Backcountry Pancake Lesson

Who doesn’t love a good pancake on a cool camp morning. It’s the perfect meal to begin teaching young campers how to be a camp chef. Check out these tips on camp pancake making.

One of the best parts of camping is teaching my kids about camping and camp skills. On this years birthday trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, my daughter, Sandy, learned how to make Backcountry Pancakes.

It was brought to my attention while we were driving out to the NP that she was missing apple cinnamon pancake day in Home Ec. class. No worries! I assured her that she most certainly would not miss pancake day. No losing participation points here! The perfect opportunity to teach an important camping skill.

On our first camp breakfast of the trip, we had a pancake lesson. Sandy learned how to mix pancakes in a bag, start the camp stove, grease the pan, and fry up some flapjacks.

1. Prep

I like to keep things as simple as I can with as few dishes as possible while camp cooking. The easiest way to prep pancakes before camping is to measure out as much pancake mix as your party will eat in a meal into a ziplock bag. Write on the bag with permanent marker how much water is needed per your pancake serving amount. Example: Kodiak Pancake Mix (our favorite) takes 3/4 cup water per 1 cup of mix. This feeds our family of 4.

2. Gather Cooking Items

You’ll need a few items to successfully make pancakes at camp. Your kids can help gather materials, a good job for younger campers.

  • Camp Stove
  • Fuel
  • Lighter (if stove is not equipped with an igniter)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Pancake Mix
  • Rubber scraper or spatula
  • Plate & Spork
  • Soap & Sponge
  • Clean Water

3. Mix Pancakes

Pour clean water into the bag of mix a small amount at a time. Adding all of the water at once may result in runny batter. This will turn your pancakes into crepes. It’s not as appealing as it sounds, it’s a mess, trust me. Mixing the batter in the bag eliminates a dish and offers an easy squeeze method in placing the batter in the pan.

When the batter is mixed to your preferred consistency, cut a small slit in the bottom corner of the bag. Set aside with the slit corner up to prevent leakage.

4. Light’m Up

This was Sandy’s first time starting the camp stove. She wasn’t completely new as she knows how to ignite the gas stove at home. We talked about safety and order of operations per our stove mechanics before lighting it. If you’re teaching a new camp chef, be sure to give safe, clear instructions on how to operate your stove. (Her angle is goofy in the photo, but she did well.)

Once the stove is lit, place the pan over the burner with a slice of coconut oil.

5. Frying Flapjacks

As soon as the oil is melted in the pan, add the pancake batter. Use the easy squeeze bag and make a circle of batter in the pan. Watch the cake carefully and adjust fuel flowage as needed. When the bubbles begin to rise to the top of the pancake, it’s time to flip. Use the rubber scraper to loosen the cake from the pan and flip the cake. It won’t take long for the other side to cook, so keep an eye on it.

Apply some sweet syrup and dig in!

Slick Tip: It’s a really good idea to reapply coconut oil between each pancake. When I don’t reapply, my cakes stick to the pan.

6. Clean Up

After enjoying some delicious flapjacks, use warm water, soap and a sponge to wash dishes. If the kids are old enough to learn how to make camp pancakes, they’re old enough to clean up camp breakfast. Put those hands to work!

Tip: We cut a standard sponge into thirds to make them camp sized.

Overall, Sandy’s pancake lesson went well. A couple “hey, don’t touch the pan, it’s hot” moments, but otherwise she did great! Looks like some of the camp work load is off of my shoulders.

Riverside Trail at William O’Brien State Park

Simple trail, spectacular views, and a short drive from the metro area. Riverside Trail at WOB state park is just the ticket to satisfy your craving for outdoor adventure while keeping the effort on the easier side. In our case, keeping the adventure low key for an injured 3 year old.

Our adventuring this summer hit a bit of a snag. Killian, our 3 year old, broke his foot in a freak swing accident (the rope broke). We needed to cancel one BWCA trip and reevaluated our adventuring strategy for the remainder of the summer. Killian would be in a boot for the next 4 weeks and needed to take it easy….

We don’t “take it easy” well. So, after receiving some trail intel from a friend, we decided to explore William O’Brien State Park. The trails are very well maintained and are relatively flat, meaning it’s stroller friendly (air tires only folks, leave the tiny plastic wheels at home).

Distance: 2.7 miles, loop

Level: Easy

Time to go: Open year-round, both summer and winter hiking

Dog Friendly: Yes, very dog friendly.

Fees: Daily ($7)/Seasonal MN State Park Pass ($35)


The park entrance is on the west side of the road, park passes can be purchased at the office on the right. Take a left at the T and continue straight, passing the visitors center. The road winds under the overpass, through the woods, and alongside Alice Lake. This short drive is gorgeous and would be breathtaking in autumn… I’m sensing a revisit coming on.

The parking area has ample space. This popular park is close to the cities, so the parking area does tend to fill up on the weekends. Going during the week is your best chance at avoiding the crowds.

Trail Head

The trail begins at the pavilion near the boat access. This is near the far end of the parking area. Also, check out the fishing pier for a fantastic view of Lake Alice. We spotted turtles and swans soaking in the sun on the calm waters of Alice.

Sandy Beach

Lake Alice has a sandy beach near the parking area with restroom and wash facilities. We opted to explore farther down the trail for a sandy beach area. About 200 yards down the trail, there is a soft sand shoreline to the right of the trail. A short climb down will reveal a hidden oasis of sand and solitude.

