1mom,3kids ,4 nights canoe camping

Im a newly single mother of 3 kids 2yrs,4,& 7yrs old. I am planning a canoe camping trip up
On Namekagon river in wisconsin. My brother will also be going with his gf in a canoe. Im wondering am i crazy for wanting to do this? I should add none of us have ever been in a canoe before. Ive kayaked a couple of times.Im worried about seat arraignments. Im going to have to be in the back paddling with my 2 yr old in front of me. Is it enough space to just pack all the gear in the front and sit all 3 as close to me as possible? Is 8 miles a day too far to be trying to go? Any advice would help. Thanks

I wouldn’t make my canoe lessons a trip with small kids myself, especially a two year old which would potentially be a challenge if you were an experienced canoeist.

Have you camped with all 3 kids for 3 nights? That would be the place to start. The 2 yo may fuss, the 4y/o will be bored in 2. 8mi is not far, even floating on a 2mph river you will cover it in 4 hours. I have done 5 days canoe camping with 11-18 year old scouts and it took us a year to get their heads on right. There is no way I would put 3 little kids in a boat and go for a 4 day trip.


When you are planning to do something out of the ordinary in a group, it is worth mentally dividing the group up in sub-groups, depending on what their role will be if something goes wrong for one of the other group members:

  • Those who can assist in helping.
  • Those who can handle themselves while others are helping the person in trouble.
  • Those who will still need attention while others are helping the person in trouble.

The more persons you have in the last group, the more persons you will need in the first group. And if you don’t have enough persons in the first group, you will need to do something less challenging.

So let us say that your 7 years old gets in trouble. Can you trust your 4 year old to take care of your 2 years old while you help your 7 years old out of trouble?

Or can you yourself take care of both your 2 years old and your 4 years old while helping your 7 years old out of trouble?

Or can you count on your brother and his girlfriend to be available at all times to step in?

I can only say that I would not want to be alone on the water with 3 children of that age.

I would advise you and the other adults gain some more experience in a canoe before you try doing this with 3 youngsters. Things could get out of control in a hurry.

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I was just reading Cliff Jacobson’s advice about taking small kids. Everyone needs to know how to swim and wear a life jacket at all times. You need an adult for every little kids in case of a capsize. Two adult paddlers can handle two kids. One adult (you) cannot possibly keep track of 3 kids in the case of an upset.

You might try a lake trip first in good weather. Better yet, go car camping with some canoes and teach your kids about how to behave themselves in a boat. Learn your strokes. Learn what to do near shore when a canoe capsizes,. A responsible parent would not take 3 kids that young on a river, especially is she is not experienced herself.

Looking at your post, I’m concerned that you are setting yourself up for an unpleasant time that no one will want to repeat. Reading between the lines a bit I can guess at the desire (and need) to get out into the woods and away from everything. Not a bad idea but it looks like you have a couple of strikes against you: 1) no experience in a canoe & only in a kayak a few times so zero skill set. 2) long trip - 4 nights can be a very long time when everyone is unhappy; 3) weather - unless you are planning this for next August you are getting into Wisconsin fall which can be a delight but are you ready for 4 days of 40 degree rain?

Other thoughts:
I don’t know your family dynamics & don’t know if the kids are experienced in camping. If they are angels and the older two have spent lots of time camping & in the woods there might be hope … if you were an experienced paddler and knew the route.

Seven year old’s can, depending on the kid and to some extent the adult, can be good paddlers. You would need to be able to read the water & communicate what to do but it can work well.

8 miles a day shouldn’t be too tough but right now the river levels show as low so you may be dragging a lot if you don’t have good water reading skills.

All that said, you may be one who excels in adversity and the joy of getting out and away goes beyond the kids fighting, the rain, the low water, and the miles of dragging the canoe.

yeah, that’s crazy. Start off by seeing if the kids even like being in a canoe, before making a 4 day commitment. Start slow, keep it fun. I give you a lot of credit being a single mom of 3, and thinking about this, but definitely do a lake type low pressure day a few times before asking the kids if they’re up for an adventure. You should know your packing/seating arrangements, paddling ability, kids actions and reactions before doing a 4 night trip. I speak as a dad of one, who thought I’d caused the death of my son several times through canoeing and hiking/climbing/mountain biking adventure and misadventure. I swear my kid joined the Marines 'cuz it was easier and safer than dealing with dad. :rofl:

