Canoe camping is a favorite adventure pursuit of mine. I love doing it with kids the most. Add a second family with kids, and the trip gets even better. Doing it on a fast-flowing river is the final piece of the puzzle. Luckily for us, our family friends the Valentines invited us to join them for an overnight adventure on the Namekagon River in northwest Wisconsin on my last day of school this year – June 7. It was the first-ever canoe camping trip for the girls and me on a river. And it was a great way to celebrate completing my first year of work in the public schools. I left the High School for the last time at noon on Friday, and we were out adventuring on the river that same afternoon.
There were several firsts on this trip. For one thing, we had two vehicles. We left my Toyota on Friday at our take-out spot (Fritz Landing), then drove back in my friend Tim’s truck to the County K Landing where his Toyota would spend the night. This left us 17.5 miles to travel by boat in between the two vehicles, which we planned to do in less than 24 hours. With all our gear and four kids in two boats, Tim and I had it made: there was bound to be adventure.
Another first was that our girls got to camp with Tim’s kids – Daley and Finley. It definitely made for a more entertaining trip for all the young ones! The time has come to invite other kiddos along on our family camping trips for maximum enjoyment. The kids went back and forth between the two boats, changing seats, and travel companions. There was more variety for them. They were totally psyched to be together and out exploring. They had great fun together at the campsite, and there was more action for them.
Another first was getting to watch Tim ply his raft. It’s quite an amazing boat. Very few people row these kinds of river rafts in Minnesota. I believe they’re more common out west.
I had my usual canoe, and of course I love it precisely for family canoe camping trips. It can hold everything!
The wives stayed home for this one, and I’m guessing they were happy with that. In fact the trip turned out to be extremely hot (temperature was 93 F when we pulled up to the river at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, and was 94 when we got off on Saturday). Our wives don’t do well at all in the heat. It worked out for the best.
The Namekagon is a very clean, shallow, pristine river. I had canoe camped it twice before with student groups from UWS. I had also been on it on two other occasions on field trips with my students from UWS. This trip was different though. This was family time.
The river is part of the National Park Service’s St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The Namekagon feeds into the St. Croix (the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota) after flowing one hundred miles through rural northern Wisconsin. For this trip, the Namekagon was high and fast after all the rain we got in May. Tim was happy about the high water levels, since his raft does best in faster current. We had some slight rapids to run, which were fun, but nothing dangerous.
We had no trouble covering five miles of river on our first evening. It only took us an hour and a half to drift from County K Landing to our campsite at mile 26.2. With high water conditions, we barely had to paddle. It was more important to keep the boats from running into the frequent downed trees along the river banks. We had time to fish, and basically relax as we absorbed the river’s pace.
It was challenging to unload from our boats at the campsite, since the river was running at a high pace. Our campsite had the usual ticks and poison ivy that we knew were going to be there, but we also got to listen to the sound of the river coming down the rapids upriver right from our tents. Daley made a fire, and the girls and I set up the tents and the screen house that was an absolute essential item for this trip. The mosquitoes were out in force. With all the kids, the screen house saved us a lot of misery and complaining.
Supper came out fabulous on the grill, including brats, hot dogs, steak, and burgers. I had some of each. We didn’t stay up too late, and I slept so well that night. It’s been a long first school year for me in the Superior public schools, and it felt so good to be done, and to be back on the water, and to sleep outdoors. We had a beautiful whip-poor-will lullaby us to sleep. The bird was no less than 10 feet from the campsite and called much of the evening.
Saturday was another hot, sunny day. I hadn’t realized how much fun the kids could have swimming together in early June, but it turned out to be a perfect day for it! They loved it! We found three different sand bars as we meandered downriver, and the kids dove into the water at each spot.
There was also great fun to be had hunting for freshwater clams. They were everywhere! We had two good nets for the kids to play with, and they really enjoyed finding the clams.
The second sand bar we stopped at was the absolute perfect river beach. There was a ridge of soft, deep sand underwater, followed by a nice little drop off into the main current. We had lunch here, and it was a freshwater paradise.
The kids would have been happy to spend all day digging in the soft sand.
There is no question that digging in the sand was the highlight of the trip for the kiddos. The freshwater clams were definitely a sign of clean water, and a source of endless happiness for the young ones.
The highlight of the day for me was coming around a few more bends in the river. We spotted an object floating in the water. My first thought was that it was a dead beaver. It was white, and the color threw me off. Then it started moving! We had the perfect drift, taking us within feet of this creature as it swam across the river. It took just a second longer to realized it was a porcupine!
I could have reached out and touched it, we drifted so close, but definitely thought better of trying that! New respect and awe for porcupines! Incredible creatures.
We reached our final destination about 3:30 in the afternoon. What a day in the sun! A great first family overnight river trip, and a great experience camping with friends. Hope to repeat it many times over.