Healthy Outdoor Living

Best Rivers to Canoe Camp


More from Outdoor Living Newsletter July Outdoor Living Newsletter
 

Canoe or kayak camping is a great way to see the great outdoors, get some exercise and have some fun with family and friends.

With thousands of rivers, the task of deciding which river to go to can be a daunting one. So we have put together a list of our top pick rivers to canoe-camp by region so you can find the best one near you and have the time of your lives.

Mid-West - Current River (Missouri)

Couple canoeing by water cave on Current River
Water cave on the Current River *

River Bio

The Current River features unique scenery. Where else can you leisurely float through caves or enjoy the beauty of the Ozark Mountains?

The Current River can be considered not only one of the best in country but it strongly vies for the title of the best river for canoeing in the whole USA. This river is a spring fed stream that almost always has perfectly clear and cool waters, discharged in adequate volumes for that ideal canoeing experience.

Located south of the Ozark Mountains, you see rich forests of different hardwoods covering the mountain. The view is exceptionally gorgeous in the fall when the trees turn their autumnal hues.

Higher up in the river are some challenging S-bends and riffles, but other than those, there are no strong rapids to worry about. Although there are no major rapids, be alert, not only in the upper sections but even in the lower sections as the current can be fast and there are hazards such as rocks.

The Current River is included in the National Scenic Waterways, all 90 miles of it. The most notable activity to do while canoe camping in the Current River is spelunking. You can visit the caves that are either near the river or on the river itself, some, like Cave Spring, is big enough for you to canoe through it. Make sure you are adequately prepared to go spelunking; always have three sources of light, extra batteries, a hard hat, and a buddy among other things. Expect to see amazing limestone formations and large bat colonies.

Best Time to Go

The best time to go is during the fall. If you are not a big fan of crowds, avoid this river during summer weekends as it can get crowded and noisy. Before Labor day and Memorial day is the off peak season so you have more solitude as well as top picks of camping sites.

Campsites

Most of the land is publicly owned so it's not a problem trying to find a campsite, whether you are looking for a primitive style of camping or looking for developed campgrounds, you can easily find one in and around the banks of Current.

Before You Go

Learn spelunking and its basics as there will be caves in Current River that you shouldn't miss to explore. Check for water levels and the weather before you go as the summer months usually expects frequent downpours.

Canoe / Kayak Rentals

Mid West - Saint Croix and Namekagon Rivers (Wisconsin/ Michigan)

Woman kayaking on the Saint Croix River
The Saint Croix River *

River Bio

The St. Croix River runs along the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota with its lower section bordering the two states. This 164 mile river flows to the bigger Mississippi at Prescott, Wisconsin and is protected by the National Park Service being a National Scenic Riverway.

The Namekagon is an even smaller river of 95 miles in length is an affluent of the St. Croix River; it too is part of the St. Croix National Scenic River way. Its name means "River at the place abundant with Sturgeons", sturgeon being a type of fish.

Namekagon is the original river to be given a place in the Wild & Scenic Rivers system back in 1968. Although the Namekagon is the smaller river, it is actually the main branch of this river system (St. Croix), with its main body located in Chequamegon National Forest pronounced shwahm-a-gun with the accent on the first syllable.

The scenery in this place is of gorgeous dense forests of conifer and hardwoods as well as abundant wildlife. You can spot bald eagles, Canada geese, warblers, deer and beavers among other animals.

Enjoy the natural river corridor and beautiful scenery whilst still having civilization near, specifically, access to US Highway 63.

Apart from the sights, you will also enjoy class I or higher rapids and swift currents that you would easily be able to cover 15-20 miles in a day of canoeing. There are a few riverside cabins and development along the riverside land but the National Park Service has the developments under control so you still have that primitive feel as you canoe along the waters.

This is a beautiful scenic river that is very much worth a visit!

Best Time to Go

The best time to visit is between the months of May to September. The water quality is excellent but the water levels can get low in the summer.

Campsites

There are lots of designated primitive campsites on the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway. There are also NPS designated camp sites that have privies and picnic tables. If you fancy camping in a more developed area (best for families with children), there are many access points that allows camping, these access points are much more developed than most campsites as some even have potable water.

Before You Go

Make sure you stock up on insect repellent as the place is abundant in bugs and ticks, especially during the early peak season, something that insect lovers would love. During the summer, low water levels in the upper Namekagon can affect navigation so check water levels before you go.