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First off, kudos to you for the idea of getting the kids out on an adventure. And for choosing the Namekagon. Its a “user friendly” and beautiful river. I love it. But In low water don’t even think about going above Hayward. Especially if you’re new to this, the bumping and dragging up there might be less than ideal with the family.
I’m thinking that setting/breaking camp every day with a kid/adult ratio of 1 to 1 might be less than enjoyable for all especially if, as rival51 points out, you get into 40s and rain. Also, though there are a lot of nice DNR river campsites along the river, there’s no guarantee that you will find one each day that’s unoccupied - which might render your 8mi/day plans mute. You might be compelled to make a longer paddle than you anticipated. Could be more fun than anyone wants.
So you might consider setting a base camp. (There’s a very nice - and free - county campground at Earl. There are also several private campgrounds in the area, usually catering more to the RV crowd, though.) That would make it more like a car camping trip with the option of going canoeing. It would free up a lot of time and give you the option of hanging in camp with the kids if the weather turns sour and make your trip more like the the lake outings other have suggested. That would also go a long way toward making it easier to find placement for the kids in the canoe. And it would give you the chance to look over those river camp sites so you’ll know what to expect (and where) on your next trip to the Namekagon - and I bet you will want to return.
Since none of you have canoed before, I’m guessing you’d be renting your boats? Maybe from Jack’s in Trego? They can offer good advice as to where first timers might want to put in or take out - there are a few landings (Lower Springbrook and Groat’s Landing leap to mind) that inexperienced paddlers sometimes have trouble hitting. There’s a DNR visitor’s center on RT61 near Trego that can help with advice on that also. Don’t forget to pick up some river maps.
There’s a chute at Stinnet that newbies will find “sporty” and might require some sponge work to dry the slosh out of the bottom of the boat afterwards. There’s a spot just under and immediately following the bridge at Groat’s Landing where I’ve seen one party wrap a canoe and where I’ve needed to chase down the flotsam and jetsam of another spill. Stay left going under the bridge and of the island immediately downstream. Go with the flow.
In short, probably the stretch from Stinnet to Springbrook should be left for your last paddling day. After a couple day’s paddling you’ll be more confident with your steering and it shouldn’t be a problem. But, of course, if you choose to just do a straight-through river trip you take the river sections as they come, ready or not.
I know of no problems at any of the Namekagon campgrounds or river sites, but you will be in black bear country. Its not unusual at all to see one or two. (Its not impossible that you might hear wolves as well.) No food in (or preferably near) the tents.
Hope there’s something of use to you here… Wear you PFDs and have fun.
Its a beautiful river. Any child with memories of it is a blessed child.

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Before the transportation considerations, have you ever camped in an area where bears might be an issue? You have quite young kids who are themselves not going to grasp the need to avoid leaving food around. The advice for that area from the Dept of Natural Resources is to use bear cans because of the risk.

If this would be new to you, it does not seem safe to place you or three very young kids in that situation.

Now to the canoeing part. Are your kids all very competent swimmers, for that matter are you? Do you have clothing to handle getting wet in a possible capsize in temperatures that are getting chilly? Do you know what to do and how to protect the kids in such an event?

If you can’t answer all of the above with a robust Yes, yeah I think this is a bad idea.

I think you have gotten good coverage of what you need to account for so far. I would also add that small children are much more susceptible to cold, especially immersion, since they have much less body mass than us and faster metabolisms so they lose heat quickly. Water in your area is not going to be warm and nights will be chilly. The chance of a capsize with a restless toddler and even an older child in a canoe especially with an adult in a boat laden with gear and with no canoeing experience is pretty high. Can your kids sit still and not stand up, throw themselves around or try to lean over the side for hours on end? I highly doubt a 2 or even 4 year old can maintain that sort of control.

Kids and hypothermia is a real threat. I got talked by 3 friends into a “fun” summer float trip using inner tubes on a river in Michigan years ago when I lived up there — it was August and the water was fairly warm and it was supposed to be a 3 hour float of about 6 or 7 miles. We quickly joined another group of tubers that included a 4 and 6 year old with their parents. I began to get concerned 90 minutes in that the low water level was causing the rate of our downstream movement to be nowhere near what was needed to complete the trip in the expected time. At 2 hours we were still not even half way. Being in tubes everyone was wet and by hour 3 the sky had clouded over and wind had picked up. Many of the adults had been drinking beer they had dragged along in an extra tube and I was having trouble communicating my concerns to them when I began to notice both kids getting whiney and then shivering. I was a wilderness sports guide in my 20’s and 30’s so I’m conditioned to watching my companions for signs of heat or cold distress and I was seeing that clearly.

