The world's best canoe trips
September 6, 2012 9:34 AM   Subscribe

What are the greatest canoe trips you’ve taken, anywhere on the globe?

We’re looking for a multi-day trip involving beautiful scenery, biodiversity, and perhaps introductions to new cultures or historic sites along the way.

Bonus points if you have recommendations for an outfitter or guide you
had a good experience with, or specific start and end spots for undertaking the trip on our own.
posted by scrambles to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Whanganui River Journey, north island of New Zealand.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:38 AM on September 6, 2012

Many years ago I did part of the St. John River in Maine. It was amazing. Here's a description (though I didn't go with these people).
posted by shibori at 9:39 AM on September 6, 2012

BWCA combined with the Quetico.
posted by edgeways at 9:59 AM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

Same as edgeways - a beautiful (but very rainy!) trip.
posted by leslies at 10:01 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Boundary Waters & Quetico.

As for outfitters, Anderson Outfitters in MN does an excellent job, will help you get all the permits, and will happily transport you to Quetico - where there are NO MOTORIZED CRAFT ALLOWED. Seriously, it's amazing how pristine and quiet things can get.
posted by Tehhund at 10:03 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thirding Quetico.
posted by unSane at 10:12 AM on September 6, 2012

Responding to leslies, to my knowledge the chance of rain in the Boundary Waters area is pretty average. I've been 3 times (15 days total in 3 years) and only had significant rain in 2 of those 15 days. It probably depends on the season - and on luck.
posted by Tehhund at 10:13 AM on September 6, 2012

It's been damned nigh 3 decades, but in my teens I did the Allagash Wilderness Waterway twice, and have great memories of it. Moose grazing in the shallows in the glass flat water of the early morning. Side trip short hikes to abandoned steam locomotives. Spectacularly clear nights to stare up at the stars. Just enough whitewater in the river sections to be fun, not so much that it's undoable in a fully loaded touring canoe.

The adult me, with thousands of miles of mostly day trip whitewater paddling since, might be a little more jaded if I were to go do it again, the knowledge that there's but a fairly narrow beauty strip of trees between the lakes and the logging, there might be more people there than you could find elsewhere, moose are no longer the exotic creatures they once were, but the memories are good...

(a few pix from one of those trips)
posted by straw at 10:29 AM on September 6, 2012

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is an amazing place, but try not to go during black fly season. I looked like a burn victim at the end of that trip (so many bug bites!)
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:35 AM on September 6, 2012

Yeah to be fair we just got (un)lucky but it rained every day of that long ago trip. Still totally worth it - so beautiful, so quiet and so pristine.
posted by leslies at 10:36 AM on September 6, 2012

The Nahanni should be on that list somewhere.
posted by bonehead at 10:39 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've done Quetico, but I'm going to put in a good word for La Reserve Faunique La Verendrye in Quebec, which is where we wound up going for our weeklong backcountry canoe camping honeymoon after extensively researching several options. We were outfitted through Canot-camping La Verendrye, the official outfitters. Once you get out in the backcountry it's almost about as empty as Quetico. There are also river options incl. whitewater if you're into that sort of thing. The 3-hr drive up the Gatineau Valley from Ottawa is just lovely and serene, and I'm sure you could find some distractions on either side of the canoe adventure part of your trip for some variety. And they parlez le francais!
posted by drlith at 10:43 AM on September 6, 2012

BWCA pros:
Peaceful (no motorized vehicle). Maintained campsites. Fun to navigate (if you like a good challenge). Tons of possible routes to explore. Very beautiful.
BWCA cons:
Depending on your definition of biodiversity, might not be what you are looking for. Lots of loons and bald eagles. Occasional moose. And blueberries!
Same with new cultures (although you meet people from around the world along the way). Only thing that might classify as a historic site are a few Native American pictographs.
Small window with warm weather. Also, not great for hiking since the woods are so dense.
posted by starman at 10:49 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recomended it as I've been to the BWCA about a dozen trips:

A little addendum and friendly amendment to starman.

Sure, lots of loons and raptors (not just bald eagles), , possible moose, bear, wolf, beaver, otter, deer (ooh deer!), mergansers, turtles, (small) snakes, if you like fishing that is a major draw for many. Can cover a wider variety of areas, from cliffs to swamp, waterfalls, huge lakes to tiny streams so vegetation can vary widely.

