Have you ever considered a backcountry camping adventure by bicycle? That’s exactly what my husband, kids and I did – and loved it.
In July 2012, during our first visit to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (1,400 km from home), my husband and I decided to go on a backcountry adventure by bicycle with our kids, who were days away from turning 10 and 8. We consulted the park maps to figure out which of the many trails permitted bicycles on them, and made our plan. We also had to pay for interior campsite permits before heading out.
Since we had been car camping at the park, we had to pack up our sleeping things and take down our tent. We packed all of our backcountry equipment, food, clothes etc. into 2 big backpacks for my husband and I, 1 smaller one for my son, and 1 school backpack for my daughter.
We left our car camping site and drove to the trailhead for the Kabeyun Trail. We biked 6 km on our mountain bikes along the trail, which wasn’t exactly flat and even – there were numerous hills and obstacles to cycle around. There were frustrating moments, and there were tears! At times, progress was slow, and we were walking rather than biking.
When we reached an interior campsite, we left our big backpacks there (where we would spend the night) and biked another 1.5 km to the Talus Trail, where we locked our bikes in the woods. And then our adventure by foot began! We hiked 4 km to the top of the Sleeping Giant’s feet – 228 metres above Lake Superior. What a view!
We then hiked 4 km back to our bikes and biked 1.5 km back to the interior campsite, where we slept at a beach site at Tea Harbour. With rope and logs, the kids pulled each other around. While inside our tent, we were lucky enough to see a deer walk between the lake and our tent!
The next morning, we saw a little skunk at a nearby backcountry site. After packing all our things, we biked 6 km back out to our vehicle with our big packs to end our 25 km backcountry adventure! By doing part of this backcountry adventure by bicycle , we were able to see more of the park in less time.
The next year (2013), when our kids had just turned 9 and 11, we did another July biking/hiking adventure at Sleeping Giant.
Again, we had to pack up our sleeping stuff and tent, make sure we had all the necessary backcountry gear, food, clothes etc., pay for our interior permit, and then we headed to the trailhead for the Sawyer Bay Trail. Unfortunately, Alasdair popped the tube on his super old mountain bike earlier in the trip, and changing the tube on this bike is not exactly a do-it-yourself project! So, while the 3 of us biked 6k along the Sawyer Bay trail with our big backpacks on, Alasdair hiked it.
At some point during the ride, our daughter suffered her first injury of the trip (I think) – she had a bike spill that I didn’t see but heard. She landed on her face and banged her legs up pretty well too. She did not want to continue but soldiered on.
We locked our bikes together and headed on foot to our campsite for the night on Talus Lake (1.5k). It turned out to be a very steep, hard climb, and we arrived at the campsite to find a very disappointing “site” – there was nowhere obvious to put the tent, it was very buggy, and there were big leeches visible in the water! Rather than set up camp on Talus Lake, we decided instead to hike the 1.5k + 300m back out to Sawyer Bay and sleep on Lake Superior. It was a great move. We were the only ones there (other than a few boats moored in the bay). We decided to scrap our initial plan of hiking further to the head of the Sleeping Giant (the trail was marked “extreme”) and to do it the next morning instead.
We “swam” in Lake Superior (it was so cold that we essentially dunked under and got the heck out of there!), set up our tent, had dinner, and built an awesome fire from wood gathered along the trail not too far from the campsite. We enjoyed delicious homemade chocolate pudding with yummy toppings.
The next morning after breakfast, we vacated our campsite, hid our backpacks in the woods, and hiked the pretty steep trail to the head of the sleeping giant – the round trip was approximately 5k. Once again, we had beautiful views from the top of the Sleeping Giant!
When we got back to our campsite , we “swam” again, before hiking the 300m back to our bikes, and biking 6k back out to the trailhead.
It was another fantastic adventure!!
I highly recommend bikepacking with kids. A few tips:
- don’t overload the kids’ backpacks – their balance will be affected, and too much weight on their backs is not good for them (plus they will complain incessantly!);
- bring as little stuff as you possibly can, while making sure you have enough food, water purifying capability, and clothing to stay warm and dry;
- don’t forget a bike pump and spare tubes;
- choose your trails carefully – recognize that some don’t allow bicycles, and others may be too challenging for bikepacking with kids; and
- allow time for multiple breaks, keeping food and water handy at all times!