I finally convinced their mother that we needed to act quickly. We were able to corral everyone to pull out along a low bank to regroup and make a plan. We were not near enough to any road to send a couple of people through the woods to hitchhike back to cars at either shuttle so that was out. By that time the river flow was so slow and the wind was against us so we were barely moving. We assessed what little resources we had among us (turned out I was the only participant among the dozen of us who had brought a bag with extra dry clothes, snacks, water and some assorted gear) and pulled an Apollo 13 survival rigging. I had a polartec jecket we wrapped the 4 year old in and a couple of the guys contiributed their shirts to swathe the 6 year old plus the rain jacket I had with me. We had funky Mae West PFD’s from the tube rental outfitter so I was able to use the interlinked straps of those plus some paracord I had and shoelaces all of us wearing old sneakers could pull out to tie most of the tubes together in a raft. I had the kid’s parents put them on their laps in the middle of the raft. Gave the kids all my snacks to get their blood sugar up.

We scrounged some long branches from the woods and then we adults poled and dragged the rafted tubes through the shallows the last couple of miles over a very uncomfortable nearly 2 hours to the end shuttle. It started to rain the last half hour and the wind jept up so many of the adults were also in first stage hypothermia by the time we got off the river. I ordered those shivering worst to sit and wait with the kids in one of the 2 shuttle cars with the heat on full blast while I drove with several of the adults to retrieve the cars at the put in. We picked up coffees and hot cocoas on the way back to warm everybody up. I did not enjoy that trip at all but I was glad we pulled it off — could have have been really bad. Both kids were crying and could barely talk by the time we got out of the water.

While I think camping with the kids could be fun for all of you, the canoe outing sounds like a very bad idea. Too many unknowns and inexperience with what will occur even if you don’t run into serious problems. Even 4 days of camping with kids who have never done that is really pushing it. I grew up car camping with my parents every summer but my younger sister was a constant pain and made all such trips difficult with her fear of bugs and tantrums and fussing about sleeping in a tent (we eventually had to set up our station wagon so she could sleep in there with one of our parents so she would not scream all night.) Even getting her to use an outhouse or poop in the woods involved a tantrum until she was 6, and even then she required a patient adult to attend to her. On the other hand I loved everything about camping and took to all of it with enthusiasm from the age of 3 on. So there is no way to predict any kid’s tolerance for that kind of major change in their environment. And with such a major change in their lives already in losing one full time parent I would suspect they could be more vulnerable than usual to feeling ill at ease and insecure with such a big “adventure”. You could really have your hands full.

Just saying, some kids naturally love camping (and paddling) and some simply can’t deal with it. Until you have tried at least one land based overnight camping trip to judge how your kids handle it I would not. And IMHO any wilderness trip with kids under 10 should include a 1 to 1 or better a 2 to 1 ratio of dedicated and personally concerned adults to each kid.

Should add: can you and all the kids swim? If not, I would say automatic “no” to your canoe plans.


I have taken my 3 paddling at various times as they were growing up. You DO NOT want to take a 2 yo in a canoe for more than a half hour unless they fall asleep.
Car camping would be a challenge with that crew.
I applaud your willingness to get them outside but agree it should be done on land.

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Absolutely no chance would I do this. What happens if the boat rolls and you have three kids to wrangle, intermixed with a boat and gear?

Every kid is different, but I take my 3yo and 5yo out every weekend and they are more than done after an hour and a half.

Re-read your original post and am even more convinced this trip would be a terrible idea. No, it will not be in the least bit possible for somebody with no canoeing experience to paddle with three children 7 and younger in the canoe. Even a pro could not do that, particularly with a toddler in front of them (who would get not only soaked but likely bonked on the head every time you switched sides with the paddle.) This is not the way to start camping adventures with a young family.

There are better trips to plan with such young kids. Look into renting a state park cabin for a few nights first. And test the kids’ tolerance for canoeing with short warm weather day trips where there are two adults and just one child in the boat to start with. You need to have the skill and experience to handle a kayak solo yourself with confidence first before you put a child and yourself at serious risk.

An excellent suggestion, willowleaf. A cabin would be just the ticket… but there are no State Park cabins along the stretch of river between Hayward and, say, McDowell bridge landing. I think there are some private cabin rentals just across the river from Trego Town park, and probably some others as well, though I don’t know where.
Car camping, setting a base camp at Earl Park as I was trying to gently suggest, would be the next best alternative. Here’s a map: Zoom in on the SE branch; that’s the Namekagon. Then look at the lower half of that.

