A. was to Hog Creek this last June. He did very well! But I will say, bringing an infant was easier than bringing a toddler. With a very mobile and independent fellow, it was eyes on at all times. That is a must. We had four adults to share the load this time and more eyes were helpful at this very curious age. Hog Creek was a bit too long of a journey for such a little fellow, I would recommend a shorter distance for a younger toddler. He did get to see one of his favorite animals, a moose! He talked about it for some time afterwards. It’s so fulfilling to watch them experience it all.

Are your kids ready to make that journey? Again, it’s your call on whether or not you think your kids can handle it. I’ll tell you, Scott and I didn’t agree right away on taking Killian in for his first trip as an infant. It was a debate and we had to weigh the pros and cons of taking him in and talk about the risks. Ultimately, we came to the decision to take him in. We are both experienced enough and went on an easy low key lake. Check out these posts to read more about Toddlers in the BWCA and Killian’s Hog Creek Adventure.

What ever age you decide that your kids are ready, they’re sure to be inspired by the adventure and realization of their own capabilities. Growing up with these kinds of experiences will give them a unique sense of confidence that can only be brought on by braving the wilderness. It’s not just camping, it’s learning skills that are becoming more and more rare in every generation. You will relish in the opportunity to watch them grow out there and gain a new appreciation for the world around them.

Only those who have experienced this beauty themselves can truly understand the affect that it has on the soul.

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