Gunwale Up

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Gunwale Up

With a canoe as your Sherpa, camping gets a five-star rating
By David Dunbar

Our Favorite Places | Inside Skinny | Staying Safe | Essential Gear

When Kai Wiesner-Hanks reached voyageur age (six weeks), his parents set off with him on a four-day canoe trip in northern Wisconsin's Sylvania Recreational Area. Kai rode in a car seat, swaddled with flotation foam. Protected from splashes by a tarp duct-taped to the gunwales, the contented baby slept four hours out of every five.

Granted, Kai's dad is Neil Wiesner-Hanks, executive director of the North American Paddlesports Association-and mom (Merry) is a seasoned canoeist. But isn't that taking the concept of family canoe-camping to extremes? "Well," says Neil, "the Indians did it."

The Wiesner-Hanks didn't let a few details like children ground them, and neither should you. Even the youngest children can be accommodated, and older kids can contribute (or at least think they can). A three-year-old can "paddle" with a stick picked up from shore, while a ten-year-old can actually propel or steer a canoe. Canoe-camping offers all the luxuries of car-camping-you can bring that cooler, camp chair, and family-size tent-while providing the wilderness experience of hard-core backpacking. Some of the following paddle trips are weekend outings, others are weeklong expeditions for families well-versed in the ways of the wild. The best part? If no one feels like paddling, river currents or a jury-rigged sail will do all the work.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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