This guest post is written by Karla Fetrow, an experienced off-road driver tackling some of the toughest terrain in the U.S in Alaska.
Traveling Off-Road in Canada with Children
For those who are accustomed to driving in heavily populated areas, or even in suburbanized ones, where one small town dwindles down to a few farms, than picks up again with another modest town, Canada can seem rather intimidating.
For being the second largest country in the world, it has a very low population, most of which is centered in a handful of cities. Eighty-one percent of the population is urbanized, primarily concentrating in the cities of Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary.
Geographically, Canada is very diverse. To the east are the corroding edges of the Appalachian Mountains, vibrant with tumbling hills and deep, green valleys. The low lands are cradled by the Great Lakes. Northeastern Canada is marked by rocky terrain, dotted with lakes and rivers and rich with Boreal forest (pictured to the right).
Interior Canada contains its own Great Plains, from which the Rocky Mountains rear their heads in the vast distance. West Coast Canada erupts in tall, snowy mountains and volcanos that are an extension of the Cascades and part of the ring of fire.
On both the main highways through the wilderness areas of Canada, and for off-road excursions, it’s advisable to carry extra gasoline. Gas stations are often far apart, and missing a fill-up at one station could leave you stranded before arriving at the next. Flat tires are also common on both the main highways and the off-road trails.
Northern roads are prone to frost heaves, sometimes destroying or buckling large sections of highway, which will then be stripped, graded and re-graveled before paving.
When traveling into Canada’s wilderness areas, bring enough food for at least three days. On off-road trails you take your Jeep or off-road vehicle on, carry enough food for a week. Food prices are high in remote areas, especially in one-store settlements. Once you are out of the high-density population centers, do most of your food stocking in small towns that have more than one grocery store.
Canadian authorities advise complete self-sufficiency when traveling off-road.
This includes a winch, towing straps, a high lift jack, a fully stocked mechanic’s tool kit, an emergency medical kit, warm sleeping bags, at least one extra blanket, a shelter consisting of a tent or camping unit and fire making skills. A two way radio or CB radio is also advisable as cell phone reception is sporadic, as well as flares in the event that rescue operations are needed.
Traveling with Kids
Although older children usually adapt to long distance travel fairly easily, and would probably be thrilled by the intense variety of Canada’s wilderness country, smaller children tire easily and can become cranky. Frequent stops are important for small children.
When approaching a town, looking for an area that has a public playground to let the children can get a little exercise before traveling on. Getting some of their stored energy out will make for less cranky kids.
Bring several of the child’s favorite toys and stop occasionally to pick up a children’s oriented souvenir or car toys. These are generally inexpensive and can keep the child engrossed for hours.
Always keep a close watch on your small children when at a campsite. Five minutes alone can leave a child hopelessly lost in the wilderness. Keep dangerous tools, such as axes, shovels and even fishing equipment out of the child’s reach. If you are camped near a river or lake, choose a camp site far enough away that your child will not trying to be exploring the water. Many of Canada’s lakes are very deep and cold and the rivers are swift.
Allow the child to participate as much as possible in your camping experience. If you are gathering firewood, encourage the youngster to gather small sticks and brush. If you are planning a bit of fishing, pick up a child’s fishing pole and teach him how to use it. However, if the child is very small, don’t use a real hook. A float and a shiny spinner without its hook will be enough for any aspiring young fisherman. When you bring your small child to the banks or a river or lake, dress him in a child’s safety vest.
Bringing your small children on your off-road adventures teaches them early to appreciate natural surroundings. Bring a magnifying glass so they can observe insects and marvel at the complexities of insect life. If you are familiar with the plant life, you can teach your child the edible berries that grow in abundance in northern climates; raspberries, currents, cranberries, salmonberries, blueberries and more.
When off-road driving in northern Canada, you will probably see a great deal of wildlife. Keep your eyes attentive for moose, caribou, porcupine, Dahl Sheep and wild goats, and point them out to your small children when you spot them. When you are at rivers and lakes, look for beaver dams. Wherever there’s a beaver dam, there are beavers.
Bring plenty of extra clothing, shoes, sweaters and jackets for your small child. Small children have a tendency to get their clothing wet and dirty pretty quickly and it might be awhile before you can find a laundry mat.
It takes a bit of inventiveness as small children are not as likely to appreciate the joys of off-road driving as much as you will, but finding ways to keep them entertained, frequent stops for them to exercise their legs and pointing out the wonders of nature will go a long way to keeping them satisfied. Supervise them well, make them feel like they are participating, even to the point of a few childish tools, such as plastic buckets, shovels and rakes while camping, and your child will eagerly look forward to the next off-road experience.
Author bio: Karla Fetrow is an experienced off-road driver tackling some of the toughest terrain in the U.S in Alaska. Having been raised in the remote areas of Alaska, it is common knowledge to the rural inhabitant that there are places you just can’t go without a sturdy off-road vehicle. Karla frequently writes on behalf of Extreme Terrain.