Is your camper ready for a canoe or backpack trip at Camp Widjiwagan?

Deciding if the time is right to register your camper for a canoeing or backpacking trip at Camp Widjiwagan can feel intimidating. We have included our Essential Eligibility Criteria below. Our hope is that these criteria will clearly explain the nature of our programming and our expectations of campers in order to better support parents, guardians and campers in making an informed choice.

Wilderness Camp Essential Eligibility Criteria

Camp Widjiwagan’s summer program focuses on wilderness trips for teenagers. Depending on age and experience, camp sessions range from 5-50 days and trips travel across North America. Camp Widjiwagan trips operate in remote wilderness areas and our groups travel by foot or canoe. On backpacking trips, groups hike each day and camp in a new location each night. On our canoe trips, groups paddle across lakes and portage (the process of carrying all your gear on paths connecting lakes) multiple times each day and camp in a new location each night. All of the areas we travel are considered primitive camping, which means there are no established shelters or bathrooms.  

Our priority is the health and well-being of all our campers, along with providing a positive and enriching experience.  To help you identify the skills that you will need to successfully participate in Camp Widjiwagan’s summer program, the YMCA of the North has created the following Essential Eligibility Criteria (EEC). The General Criteria are applicable to all wilderness programs. We have also created additional criteria for each type of trip: canoeing, backpacking, or climbing. If you are unable to meet certain criteria, please contact us. We may be able to make a reasonable accommodation unless it would change the fundamental nature of the trip, would compromise your camper’s safety or the safety of other campers or counselors, or would place an undue financial or administrative burden on Camp Widjiwagan. Please reach out with questions regarding your camper’s health, medical and/or accessibility needs prior to registration.  If we are unable to accommodate your camper at one of our Wilderness Programs, we may be able to accommodate them at another YMCA camp. 

After instruction, each camper must…


  • Be able to understand verbal and/or visual instructions. 
  • Be able to understand basic safety instructions or directions in English in an emergency situation. 
  • Be able to communicate personal distress, injury, or need for assistance.  
  • Be self-sufficient in basic self-care and hygiene such as hydration, nourishment, bathroom use, and dress.  
  • Be able to adhere to medication and treatment plan outlined by parent/guardians and their medical professional(s) if needed. 
  • Be able to refrain from the use of alcohol, tobacco, controlled substances, and misuse of prescription or OTC drugs.  
  • Be able to understand environmental and equipment-related risks when explained and follow instructions related to those risks even if Widjiwagan staff is not present. 
  • Be able to adapt to the physical and emotional rigors of a wilderness environment, at minimum a day from advanced medical care, for the entire length of the wilderness trip.   
  • Be able to walk unassisted over uneven terrain. 
  • Be able and willing to contribute to group tasks and responsibilities.  
  • Be able to contribute to and maintain a physically and emotionally safe environment for self and group members. 
  • Be able to respect the wilderness environment and adhere to Leave No Trace principles.  
  • Ability to act independently and as a part of the community.


  • Be able to carry packs and other gear items weighing at least 40 pounds over rough terrain for up to 1 mile with rest breaks as needed. 
  • Be able to wear a Personal Flotation Device and maintain a face-up position in water while wearing a PFD. 
  • Be able to sit in a canoe for up to 4-6 hours a day with stretch breaks as needed. 
  • Be able to grip and control a paddle. 
  • Be able to enter and exit a canoe independently.  
  • Be able to re-enter a canoe from the water with assistance. 


  • Be able to carry a backpack weighing at least 50 pounds while hiking over rough terrain for 4-6 hours with rest breaks as needed. 

Other questions to consider:

How does your child feel about attending Camp Widjiwagan?

“Kids themselves are the best judge of when they are ready,” says Christopher Thurber, clinical psychologist and author of The Summer Camp Handbook. “When they show spontaneous interest in camp, that’s a good clue that the time is right.”

The physical challenge and extended duration of a wilderness camp experience is not for everyone. Some campers may feel more excited about a traditional overnight or day camp rather than a canoe or backpack expedition. The YMCA of the North offers camp opportunities for everyone! Learn about programming at the other overnight and day camps within the Y of the North.

Should I involve my child in determining camp readiness?

Yes! Involving your child in the decision-making process will reduce anxiety about going away to camp. Begin by talking about your child’s interests and personality. Identify camp programs that are a good match.

Has my child participated in sleepovers?

Children who have spent two or more nights away from home are good candidates for overnight camp. Positive experiences and overall enjoyment are readiness indicators.

Does my child have friends who attend overnight camp?

Your children’s friends may be the spark that “lights the campfire” for overnight camp. Being with people who are familiar and comfortable may make staying at overnight camp easier for their first year.

Together, explore the camp options and review the brochures, websites and videos. You can even visit camp to take a tour and meet the staff. Learning about the camp experience ahead of time allows you to create positive expectations.

Am I ready for this important step in my child’s development?

Your confidence in a positive overnight camp experience will be contagious. If you present camp as a wonderful experience and opportunity, your child is more likely to be a successful camper.

Separating for a first-time camp experience is usually harder for parents than it is for children, who quickly forge fast friendships and adapt to the routine and spirit of camp. 

Additional resources

For more information about camper readiness, check out these websites: