There’s nothing I love more than camping in the backcountry with our kids. As all parents know, however, it’s hard enough to get out of the house to go car camping, much less figure out logistics to get into the backcountry with young children. Fortunately, bike packing actually makes this easier, provided you find a trail that is sufficiently easy. The speed of bikes allow families to get to great campsites quickly, since in my experience kids are looking forward to playing somewhere and have little interest in directional travel. It seems like families’ ability to get outside changes constantly as kids grow: For little kids (say, two and under) it is quite feasible for parents to go backpacking with a two parent to one child ratio. As kids get older, they are too little to hike more than a couple miles, but too heavy to carry. For two child families or more, backpacking gets very challenging in terms of weight management, but bikepacking can allow families to keep getting out in years where the child(ren) are too big to carry but too young to walk far themselves.
Bike Packing Destinations:
Most bikepacking destinations are not geared to families, and I’m not aware of a comprehensive list that is family friendly. This is a not-comprehensive list with some enjoyable rides we’ve done--I’m sure more are out there, and if the state and federal governments step out trail maintenance that will open up more options in our region.
Eklutna Lake: The Eklutna lakeside trail provides relatively easy bike-packing access to campsites at miles 3, 9, and 11 of the lakeside trail. Yuditnu Cabin at mile 3 is a nice introductory bike cabin destination if you’re organized enough to schedule it, since it is almost always booked far in advance. The Eklutna lakeside non-motorized trail is generally wide and flat, but unfortunately the State Parks are grossly underfunded, so there are a few eroded and potentially dangerous sections where the trail is narrow, and adjacent to steep slopes down to the lake. Fat bikes are well suited for these sections of trail, and be prepared to walk brief sections. The trail is not well enough maintained for a double Chariot to navigate, but works fine for a single Chariot and better for a Shotgun type setup. Since portions of the trail are colocated with the motorized portion of the Eklutna lakeside trail (which is bumpy), I would recommend not bringing a trailer without some form of suspension. Plan on getting to Mile 3 in less than an hour, or budget at least two hours to get to mile 9 (Eklutna Alex established campground, first come first serve), or dispersed camping at mile 11 and beyond.
Grey Lake: Located approximately 4.5 miles out the Powerline trail, Grey Lake is a fantastic kids’ bike camping destination that can be reached in about an hour, even with the somewhat steep, challenging climbs in the vicinity of the S Couloir. Since access is via the Powerline trail, any version of trailer or seats can work, though WeeHoo or other trailers without suspension could be a bit of a bumpy ride. Considering that this is a fragile tundra environment that receives a significant number of visitors, take particular care to leave no trace.
Russian Lakes: The trail from Russian River campground up toward Lower Russian Lake and beyond is wide and well-maintained. It is possible to do more ambitious kid bike traverses from Snug Harbor to Cooper Landing, but for easier outings numerous shorter trips are possible using the wide and well-maintained section of trail that heads south (upriver) from Russian River campground. Review the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge National Geographic or other detailed map to find established campsites with bear boxes.
Resurrection and Devils Pass: Numerous bike camping (and cabin) options exist within the Resurrection/Devils Pass trail corridors, including relatively short bike rides to campsites or cabins at either end of Resurrection, to more ambitious through trips (e.g. Devils Pass to Hope). Devils Pass is about the gentlest climb to an alpine pass that is bikeable for kids, and riding through the passes is probably the coolest trip I’ve done with our kids.
Crescent Lake: It is a fairly challenging ride of over six miles into Crescent Lake if you’ve got a child on front of your bike, but Crescent Lake (and cabin if it’s available) is such a beautiful and fun location for family camping.
For kids under age two, the Chariot or similar trailer is perfect for bike camping, which necessitates a wider trail. As kids can hold on themselves and ride a Shotgun, more options open up including longer single track options.
The key is to make bikepacking with kids feasible is reducing weight. For fair weather camping (or staying in a cabin), it is possible to get your total gear and bike bags weight down to 15 pounds per child/parent biking pair. At this weight, you can bike with a child with a standard bikepacking setup of everything packed in a handlebar bag and under-the-seat bag. I usually pack sleeping bag/pad/sleeping long underwear in the front handlebar bag, and food/stove under the seat. Ideally, you have a frame bag for rain gear, snacks, and repair tools. Try your existing sleeping bags--you may find you and your kid fit into one bag, saving significant weight. You really can’t get the gear weight and space down low enough without an ultralight tent, and either a down or summer-weight sleeping bag. Nor will there be space and weight for much extra clothing for yourself, since you’ll need more margin of error (changes) for your kid. All of this makes more ambitious bike camping trips contingent on fairly warm and dry weather with a high confidence forecast, since biking gets pretty cold (unless they’re in an enclosed Chariot).
It’s a good idea to go on an easy trip with a quick potential exit (i.e. Eklutna or Grey Lake) before tackling more ambitious trails that leave you farther from the trailhead. It probably goes without saying you’ll need a multitool that can repair a chain, in addition to the ability to fix flats. I strongly prefer tubeless tires (and/or a fat bike) to reduce the likelihood of flats. With a little experimentation you will find you can get your gear weight and space low enough to still have fun riding and get to your destination before the kids get impatient.
Of all the incredible outdoors experiences we’ve had with our kids, biking to Crescent Lake and through Res Pass are my favorites. It’s hard to compare to cruising along fairly effortlessly, talking with your kids about the scenery and wildlife along the way. Most importantly--try to schedule with another family so the kids can play with each other when they get to camp.