You can read all the canoeing tips and tricks you can get your hands on, but sometimes the best way to learn is by doing. If you want a little hands-on, in-person guidance before you head out on your own, there are endless opportunities awaiting you. Outdoor gear stores, canoe associations, and outdoor expos are all great places to look for classes and workshops. Professional paddling schools often have novice and beginner-level courses, and it’s also a good idea to check with your local park district or University outdoor program for classes open to the general public. For tips on where to get started in your search, check out gear stores, outdoor expos and paddling schools near you.
Many gear stores host free and low-cost evening and weekend classes on everything from Leave No Trace practices to using a GPS unit to boat demos, where you can try out canoes and other paddling gear. Some canoe retailers even offer guided trips. Check out the stores listed below or call your local shops to learn about their offerings.
Find free and low-cost classes, presentations and canoe demos at REI stores across the country. The company also offers more in-depth instruction through REI Outdoor School in the San Francisco, Sacramento, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. areas.
Midwest Mountaineering www.midwestmtn.com
Located in Minneapolis, MN, Midwest Mountaineering is a local expert in all things outdoors. You can always test-paddle canoes for free, and they host boat demos, Boundary Waters Canoe Area information sessions, and women’s programs.
This Madison, WI gear store is a local landmark, offering an extensive selection of canoeing classes and outdoor adventures for kids and adults.
Canoeing Groups and Associations:
Canoe associations are a great way to connect with canoe enthusiasts of all skill levels in a low-pressure, non-retail environment. Committed to the simple mission of promoting canoeing, these groups host a wide range of activities: recreational outings, technique trainings, and even races. They’re often family friendly, too. Membership may be required to participate.
Minnesota Canoe Association mncanoe.org
A statewide association hosting paddling events and educational workshops.
River Ramblers www.river-ramblers.org
Dedicated to “leisurely paced river paddling” in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Expect to pay a $1 donation per trip, per boat to cover administrative costs.
American Canoe Association www.americancanoe.org
A national nonprofit that provides paddling education, encourages stewardship of paddling environments and supports paddling programs and events throughout the country.
Paddle Canada www.paddlingcanada.com
A Canadian association promoting non-competitive canoeing and kayaking across Canada.
Midwest Mountaineering Expo, Spring and Fall
A bi-annual event in Minneapolis, MN with free demos, extensive programming and representatives from canoe manufacturers and many canoeing destinations.
A springtime expo in Madison, WI, this event is billed as the world’s largest paddlesport expo, with educational programming, demos and representatives from canoeing organizations, manufacturers and destinations.
Annually, in May, Paddlefest is hosted by Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company in the heart of the Adirondacks–Old Forge, NY. With over 1,000 canoes and kayaks on sale, it’s the largest on-water canoe and kayak sale. There are also speakers, classes and information sessions.
Paddling schools aren’t just for experts; plenty offer an introductory and flatwater canoeing course along with their more specialized classes.
Alaska Kayak School
California Canoe & Kayak
Four Corners Riversports Paddling School
Collinsville Canoe & Kayak
Trading Post Canoe & Kayak
New England Outdoor Center
Charles River Canoe & Kayak
Kayak & Canoe Institute
Champaign Canoeing Ltd.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Sundance River Center
Riversport School of Paddling
Canoe Kayak and Paddle Co.
Rohr’s Wilderness Tours Canoe Instruction
Snake River Kayak & Canoe
Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre
Madawaska Kanu Centre