The headwaters of the Flathead River drain the SE corner of British Columbia in Canada.  This is a special area that conservationists have been trying for many years to get incorporated into a National Park.

Because the international border between Canada and the U.S is now closed at this location, the only option is to start on the U.S side, literally right on the cut-line that divides the two countries.

We camped at the put-in while the Dads completed our shuttle.  The kids had tonnes of fun exploring, playing camouflage and hanging out with their friends who were joining us for the trip.

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The next morning after breaking camp, we launched our three canoes into the cold, clear water; a stunning azure blue and running with a swiftness that didn’t let up for the duration of the journey southward.

We were expecting riffles and rapids up to grade 2 in difficulty.  The scenery was amazing right from the beginning.  It was everything you would expect from a river designated as Wild and Scenic, and running along the eastern boundary of the famous Glacier National Park in Montana. We scouted a couple of rapids from shore, but could easily boat scout most, looking to miss the occasional rock or choose the least splashy line to avoid swamping. Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0004.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0006.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0007.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0009.jpg

We were on the lookout for the Kintla rapids as they were both marked as grade 2.  It was very easy to skirt the white-water of Upper Kintla (Mile 48.5). At Lower Kintla (Mile 47.5) we pulled over river left and scouted from shore.  It was a class 3 with no chicken chute, and we opted to portage, lining the canoes down river left.


A couple of rapids below Kintla, there is a drop with a decent wave train that we were looking to avoid.

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Our friends boat didn’t quite make their line and they had a roller-coaster good time!  They did a super job of paddling their swamped boat to shore.


The rapids mellowed out to riffles / grade 1 from Wurtz (Mile 47) and we floated down hoping to find good camping. Canoeing North Fork Flathead River Montana


Home for the night was just upstream of Sondreson Meadow (Mile 40).  The kids had fun playing and swimming in the side channel, and we were grateful for plentiful wood for a fire.

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The brilliant weather continued for our 2nd day on the water.  We had glorious views of the mountains in Glacier, and the white-water was straight forward and fun.

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At mile 26, the gradient eases, and the channels braid.  In a couple of places, the main channel was completely blocked by log jams. Our only choice was to paddle the narrower side channels.  Thankfully it was clear of wood, but caution and skill was needed.

Canoeing North Fork Flathead River MontanaThe un-designated camping was a little difficult to find, because river left is off bounds unless you have secured a backcountry permit for Glacier National Park prior to departure. In addition, quite large chunks of land are private property on river right.  We didn’t want to camp in vehicle accessible sites so other options weren’t very numerous. We did find great spots to camp though, and our general motto is to land a campsite early in the day. That way, the kids have plenty of time to play and hang out, and therefore not feel like we are just pounding out miles on the river. Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0034.jpg

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Canada Day didn’t go un-celebrated!

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On the 3rd day, there were more route choices to be made with the river braiding again, and then the landscape became broader as we neared Camas Bridge.


We pulled in at Big Creek to re-assess our plan. We had shuttled a vehicle to Glacier Rim, 11 miles further downstream.  Between Big River and Glacier Rim, we knew there were grade 3 rapids.  We were going to see how our trip went, then make a choice about if/who, would paddle that section.

The executive decision was made not to go on, and we settled into camp at the Big Creek Day area. The campground host had generously let us use it to overnight camp,  so we didn’t have to haul our gear into the actual campground.  The Dad’s also needed to hitch hike to retrieve our vehicle at Glacier Rim. We had lots of time to lounge around on the stony beach or in the hammocks, swim, and play. Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0039.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0040.jpg Canoeing-North-Fork-Flathead-River-Montana_0041.jpg

This trip was such a great way to kick off our summer.  Our kids really enjoy being on the river, and it was so fun to see how each of their skills are improving.  Our 11 year old daughter was my bow-person and she did fabulous.  And hubby had the other 4 kids, with our 13 year old daughter as his bow-person. It is a river we would happily do again!


DISCLAIMER: The North Fork of the Flathead is not a typical choice for a family canoe trip.  The water is very cold, and there are plenty of hazards (mainly logjams) for the unaware and inexperienced.

Why did we do this trip with our kids you might ask?  My hubby and I have both been certified white-water kayak & canoe instructors, and white-water raft guides.  We have extensive training and knowledge in risk and crisis management, river rescue techniques, group leadership and are experienced in extended wilderness travel with clients of all ages.  In short, our kids replace what we have done with clients for many years.  I just wanted to be clear up-front.  This is not your average family trip and I don’t recommend it unless you can personally and safely canoe grade 3 and self rescue.