Caution: Though the waters look calm, there is still strong current in this area. The water depth drops off drastically and can be dangerous at times. We didn’t go in past out knees, but still enjoyed this beautiful spot.

There is also a petite cliff that as great for climbing and sunning on.


Though these cliffs are not as rugged as the North Shore cliff lines, they are still stunning. The trail leads along this spectacular and dramatic shoreline. The river just below flows by, many kayakers can be seen enjoying the view from a different vantage point.

There are so many look out areas. We spent a great deal of time exploring the St. Croix rocks along the shore. Sandy had a blast climbing down to the water to get a closer look.

Flood Plain

This is a must, on the northernmost section of trail there is a short spur before the trail curves around to lead back to Alice Lake. This little spur leads to a flood plain draining into the St. Croix. There is so much adventure to be had for kids in this spot. Check out the flowing creek, observe it’s entrance into the river, and look for frogs, clams and river otter sign.

Lake Alice overlook

The trail crosses the road and follows along the Lake Alice shoreline. A bench is placed in a very serene location which is perfect for a break and a snack. Watch for swans in this spot during the summer. We spotted a family paddling along in the lake and enjoyed watching them while we munched on some trail mix.

Ice Cream

Adventuring at William O’Brien State Park will surely leave visitors with a hankering for ice cream. The perfect remedy for this is to swing over to Nita Mae’s Scoop. The shop is just south of the park along the St. Croix Scenic Byway in the little town of Marine on St. Croix. There is also an old settlers cabin that is a great historic stop.

Bonus Trail: There is a trail leading down to the river from the parking are by the ice cream shop. This short trail hooks around and brings hikers to a waterfall coming from a culvert under the passing road. This was a neat and unexpected find. Worth the stop for sure!

Eating ice cream and hiking to a surprise waterfall, can’t think of a better way to end a day of adventuring.

7 Fun Hiking Games to Keep Kids Engaged on the Trail

Keeping kids engaged on the hiking trail can be a challenging task. Check out these games for trail entertainment with junior hikers.

The idea of hiking with junior hikers is sometimes more fun than actually hiking with junior hikers. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy watching my kids take in the outside world and explore. Hiking is awesome and a great activity for them, but those longer hikes can become difficult when the moods swing.

With the help of my junior hikers, Sandy (11) and Killian (3), we’ve come up with some activities and games to play while hiking. Sandy is so creative, it’s great!

1. Pooh Sticks

This game came from a childhood show ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Pooh Sticks is played on a bridge over flowing water. Each player finds a short stick and stands on the bridge facing the upriver side. On the count of three, each player drops their stick into the water. Then rushes over to the other side of the bridge to watch them pass under. The stick to reach the other side of the bridge first wins.

This is great fun and is a great way to encourage kids to keep going until the next bridge. That is, if your hike passes a bridge. Killian gets very excited when we find a bridge now, the best hikes are hikes over rivers.

Red Light/Green Light

This was Sandy’s doing, she actually thought of it to keep Killian from running ahead. She noticed me becoming frustrated when he was running too far ahead in an area known for bears. After getting his attention, she explained the game and they had a great time. Great big sister!

One person is the traffic light. They call out ‘green light’ for the hikers to go and ‘red light’ for hikers to stop. It’s a great game to keep junior hikers from going too far ahead in an area with large predators, snakes, rivers, or winding trail where they could wander out of sight.

Freeze Hike

Much like ‘Red Light, Green Light,’ this game is also a stop and go game. But when the caller yells, “Freeze,” the other hikers must hold perfectly still. It’s great fun to see the goofy positions the kids wind up in and see if they can hold it until the caller lets them go again. Take it a step further and move their limbs around while they are frozen!

Freeze hiking is a fun time but it’s also helpful in keeping kids close and teaching them to stop when you need them to.

Scavenger Hunt or Hiking Bingo

Scavenger hunts are awesome! It really gets the kids engaged in their environment and really looking at the habitat around them. They wind up finding things that they wouldn’t normally have noticed. It works for the adults too. When I’m helping my little hiker find things on his list, I find myself noticing more on his level rather than just seeing the big woods.

A great thing about a scavenger hunt is that it can be customized for seasons, events, and environments. So, if you’re going out on a scavenger hunt in the summer, add flowers and frogs. For fall, add different colored leaves and acorns.

I Spy

A classic game that can be played anywhere. Teaching kids how to articulate what they are seeing and an interesting way to see how they view the world. We have a running joke when we play this game, we come up with many different ways to describe a tree. It derived from the Disney movie Brother Bear. Two moose are playing I Spy while riding a mammoth and all they are seeing is trees. It’s pretty funny when they say, “I spy…. a vertical log?” That one always gets a chuckle, even they know it’s coming.


On trails that are relatively smooth, a good race can keep your little hiker on the move. Especially those compitetive kids, it can also teach good sportsmanship. We are working on that with our 3 year old right now. We follow each race, win or lose, with a “Good Game!” or “Good Race!” It’s a work in progress. Killian does like a good race and it will motivate him to get to the finish line, which might be the next bench or better yet, the next bridge for a game of Pooh Sticks.

We like to use incentives with our races too, sometimes a bridge but mostly food. We keep those snack at the ready and a race to the next bench is a good time to break out the trail snack for kids.

Color Hunt

Great for spring and fall, when the colors are blooming and changing. Just like the scavenger hunt, but with color in mind. So the object isn’t too specific, just the color of it. Perfect for those junior hikers learning their colors. This activity can help them discover all of the colors in their environment. This versatile activity can be played just about anywhere, not just on a hike.