Yes to pictographs with a well planned route.

As to hiking, that is another thing that requires planning as there are plenty of actual hiking trails to go on forever, you just have to be in the right part of the BWCA to reach them easily.

The trip can be as hard, or easy as you make it. the more difficult you push the fewer people. there are a handful of lakes that allowed limited motor use, but they (for the most part) are easy to get away from.

Prime warm season is mid to late June to late to early Sept. you can push the shoulder seasons (fewer people) with the right gear, I usually go for a solo in early Oct, and there are outfitters who arrange dog sledding trips in the middle of winter.
posted by edgeways at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

On holiday in France with my family, a teenage ZipRibbons spent a delightful day meandering down the Ardèche in a kayak.

The sun was shining, the water clear and fresh, and the occasional set of rapids kept us all on our toes.

But my strongest memory is of the neverending sightings of residents of the numerous nudist camps that cropped up along the river banks.

Happy days.
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:08 AM on September 6, 2012

(late August to early Sept)
posted by edgeways at 11:08 AM on September 6, 2012

The Everglades in Florida. You can spend as much time as you want canoeing here, up to going from fort Meyers down to Flamingo.
posted by bilabial at 11:17 AM on September 6, 2012

Down the Green River to the confluence with the Colorado. You get to float through a lot of Canyonlands NP, and the side trip to The Maze is not to be missed. (Ordinarily, going to The Maze is a multi-day four-wheel-drive trip.) You can put in just north of Mineral Canyon for a 5-6 day trip, or Green River UT (on I-70) for a two-week trip. There are operators in Moab who drop you off on the Green and then pick you up on the Colorado at the appointed time.
posted by phliar at 2:52 PM on September 6, 2012

Quetico is nice easy to get to, and lots of information! However, my personal favorite was doing the north end of the Missinaibi, this goes from Hwy 11 in Ontario into James Bay. Its a provincial park the entire way. Water is clear and fast. It ends up at Moosenee and Moose Factory which are predominately Cree communities and original trading posts for the Hudson's Bay Company. From there you have access to the bay (a few miles away). Then you take a train back to Cochrane. There are a few outfitters around Mattice/Cochrane. They wont be hard to find. There is good information on (for Canadian routes)
posted by njk at 3:00 PM on September 6, 2012

The nahanni and the colorado both sound amazing from friends who have done them, but I am going to recommend going from whitehorse to dawson city on the yukon river. It takes a while [it took us 12 days] and you go through very gorgeous country. Each new tributary is amazing, and crossing lake laberge is a completely different experience from being on the river.

If you're strong canoeists, it might be a boring trip [one straightforward, but exciting, bit at five finger rapids, but otherwise flat], so I would go check out the nahanni in that case.

Renting a canoe and gear in whitehorse was easy and leaving it behind in dawson city was not a problem.
Go up in time for the dawson city music festival and you could even find some company on the river!
posted by Acari at 3:04 PM on September 6, 2012

Definitely can't go wrong with the BWCA. Great pictographs on Alice Lake. Canoeing in mangrove swamps is pretty cool, too. For shorter trips that hit the biodiversity and cultural aspects you want I recommend Thailand's Krabi Town area caves (Ban Bo Tho) or the Sok River. I also enjoyed Cacao Lagoon in La Ceiba Honduras. The thing about the mangrove swamps is -- watch the tides or you'll get stranded!
posted by tidecat at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2012

Killarney Provincial Park has some pretty dramatic scenery. Probably my most profound memory was drifting across a lake and seeing the shadow of the canoe on the bottom of the lake, 40 feet down.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:07 PM on September 6, 2012

Yeah, I've done Killarney too. Some of the lakes are dead because of the mineralisation - that's why they're so staggeringly clear. No bugs. Then you portage to the next lake -- there's a 4km portage in there that is etched in my brain -- and the bugs attack.
posted by unSane at 7:43 PM on September 6, 2012

We had an awesome time on a canoe trip down Santa Elana Canyon in Big Bend Park with Desert Sports outfitters.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:43 PM on September 8, 2012

Bowron Lakes in British Columbia. Stunning. 116km, circuit brings you back to where you started. Some portaging but very small percentage of distance traveled. Can be rainy.
posted by Gooberoo at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2012

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