DISTANCES:  The North Fork of the Flathead from the Canadian/U.S Border to Blankenship Bridge is 58 miles.  We completed 43 miles from the Border to Big Creek.

DURATION:  We spent 3 days on the river.  We camped at the put-in and take-out, so we took 5 days and 5 nights overall. Our river trip from June 29th – July 3rd were the last days before the river gets busy for the main summer season.

RIVER FLOW/DIFFICULTY:  6400cfs when we started.  5000cfs when we finished.  You can check flows here.  A lower flow would make the overall trip easier.  Many things I read prior to the trip said it was grade 2.  At the above flows it was class 2+ with Lower Kintla flowing at class 3.

OUR BOATS: Esquif Mirimichi and Esquif Prospecteur

PERMITS:  No permits are required to float the river.  If you want to camp on river left in Glacier National Park you will need to get a backcountry permit, available from the Backcountry Permit Centre in Agpar.

REGULATIONS:  If you plan to have a fire, a metal fire pan is required.  All solid waste (poo) must be carried off the river.

LEAVE NO TRACE:  It is an extremely popular river, with people floating it with various motivations, and often not with the respect and care that this river needs. Please do your part so further enforcement (more rules, mandatory permits etc.) don’t become necessary.  It is so important that we leave no trace. Take out your poo and your garbage.  Protect the water quality by keeping all soap and food out of the river.  Disperse grey water on land.

WILDLIFE:  This is prime grizzly bear habitat.  Secure your food and scented items overnight. Take bear spray.

MAPS:  We used this map and guide, in conjunction with our National Geographic Map for Glacier National Park.

SHUTTLE:  We were two families, with 2 vehicles, so we did our own shuttle.  It took 3 hours to complete, each direction.  There are companies that will do the shuttle for you.  Glacier Raft Company is one I found.

RAFTING: Most of the parties on the river were rafting.  This is a great family option if you have rafting skills.

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This article was originally written for Tiny Big Adventure – an awesome company that we are proud to be ambassadors for.  Go check them out!!

Solitude. It is a big part of what attracts our family to the outdoors. LeanneNanninga-2-1.jpg

Relying, on each other and creating fun memories is more effective without hoards of people.
Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,My hubby, kids and I recently spent 5 weeks in New Zealand.  It is the land I was born and raised in, and the country our family called home for 12 years.  We have lived in Canada for the last 5 years without a visit back, so our goals were to re-connect with family and friends, and adventure!

We had a plan to hike to the Whakapapaiti backcountry hut in Tongariro National Park.  Our strategic plan was to have it to ourselves! But when we got to the trailhead, we realized that was not going to be the case if the vehicles that were parked there were any indication.  We recognized the logos on the side of the vans – a school that would have unloaded about 20 fourteen year old boys out its doors.  We didn’t really want to share the hut with them!  After a quick change of pan, we threw our tents and thermarest into our packs so we could camp.

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

The hike over into the Whakapapaiti valley wasn’t very far – about 3km.  The volcanic nature of the terrain made it difficult to decide where to pitch our tents, but we eventually settled on a spot on a knoll, with a creek down below us, and amazing views over the valley.   Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,The kids could play to their hearts content,

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,while Dad was on dinner duty and Mum was taking pictures.

Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

Off in the distance was a series of waterfalls going down through a lava cliff band, that looked reasonable accessible, though a little far as a side excursion for some of our crew.
Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
The next day, we decided that there was plenty to explore close to where we camped for Dad and the kids, and that I would run off-trail to the waterfalls. What a feeling to be all alone, with the spray against my face, knowing that no-one else was going to show up.  No bears (like there is at home in Canada!). No people.   Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
The day was bluebird. Once we had united again as a family we hiked out with Mt Ruapehu beside us. Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,
Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngaruhoe were ahead of us. Hiking,NZ Trip,Whakapapaiti,

As people, we often follow the crowds.  We can end up doing what everyone else is doing, especially when visiting another country or area that we aren’t familiar with.  Most often, my family plans trips where we will see few other people, and I wanted to share how we achieve that.

  1. Study a map. Ask a friend. Look online

A lot of our inspiration comes from studying a real paper map. My favourites are Backroads Mapbook’s & Gemtrek Maps (Canada), as well as regular topographical maps.  Teach yourself to read a topo map if you don’t know already – it is an invaluable tool in the backcountry.

