Let’s Go Canoeing

by Cliff Jacobson
Imagine what it would be like to go back in time and see your state the way it was 200 years ago. There would be no paved roads, no cars, no radios or TVs. No big shopping malls or apartment buildings. But you might get a close-up look at deer, black bears, coyotes, foxes, and great blue herons.

Well, you don’t have to pretend, if you have a canoe. A canoe trip down a river is like stepping back in time. Trees along shore hide most homes and businesses. Everything looks natural, just like it did centuries ago.

Canoes can go where powerboats can’t. They can travel along shallow streams and swampy backwaters. They can glide through the big blue lakes of Minnesota’s famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Skilled canoeists can safely paddle windy lakes and powerful rapids too. I’ve even paddled my canoe on the ocean.

A Day on the River

You and your dad rent a 17-foot-long canoe. Together you tie it upside down to the top of your car, then drive to a river. When you get there, your dad unties the canoe and carries it to the water. You bring the picnic lunch and canoeing gear — three paddles (an extra one in case one breaks), two PFDs (life jackets), and a waterproof pack that contains rain suits, sweaters, and change of clothes (in case you tip over).

Your dad’s friend will drive the car to the “take-out” — the place where you want to end your trip — so you won’t have to paddle back upstream. You’ll be floating with the current all the way. Dad says the river has some small rapids, or riffles. So get ready for fun.


The first few minutes you paddle hard, and the canoe zooms along. It feels good to stretch your muscles. Then, as the day warms up, you slow to an easy, all-day pace. Occasionally, you put down your paddle and lie back in the canoe, just to watch the puffy clouds float by and feel the wind in your hair.

Around the bend you spot a dappled fawn standing ankle-deep in water near shore. The deer freezes and looks straight at you. Suddenly, it turns, and dashes into the forest.


A dozen bends later, you stop for lunch on a sandbar. You swim and fish. Then you nap on the sand, basking like a turtle in the sun. Afterward, you pick up your trash and put it into the canoe. Then you and your dad drift down to the take-out point and your awaiting car.

It has been a great day. Just you two, the cool green river, and the magic of your canoe.

This article originally published in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer

~ Cliff Jacobson is a guide and outdoor writer with over 50 years of paddling experience. He teaches and writes about outdoor skills.

Which Canoe is for You? Explore the Canoe Guide and learn more >

More Canoeing How-to in the Beginner’s Guide >

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