Rent a house with a swimming pool in the south of France they said, you will be able to relax they said. But we’ve always taken adventurous vacations: mountaineering, backpacking, bike packing. We were wondering if adventure days are really over now that we have two kids. We decided to put this to the test and take Aske (2 years old) and Wietse (1 year old) on a road trip through Norway. The absolute highlight of the trip being a three-day bike packing trip through three national parks.
The Tour de Dovre is, together with the Rallarvegen, one of the most beautiful gravel routes in the country. It is a 130 km roundtrip with 1050 m of elevation gain, mainly on gravel roads, taking you through Dovrefjell, Dovre and Rondane National Parks.
Let them set the pace
We started of around noon in Hjerkinn and made our first stop at the Hjerkinnsdammen, a beautiful lake, to have lunch. We were immediately reminded that the kids were going to set the pace. Being used to cover large distances in a day, this was something we really needed to adapt to. Once you think of it more as a journey, instead of a 130 km bike ride, there’s less frustration in going slow and taking numerous breaks. We planned to spread the distance over three days. This allowed for regular stops. We counted on the bouncy rhythm of the chariot’s suspension to cradle the kids to sleep, the moments we would push on and cover as many kilometers as we could. That was our strategy.
The first kilometers were mainly paved and slightly downhill. A welcome warm up, as we were heavy loaded. My husband Manu and I both rode mountain bikes, although a light gravel bike would do just fine on this terrain. I carried the tent, sleeping gear for four people and spare clothing in a BOB trailer, with Aske’s balance bike on top of that. I stuffed my saddle pack with food for three days. Manu towed the Thule Chariot with two kids in it, every free space filled up with diapers. His handlebar bag and frame bag held a small stove, some cooking utilities and repair kit and spare parts for the bikes.
After 10 minutes of cycling, our oldest son Aske, was already bored in the chariot. We made sure the children had multiple options: we had the chariot to nap and play, and a seat on Manu’s bike so they could take turns and have a better view. We also brought Aske’s balance bike so he could ride some parts on his own. This ensured we could postpone breaks a bit longer and do some more cycling.
Thanks to the easy-going terrain we managed to get almost halfway in just three hours. Time for a stop in one of the most beautiful valleys in Norway: the Grimsdalen valley, with stunning views on the Rondane Mountains. We spent half an hour at the riverside, throwing rocks in the stream, before cycling to Grimsdalshytta. Even though we weren’t planning on staying the night there, we did take on the steep climb to the hut to drink and eat something.
The weather was changing, dark clouds were approaching quickly, so we decided to cycle back down and put up camp next to the river at the foot of the mountain lodge. After a windy night we woke up to grey skies and a cold drizzle. Reason enough to cycle to the comfortable warmth of the Grimsdalshytta again to get a big breakfast.
The easiest part of the route was clearly over. Day two started with a decent amount of climbing on gravel, reaching the highest point of the route. We cycled past charming small dairy farms, curving rivers and mighty mountain views. With Rondane National Park on one side and Dovre National Park on the other, we always had something to look at. We decided to stop for lunch in a small cafeteria in Dovre. The kids were really happy to get out of the chariot and to play with the owner’s daughter and her toys.
From Dovre to Dombås you ride through the valley on a paved country road. There isn’t too much traffic on there. We restocked on water and bought some supplies for dinner in Dombås. From the city center we climbed back into the woods. At this point Aske was really eager to do some riding himself, so we got out his balance bike and let him ride for about half an hour. We looked for a camping spot at the side of the road. While we were setting up camp Aske kept on pushing his bike up and over the hill until bedtime. Sleeping in a tent with two very small children isn’t always easy. They crawl out of the sleeping bag, roll of their sleeping pad and try to open the zippers from the tent to escape. The very short nights during Norwegian summer don’t really help children to quickly fall asleep and wind and rain were bashing onto our tent.
After Dombås it was still a 30 km stretch to arrive back at our starting point in Hjerkinn and we didn't really feel like getting all wet. So in the morning, we waited for the storm to pass. We took off around 10 a.m. and followed the scenic velostrada, totally free of motorized traffic, between Dombås and Hjerkinn. This is where we entered musk ox territory. Caution is advised while riding through. Although musk oxen can look a bit tame, you’d better not cross their path. From the end of the cycling path you can do a small extra ride to the Snøhetta viewpoint from where you can overlook Tverrfjellet mountain.
Let it be clear that bike packing with small kids is not a walk in the park. It was, however, the point in our three-week road trip, where we felt we were really experiencing the country. You are travelling at exactly the right pace to enjoy the valleys, ride up and over mountain passes and pass through small farming communities. We want to teach our children the sense of freedom while being on a bike and out camping in wild and unspoiled nature. We want to offer them a taste of the simple life. And that is priceless.
- Be prepared for changing conditions: this route goes through mountainous areas and the weather can rapidly change. Make sure to pack warm and waterproof clothing, even in summer.
- Take enough time. Cycling with kids goes a lot slower. If you adapt to their pace and rhythm things will start to go a lot easier.
- Let your kids choose one small toy to take with them. Other than that, nature will definitely be their playground.
- Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with yourself. Not used to camping? Choose one of the accommodations along the route.
- Wild camping is allowed in Norway. If you prefer to stay indoors there’s great lodging in Grimsdalshytta, Hjerkinn Fjellstue and in other villages along the route such as Dombås.
- Food can be found in Folldal, Grimsdalshytta, Dovre and Dombås.