We had planned for a 4 day 3 night trip to the BWCA but, I ended up feeling really terrible starting after lunch on day 3. We were concerned I may have had a touch of heat stroke, and being 6 months pregnant we didn’t want to take any chances, so we ended up leaving that afternoon. In the three days and two nights that we were there we experienced, saw, and learned a lot.

Finding a Campsite

We had chosen Lake Kawishiwi because we were able to put right in from a boat launch at the primitive campground located right on the southeastern shore of the lake. It also had 7 campsites that required zero portages so we were less concerned about finding an available site and weight when packing. We had arrived at the launch just after 2:00 p.m. on the Friday before the 4th of July weekend and were grateful to see that there were still many campsites available on the lake. We were even able to be choosy because there were several options. We ended up finding the perfect campsite for us! It had a sandy beach with very few rocks and the campsite itself was wonderfully shaded, which offered a perfect reprieve from the baking afternoon sun that we enjoyed all weekend. Since my sister was along it was a little tricky to find two flat spots for the tents but we eventually found two good spots!

Our campsite for the next 4 days!

Our campsite for the weekend.

Where did Jack sit in the canoe?

When we canoed Jack had his own space in the middle and sat all by himself on a small step-stool we purchased from IKEA. It was the perfect height for him. He was able to reach over the edge of the canoe and dip his hands in the water but was still low enough that his movements didn’t cause the canoe to lose it’s center or threaten us to tip.

Jack loved putting his hands in the water!

Jack loved putting his hands in the water!

Off on a day trip on his trusty stool!

Off on a day trip on his trusty stool!

That stool was amazing and came in handy many times on the trip. It was used as a step stool in camp when setting up our mosquito tarp, Jack’s sitting spot for meal times, and a basket during portages on our day trips.

Jack really wanted to help Bobby set up the screen tent.

Jack really wanted to help Bobby set up the screen tent.

Having some dinner on Day 1

Having some dinner on Day 1

Portaging with our stool/basket

Portaging with our stool/basket

Entertaining a Toddler in a Canoe

We were all concerned with how well Jack would do in the canoe for extended periods of time. Turns out we fretted over nothing. One day Jack did 5 hours total in the canoe. We didn’t bring along toys for the canoe, mainly because we forgot his fishing pole in the truck, and he found entertainment in using his own paddle, splashing in the water, watching the birds, trees, and clouds all around us, and looking at the map. We also sang a lot of songs along the way when he would start to get antsy, ‘The Ants Go Marching’ and ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ topped our greatest hits list!

Paddling hard!

Paddling hard!

Rocks!

Rocks!

Navigating!

Navigating!

For emergencies we listened to several other canoe/camping parents and had brought along DumDum suckers as a special treat for Jack. We only needed them once as we were heading out and he was on his fifth hour in the canoe and was getting a bit fussy. He was gloriously sticky but also quiet and happy!

DumDums doing the trick!

DumDums doing the trick!

Sleeping

Jack is sort of an old hat when it comes to sleeping in various tents and places because of all the traveling we do. This was our first time having him in one of our backpacking tents and it definitely proved to be a squeeze fitting the three of us in our little two-person tent. Now we know that upgrading to a 3 or 4 person backpacking tent before our next trip is a must! Night one Jack slept between us. Night two we made him a little nest at our heads using an egg crate sleeping pad and our down jackets. Getting him to sleep in a tent when it is still broad daylight out proves a little tricky. Generally one parent takes up the mantle of attempting to get him to sleep, basically doing our best to get him to calm down and pretending to be asleep as he bounces, rolls, and thrashes about. Our first night it took him over an hour to fall asleep, I may have fallen asleep before him because I was so exhausted… The second night always goes better because some of the novelty of the tent and location has worn off. So on night two he was out in about 20 minutes with very little monkey business.

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Since it was so hot out when we would put Jack down we would put him in just fleece pjs, if it was a little chilly, or his Wee Woolies base layer when it was still hot. Wee Woolies are merino wool so they do the best job of wicking away the sweat and retaining the moisture therein. This way when the temps eventually drop his sweat isn’t sticking to him and making him colder, like a cotton layer would. As the sun would set the temps would drop so we would put Jack’s Merino Kids Sleepsack on. This is a thicker, warmer sleepsack than we use at home. Jack is usually the warmest of us all when he’s in this. Eventually he’ll have his own sleeping bag but for now this works amazingly well!

Early morning tent shenanigans!

Early morning tent shenanigans!

