By Brittany Ladd
We were 150 kilometers north of the Canadian border when I gazed into my husband Brian’s eyes and knew the moment had come: We had to get home.
Almost two weeks into a road trip with our kids Kelsey and Killian, ages 4 and 7, my rope felt like it could unravel at any second. I love adventure, but it’s also a lot of messy work and logistics, especially when folding our little people’s needs into the mix.
After a long day in the car winding up British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, we were hurriedly rigging a camp in a parking lot behind a dingy lodge. Having arrived a day ahead of schedule, there were no other last-minute lodging options in tiny, end-of-the road Egmont, British Columbia.
I put on my best Mommy face, blowing up camp pads, unpacking sleeping bags and opening a can of soup to heat on the cook stove, while the kids tiptoed through the abundant, giant banana slugs surrounding our camp. As dusk fell, I served supper as enthusiastically as possible.
Every adventure has a low point when you want to throw in the towel, crawl to the nearest beach resort and sip an overpriced, poolside cocktail. For me, this was that one low in an otherwise incredible trip.
It started with the realization that the kids were getting older. We knew the time was right to plan a summer road trip with an emphasis on experiencing the active, outdoor lifestyle.
After poring over maps and guidebooks and combing the Internet, we created a rough itinerary for the first two weeks in August: Head northwest from our home in Bend, Oregon into Washington to explore Olympic National Park; sea kayak in the San Juan Islands; then push on to Vancouver, British Columbia, where we’d explore the Sunshine Coast.
We arrived in the San Juans via two separate ferries (Kelsey was sure they were “fairies”), and embarked on a guided three-day sea kayaking trip with the combined excitement and jitters of first-time paddlers with small children.
Killian kept asking the depth of the water (a question I was also quietly considering), but by the time we’d left the harbor and were paddling north along the east coast of San Juan Island, he started to relax. By lunchtime, the kids were spotting curious seals popping up around us, handling vibrant purple and ochre sea stars, and tide-pooling for hermit crabs and limpet snails.
The days that followed were a feast for the senses: the sound of the waves colliding on the pebbled beach below our campsite on Jones Island; the damp chill of the Pacific air against my skin, the pungent aroma of salt water through the morning mist; the feel of the paddle in my hands as I scanned the water for orcas.
Those three days are suspended in my mind – magical memories embedded into my essence, woven into my fabric.
A week later, as we drove up the Sunshine Coast, I found the region reminded me of my early childhood years in England, with its quiet coastal villages and humble, soft-spoken shopkeepers.
Outside the town of Sechelt, we stopped to stretch our legs at Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park, and soon found ourselves hiking along raised boardwalks through a thick, boggy forest. After about 30 minutes, we reached a hidden cove once used for shelter by pirates. The hopeful anticipation was almost tangible as Killian and Kelsey peered out from our private lookout, watching eagerly for a ship to round the corner into the calm body of water below us.
There’s nothing like a good pirate story to stir the imagination, and the foggy crags felt authentically eerie, creating a real sense of adventure.
Later that night, we landed in the bare lot in Egmont, camping and dining with the slugs. As it turned out, we laughed away the evening and not a tear was shed. And as always, I learned some valuable life lessons from the kids: Stay in the present, always expect something amazing to happen, and enjoy the little things.
Also, never underestimate the power of ice cream.
Train them early
Adventuring with kids requires a ton of logistical planning, but it’s worth it. Here are a few tips that have helped our family along the way.
We read maps and guidebooks together before the trip, which let them know what to expect, and allowed them to take ownership in the experience. My kids love to pack their own gear prior to a trip, laying out everything days ahead of time, and helping pack it all away.
Each child takes along a backpack to fill with his or her heart’s desire – a favorite stuffed animal, books and card games are a must. I love to hide a little surprise in their bags for them to discover once we’re underway.
Hiking with kids? Just do it, often. Ditto camping. It’s all about early exposure and keeping great attitudes. As far as multi-day sea kayaking, that’s why we opted to go with a guide for our first time.
During the trip, set realistic goals for each day, and celebrate your achievements. Take breaks and listen to the kids’ cues: Know when to push a bit further, but equally important, know when to back off and let them set the pace. Taking turns being the “scout” while you hike along a trail together can be an empowering lesson for youngsters.
Your kids won’t be young forever, so enjoy them, savor the little things, and go make some memories.
San Juan Outfitters and Roche Harbor Resort
We sea kayaked with the reputable San Juan Outfitters, a small owner-operated business with a wonderful team of knowledgeable guides. With a focus on client satisfaction, SJO tailored an itinerary to match our family’s needs. As an added bonus, their delicious meals emphasize organic and local ingredients in true Northwest style.
To round out the San Juan experience, we opted for a stay at Roche Harbor Resort. With its stunning seaside location, this historic, full-amenity resort offers everything you could possibly need to rejuvenate mid-road trip: beautiful accommodations, a swimming pool, bocce courts, laundry facilities, shopping and unparalleled sunset views.
Part 1: Olympic National Park, Washington
• Hike through the temperate rainforest (world’s largest Sitka spruce) around Lake Quinault.
• Visit the historic Lake Quinault Lodge for a game of chess by the fireplace.
• Explore the beach and picnic among the massive driftwood piles at Ruby Beach.
• Hike to the Sol Duc Falls and soak at Sol Duc Hot Springs.
• Swim in Lake Crescent at sunset.
• Search for the ever-elusive Sasquatch!
Part 2: San Juan Island, Washington
• Revel in the undeniable pleasure of driving onto a ferry and departing the mainland.
• Check in to Roche Harbor Hotel to shower, do laundry and prep for kayaking.
• Hike out to Lime Kiln Point to picnic and watch for southern resident orcas at sunset.
• Join a knowledgeable guide from San Juan Outfitters for a three-day sea kayak tour.
• Paddle out of Friday Harbor to Jones Island, spotting wildlife along the way.
• Camp for two nights on Jones Island with deer as your neighbors.
Part 3: The Sunshine Coast, British Columbia
• Stop for a night in Vancouver to break up the drive and coordinate ferry schedules.
• Embark on BC Ferries across Horseshoe Bay, with its spectacular scenery.
• Eat lunch at Gibson’s Landing and browse for Canadian maple leaf souvenirs.
• Arrive at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge in Egmont.
• Take a Zodiac Tour to Chatterbox Falls through the fjords of Princess Louisa Inlet.
Since relocating from Colorado to Bend, Oregon in 2011, the Ladd family has spent much of their free time exploring the Pacific Northwest.
As this trip was a mix of camping, kayaking and hotel stays, it was essential to take just the right gear, and nothing extra. The most important items were those that kept the kiddos happy, dry and warm, making the trip more enjoyable for everyone. Click below to view some of our favorites – Brian Ladd
This story was first published in the summer 2014 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.