A Whitewater Adventure with Wilderness Tours

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson.. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival.  During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  
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Last summer, one of our family highlights was going on the Ottawa City Rafting Tour.  Once the warm weather hit this year, we decided to relive our whitewater adventures.  We wanted to go further afield and chose Wilderness Tours which is located about an hour and twenty minutes west of Ottawa along the Ottawa River.

white water rafting Ottawa

Arriving on-site,  the first thing I was impressed by was the size of the facility.  They have a restaurant, overnight accommodations, bungee jump and basketball courts amongst numerous other features.  We signed up for the family gentle rafting day trip and were quickly processed.

Our guide, Drew,  quickly instilled confidence as he briefed all participants about the safety aspects of the trip and introduced the other guides.  He had a laid back attitude, not about the safety, but made everyone feel at home and excited about the experience.

Soon enough, we were hopped on a yellow school bus and were ferried to our drop-off point on the Ottawa River.  With lifejackets on, we met up with Drew and were heading down the river in our raft. The trip started off with a bang as we took a rapid appropriately called Initiation.   Drew called out for everyone to get into our safety positions as we hit the rapid. It was exhilarating but I never felt in danger.

Wilderness Tours Ottawa

After getting through the first rapid, what would come next was incredible.  We passed through a second smaller rapid and then saw a few people on the other rafts pointing.  We came around the bend and saw two majestic eagles. One was perched on a rocky outcrop while the other was further back in a tree.  The closest bird was only about fifteen metres or so from our raft. It is the closest I have ever felt to being in a wilderness documentary.  After about a minute, the bird flew off leaving all of us with our jaws still in the water.

It was hard to top what we had just seen but the rest of the day was amazing as well.  At a calm point along the river, everyone had a chance to get out of the raft and go for a relaxing swim.  

Swimming in the rapids

After cooling down, we were back inside the raft heading to our next big thrill. We took the Butterfly rapid at full tilt offering up a lot of excitement. Next, we headed to an area of the rapid called Caterpillar Hole where it was possible to position the raft as if we were surfing. This was David’s favourite part of the entire trip. He loved having the waves crashing into him as the guide expertly managed our raft. I was happy I was on the side furthest from the waves only getting mildly drenched.  

Before lunch, participants also had a chance to get out of the raft and take one of the rapids on their back.  I am not the strongest swimmer in the world so passed but it looked like everyone was having a good time.

Once all the raft and body surfing was done,  it was time for lunch. We landed on shore at the scenic Garvin’s Chute with huge appetites.  I’ll be honest, I was expecting perhaps warmed over hot dogs or floppy burgers as we were in the middle of the wilderness.  Instead, we got super tasty sausages and chicken burgers. It was as good as anything you would get in a restaurant.

With our hunger satisfied, it was time for the final leg of our journey.  We took a couple more smaller rapids. My family and the other people in our raft playfully teased me as I dropped down to the safety position for each rapid.  

We wrapped up the day by landing our raft on shore and being offered  a glass of water, mango juice, lemonade or craft beer which was brewed at the nearby Whitewater Brewing Company.

It was time to get back on the bus and head back to the headquarters.  Everyone looked exhausted but happy from an exhilarating day on the river.   

I would highly recommend the family rafting tour for almost any age.  There were certainly a few thrills but the guides were very safety conscious and kept us in good shape.  The day was also seamlessly organized. We never had to wait for the bus, lunch, etc. It was obvious they have been doing these tours for a long time and also know what they are doing.  

For more information, visit www.wildernesstours.com

Wilderness Tours rafts

Packing Tips for Sleepaway Camp

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I'm on year four of packing my kids for sleepaway camp and every year I learn something new that helps with making the process go a little more smoothly - for both the parents AND the kids. So, I thought I would share some of those tips with you and save you some of the trial and errors we've gone through.

1. Labels - lots of labels

It takes a LOT of labels to label everything for summer camp. I often under estimate how many we'll need or forget to order them until the last minute.

I love Mabel's Labels because they ship really quickly and they have a camp specific kit that makes it easier for me to know what I need. I go through a lot of their little labels on clothes (and stopped bothering to label their socks) and put multiple big labels on the really valuable things (like life jackets!).

I also just order our last name since a lot of the stuff passes from kid to kid and when I'm lucky, some of the things are already labeled when I go through it the next year!

While I am sometimes tempted to not label everything, the camp my kids go to do the entire cabin's laundry in one go, once a week, so having names on things is an easy way for everyone to get their own stuff back.

2. Send the old stuff

These kids are going to get DIRTY and stinky and wreck a lot of the clothing that gets sent to camp. Send the old crappy clothing and don't worry about trying to get them all kinds of new stuff.