Talking to others about their adventures allows me to come up with new trip concepts and I will also use online resources (blogs, trailforks etc) and trail/river guides.  Combining all of the above, we can come up with some pretty cool ideas.

  1. Timing and choice of route is everything

We find that there can be a super popular trail/cave/river or location that EVERYONE goes to. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most popular one-day walk in New Zealand.  It traverses between two active volcanoes, blackened lava flows, funky-shaped red scoria, deep craters and amazing aquamarine alpine lakes. The area is made more famous by it’s feature in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It deserves every bit of it’s acclaim.  And that means its busy.  There are times of year and times of day when it isn’t.  We choose those instead.  Or we get that topo map out and study it to see if there could be a variation on the route.  Our other trick is to find something nearby that is just as neat and less known. That was our strategy for this hike. We only saw one other couple and just across the valley is the fore mentioned busiest-hike-in-New-Zealand.

  1. Upskill to get off the beaten track

Something that is concerning about people being inspired to adventure through social media or other online avenues is that everyone thinks that they can do ‘epic’. The truth is there is a lot of skill and risk management that goes into staying safe in the outdoors. Make it a goal to always be learning.  I highly recommend taking courses in your area of interest.  Maybe an avalanche course, learn how to canoe properly or participate in a river rescue course.  A wilderness first aid qualification is essential. Both my hubby and I are formally trained in Outdoor leadership and Risk Management (we worked in it for 16 years), but even so, I am regularly taking courses to upskill and learn new things.  Over the last couple of years, I have taken block courses for mountain biking and skiing and I have plans to find a course for backcountry skiing/mountaineering.  Don’t be blissfully ignorant.  You can’t afford to when you have kids!

There you have it…..some idea’s for finding solitude.  Play safe out there, know your limits and leave no trace of your visit!!

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Mt Taranaki (Egmont) stands proud midway down the coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is an extinct volcano and has the classic conical shape that is both dramatic and beautiful.  I summited the mountain when I was a teenager, and again when I was in my early 20’s. It captured my attention once more, when we were planning our recent New Zealand trip.  I saw an amazing picture of the Pouakai tarns.  My fingers got googling, and seeing and photographing these magical little alpine lakes, rocketed to the very top of my bucket list.

The Pouakai Circuit is Egmont National Park’s premier 2-3 day tramp, and is a 25km loop. I figured it would stretch our abilities as a family, but wasn’t out of reach.

We got a late start on the first day, not leaving from the North Egmont Visitor ,Centre until 2:30pm. We headed up the Razorback ridge, walking through the bush and gaining about 300m in elevation. Breaking out into the subalpine scrub we got to enjoy these views. Holly Hut Track Mt Taranaki

Holly Hut Track Mt TaranakiThe track traversed in and out of the gully’s and climbed over ridges, passing the impressive Dieffenbach cliffs and rain-gouged watercourses.  Holly Hut Track Mt Taranaki Dieffenbach CliffsOnce we passed the Kokowai junction at about the 5km mark, the track gradually descended, and spread out in front of us was an amazing vista of the Pouakai range (which we would climb on Day 2). Holly Hut Mt Taranaki7.5km and 5 hours walk from North Egmont, we arrived at the 32-bunk Holly Hut.  It is first-come first-served and requires pre-purchased hut tickets.  It has 4 bunkrooms with platform sleeping areas and matresses, basic solar lighting, a wood burning stove, tankwater, and longdrop toilets. Ahukawakawa Swamp Mt TaranakiDay 2 was a little shorter at 4.5km but uniquely different from the day before.  Day one was more sidling around the lower flanks of Mt Taranaki.  Day 2 we got to cross the awesome Ahukawakawa Swamp before a climb of 300m onto the Pouakai Range.   Ahukawakawa Swamp Mt Taranaki Pouakai Tarns Mt TaranakiIt took us 3 hours to cover the day’s mileage, with our three year old walking nearly all the way! Hiking with kids

