We decided last summer that it was time to introduce our kids to multi-day canoe trips. What an adventure! We talked about numerous options that would allow us to plan short days and lots of play. After all was said and done we chose Ross Lake.
Curtis and I did a shorter trip out there a number of years ago (before we had any littles to take along) and really enjoyed the beautiful campsites, gorgeous mountain views and pristine lake to swim and play in.
Other perks include that it’s not too far from home so the travel time isn’t too long, and there are numerous sites available along the lake that are pretty close together. Oh – and on the U.S. side camping is FREE – yup, you read that right FREE – which is always the right price 🙂
Ross Lake is unique in that it spans the Canadian and U.S. border and is protected park land on both sides. From the Canadian side it is accessed from Sliver Lake Rd (keep going down the logging road past Silver Lake Provincial Park, eventually you’ll get there). On the Canadian side it is part of Skagit Lake Provincial Park. On the U.S. side it’s part of North Cascades National Park.
In the later summer months after much hot and dry weather very little of the lake actually falls on the Canadian side and there is actually no boat access backcountry camping available on Canadian soil.
Crossing the border into the U.S. is a matter of driving past a sign on the road and checking in at the Ranger Station. We’ve done this a few times and never had problems. Keep your ID handy so they can check it if they so desire.
There is TONS of boat access backcountry camping available along the full length of the lake from the U.S. and you can drive directly in from Canada making the trip not too far if you live in the Fraser Valley.
The key to planning a trip like this with a boat load of littles is keeping it short. Our kids don’t like being confined for too long, so while the scenery from the canoe is wonderful when you’re surrounded by snow capped mountains and beautiful forests, sitting still is not a strong point. We intentionally planned to keep the paddles short.
Ross is known to have strong winds that pick up mid morning and blow hard north.To avoid getting into a sticky situation with kids in the canoe we planned short paddles that had us off the water and into camp before 11. Our LONGEST paddle was on our last day and it was about 5km. A distance Curtis and I can paddle easily in an hour or less if we want to.
Most days we paddled about 1 to 2km, set up camp and spent the rest of the day tromping in the woods and splashing in the lake. We did some shorter day paddles from our campsites with the kids and they really enjoyed that.
Packing for a family of 4 is no small feat. Especially when you’ve got one still in diapers. This is what our house looked like a day or two before the trip:
And the back of the car loaded and ready to go:
Our Canoe of choice for this trip was a Clipper Tripper which we rented from Western Canoeing & Kayaking in Abbotsford BC. It is the ideal boat for this kind of trip – but if I were doing it again I would go for their larger Clipper Mackenzie 18’6 (especially considering that the next time we do this we’ll have 3 kids along with us). We didn’t expect the canoe to be as full as it was once we got it all loaded!
We’ve found from our experiences with little people in canoes that the youngest ones – especially when they’re under say 3 or so (depending on the kid) enjoy the ride best from the floor of the bow seat.
L rode up front with me between my legs last summer at 18 months, and E had her own folding chair we used mid-canoe for her.
If we were doing this again this summer I would STILL have L ride within easy reach of Curtis or I – she’s still just a little too unpredictable at 2-1/2 for me to trust her on her own in the middle of the canoe.
I have a feeling there would be a lot of running/jumping/standing/throwing things over the side herself included. She’s a bit of a wild animal that one. Every kid is different.
After about 1 1/2 hours travel we arrived at the Hozomeen campground at Ross Lake. We then spent another half hour or so looking for a Ranger to check our planned sites with.
It’s worth noting that the Hozomeen Ranger Station is open daily from 10-12. Getting there by 12 would have saved us quite a bit of time and made set up etc. a bit smoother.
Our sites ended up being:
- Silver Creek
- Boundary Bay
- Cat Island
This had us crossing and re-crossing the lake a few times, but that was what was available within a reasonable paddle for our kids.
We set up camp in the Hozomeen camp ground that first evening and spent the afternoon/evening swimming, exploring the campground and playing outside. We planned to head out onto the water the next morning.
After a short sleep – due to little ones that find sleeping in a tent VERY entertaining – we packed up and headed down to the boat launch to put the canoe in the water and park the car for the days we were gone.
It took us about 2-2 1/2 hours to have breakfast, pack up camp, re-load the car, get organized and on the water.
The actual moving of canoe and gear from the car to the water was about a 40 min process but having camped out the night before we had to totally repack in the morning before leaving instead of just unloading into the canoe.
At 9:43 we left the boat launch and headed across the lake to Silver Creek, arriving there around 10:30. We had glassy smooth water for our paddle that morning which was a huge blessing.
Silver Creek Campsite
By 10:45 a storm had blown in and the lake was very rough – it would have been scary to have been on the water with the kids in those conditions. The wind and rough water lasted for about 2 hours then it calmed down again.
We set up camp and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, throwing rocks, and tromping through the woods. The GSI Backcountry Bocci Ball set that we picked up at Western Canoeing & Kayaking proved to be a VERY popular item.