Canoe / Kayak Rentals

North East - Delaware River

Canoeing on the Delaware River
The beautiful Delaware RIver

River Bio

The Delaware River establishes the boundaries of several states: Pennsylvania and New York boundary, the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Boundary and most of the Delaware and New Jersey Boundary. The total length of the Delaware River is 301 miles and it is the longest free-flowing river in the US (free flowing meaning it isn't dammed up).

If you are from the bustling city of New York City, you'll be happy to know that nature tripping is less than a 100 miles away.

One of the best things to look forward to when planning a canoe camping trip to the Delaware River is the scenery of dramatic forest-covered mountains, rocky bluffs and trees of sycamore and other kinds that line the river banks. The Delaware flows into a valley which gets wider as you go downstream; the Upper Delaware River has class II rapids that can be especially fun during the cooler months when the water levels are high.

Although there are several man-made traps to catch fish that can serve as obstacles to canoes in the upper rivers, the Delaware still remains to be the most popular float stream in the US because of its friendly and dependable rapids. During your trip here, you will most likely see tubers and rafter apart from the trippers on canoes. The numbers of river rats are significantly less during the weekdays and off seasons. For those interested in fishing, a fishing license is required.

This river destination is family friendly because it is not isolated so your family is still close to civilization, a great feature especially if you have kids along. There are numerous roads leading to towns along the river.

Apart from the marvelous forest scenery, you will enjoy spotting wildlife such as otter, bear, bald eagles, geese, deer and many others.

A sight to behold is the Delaware Water Gap. The Delaware Water Gap is a part of the river that cuts through a ridge in the Appalachian Mountains.

We love the Delaware River as it is a lot of fun, provides a beautifully breathtaking natural setting and yet is a very accessible location.

Best Time to Go

The best time to go is in the summer but it also is the peak season so expect lots of holidaymakers.

Campsites

Be careful not to trespass on private lands as most lands along the river are privately owned. Not only on where you camp but also on where you rent your canoe from as canoe rentals do not appreciate it when you camp on their area while you rented a competition's canoe. There is a public land above Port Jervis (PA side) where you can camp primitive style. You will find lots of designated camping sites along the Delaware Water Gap; these sites however are available on a first come first serve basis.

Before You Go

Familiarize yourself with the area and plan ahead. Obtain all necessary permits needed. You will find that there are many outfitters for canoe rentals among other services in the vicinity of the Delaware River so you should also take that into consideration before deciding on a camping destination (see above). Check for flow and water levels before you go.

Canoe / Kayak Rentals

South East - Pearl River

Pearl River cuts through swamp land
Pearl River cuts through swamp land

River Bio

The Pearl River runs through Mississippi and Louisiana where its lower part forms the boundary between these two states.

This river is a slow moving and twisting with lots of wide sand bars in its lower sections' bends. The scenery offered by the Pearl is a beautiful view of southern forests; banks lined with hardwoods, willow, sycamore and pines as well as views of swamp lands.

The lower Pearl River is the best place for an extended canoe camping trip although the upper river also offers great recreational activities.

One outstanding feature of the Pearl River is its water depth which is deep enough for canoeing year-round and in all areas. When heavy rainfall is experienced extensively however, the river has the greatest tendency to flood, hence should be avoided during such times for the great danger it poses.

Floating along the river you will find riverside settlements, lots of wildlife including bald eagles (during cool months is the best time to spot them), and forests of hardwood trees.

Although the Pearl River shows some sign of water and air pollution caused by the paper mills along the river and water treatment facilities located upstream, the Pearl remains one of the best rivers in the country for a canoe trip because of the water depth, water current, scenery, and campsites among many other factors.

The Pearl is not the greatest place to go fishing, but it is a perfect canoe camping trip destination for those who just want to laze around as the current carries them. The Pearl is a highly recommended canoeing destination for those who are not a big fan of paddling. There are no major rapids or hazards in this river and lots of campsites making for a perfectly laidback canoe camping experience.

Best Time to Go

Best time to go would be during Spring time and fall. Mid-Summer is also a great time as the great, big water lilies are in bloom, but it can be very hot then.

Campsites

Most campsites in the Pearl River are excellent primitive campsites. You can find one in just about any bend as well as on large sand bars. There have been issues about the amount of trash that many campers leave behind on the sandbars, we advise you to be responsible for your waste and leave nothing on the sandbars except perhaps your footprints and tent peg holes.