Napping

Naps on a canoe trip are a little bit tricker and was new territory for us. Jack would only sleep in the canoe in my arms. Any time I would try and put him down on the floor of the canoe he would wake up. I’m not sure if the lifejacket made sleeping on his back uncomfortable or what. Either way, this meant that on our first day trip Bobby had to paddle our canoe back solo as I had to hold Jack. Our second day trip, I sat in the middle on the floor of the canoe with Jack and my sister, Katie, sat in the bow and paddled for me. Jack actually managed to sleep through 4 portages on our second day trip. We would simply pass him from person to person. Bringing along an umbrella for protection from the sun when napping in the canoe was a must!

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Another great option we had for nap time was the Nemo screen tent we had set up. Our tents were far too hot in the late afternoon for napping in but the screen tent was in a much more shaded area and has mosquito netting for walls and, thereby, lets a perfect breeze through. We would move a sleeping pad into the tent and try and get him to sleep.

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Eating

I had packed far too much food, check out our planning post for more on that, but it did mean we had plenty of options for food on our short trip! We had peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches, pita thins filled with rice and salmon, Asian medley night of noodles, rice, curry chicken, and naan, mac and cheese, meats, cheeses, oranges, trail mix, oatmeal, and lots of bars were just a few of the foods we enjoyed while out! We had only brought our Jetboil stove, so doing precision cooking, like making pancakes, was incredibly tricky but Bobby was up to the task and made us delicious blueberry pancakes on our first morning.

Peanut Butter sandwiches on our first day trip

Peanut Butter sandwiches at Baskatong Lake on our first day trip

Cooking pancakes!

Cooking pancakes!

First bite of oatmeal! He wasn't a fan...

First bite of oatmeal! He wasn’t a fan…

Our favorite meal of rice with salmon, needed salsa though...

Our favorite meal of rice with salmon, needed salsa though…

Larabar break on a portage.

Larabar break on a portage.

Camp Entertainment

Bobby and I were both really worried that Jack would be bored in the campsite. We usually have a fun set of toys that we bring along on camping trips when car camping, however, we brought so much food that there wasn’t room for much else. All I brought for Jack was a bucket, a shovel, 1 sand former, 1 small car, and 3 storybooks. This was more then enough entertainment for our guy. Going swimming in the hot afternoons, playing in the sand, throwing rocks and sticks into the water, watching Penny the dog swim, climbing on downed logs, digging in the dirt, and building castles out of sticks proved to be entertainment enough! He also had his old standby of running circles around us and jumping around!

Playing with Daddy on the beach

Playing with Daddy on the beach

Swimming! He used to have a lot more fear of the water, not anymore!

Swimming! He used to have a lot more fear of the water, not anymore!

Camping gear alone makes great toys!

Camping gear alone makes great toys! This is one of our waterproof cases for our phones.

Having Auntie Along

I cannot say enough how amazingly incredible it was that my sister Katie agreed to come along with us on this adventure. This pregnancy has been much harder than my first and I knew I would need help. She stepped right up in a big way, helping with Jack when my exhaustion had set in. Helping with camp chores like cooking, dishes, or filtering water. I think it was an incredibly special thing for Jack to have her along and they formed a tight bond during the trip. Hers is the first aunt’s name he learned to say and for days after the trip he asked for her and wanted to know where she was. If you have a willing and able adult who wants to join you on your trip I highly encourage you to invite them along! Bobby and I agreed that, while we could’ve done it with just the two of us, it would’ve been phenomenally more difficult.

Jack and Katie ready for a day trip!

Jack and Katie ready for a day trip!

Day Trips

We had two locations in mind for day trips using the map I had picked up from Midwest Mountaineering before our trip. On our first full day we paddled north along the Kawishiwi River and out onto Square Lake. This area was burned in 2011 and it was really incredible to see how much has already regrown. I always enjoy finding the opened jack pine cones in a burned out area! We stopped for first lunch on a small island and watched many other canoes float by as explored the small area.

Square Lake

Square Lake

From there we searched for an almost hidden 69 rod (.2 mile) portage that would take us to Baskatong Lake. With only 2 campsites and a dead end this area isn’t frequently visited. The portage was evidence of this with grass taller then Jack and shrubs overtaking the small foot path. We left the canoes at Square Lake and grabbed our day pack that had lunch in it and set off on foot. Jack insisted on walking the whole thing himself! We were very worried about ticks but had pretreated all of Jack’s clothing with Permethrin spray which seemed to do the job! We never found a tick on him and never sprayed him with any repellent all weekend. A leisurely second lunch on a gravel beach at Baskatong Lake was perfect! Jack walked most of the portage back to our waiting canoes. Eventually we insisted that he be carried, he kept falling over and hurting himself because he was so tired. We weren’t in the canoe long before he had fallen fast asleep in my arms and poor Bobby was left to paddle us back to the campsite.

