Young man river keeps dreaming along
June 4, 2011 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in doing a long trip in a small boat through the north american river system. How would I go about learning what laws and regulations apply and what rivers are navigable? I'm not sure where to even start my research. What I have in mind is something like a long cross-country bicycle trip, except on the water in a small boat such as a canoe or similar, doing the journey 18th century style.
posted by LastOfHisKind to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The Missouri-Mississippi river system is the longest floatable stream in North America. You could, conceivably, canoe downriver from Montana all the way to New Orleans.
posted by General Tonic at 8:00 AM on June 4, 2011

You can also get from Chicago to New Orleans entirely by boat. I have friends who have done it several times, but it helps if you can sleep on your boat.

I don't know that a canoe would be a great idea on the Mississippi though. There is a lot of heavy-duty barge traffic in some areas. Maybe it's not a big deal for an experienced canoeist? It sure wouldn't be a peaceful, serene experience near any cities along the way.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:13 AM on June 4, 2011

I knew a guy who canoed from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Mississippi Delta in New Orleans. He wrote a good book about it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:13 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

er, PAST New Orleans.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:13 AM on June 4, 2011

William Least Heat-Moon, who wrote "Blue Highways", did this and wrote a book about it: River Horse. I haven't read it yet but it's on my list. Maybe this would give you some ideas of possible routes.
posted by Kangaroo at 8:46 AM on June 4, 2011

Have you done any canoe camping/tripping in the past? If not, you should definitely do some shorter trips before planning your big one, and take some time to get a feel for your skills and gear.

The Wikipedia article on canoe camping suggests some destination waters. I had never heard of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail until I saw that list but it sounds awesome.

If you choose an established route / water trail, there will probably be published guides that can tell you about the relevant "laws and regulations" (where you can park at put in / take out, where you can camp, and what kind of safety equipment you need—in most places I would guess probably you just need a PFD for each person on board and possibly lights if you're running at night). If you're going on a big river that's got barges and power boats and such, you'll need to know about right of way, but on smaller rivers a good sense of conventions and etiquette will take you a long way. The staff of local paddling shops can be good sources of information, too.
posted by Orinda at 9:11 AM on June 4, 2011

p.s. One of your previous questions suggests you may be living in Austin. If that's the case, here are some local shops and clubs to hook up with (maybe—the Austin Paddling Club link is dead). Paddlers can be a bit cliquish but many are receptive to taking capable, motivated newbs under their wing. If you ask around in the paddling community you may find someone who has done long-distance tripping and can give you advice. I've found that although there are some paddling guidebooks and useful websites, a lot of paddling info & wisdom just gets passed around by word of mouth.
posted by Orinda at 9:25 AM on June 4, 2011

Here's a guy who paddled the Erie Canal from Buffalo toward New York City.
And here's a story of kayaking on the Mississippi.
posted by bassjump at 9:52 AM on June 4, 2011

You might want to read books about Verlen Kruger.
posted by tomswift at 10:25 AM on June 4, 2011

There are canoeing and kayaking clubs that plan these sorts of very long trips, and also the sorts of shorter trips you'd start out with to prepare for doing these sorts of trips. It'd probably be best to find the local canoe / kayak clubs first for local trips, and local mentors for planning some of these longer trips. For instance, in my area, the prairie state canoeists have this calander of events planned, which includes some long trips. The local outfitter KayakChicago has these longer trips planned.

You also may have some luck if you can track down Voyageur Reenactments that you can participate in.
posted by garlic at 1:50 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

"If you're going on a big river that's got barges and power boats and such, you'll need to know about right of way, but on smaller rivers a good sense of conventions and etiquette will take you a long way."

While it will be a good thing to know the rules of the road, you must be aware that in a canoe you will almost always be the much smaller vessel. Every other vessel will, de facto, have the right of way. Never press your right of way assuming the other guy is going to give way.
posted by txmon at 9:59 PM on June 4, 2011

I picked out a free book from an alley recently called All the Way by Water by Sidney W. Dean. The subtitle is "The informal chronicle of a wonderful series of small-boat voyages in the United States and Canadian waters."

I haven't read it and it's old, from 1954, so it might be out of date. Also seems to be more northeast specific, but it might be interesting research for your trip. Amazon has some used copies for sale, as do other used-book websites.
posted by Brachiosaurus at 1:18 AM on June 5, 2011

Some friends of mine built a raft in Chicago and made it to St. Louis. (They'd originally planned to try to get to New Orleans, but it turned out their raft was probably not prepared for the larger hazards of the Mississippi.)
posted by anotherthink at 8:12 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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