Before You Go

Know the weather and monitor rainfall. The Pearl River dangerously floods during heavy rain so we advise that you avoid going during these times. Check for Pearl River water flow and water levels before your trip.

All campsites are primitive so be ready to rough it up. There are no bathrooms, picnic tables or any other camping facility that you usual find in a civilized campground. Primitive camping requires advanced camping skills as well as gear so be sure that you come prepared. Do learn the dos and don'ts of primitive camping before embarking on this trip for you to have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Canoe / Kayak rentals

  • Pearl River Floats
    3111 Highway 16 E, Edinburg, MS 39051
    53.0MI from Jackson
    (601) 267-0340
  • Pearl River Kayaks
  • Kayak Rentals of Louisiana
    Pearl River, LA 70452
    (985) 247-1888

South West - Sabine River

Friends kayaking  on the Sabine River
The Sabine River

River Bio

The Sabine River runs through the US states of Texas and Louisiana.

Much of its lower reaches flows along the pine forests of the Texas-Louisiana border, the trees in this forest are mostly cypress, and this is where the river got its name; from the Spanish word Sabine, meaning cypress. Its higher reaches flows through Northeast Texas along the prairie country.

If you are looking for a trip with lots of unspoiled country scenery, white sand beaches, amazing campsites and peace and quiet, you will agree with us that Sabine River is one of the best this country has to offer. If you fancy long, easy floats; consider the lower Sabine as it is the easiest.

A float trip in the Sabine River will give you gorgeous views of pine, hardwood and cypress trees heavily laden with Spanish moss (Think: river scene in Huckleberry Finn or Pocahontas) just lined up on the shoreline, clear as day. There are also stretches of swamp lands. It's really breathtaking and beautiful.

There is very little development along its banks so you get that back to nature feel, which is something that we all really enjoy.

Apart from the scenery, the Sabine River is an abundant aquatic and wildlife habitat, making it a great place to go fishing and animal spotting, especially bird watching.

Best Time to Go

Any time is a good time to go to Sabine River but the absolute best time to go is Spring.

During Spring time, when the redbud trees begin to bloom expect the White Bass, among other species of fish that starts their spawning runs. White bass needs moving water to spawn, so when the water gets warm and starts flowing, that's the time that they all head over to the streams. Check for excellent fishing sites in the Sabine River so you can better plan your trip if you intend to go fishing.

Take note that when the water is low, these fishes all converge in the Black Shoal. The Black Shoal is a coal seam that crosses the river that barricades fish there when the water level is low.

Campsites

There are lots of gorgeous white sand bars along the river bends. It's not at all hard to find a great camping spot here. Make sure to check water levels before setting up camp because at high water levels, the sand bars will be covered up.

Before You Go

Since the area is fairly isolated, make sure you have everything that you need. Make sure you have extra batteries, water, food sunscreen, a hat and all your required gear. Bring a radio if you can, GPS, some mosquito repellent, and dress appropriately for the season.

Equip yourself with the proper knowledge of the place (dam release schedule etc.) as well as needed permits, especially if you plan to venture out of the river banks as most of the lands along the rivers are privately owned.

There are canoe rentals available in the upper section of the river.

Canoe / Kayak rentals

  • Riverbend Canoe Rentals
  • Tack-A-Paw Expeditions
  • Village Creek Canoe Rentals
    Rates per canoe $20/day, $10 for additional day; for four or more canoes the rate is $16 per day, with $10 for additional days.
    P.O. Box 1921, Kountze, TX 77625
    (409) 246-4481.

West - Green River (Utah)

Woman rafting in the Desolation Canyon, Green River
Couple canoeing the Green River **

River Bio

The Green River is the main tributary of the Colorado River. Its 730 miles runs along parts of three states: Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. It starts from the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming with most of its body passing through the state of Utah. Part of it that does pass along Colorado is located through the Colorado Plateau and along some of the country's most beautiful canyons.

The Green River is one of the best long canoe camping trips in the country and our absolute favorite canoe camping destination in the West. The Green River starts it journey from open country but then it dramatically weaves in and out of the Labyrinth and Stilwater canyons. This river passes through the famous Canyonlands National Park, the largest national park in Utah.

