Family Vacations, Summer 1997
My wife and I started taking our sons out in the canoe when they were infants, and by the time they were two or three we were going on camping trips. As soon as they were able to paddle, at about five or six years old, we let them, and we also asked for their help in setting up camp, building the fire, and preparing the meals. By the time they were nine or ten, we no longer "took" them paddling. It was more like a partnership: buddies out there on the water, playing it safe but having fun.
Don't dwell on worst-case scenarios, but anticipate them and provide against them. For instance, if the boat dumps, will you be close enough to shore to recover? Are your first-aid kit and cell phone protected in a waterproof flotation box? Keep the uninterrupted stretches of paddling short, and make the periods of kick-back time long. When my sons were about three or four, I'd
place a little bucket of stones in front of them (kids love to throw stuff into water) and when the stones were gone, I knew it was time to head for shore. Which is where I would allow them to roam and rage. It's what children are born to do.
Eleven Point River, Missouri
Be sure to take along a mask, snorkel, and fins; underwater visibility is usually excellent. If the kids would rather catch fish than watch them, select their lures for rock and smallmouth bass. Along the river are Civil War-era grist mills, old moonshiner stills, and boom holes-where logs were loaded onto rail cars around the turn of the century.
Jaw-Dropper: The section of river from Cane Bluff to Greer Crossing (9.3 to 16.4 miles from the put-in) is marked by several towering bluffs rising as high as 250 feet, where hikers can get a commanding view of the river.
Digression: More than 30 natural springs supply the Eleven Point, issuing from limestone formations full of caves and sinkholes. About a mile up the outlet 16 miles from Thomas-ville is Greer Spring, the second-largest spring in Missouri with an outflow of 220 million gallons of water a day.
The Eleven Point in a Nutshell:
Length: 44 miles, or three to four days of easy floating.
Prime Time: Early summer is best; the water is still high and the afternoon sun is warm.
Traffic: Summer weekends can be hectic, so go midweek.
Rapids/Portages: The water is generally smooth, though it has occasional twists, turns, and logjams. The trip is suitable for beginners.
Facilities: Eight to ten "float camps" (equipped with table, latrine, tent pad, and fire ring) are staggered along the river, but many paddlers pitch their tents on gravel bars or in wooded bottoms. One especially good pullover is at Horseshoe Bend (about 26 miles below Thomasville), where the river curves around a narrow ridge among groves of oaks and shortleaf pine. The Forest Service also maintains four auto-access campgrounds.
Outfitters: Canoe-rental and shuttle-service are available at Hufstedler's Store & Canoe Rental (417-778-6116) in Riverton, Richards Canoe Rental (778-6186) in Greer, and Woods' Float & Canoe Rental (778-6497) in Alton. You can rent a canoe for $26 per day; vehicle shuttles average $15 to $18.
Information: Eleven Point Ranger District (573-325-4233); Forest Supervisor, Mark Twain National Forest (364-4621). A free river map is available.
Two centuries ago this fur-rich country along the Canadian border was traversed only by Native Americans and French-Canadian voyageurs in their birch-bark canoes. Today, the 218,000-acre park adjoins a stretch of the "voyageurs highway" between Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods, and is the perfect setting for a family canoe outing.
With four major lakes and 26 smaller lakes, there are many routes within the park; how-ever, the premier canoe trip is the circumnavigation of the Kabetogama Peninsula, a 75,000-acre roadless area, 26 miles long and about six miles across. The journey takes in most of the park's big lakes, meaning you and your young navigators will have some 500 islands and countless coves and bays to explore. The lake system is renowned as some of the best walleye water in the nation, and you can spot whitetail deer, beavers, river otters, bald eagles, black bears, moose, and wolves.
Jaw-Dropper: Paddle east upon exiting Black Bay Narrows (near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center) and you'll be greeted by large and small islands and limitless blue water. For the next few days you'll cruise along the rugged north shore of the Kabetogama Peninsula.
Digression: At the head of Anderson Bay is the 9.4-mile Cruiser Lake Hiking Trail, which bisects the peninsula. A series of ridges leads up to vistas of distant lakes and ponds, then drops down into dense ravines before reaching mile-long Cruiser Lake about four miles in.
Voyageurs in a Nutshell:
Length: The 75-mile circumnavigation of the Kabetogama Peninsula by canoe or kayak generally requires six to eight days. A variety of shorter trips are also possible.
Prime Time: Late July and August and the first two weeks of September are best; temperatures are generally comfortable and black flies are pretty much gone.
Traffic: Since the area is a known fishing hotspot, and motorboats are allowed in most waters, you'll be wise to avoid the weekends in midsummer.
Rapids/Portages: Only two short portages are necessary: Gold Portage skirts a rapid between Kabetogama Lake and Rainy Lake; the other portage is at Kettle Falls, the site of a small turn-of-the-century dam.
Facilities: More than 120 campsites are located on islands or near lakeshores and are accessible only by watercraft. Each is equipped with a table, tent pad, fire ring, and an open-pit toilet; bring a water filter. There are also 250 other primitive sites in Voyageurs; no permits are required for backcountry camping.
Outfitters: Contact the national park for a complete list of canoe concessionaires.
Information: Voyageurs National Park (218-283-9821). Recommended reading: Voyageurs National Park Water Routes, Foot Paths and Ski Trails by Jim DuFresne; and Voyageurs National Park by Greg Breining, both published by Lake States Interpretive Association (218-283-2103).
Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, Montana
On an early summer float, you're likely to see bighorn sheep, deer, and pronghorn antelope, as well as elk, coyotes, beavers, bald and golden eagles, and all kinds of waterfowl. Take turns with the kids reading passages out loud from The Journals of Lewis and Clark, or a loose-leaf copy called River History Digest that's available on loan from the Bureau of Land Management or from your outfitter.
Jaw-Dropper: At 56 river miles from Fort Benton, look to the right for the Eye of the Needle, a sandstone arch perched on a two-hundred-foot cliff. Follow a brief, well-worn trail through an outcropping of steep rock to the rim of the White Cliffs.
Digression: The White Cliffs area, which starts about a third of the way into the trip around mile 51, is a long stretch of sandstone spires and cliffs where gargoylelike stone formations jut out of the sloping hillsides. Here also are the Hole-in-the-Wall, Indian tepee circles, abandoned homesteader cabins, and Lewis and Clark historical campsites.
The Upper Missouri in a Nutshell:
Length: Float trips of various lengths are possible, from weekend jaunts to the five- to eight-day journey that traverses the full 149 miles.
Prime Time: Summer is a good time, but be prepared for extremes in weather. Midafternoon temperatures can exceed 90 degrees, while an evening thunderstorm can push temperatures down into the mid-40s.
Traffic: Generally very light, but it can get crowded on holiday weekends.
Rapids/Portages: None. The river can be run by canoeists of average ability.
Facilities: There are excellent camping areas along the river on BLM land. Permits are not necessary. For variety, stop in at Virgelle, a charming ghost town along the river with a population of three. Don Sorensen, the self-proclaimed mayor, runs what may be the most unusual B&B on the High Plains-a mercantile building built in 1912 and restored homestead cabins. Costs range from $20 per person for the cabins to $70 (for two) for lodging in the old general store. Call 800-426-2926 for reservations.
Outfitters: For rentals, guide, or shuttle service, contact Missouri River Canoe Co. (800-426-2926).
Information: Bureau of Land Management, Lewistown District (406-538-7461). Inquire about the Floater's Guide to the Upper Missouri (detailed maps loaded with descriptive text, $8).