Along this same note... be prepared that some things won't make it home - the brand new water shoes and lifejacket that disappeared are ultimately a small price to pay for the amazing experience of camp! :)

3. Plastic bins and plastic drawer systems

I've been using the bins for three years and only just discovered the drawer systems so haven't implemented it yet, but will definitely be doing this next year.

Plastic bins are a great way to store all the non-clothing stuff and get it to and from camp easily. I've found that some of the cabins have shelving and storage and some don't, so having an easy way to separate the clothing from the other things the kids will need is a handy and easy way to pack.

I recently discovered something other parents do and plan to try it next year: buy plastic drawer systems and essentially deliver your children to camp with a dresser and their clothing already organized! 

4. Make sure your kids know what's theirs

The first year my child tried to use shampoo as insect repellant for a week (WHAT?!) because he never took the time to read the bottle carefully and last year one of my kids thought he didn't have a toiletries bag because he didn't recognize the one on his shelf with all of his stuff (that was also full of his stuff) so BORROWED toiletries all week. 

Make sure your kids know what they have with them, even if you're only finalizing all the packing late the night before you leave, or all your time and effort may go to waste if they don't even realize all the amazing stuff you packed them is theirs!

5. Get your kids involved in the packing

My kids each get a copy of the packing list and they are responsible for getting me everything they're bringing in one spot, creating a shopping list for what they're missing and labelling the items. Packing kids up for camp is a big job and I get them as involved as possible. See note above for what happens when they aren't involved in every single step! ;)

I keep learning more every year but hopefully these tips will help make packing your kids up for sleepaway camp a bit easier!

Kayaking for Kids - They can do it!

We spend a lot of our summers up at our parents' cottages and something both sets of grandparents invested in (I know - we're really lucky to have access to TWO cottages) are kayaks for the kids.

My kids took to it in no time flat and the most common comment I get from friends when they come to the cottage and try out the kayaks is, "Wow! I can't believe they can do that!"

So my message to you is:

Your kids can kayak!

My kids started using the kid sized kayaks around the age of 4 or 5 and while not all of them were proficient at 4, at 5 they could definitely get the boat going where they wanted it to go.

At 8, my older son could handle a full sized kayak if all the kid sized ones were being used by younger children because he'd had enough practice with the little ones.

What about SUPs?

Stand up paddle boards (SUPs) have gotten really popular in the last few years. We have a kid sized one of those too and while all the kids can manage it, most of them seem to feel about it the way I do about the adult sized one - it's fine, but they prefer the kayak. My daughter however really enjoys the SUP and has such incredible balance on it she can practically do acrobatics on the water without falling off!

What if I don't have a cottage?

There are lots of great places to kayak in the Ottawa area and kayaks are pretty easy to transport thanks to roof racks and hatchback trunks (especially the kid sized ones). You can also bring kayaks with you camping! Bon Echo and Bonnechere Provincial Parks are great spots. So, pack some snacks, your kayaks and your lifejackets and head out to:

Dow's Lake Pavilion (you can rent kayaks here too)

Ottawa Valley - there are a bunch of great spots and this guide has all the details you need for your paddling adventure.

Petrie Island - You can launch your kayak at the free boat launch at the west end of the main parking lot in Crappie Bay.

Shirley's Bay - a popular spot and a great place to teach kids how to launch without getting in and out from a dock.

How much do they cost?

Ours all came from Costco and we know a lot of others who got them there.  I've also seen them at Canadian tire, and for a basic sit on top kids' kayak you're looking at about $100. They've been a great investment for our family!

 

Winter yurt camping in Gatineau Park: Fun for all ages!

Yurt

If the thought of camping in the winter sends shivers down your spine, don’t let it! This past winter was the first winter that my family and I ventured into to the great outdoors to camp, but thanks to the numerous yurts and four season tents available in Gatineau Park, our camping experience was unforgettably comfortable!

So much so, that we did it again this past weekend! We packed up our sleeping bags, camp pillows, marshmallows (and other, more nutritious food), clothes for the weather (which was cool, but not freezing), and hiked the 3.4 km to our yurt to settle in for a weekend of fun.

winterhiking

We were lucky because this time we invested in the luggage and water  transportation to our yurt (it’s available for an additional fee), but we didn’t when we went in December, and we managed just fine then too – thanks to my Hercules husband who managed to carry almost everything on his back. And yes, if you don’t pay for it you have to bring your own water – for cooking and drinking (if you’re lucky there will be plenty of snow, which lessens the amount of water you will need to bring).

Some of you may be wondering why we wanted to camp in the winter or early spring? There are many reasons to camp off season, including:

1)   Peace and quiet

campfire

With the exception of a few hard-core tent campers, other than the people in nearby yurts and four-season tents, there were not many people around, which meant that the only noise we heard were from trees blowing in the wind, a couple of coyotes and raccoons at night, a grey-horned owl (which was incredible to hear!) and our own breathing – it was glorious!

