We wanted to plan a fun and epic trek for our extended Fourth of July weekend but weren’t totally sure what we wanted to do. Being six months pregnant was a limiting factor but, overall I’ve been feeling really great so we decided that a short overnight backpacking trip would be really fun. Alas, planning a trip over one of the most popular holiday weekends just a couple of weeks before the date isn’t the greatest idea and all the backpacking sites we were interested in were taken. This led Bobby to check out some hiking/backpacking options in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). As we were discussing our options I blurted out that we should just canoe there! The idea of not having to lug around a pack or a toddler on my back was incredibly appealing. Bobby was shocked to hear that I felt ready to take the plunge and take a canoe trip. While Jack is definitely a difficult, almost 2 year old toddler to manage, his listening and comprehension skills are evolving daily and I was feeling more and more confident that we could have a successful trip with him in the canoe. Plus, our friends Matt and Erin had just done a similar trip with their toddler which gave us the final push we needed.

So, in all honesty, we had never been canoeing in the BWCA before, we’ve only hiked there. Being native Minnesotans this was something we truly regretted about our outdoor resumes. So, the idea of having our inaugural trip with a toddler along for the fun, while pregnant was both intimidating, but exciting! Because we didn’t have a lot of experience we felt that a third adult along for the fun, and the help, would be important. A quick text to my wonderful and adventurous sister, Katie, and we soon had a third adult willing and excited to join us! She too had never been to the Boundary Waters, but, was keen to explore and learn alongside us.

As we began planning the trip I was busy reading books and watching YouTube videos for advice on packing, prepping, and planning. My go-to book for preparing myself mentally and packing appropriately for Jack’s needs on the trip was, Cradle to Canoe by Rolf and Debra Kraiker. This is an excellent resource for parents who are planning a paddling trip with babies, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. They cover all the basics from canoe and gear selection to meal options and camp activity ideas. YouTube also has lots of great videos on everything from gear selection, packing your portage pack, personal item suggestions, how to portage, paddling techniques and much more. We had two weeks to cram a lot of prepping and study in. Bobby’s dad is an avid BWCA guy who visits the scenic wilderness area once a year. He supplied the canoe, paddles, PFDs, portage packs, dry sacks, and lots of advice and tips along the way. We also have several friends and our awesome Facebook group of adventurous parents from around the globe who we turned to for ideas on where to camp, how to entertain a toddler in a canoe, and how to sleep comfortably in a tent while pregnant with only the bare basics along.

We thought it would be a wise idea to do a test canoe trip run. Jack has been in a canoe and a paddle boat before but he’s never sat alone. We thought it was important to see if he would even sit all by himself in the middle nicely or if it wasn’t even possible. My parents have a canoe at their cabin up near Hinckley, MN and there’s a small river nearby. We headed up there and tested the waters (pun intended…). Jack did amazing! He had been phenomenally crabby before we started so we knew this would be a good test. He couldn’t have done any better. This bolstered our spirits enormously as we continued to prep and plan for the trip!

He wanted to paddle himself and check out all the birds on the shore line and in the sky.

He wanted to paddle himself and check out all the birds on the shore line and in the sky.

Bobby was in charge of finding our entry point and camping options therein. The BWCA is a vast wilderness area with over 1 million acres. It spans 150 miles along the border with Canada and with over 1200 canoe routes and 2000 campsites the options are seemingly endless. Bobby found the site, Paddle Planner incredibly helpful in narrowing down our options. Then, again, we asked those that had gone before us and decided that Kawishiwi Lake (Entry Point 37) would be an ideal location for a group of newbies. We were hoping to find a site that required zero portages (as I wouldn’t be all that helpful on those), not too far from civilization in case we had to bail, a site that still had permits available, and a site with numerous campsite options since we were worried about how crowded it may be on the busy weekend. Kawishiwi fit the bill perfectly.

With our entry point chosen, permits acquired using the online reservation system, and time off requests approved it was time to get into the nitty gritty. What gear did we have? What special gear did we need? What food should we pack? How much food should we pack?

As for our packing list check it out here!

Laying it all out so we know what we have and what we're missing.

Laying it all out so we know what we have and what we’re missing.

Special new gear purchases are one of Bobby’s favorite things about adventuring! We may have a slight gear-hoarding problem…

Researching gear options a few days before the trip. Thank goodness for Amazon 2 day shipping!

Researching gear options a few days before the trip. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime 2 day shipping!

Thankfully, it all gets used at one point or another! Knowing we would be in an area notorious for it’s veritable smorgasbord of biting insects we first found ourselves a tarp with mosquito netting walls from NemoMosquito netting for our heads and Sawyers, Permethrin pre-treat spray were acquired to aid us in the battle against the bugs as well. We treated all of Jack’s clothing with it and it worked amazingly well!

We bought a SteriPen as a backup filter and as a secondary filter for the water I, and Jack, would be drinking. Being pregnant made me a little more hesitant drinking water out in the wilderness so having water that went through not only our ceramic filter from MSR but also using the SteriPen made me feel much better.

Being six months pregnant I needed to find a solution to having technical pants along. I invested in a Bellaband that allowed me to wear my non-maternity technical pants comfortably. It was great that I didn’t have to make a hefty investment into new maternity technical pants that would only be needed for a few more months.

We also needed protection for our cell phones while we were in the canoe, this super affordable waterproof case that could be worn around your neck or your arm by DBPOWER worked perfectly! The touch screen could still be used even while in the pouch so we were able to take pictures and videos while in the canoe without having to endanger our phones which was wonderful.

We were also really worried about not having our cell phones, and thereby, GPS available at all times but weren’t sure how to keep batteries charged. So, we decided to get a small solar panel set up which allowed us to have our phones as cameras and guides throughout the weekend excursion.

Meal packing prep!

Meal packing prep!

As for food, I ended up packing waaayyy too much. In all honesty, I packed probably double what we needed. I was really worried about having enough for everybody and extra options in case Jack wouldn’t eat. Next time I plan on cutting a lot out. For the rundown on the myriad of options we had along check out this video!

Overall, we were incredibly pleased with the gear choices we had made. There were a few things we wished we had had along that we didn’t, but we used pretty much everything we had packed. The trip ended up being a phenomenal experience that we can’t wait to tell you all about! In the meantime enjoy this teaser pic!


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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 2014) and our daughter, Rowan (born 2016). When not adventuring in the great outdoors I work as a clerical at our local high school.


  1. Pingback: 7 Best Boundary Waters Entry Points for Trips with Babies and Toddlers | We Found Adventure

  2. Lucy Sanchez


    I love this story about your inaugural trip to the BWCA. So much of it speaks to me! My husband and I are planning a trip with our 4 and 2 year old daughters this fall. We are also planning on bringing my adventurous sister and husband along. I’ve been once a long time ago but otherwise it will be everyone’s first time! I’m from Ohio but my sister lives in MN.

    Any chance as I dive into the details for our trip i could reach out to you for more questions?

    I’m also a member of our local hike ir baby branch.

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