Planning A Canoe Trip

You’ve done it. You’ve decided to take your paddling to the next level with an overnight canoe trip. You’ve read Basic Basics and you’re excited to get planning. But where do you start? The irony of canoe tripping is that whatever length of your trip you plan, you pretty much have to put in the same amount of prep work. Sure, we all dream of the perfect trip, with gorgeous weather and relaxing days. Yet even on a weekend outing you need to be prepared for reality. Remembering all the details can make the difference between falling into a miserable heap, jacketless, in a pile of muskeg in the pouring rain, or finishing the same portage in the same weather with a dry raincoat, a smile and the feeling that you’re on top of the world. has all the information you need to prepare for your adventure, whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned wilderness trekker. Pick a destination, plan your trip, and get smart about canoeing. But remember, as a first-time canoe tripper, getting personalized guidance from experts will ensure that you have all your bases covered. Talking with one of the experienced outfitters and guides listed in each section of the Destination Guide will help you plan the trip that is the right one for you. Remember to be up front with them about your experience level and they will prove to be the best advice.

Choosing a Destination

The right destination is key to making your canoe trip memorable for the right reasons. Whether you’re open to any location, or have your heart set onthe Boundary Waters Canoe Area, researching your destination will ensure that it fits your goals and skill level. The Destination Guide has all the information you need, and answering the following questions will help you sift through the options:

You don’t always need to travel far to reach great canoe country. The Destination Guide is organized by state and Canadian province so you can find canoe country in your neck of the woods or someone else’s.

Think about how much time you have. Do you need a weekend getaway or a park large enough to stay out for a week or more? In the Destination Guide you’ll find maps and route suggestions for specific canoeing destinations. You can also visit the Message Board/Forums and Trip Logs to see where others have paddled.

The geography of your trip determines more than the scenery: it affects how far you travel and the level of challenge, the type of weather and even the wildlife you see. Canoeing in a place like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness might involve more portaging than paddling the Brule River in Wisconsin, but you’re also more likely to see a moose. Still, you can’t always count on lake travel to be full of portages and rivers to be lazy floats. The best way to learn about the terrain of a particular region is through the Destination Guide and Trip Logs.

Think beyond the basics. Researching an area’s busiest time of year, average weather, wettest month, and the height of mosquito season can help you identify your ideal time to visit. Likewise, natural attractions like waterfalls, pictographs and wildflowers can attract you to your ideal destination.


Getting Started

Part of the beauty of a canoe trip is the simplicity. You’ll be carrying everything you need with you – a sometimes mind-boggling, yet liberating, reality in contrast to the amenity-burdened lives we lead. Planning ahead to bring the right gear and be familiar with your route is important. Naturally, the necessity of being able to fit everything in the canoe or carry it over portages limits how much stuff you can bring. That means that every little thing counts. If you forget something, you’ll have to do without, and bringing inappropriate gear or unappetizing food can lead to one uncomfortable trip.

Particularly if this is your first trip, it’s wise to work with an outfitter to plan your trip or even travel with a guided group. Learning the ropes from experienced paddlers is a great way to build your own paddling resume and learn the tricks of the trade so that you can someday be comfortable heading out on your own. Most wilderness and paddling areas are surrounded by a plethora of outfitters, suppliers and guides. See the outfitters and guides listed in each section of the Destination Guide to learn from the experts and benefit from their experience.

Rules & Regulations

Most wilderness areas and parks have rules and regulations you’ll need to know to you plan your trip. Working with an outfitter who is knowledgeable about your destination will help you navigate the details. You can also find a lot of this information on

The Price of Entry
Parks may require permits and/or user fees, as well as limit the number of permits issued per season and the number of people or watercraft in a group. You can find these details for each destination in the Destination Guide under Park & Permit Info.

The Lay of the Land
Canoeing tips and tricks are learned over a lifetime of canoeing, but you don’t have to wait to learn the secrets of your canoeing destination. Get the most of your experience by asking questions and doing your research ahead of time. Why learn everything the hard way?