It is a wide river with swift currents especially during spring season when the ice from colder areas starts to melt and runs down the rivers. Despite the swift currents that the runoff brings, there are no serious rapids past Class I of 20 miles in speed.

Canoe camping in Green River is best suited for week-long trips or longer as it may take that long to float the whole 120 miles during the Spring season but longer if you go during the fall when the water level is lower.

Expect to see scenes of desert habitats then can seem ominously barren yet strangely beautiful at the same time. A geological feature that is not to be missed is Bowknot Bend.

The river not only holds natural beauty but also rich history as it was once the home of the ancient civilization that we now know as Ancestral Puebloan or Anasazi. Similar to certain areas in Canyonlands National Park such as the Aztec Butte which was also home to these ancient people, you will find evidence of their existence from their rock structures and petroglyphs. The Green River is also a lovely place to hike and you will find numerous trails along the river or you can choose to hike up the canyons or bluffs and ridges.

Since the lower portion of the Green River cuts through this world famous National Park, you will have access to famous park landmarks like the Doll's house and the Anasazi Tower which is located at the summit on a hill at Fort Bottom.

Best Time to Go

Spring is the best time to canoe here because of the runoffs. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit the Green River around April but be sure to dress appropriately for the chilly temperature. For the best canoeing conditions visit the Green River during May and June; be warned however that this is the peak season. During the peak season of June, not only are there more people but the weather can get scorching hot.

Campsites

Anywhere along the river can be your campsite but of course, be responsible to check the water levels and water flow. If the water levels are high, you can always find a spot in the designated areas in the canyons. During the fall season when water levels are low, sand bars are exposed and you can easily set up camp there. Also the following campgrounds are located on the banks of the Green River:

Before You Go

The Green River is a remote area so be sure you come prepared. Secure all necessary permits as the Green River is located within Canyonlands National Park and the park requires river permits and permits for back country camping. Must have is water, sunscreen and a hat.

Canoe / Kayak rentals

West - Missouri (Montana)

Kayaking and Canoeing on the West - Missouri (Montana)
Family Canoeing on the Missouri River ***

River Bio

The Missouri River is also a tributary of the Mississippi River. It spans through parts of not only ten US states but also two Canadian provinces. Its length of 2,341 miles forms part of the world's fourth longest river system.

The best area of the Missouri River is its Upper sections which we will refer to as the Upper Missouri River. The Upper Missouri River, part of the National Wild and Scenic River System, is big and wide with swift currents especially in the summer and spring seasons. It is a much enjoyable river to float along in and it is quite expected for this river to become a favorite among floaters.

The scenery here is rugged with lots of gorgeous rock formations and hints of pine forests that are denser in the higher country. Although there are areas that can be wavy, rocky with swift currents, the rapids are moderate and one will not have a difficult time canoeing. The land is still basically untouched and has that strong sense of pioneering air that will make canoers feel like they have been transported to a time when the U.S. was still a country waiting to be discovered.

The Upper Missouri river is recommended for week-long trips especially around Mid-year when you get sunlight even as late as 10pm. It is a very nice river not only to canoe in but its overlooks and ridges also provide a very scenic place to hike in.

The most popular sight here is the White Cliffs region located around the middle area of the river way. It's a cliff of unusually colored sandstone formations, so you'd have to wonder why it's called white cliffs.

For the history buffs, there are some old and abandoned settlers' log cabins that you can poke around in, but of course, the rule is, "leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs".

And if you like to read, you should read about Lewis and Clark and see their descriptions of this very same river come to life.

If you are into wildlife, you will be glad to know that the ridges and even just along the river, you can easily spot small herds of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep! Fishing is also a very popular activity here.

Best Time to Go

Early autumn is best if you want to avoid the crowds but for the best canoeing conditions (water current, rapids, water levels, scenery etc.) May to September is the best.

Campsites

There are campsites on the Missouri River although there are no particular amenities in the designated campsites.

Before You Go

Know that some areas may be home to cattle so you may find some offending presents from these grazers.

Be prepared for the weather as it can either be scorching hot or icy cold and wet. Check the weather in advance and anticipate any possible changes because the weather here is, as they say, as unpredictable as the weather (excuse the pun!)

To check the water flow, visit USGS for real time water conditions.

Canoe / Kayak rentals

* Photos courtesy of National Park Service

** Photo courtsey of http://www.allmoab.com

*** Photo courtsey of http://www.katytrailbb.com

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