2)   Bright nights

Yes, you have to use an outhouse and sometimes children need to go in the middle of the night, but the bright snow makes walking in otherwise complete darkness a little brighter, and night in the middle of the woods in winter is a special kind of beautiful.

3)   No bugs

Isn’t that great? No need to carry bug spray of any kind, nor did we have to worry about nighttime creepy crawlies while going to the outhouse (not to mention because it is so cold, the outhouse never smells!)

4)   Winter fun and wildlife

To access the yurts and four season tents in Gatineau Park you can hike (if there isn’t a lot of snow), or cross country ski or snowshoe. Along your journey you may be honoured with the presence of deer, moose and other wildlife!

woodburning stove

5)   The Wood Stove

I can tell you right now, even in the middle of winter you will not be cold at night. The wood-burning stove (the wood is included in the rental price and is available near your yurt or tent) will heat up your accommodations quickly. The first time we spent the night in a four-season tent we were so hot that we opened all of the windows and doors to let some cold winter air in (my recommendation is to always have a window open at least a crack, it helps regulate the inside temperature)! It's an efficient source of heat and it's what you will use to cook your meals - a unique and educational experience for everyone!

6) Memorable Experience

inside yurt

I guarantee your kids will be talking about their winter camping trip for months to come! My daughter loved hiking to the nearby lake and looking for animal tracks in the snow. She loved having to cook everything on a wood stove and she loved eating dinner by candlelight (there is no electricity after all!).

There is also a journal in each unit with stories from people who previously stayed in the yurt or tent. Their stories are funny, interesting and relatable – like the first time winter campers in our yurt who didn’t realize the walk was so far so they chose to leave behind a beautiful orange skillet for future yurt visitors to use, simply because it was too heavy for them to carry back out.

My only complaint is that the online booking system can be confusing, especially for first time users and there is a chance something can get double booked (it happened to us once, but they were kind and gave us our money back plus a voucher); but once your yurt or tent is booked you’re all set!

Tell me, have you camped in the winter? It’s our hopes to check out some of the amazing yurts and four season tents in Algonquin Park next year. I’ll make sure to let you know how it goes…

Camping in Bon Echo: Part 2 (or, Camping with Kids)

The other day I wrote a review of Bon Echo Provincial Park. In general we had a great experience, but there were some challenges. I complained a bit about the park management, but most of the challenges were related to the difficulties when camping with young children. Camping 5

This was our first camping trip with two kids. We've gone with our oldest daughter around 18 months and then again at 3 years. This time we had both girls - one is 22 months, and the other will be 5 next week.

Camping 6

The walk-in site was tough with young kids. If you're planning a walk-in, or a canoe/portage trip, I would strongly recommend giving it a second thought. We had to carry all of our stuff - two tents, one kitchen tent, two coolers, one giant tarp, all of our bags, shoes, jackets, toys etc. over a 5 minutes rocky trail to get to our site. I'm all for "backcountry" or "real" camping, but I think I'll enjoy it a lot more when my kids are old enough to carry things themselves. Obviously you'll pack less if you're canoe camping, but it will still be a tough slog with little people who are learning to walk!

Another challenge is sleep - young kids who are used to a quiet/dark room will have challenges falling asleep and staying asleep, especially if you are unlucky enough to have loud neighbours (which we did). Expect to be tired, and perhaps consider bringing along ear plugs for your own comfort (we found the white noise app on our phone to work really well for my youngest, and we charged the phone in our car each morning!)

Here are some other tips that worked really well for us, and made the experience fun:

  • tarp your site - try to cover as much ground as you can. If you experience torrential rains (which we did!), your children will still have some dry space to do crafts and read books
  • If you're car camping, consider purchasing a kitchen tent. It gives you some great space to cook, do crafts and play games, and if you keep it zipped up, will ward of the bugs!
  • Pack a huge tote full of markers, crayons, stickers, playdough etc. We brought this out every day, and the girls spent hours colouring and crafting.
  • Also consider packing sand toys, Kidnoculars (or just regular binoculars will do!), bikes, and containers for collecting leaves, rocks and other things kids love to pick up
  • Blowup mattresses are amazing - I know Thermarests are smaller and easier to pack, but blow-up mattresses make a huge difference for comfort.

Camping 7

 

My last piece of advice? Let go of control - yes, it will be messy. It will be dirty. You might be a bit tired (at least for the first couple of nights). But it's worth it. You'll have lovely campfires, see shooting stars, swim in a cool/clean lake, go for nature walks, and watch your children delight in the outdoors.

Our oldest started the trip complaining about the "stinky" toilets, being afraid of bugs, and getting upset over her feet being dirty. By the end of the week she was picking spiders off her legs and saying "oh, hello there Daddy long legs!" The transformation was amazing!

What are your tips for camping with young children?