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Baskatong Lake

Baskatong Lake

On our second full day we opted for a longer, more challenging day trip. We once again headed north along the Kawishiwi River and out onto Square Lake but this time veered east towards the next branch of the Kawishiwi River that would take us Northeast to Kawaschong Lake. The map indicated that this route has two small portages, the beavers along the river however, actually made it a 4 portage day with two freshly created dams. Thankfully, they were all short portages but with a toddler along and hauling my pregnant self in and out of the bottom of the canoe the day was exhausting, and I wasn’t even paddling! For this day trip we had opted to just take one canoe and cram us all in. It worked great and I was actually rather comfy sitting on the floor of the canoe hanging out with Jack while Bobby and my sister paddled us about!

Just chillin'

Just chillin’ besides a beaver dam

Once again Jack insisted on walking the one longer portage himself and even carried his paddle! Bobby got his first taste of what it’s like to haul a canoe around on a portage and I think he definitely enjoyed himself!

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We arrived at Kawashcong Lake after two full hours of travel by foot and canoe and we couldn’t believe how well Jack had done. All of the campsites along this lake were full but two women hollered out to us that they were just about the leave and that we would be welcome to their site. Timing couldn’t have been better and we soon had a charming spot to stop and have some lunch and get the crazies out!

Not a bad spot for lunch!

Not a bad spot for lunch!

Evening Paddles

It seemed to us that everybody camping on the lake would get out and take an evening paddle during the magic hours of dusk. Bobby took all three of us out in turn for evening paddles and it truly was amazing! He took Jack out on the little canoe/kayak hybrid that Katie had rented for the trip from Sawtooth Outfitters. And then Katie agreed to stay in the campsite with a sleeping Jack while Bobby and I ventured out in the canoe. Upon returning Katie and Bobby went out. We saw and heard a pair of Loons. Bobby and Katie watched an Eagle take a giant poo and then scream out with pride upon finishing. Just being in such a beautiful place with stunning sunsets over the lake was truly magical and an experience I won’t soon forget.

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Pooping Eagle.

Pooping Eagle.

Overall, we all feel that this trip couldn’t have gone any better. It exceeded all of our expectations. Canoe camping is such a surprisingly fun thing to do with a toddler along. Jack screamed and cried when we had to get in the truck and didn’t want to leave. He asked every morning for several days after the trip to go in the boat. We are already planning for our next trip in 2017 when we’ll have double the fun with our daughter along for the ride!

We did it!

We did it!

The BWCA is at risk from sulfide-ore copper mining near its boundaries. Please read more about why it’s important for us to protect this national and state treasure and help us protect the Boundary Waters.

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About the author


I am the youngest of six daughters and spent my childhood vacations camping in the beautiful State Parks of MN. In 2009 I married my best friend, Bobby Marko. We have embarked on numerous adventures along with our Golden Retriever, Latigo, our son, Jack (born 7/26/2014) and our daughter, Rowan (born 10/25/2016). When not adventuring in the great outdoors I spend my time as a stay at home mom and volunteer. I am a Branch Lead for the Twin Cities Hike it Baby branch. My favorite pastimes include dog training, eating chocolate, reading mysteries and crappy romance novels, and creating paper crafts, my passion lies in writing.

7 comments

  1. Kevin

    Thanks for writing up your trip, Maura! I know how tiring it can be to write after an outing–double or triple if six months pregnant with a toddler!

  2. Hillary

    Fun to find your blog. Kawishiwi is indeed a great intro to the BWCA for families. We spent 4 summers doing canoe trips there, starting when our boys were 3 and 6. Sandy beaches are rare at Boundary Waters campsites, yet Kawishiwi has several, which as you found is great for little kids (and less stressful for the grownups). The last two summers there our boys were excited for rocky campsites, and fishing off the ledges, so the lake offered new adventures. We have wonderful memories of our summers at Kawishiwi. This summer we were ready for new and bigger adventures and visited Parent Lake via Hog Creek. Highly recommend it. Re: naps while paddling – we had our toddler sit on a small booster seat or mini cooler between my legs in the bow. He’d nod off and nap, resting his head against me, and I could still paddle. Worked great! Our older son was in the middle of the canoe and would sometimes make a nest and take a nap there. Canoe naps are the best. Hope you have many more Boundary Waters adventures with your growing family!

  3. Maura Marko

    Thanks for the napping tips!! We will definitely try that out next time! We love to hear about, and learn from, other adventurous families who are out there introducing their kids to our beautiful natural world!

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  7. Stephen Jensen

    Love your adventures! We’d like to think we’re outdoorsy but certainly don’t have the cred you do. Our boys are just 4 yrs and almost 8 months. I really want to do BWCA but feared we’d have to wait until the boys are much older – so glad to know it could be doable now. Keep enjoying Mother Earth as she intended!!

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