The Pouakai Hut is popular and first-come first-served just like Holly Hut.  It has 16 bunks in 2 separate bunkrooms and since we got there at lunchtime we got to claim one of the bunkrooms just for our family! The kids had fun playing the rest of the afternoon around the hut. Even though it was a beautiful day, clouds had clung to the top of Mt Taranaki all day.  I really needed them to clear so I could get photo’s! After dinner, I left the crew at the hut, to run 1.6km to Pouakai Tarns.  As I crested onto the top of the ridge, I was stoked to see that half of the mountain was visible!  I ran with a skip to my step, confident that it was going to completely clear.  Oh boy.  I wasn’t disapointed! It was amazing 🙂 Pouakai Tarns Mt Taranaki Pouakai Tarns Mt Taranaki Mt Taranaki from Pouakai RidgeOnce the light faded and disappeared off the tarns, I headed back up the hill and got this 🙂  I was really wishing I had convinced the rest of the crew to come with me. Pouakai Ridge Mt TaranakiThe track for day 3 goes by the tarns, so I was excited to get more pictures with the kids.  But guess what!  We woke up to lots of wind, and poor visibility. kids at pouakai hutWe toyed with the idea of taking an escape route because we were walking along an exposed ridge and we couldn’t risk the weather turning worse.  We decided to go to the Tarns, and if needed we could devise another plan. Pouakai Tarns Mt TaranakiThose pictures of Mt Taranaki reflected in the tarns?  This is that exact same place! Wind-rippled grey water, and fog. Pouakai Tarns Mt Taranaki Pouakai Tarns Mt TaranakiIt was still pretty, but made me super thankful I had clear skies the night before. Henrys Peak Pouakai RidgeFrom the tarns we decided to continue with our planned route.  The wind thankfully wasn’t cold like it can be in the New Zealand mountains, and everyone was in good spirits. During our 11km walk, we summited Henry peak – couldn’t see a thing,  but we did climb a bunch of ladders en-route! Henrys Peak Pouakai Ridge

After Henry Peak, an arduous downhill followed, with lots of rugged stairs and roots. The 3 year old had to be carried most of the way, so we could travel at a quicker pace.  Some of the steps were as tall as her.   Pouakai TrackThe bush is beautiful, and we had fun crossing a couple of swing bridges. swingbridge pouakai track swingbridge pouakai track

The track terminates at the North Egmont Visitor Centre, but we decided to pop out on another trailhead onto the road, so we didn’t have to walk another 2.5 km uphill.  Hubby easily hitched to get our van, saving our weary backs and feet!

To summarize, it was well worth our while.  It was important to us to make this trip happen, so we had to shift our schedule around a bit in order to get a good-weather window.  It is a challenging trail, with lots of step-ups, arounds and overs.  I don’t think I have tramped anywhere where so much wood has been used to construct grates to stabilize the trail to prevent water erosion and help keep trampers boots dry!!  I can’t even imagine the work it took to do that.  It was more busy than I expected, but we were also there over a weekend, and there were day hikers and mountain runners that were out enjoying the track too.

It was the hardest backpacking trip our family has done, and we stuffed ourselves into our van, and drove away with that warm, satisfying feeling that we did something hard and smashed it 🙂




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Once upon a time, we had one child. We did a lot of fun adventures with her. I often say, we put her under our arm and off we went! Then we added a second baby. Though it was much harder, we still had a 1:1 ratio. One for Mom, one for Dad, or if one parent was flying solo, we had gear to carry two kids. But what to do when #3 came along?!
We needed a new strategy when the scale was tipped towards small people holding the majority in our family. We had 4 kids in 5 years so were very much in a pregnancy/baby/toddler (and repeat) stage for what felt like forever. We then added another little girl into our family to make 5 kids in 9 years.
Many families that I talk with, can’t wrap their heads around how to adventure with multiple children. We hope to spur your own motivations and creativity with these 4 tips……

Which you can read about over at Tiny Big Adventure by clicking here!

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I am always keeping my eyes and ears open for family-friendly adventures.  I have a filing box in my brain for these pieces of information!

Family backpacking trip

A couple of years ago, I filed Fish Lake, Top of the World Provincial Park.  My informant (ha!) told me that it was beautiful, uncrowded, had a backcountry hut & beautiful lakeside campsites, took only a few kilometres of hiking to get there, and was a good base to day hike from.  Perfecto!

The hut sounded like a good idea too.  If you are from New Zealand, like I am, backcountry huts are normal.  We have a 1000 of them, and I’m not even exaggerating!!  They are much more scarce in Canada.

fish lake backcountry cabin

Fish Lake Cabin

Before I tell you about our adventure, lets talk about the pro’s and con’s of huts when you have kids along.