The beach is pretty rocky here, but there is a small sandy area to play in. There are a number of camp sites to choose from. Being the first (and as it turned out only people) to arrive we picked one that looked right out at the water.
We all crawled into the tent around 8 that night. Curtis and I pulled out the iPad and an episode of Sofia the First hoping to get the littles calmed down and sleeping a bit more quickly. The whole family laying in one place to sleep is just WAY TOO EXCITING. It still took about two hours to get everyone settled in, and they were up by 6 the next morning.
Breakfast, and morning pack up took us about 3 hours (seriously, you stop every 5 seconds to chase after a toddler then tell me how long it takes you to get your gear packed). We were on the water and headed to the Boundary Bay campsite by 9.
Boundary Bay Campsite
Once again we had to cross the lake to get to our campsite so we pulled out our map and made a point of choosing the narrowest place to cross. We paddled up the side of the lake a little ways to a point, where we then crossed back to the other side of the lake and continued paddling up the lake a little ways to our campsite.
We left Silver Creek at 9:09, and arrived at Boundary Bay at 10:24. The lake was glassy smooth and we were treated to a clear hot day for swimming, canoeing, and exploring.
This campsite was at the top of a cliff which made me a bit nervous. We actually tethered her from her life jacket to a tree with enough freedom to safely explore while Curtis and I set up camp. (Ok so I’m trying not to say I put my kid on a leash, but I put my kid on a leash.)
This was the first day that the forest fires burning around us were very evident. There was one burning across the lake from us, and because it was so hot and calm that day the smoke really settled in so that by dinner we were totally encased in smoke.
We headed to bed again around 8, and the kids enjoyed some Doc McStuffins in yet another futile attempt to calm them before bed and we all retired for the night.
Curtis, L and I were up again around 6, E slept till 7 and stayed asleep through me packing up most of the gear in the tent. We had breakfast and headed out towards our next campsite – Cat Island.
From wake up to getting on the water still took about 3 hours, I suspect that this will be semi normal for this type of camping for the foreseeable future.
We left Boundary Bay at 9:04 and arrived at Cat Island by 10.
Curtis and I camped here years ago on another trip and loved it. We were excited to be camping at this site with our littles, it’s just so lovely.
This was the first site that did not require crossing the lake to get there. It was a short paddle up the lake from our previous site and it was really lovely out in the morning.
We were again welcomed to beautiful glassy smooth water and calm conditions which is of course always a blessing when travelling with little ones!
The smoke from the fires got quite thick at this point and unfortunately any “view” further down the lake or of the surrounding mountain tops was obscured by smoke.
There was a fire burning directly across the lake from us again – close enough this time that we actually had a bit of ash falling on us from time to time. This obscured the sun but still left us with the lovely summer heat for swimming and playing in the lake.
We spent the afternoon swimming, playing go-fish, colouring and exploring, then headed to bed around 7 in hopes of getting everyone settled a bit earlier. We wanted to get an earlier start in the morning.
Curtis and I got up EXTRA early (like 5:30) in hopes of beating the kids up and getting a few things sorted and organized for our paddle back without little ones to chase after.
Our goal was to be on the water by 8 for what would be our longest paddle of the trip (about 5km so still not too far). We were paddling all the way back to the boat launch in one shot.
With the continued calm weather and the increasing severity of the forest fires at the far end of the lake we woke to visibility of about 100 feet that morning.
While this was a really cool and unique experience it’s not one I would necessarily choose again. Despite the continual reassurances of our safety from the Rangers and Park staff it was a bit nerve wracking for me to have my littles out in the smoke.
We hit our goal and left camp at 8. We made it back to the boat launch by 10:20 – our longest paddle yet but still not too long and again in GLASSY SMOOTH conditions! How we got so lucky for 4 days straight of paddling on a lake that is known for it’s rough conditions mid-day I don’t know but I’ll take it!
During our paddle back we saw a flock (not sure what to call it) of Loons – which I have never seen before, there were at least 10 of them all together. My experiences with them in Ontario has always been as singles or pairs, so this was neat to see!
Once we arrived back at the boat launch Curtis brought the car over and we started unpacking the canoe while the kids explored.
We got the car all loaded up only to realize that one of the kids had left an interior light on before the trip so while we had enough juice to get the car going and brought to the loading zone we didn’t have enough to get it started again the battery was dead!
Curtis went out in search of Ranger or another camper that would be kind enough to give us a boost while the kids and I played at the beach. Fortunately it didn’t take too long to find someone and a friendly Ranger helped get us going again.
We left the boat launch around 11:30, and after a Timmies stop in Hope, another to tighten up the canoe, and a third to find a lost sippy cup we made it home by 1:40 and started unpacking!
This was SUCH a fun trip! It seemed like a lot of work at the time but we really enjoyed it. E is still talking about it and keeps asking us if we’re going to do something like it again this summer – we’ll have to see what the summer brings since we’ll also have a newborn in tow this summer 🙂