5 Keys to a Great Canoeing Roadtrip!

Admit it…as soon as you figured out how to get the canoe to go straight, you started imagining all the amazing places you could go canoeing. I’ve been lucky enough to paddle all over the world, and some of my favorite canoeing memories came on road trips with friends. In 2016, I spent five months on the road with Blackfly, taking demo canoes to Colorado, the PNW, Canada, and everywhere in between. Here are five keys to having a canoeing roadtrip of a lifetime!

  1. Have a good set of wheels

Alex at the OBJ campground. Photo: Sarah Ruhlen

You need to have a vehicle that can get you, your friends, and all your gear there and back again as safely as possible. A good paddling vehicle needs to have a stout set of racks for carrying as many boats as possible, decent clearance for some of the sketchy shuttle roads (looking at you, Caney Fork) and a way to segregate gear…trust me, you don’t want your wet stuff mixed with your dry stuff. Anyone who has boated with me knows that I am often seen driving my mini bus, which I converted to a camper. While this is super convenient for living and sleeping, it leaves a lot to be desired as a people-mover for shuttles. Also, I lost a day paddling OBJ underneath the bus, banging on the front end with a spanner, so reliability is important too. Whether it’s Jeremy’s monster truck, Alex’s TacoMobile, or MarkZ’s venerable Subaru, having a good set of wheels makes or breaks the trip

Buses make for great living, sketchy steering…roadside repair at the gas station/burger shack in Crested Butte


2. Bring your crew

Let’s face an ugly truth head on…it can be hard to find people willing to paddle with canoeists, particularly out west. As the red-headed stepchild of the whitewater world, canoeists have been known to be left at the put in by bro-brahs and other jerks not willing to sacrifice the “jah-churchness” of their lap to show someone new down. So on a road trip, it’s nice to have a few others in the car who enjoy paddling runs of similar difficulty, so that you can be self-contained. That said, I’ve met some amazing people at the put-ins of the Callaghan, Jalacingo, and Green who were willing to take a chance on me. I try to pay that forward as much as possible, starting with takeout beer for your local guide!

Travel with a friend…because someone needs to drive through Kansas

3. Pace yourself

It can be very tempting to try and pack as much whitewater into your vacation as possible. I can tell you from experience that you will burn yourself out quickly. Paddling is physically and mentally taxing, and the tax increases with the difficulty of the run. Paddling Class IV/V day after day will wear you out, and lead to more physical and mental mistakes that can lead to injuries. Prevent this by pacing yourself. Go do a beautiful, easy run and take in the scenery. Stay well hydrated, eat healthy where you can, and don’t be afraid to take days off. Go for a hike, or explore the paddling town. Vacations are supposed to be fun, and if you’re bumming out you won’t paddle well, so on the road you might as well make a point of groovin’

Take easy days, and chill out at paddling fests. Photo: Sarah Ruhlen

4. Don’t plan too much

When you pull out a map, it’s hard not to think, “okay, on Day 1 I’ll paddle here, and then on Day 2 I’ll paddle here, and then on Day 3…” Once you’re on the road, you’ll find that the truth in the famous Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they find out the river dropped out”… (I think that was it). So try to leave yourself time to get lost, fix cars, and find places you don’t want to leave. You might get somewhere that requires more than just a day of paddling to fully enjoy, and you might find a place you thought was going to be awesome isn’t as great as you thought. That’s okay! Be flexible, willing to change. You’ll end up having way more fun if you don’t treat the trip like a checklist, and miss all the cool stuff in between.

That said, have a bit of a plan. A guidebook can be critical in learning about the best runs in unfamiliar drainages, with gauge info, shuttle logistics, and accessibility already figured out.

Don’t be afraid to stop and watch the sunset Photo: Amanda McDaniel

5. It’s your trip

At the end, it’s up to you to decide what makes a good canoeing road trip. Often times, Facebook is filled with pictures of the highlights, the epic drops and stout rapids that people ran. This scares some people (myself included) into thinking, “should I really go to X if I’m not running Class Y?” Don’t fall into that. Every place I’ve ever paddled, from Mexico to British Columbia, Switzerland to North Carolina, has had just as many amazing, beautiful, epic Class II-III runs as they’ve had Class V runs. One of my favorite days on my last summer road trip was paddling the Middle White Salmon with my girlfriend. There is fun whitewater out there for every paddler, the key is finding it.

One last bonus tip…take pictures and video. Whether it’s an awesome DSLR shot or shaky GoPro footage, you’ll want to capture the memories of a trip of a lifetime!

My favorite photo of 2016, taken on Callaghan Creek in BC. Photo: Eric Moore