  • Use the maps and routes section of the Destination Guide to find out what map is best suited for the region.
  • Visit the Rendezvous and read a few Trip Logs to learn useful route planning information:
    • How far campers typically travel in one day and where the high-use areas are
    • Whether or not there are designated campsites; if you choose them as you go or select them when you get your permit; whether the number of nights you can stay in one spot is limited
    • Food storage or campsite set-up guidelines
    • Campfire and cooking regulations

It’s also a good idea to do some reading beforehand and learn trail secrets from experienced paddlers. Select a book or video from our recommended list found in the Books & Media section to get started.

What to Pack for a Canoe Trip

You don’t need the most expensive or fanciest gear to have a great trip, but a tent that doesn’t leak, a solid raincoat, a comfortable canoe paddle and a good first aid kit are all essential.For help selecting the right gear, consult the Gear Guide.  Iif you’re a thrifty shopper and know what you’re looking for, quality used gear can often be purchased from outfitters, thrift stores and outdoor gear swaps. But if you’re new to canoe tripping, you might want to consider renting gear from an outfitter or guide until you know that you’re committed to the canoe-camping experience. Check out our handy Trip Planning Guide for packing lists and more.


Canoe Trip Gear Checklist

Group Equipment
__ Canoe
__ Canoe chairs
__ Canoe kit (bowline, tiedown line, anchor bag)
__ Extra rope
__ PFDs/life jackets
__ Paddles (plus spare paddle)
__ Thwart/bow bags
__ Food pack (with rope and pulley)
__ Portage packs
__ Tents
__ Tarps/ground cloths
__ Campstove (tested)
__ Camp saw/hatchet
__ Collapsible water container
__ Cooking pots/pans/coffee pot
__ Cooking utensils
__ Cups, silverware, plates
__ Extra trash bags/baggies
__ Fillet knife
__ First aid kit
__ Folding shovel
__ Fuel for campstove
__ Lightweight plastic cutting board
__ Matches/lighter
__ Paper towels
__ Playing cards
__ Scrubbrush/pad & dishsoap
__ Toilet paper
__ Meals/snacks/individually sealed packages
__ Salt, pepper, spices
__ Water filter or treatment tablets
__ Compass/GPS
__ Map(s)
Personal Gear
__ Day pack
__ Sleeping bag in stuff sack
__ Sleeping pad
__ Camp shoes
__ Clean clothes for the trip home (in vehicle)
__ Hat/gloves
__ Jacket
__ Pants
__ Rain gear
__ Shorts
__ Shirts
__ Socks (wool)
__ Sweater/sweatshirt
__ Swimsuit
__ Sunglasses
__ Wet shoes
__ Wide-brimmed hat
__ Book, pencil & paper
__ Bug repellent/headnet
__ Camera equipment
__ Camp chair
__ Camp towel
__ Fishing gear/license
__ Headlamp/flashlight
__ Multi-tool/pocket knife
__ Money for food, souvenirs, licenses, etc.
__ Sunscreen/chapstick
__ Toothbrush/toothpaste
__ Water bottle

Download the Gear Checklist [PDF] or check out one of the links above.


Related Links:


Camping Cuisine

Good meals make for happy campers. Luckily, a week in the bush doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of flavor or nutrition.

For no-fuss cooks, several companies have perfected the art of “just add water” cooking with freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. You can eat like royalty (well, almost) with scrambled eggs and ham for breakfast and vegetable wild rice salad and lasagna for dinner. They also offer a growing selection of vegetarian meals. Check out the Food & Water section of the Gear Guide for more information.

Still, sometimes there’s nothing like a meal made from scratch. For more adventurous cooks, there are plenty of resources for do-it-yourself campfire cooking:

Always plan a few extra snacks and “pad” your meal plan with an extra meal or two. Appetites tend to increase out in canoe country, and you might find you’re eating more than you thought. You’ll also be prepared if anything unexpected arises.


Setting Out

Once you have the details sorted out, it’s a good idea to think about how things will work once you’re “on trail.” Visit the Beginner’s Guide How-to section for tips on everything from packing a pack to loading a canoe to dealing with inclement weather.

With thorough planning, launch day will find you with everything you need – and at the very least, the essentials.  Before you set out, check in with the officials at your destination. They’ll have the most up-to-date information on water levels, fire danger and animal activity. After that, you’re ready for the adventure to begin. Hopefully you won’t find that you’ve left your raincoat at home just as it begins to rain, and you’ll be able to focus on one of life’s greatest pleasures: canoeing in the wilderness.
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