Baby’s First Overnight Backpacking Trip, The Lower Stein Valley

// by: Curtis Mchale

While I was able to get out often with our two oldest kids last summer, the birth of our third daughter put my wife out of commission for most of the summer. Even near the end of the season, she wasn’t up for long days out in the backcountry with the kids.

That meant that this year’s backpacking trip was our first long days outside with our youngest, just before her first birthday. It also coincided with the first trip where our 3-year-old would be carrying her backpack.

Lorelei happily throwing a rock with her new backpack on

When hiking with kids, you have a lot of extra considerations. The maximum we’ve been able to cover in a day is 10km, which puts Cheam and many other local mountains on our list, but nothing longer. For a first backpacking trip, even that much is out of the question. We were looking for something with lots of camping options and little elevation. Easy water access, so we didn’t have to pack in extra water weight, and something fun for the kids.

The Lower Stein Valley fits this perfectly. The elevation is slight. Campsites are available at 2km in, and you’ll find another one every few kilometres. The river is right there providing easy access to water.

But the best thing is that there were no crowds.

You access the lower Stein Valley by crossing the reaction ferry at Lytton. It’s a free 5-minute ride across the Fraser. Early in the year, make sure you check that it’s running because high water can mean it’s out of commission. For our trip, it only started running three days before we left.

Once you cross the river in Lytton, it’s a 5-minute drive to
Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Provincial Park where you’ll find an outhouse and a nice covered area to have a snack before you head out on the hike.

We loaded up our packs just after lunch and headed down into the valley. Fairly quickly you’re met with a bridge to cross a raging creek. It was fast enough that our 3-year-old got five steps out and then turned around to hold my hand so that she could pass safely.

Dad providing oh so much extra safety in the form of a held hand

From there the trail meanders next to the water with a few short up hills and down hills, but no huge elevation change. There are some small rock gardens and roots to watch your footing on, but it’s a smooth trail.

Our original plan was to hike in 8km to Teepee Campsite and stay the night. Once we were on the trail with our newly exploring 3-year-old backpacker, we found that she kept taking rest by simply laying on a rock or root that was in her path.

3-year-old taking a rest on a rock backpacking

Just taking a rest dad, just taking a rest.

With our slow progress and temperatures hovering in the high 30’s we opted to cut our hiking at Loop Campsite. Just before Loop Campsite, the trail was right up against the river providing a bit of a swimming spot for the kids.

We had originally hoped that there would be a few pools along the river where the kids could get a good swim in, but that was not the case. The Stein is a fast river and didn’t have many eddies at all. Still, a 2-minute walk back from Loop Campsite was a rocky area with a few pools where the kids could splash around. The water was so cold that they didn’t want to dive in. Wading up to their knees was plenty of water for them. I still stood guard against the raging river, but everyone had fun splashing.

Family splashing in some pools on the side of the river

With play and cooling off done, the kids were tired, so we started an early dinner of Mr Noodle and started packing the campsite down for the evening.

Loop Campsite had a great outhouse and bear box. All our stuff ended up there including bathing suits which had sunscreen on them and were worn during dinner.

We pulled out stories around 7:30 pm and those kids that were oh so tired proceeded to enjoy dad as a play apparatus. Eventually, the baby fell asleep face first with her feet beside her head. Next was the 3-year-old who fell asleep using ‘her dog’ as a pillow.

Lorelei using her dog pillow while the dog uses dad as a pillow

Evidently, I started snoring next while my Cynthia continued to read to our oldest. They finally stopped reading around 9 pm, and we settled down to sleep expecting a 5 am wake up with the kids due to the sun.

Lucky for us, that didn’t happen. I’m not sure what may have been slipped in their water, but it wasn’t till 6:30 am that we heard the little squeaky voices that sound so cute and yet so dreadful in the morning.

Back when it was just my wife and me tripping, campsite pack up was a 20-minute affair. I’d filter water and get breakfast going. My wife would pack up the interior of the tent and then we’d tag team the tent and finish packing our bags. We’d be done just as breakfast and coffee were ready.

That’s not how it happens now. I’ll start breakfast and water filtering, but every 3 minutes will be broken up by a kid asking a question or throwing something at one of their sisters. Or maybe it’s the baby who puts down the stick she was chewing on that was much too large to swallow in favour of a rock that’s perfect choking hazard size.

Big Sister watching Arwen to make sure she doesn’t eat something she shouldn’t

Whatever the interruption is, it now takes from around 7:00 – 9:00 to get packs loaded and on backs. We headed out from the campsite shortly after 9 am and found that the river play area 5 minutes down the trail was now mostly under water.

That left me mostly carrying the dog across while helping steady my wife with the baby on her back. Then returning to help/carry the 3-year-old and offer some assistance to our oldest where she felt nervous. Then, back to grab my bag again and take myself across.

That wasn’t the end of our unexpected extras on the trail though. Around 15 minutes further down the trail, we noticed some rocks rolling across our path. My wife was ahead so she waited for us to catch up so that we could all cross together. Once we were together and made a few more steps down the trail, we looked up to see a giant black butt scratching itself on the rocks.

It turns out they had been knocked down by a black bear enjoying a good scratch. No, we never mentioned it to the kids until we were in the car. My oldest has an unreasonable fear of bears that likely would have caused shrieks and howls and me needing to throw her over my shoulder kicking and screaming to move in either direction on the trail.

We simply started singing that perennial camping song “There was a great big moose” which the kids joined in with gusto and kept moving down the trail.

The only glimpse we got of the bear was that butt on a rock, so I can only assume it is afraid of the moose song.

We stuck with our 2km an hour pace on the way out reaching the car around 11 am. We grabbed some lunch and bundled the kids into the car, caught the ferry and made a quick stop to feed the baby at Alexandra bridge.

Next, we hit Hope, and The Blue Moose for caffeinated adult go juice. The kids played in the park under a great breeze before we headed home and unpacked all our stuff.

When I tell friends that we take our children backpacking for a single night they almost always have some variation of “Man, isn’t that a lot of work?”. Truthfully, yes it’s a huge amount of work. Every second of the hike can be fraught with encouraging a kid to take another step. It can be frustrating to stop every 100 meters to ‘rest’ on a rock. Carrying the tent, sleeping bags, Thermarest’s, food, stove, water filter and almost everything but the baby clothes is a heavy load.

The pay off is in the smiles and excited eyes later. It’s being asked again and again for stories of our trips. It’s the kids asking when the next night camping will be and begging for it to be tonight.

One day they’ll start carrying their sleeping bags. One day we’ll be able to cover 25km or more in a day. For now, it’s all about creating memories of playing in the water with their parents in the backcountry. It’s about associating a bit of hard work outdoors with fun.

The rest of it will come eventually. So for now, Cynthia and I are content with giving the kids some joy in the outdoors.