  • Great place to shelter when the weather isn’t so great – cold, windy, snowy, or rainy – no problem! A hut makes it sooooo much easier to keep kids entertained, not to mention being warm and dry.
  • They often have a fire place which helps with the warmth factor.
  • Don’t have to carry a tent, therefore lowering the weight you have to pack in, which is important when you are carrying half of your kid’s stuff!
  • Can be fun to meet other hikers.
  • If you choose your day of the week and/or time of the year carefully, you could have it to yourselves (for first-come first-served huts).
  • Some huts in the Canadian Rockies are small enough that you can book the whole thing for just your family.  Or invite friends along to bring up the numbers (to avoid the ‘con’ below).


  • Sharing with others. If you have kids that have a hard time going to sleep, wake during the night, are easily disturbed by loud snoring/noises, or wake at the crack of dawn, a shared hut can be a stressful thing for parents and hut partners.
  • Can be expensive depending on the pricing structure.
  • Busy during the summer.

Top of the World Provincial Park is very out of the way.  It isn’t close to any large cities, or part of any major tourist runs.  It takes an hour and a half driving on a logging road to reach the trailhead once you have turned off Hwy 93 (between Cranbrook & Golden).

The 7km trail (200m elevation gain) is very well maintained, and a grade that is easy for kids. Our 3 year old walked just about all the way, with just a couple of short stints on sisters shoulders. kids hiking young boys backpacking Packpacking with kids Hiking with kids

The hut sleeps about 20 people on bunks around the perimeter of the building.  It has a wood burning stove, and a well stocked wood pile.  Everyone enjoyed making shavings to start the fire! making kindling making kindling

We were hoping like crazy, no one else was going to be at the hut.  Our youngest still randomly cries in the night and I didn’t want to have to share that experience with strangers that probably don’t have kids and wouldn’t understand! The first night we were alone.  The second we had two other hikers join us – poor them!

Outside there is a gorgeous view, floating dock, picnic table and fire pit mountain lake fish lake family on a dock kids playing Sunflare by fire lake reflections around campfire

A few different hiking options take you into the alpine.  We choose to go to Sparkle Lake which was 3km and 350m of elevation gain. Family Hiking Sparkle Lake

We also circumnavigated Fish Lake which is about 2km, fishing as we went. Well some fished, and some read their book! girls reading book by lake kids hiking family by lake in fall log hopping at fish lake kids hiking over bridge

We had a great time.  It feels so good for my soul to get out like this!  I will leave you with some links to other huts in the Kootenay Canadian Rockies!

Significant elevation gain, but manageable distance if you are a more experienced family:

Thunder Meadow Cabin, Fernie (Booking required, 8 berth).

Jumbo Cabin, Panorama (booking required, 8 berth)

Conrad Kain Hut, Bugaboos (booking required, 35 berth)

Minimal Elevation Gain:

Fish Lake, Top of the World Provincial Park (First-come first-served, 20 berth)

Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park (booking required, 14 berth)

Cameron Lake Cabin, Waterton National Park (booking required, 8 berth, winter only)

Oh!  And a giant PS. that I nearly forgot!  You pass by Lussier Hot Springs as you drive in on the logging road.  The 100% natural pools are an awesome place to stop on the way in and out 🙂

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  • January 19, 2017 - 1:37 pm

    Nathalie Vandenbrink - I just love looking at your pictures!
    Monique and Kaden have been talking about doing another backpacking trip.
    I want to say “Let’s do one together!” but I’m worried about the cold. You were wearing toques/beanies and puffy coats on this trip. Were you warm enough at night?ReplyCancel

    • January 19, 2017 - 4:49 pm

      Born to Adventure - Yes! Lets do one together!! We were prepared for it to be cold, for sure. But it was actually fine, with the woodburner. We kept it going all night. We were waiting for you guys to do the Elk Lakes Cabin if you were interested? Though that is a XC ski trip in the winter….cold, but warm cabin! Maybe we should do a summer trip first lol!ReplyCancel

  • January 19, 2017 - 11:22 pm

    Kevan - Another Fernie hut for your list – Tunnel CreekReplyCancel

    • January 24, 2017 - 8:35 pm

      Born to Adventure - Sweet. Thanks 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 12, 2017 - 10:50 pm

    Lois - Fabulous photos! You’ve done a great job.ReplyCancel

  • March 9, 2017 - 7:23 am

    Alyssa - Wow what an awesome place! I’ve never heard of a backcountry hut before…I want to go find some near us now!ReplyCancel

  • March 19, 2017 - 6:25 pm

    Myrna - So full of color and vibrancy! I think I need to get out to something similar in the near future!ReplyCancel