The section I’m thinking of, and to which I was alluding yesterday, is between Hayward dam and McDowell Bridge.
I guess I was making a perhaps unwarranted assumption about where amsharp’s party was planning on paddling, mostly because this is the section that is usually paddled. By Many. This is a popular (too popular for my taste in mid-summer) and is often paddled by quite inexperienced paddlers, even first-timers, not always entirely sober, and often with kids of various ages. I was also assuming, again perhaps without justification, that brother and gf would be helping out some at camp, or at least that they would be traveling as a group. They wouldn’t just paddle away, would they? Or would they? The children could be split between the two boats, and perhaps rotated around if everybody’s traveling without gear. Well, except for snacks and a change of clothes in double garbage bags, or a dry bag if as first-timers they have some. Plenty of room, though.
Also the map is a bit illustrative of what I meant by “user friendly”. Note the number of landings. This isn’t really a wilderness trip in the sense of wild isolation. There are LOTS of opportunities to bail out if there is trouble with the kids or if the weather turns. All those landings are serviced by liveries, on short notice by cell phone if need be.
Another assumption, again perhaps unwarranted, I was making is that this trip would be sometime pretty soon. Its been warm lately, in the mid-upper 70s, and probably won’t get cool enough to be worrisome for camping, even with kids, for a while yet. At least not for a base camp with car - river camping in rain would perhaps be more problematic.

Though I have often paddled with young kids (though none as young as 2), I’m not a parent. Some are calmer than others and more engaged than others. Only the OP knows them well enough to make a reasonable estimate of how each might take to this. One of our Ozark paddling group, Anita (AKA CasitaAnita to some), spent two years working for National Park Service and was based out of Trego and had her RV near Stinnett. It would be perfect if she was still there to act as a guide. That would make all the difference. If any experienced paddler could be added to the group it would be much much better.

A surprising number of future notables had youthful experiences on the Namekagon, though. Gaylord Nelson, Sigurd Olson, and, I think, John Muir all had “river roots” in the waters of the Namekagon. That strikes me as kind of remarkable. Perhaps there will be more to follow in their footsteps, given the chance. Perhaps the OP’s.

Here’s a little video about the Namekagon/St. Croix in autumn. Those bigger waters and those cliffs are both way downstream. This is a river where one can usually set your paddle down and drift, even nap, without much worry. If this trip can be done anywhere (and I agree the risks are real and perhaps are grounds for putting this off for a couple years, and the adults getting some paddling experience), the Namekagon is, IMO, as good a river to try it on as any - among the best, in fact.

PJC - thanks for that great video link on the.Nemacogan. I agree it looks like a good family trip option (once the cautions and practice we both recommended were achieved). Watching the clip I was reminded of our PA Susquehanna West Branch which has a similar history and geography.

I admit I tend to lean towards extreme caution in advising people on trips, especially newcomers to any activity and doubly so where kids are concerned. Having been a wilderness skills instructor and outfitter guide, I’m conditioned to projecting all problems that might happen and trying to assure that participants are well enough outfitted and prepared to avoid having a trip ruined by any of those that would be avoidable or easily dealt with if you have the right gear and knowledge. I was involved in outdoor education and the outfitting business long enough to have experienced people who did not listen to advice from me and others not only getting into enough bad straits that they needed professional rescue but some who actually died due to their hubris and reckless blunders.

I also admit that I have selfish motivation in being stubborn about people being well prepared to take on adventures. In 50 years of pursuing my own wilderness adventures I have had numerous trips shortened or otherwise spoiled by having to suspend what I and my companions had underway in order to accommodate or even rescue ill-prepared people we encountered who had gotten themselves way in over their heads far from safety. As gratifying as it can be to help out somebody in trouble, it’s a bummer to have to abandon your own well-planned outing because of another’s carelessness. A true emergency is one thing (like an unexpected storm, illness or a random accident) but more often we were called on to extract or care for folks who were completely unequipped for even the normal circumstances of where they had put themselves.


Oh, I agree. The warnings and even outright discouragement are absolutely reasonable and it would be irresponsible not to put them on the table for the OP’s consideration. The idea of being absolutely certain nobody is going to freak out if they take a spill/swim is of upmost importance, though, again, lots of inexperienced folks have swum in this river and I bet more than a few have learned to swim in it. Usually a spill would involve wading to shore. But that 2year old especially is grounds for concern in that situation. I wonder if the liveries even have PFDs for kids that age…
I did check the recent weather up there… It has gotten down to close to freezing recently, though its mostly been in the 50s & 60s. In a base camp that isn’t so bad. Nice, in fact. You don’t have to paddle if you don’t like the weather, there’s a nice fire ring (careful with kids and fire…) and running water readily available, but that same weather might be worrisome with kids on a river site.

No, keep the warnings coming, everyone. Its good advice, but in the event it isn’t taken, mitigation advice might also be useful. As least that’s my hope.

Case in point. I was paddling a tandem canoe that hit a stump and flipped. As already stated, suddenly you are in the water with gear floating everywhere.
It took several people to get the boat righted while both paddlers made their way to shore. I can’t imagine that with 3 children in the water and a couple who don’t know what they’re doing for backup.

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That would be terrifying with kids.

When our granddaughter was 5 she was pretty bored after the first hour in a canoe. Being allowed to paddle helped, not that doing so propelled the boat. She was a lot better at age 7 but all kids are different.