“I believe I’ll go canoeing” – Henry David Thoreau

canoeing in the boundary waters
A Boundary Waters canoe trip is something every canoe lover should do at least once!

I know I’m biased when I say canoeing is a wonderful activity.

Here in Minnesota, recreational boating is second only to walking as the favorite outdoor activity. And a full 20% of the registered boats in the state is a canoe or kayak. (Minnesota Canoe and Kayak Study, ©2005 Minnesota DNR)

Every year, according to the Outdoor Industry’s annual Outdoor Participation Report, 9 or 10 million Americans go canoeing at least once. Its history in North America goes back centuries.

If you haven’t canoed, here’s what you’re missing:

a beautiful still morning
There’s nothing like an early morning paddle when the lake is like glass

Early morning. The water like glass. The only sounds are the dip of the paddle in the water and a few birds.

There’s nothing like it.

Solo paddles like this are great, but canoeing is a great social activity, too. It’s best for two people to paddle together, and three or even four can fit in the canoe if you don’t have much gear (and aren’t going to fish—that’s too many hooks flying around!).

Getting Started Canoeing

The best way to try canoeing is to go with friends who canoe, or find a local park or outfitter that rents them.

Many lakeside campgrounds, parks and resorts have a fleet of them for their guests either for rent or as part of your package.

Steering a canoe takes some getting used to. There are several different types of strokes that help you navigate this long, narrow boat well.

If you ever want to do any canoe tripping, say in the Boundary Waters or the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, you’ll want to learn them.

But you can have fun for an hour or two on the water without knowing strokes, as long as the conditions are safe—not a lot of wind or current.

If you’re at a large lake on a windy day, you won’t have fun—take my word for it. Beginners should wait for a calm day so you can enjoy it.

Canoes have a reputation for being tippy — not altogether unfounded. Keep all weight down the center line of the boat—including yourself, your other paddler, passengers, dogs and gear.

For best results have an experienced friend teach you or take a local course.

Where to Go Canoeing

Portaging a canoe BWCA style
Portaging, Boundary Waters style (that’s me!)

The world’s best canoeing location (again, biased)? The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness/Quetico Provincial Park. At least it’s the biggest. About 2 million acres between the two wilderness areas of northeastern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario. Two million acres of lakes, rivers, forest, beauty and wildlife.

If you love canoeing, the Boundary Waters should be on your bucket list for sure.

Here are some websites to start with:

  • The BWCA page on the United States Forest Service site.
  • www.canoecountry.com and www.bwca.com — two similar private sites with a wealth of info about trips, routes, area lodging, yada yada.
  • A little self-promotion here: I’ve been writing for canoe paddle manufacturer, Bending Branches, since 2016. Their blog has a WEALTH of information about canoeing—and they make amazing paddles, too—check them out! (Go under Paddle Resources and Latest Articles for articles, and Explore Paddles to see their line-up.)
  • The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is a 740-mile water trail in America’s northeast, from New York to Maine.
  • The National Park Service has designated a National Water Trail System. Unfortunately, their website has almost zero information about it! Hopefully they’ll do better in the future.
  • Your state probably has a state water trail system. Look it up!

Of course there are lots of other places to canoe too. Most lakes and many rivers offer great canoeing.

canoeing in mist
Early morning paddle in the mist

Read: Get Started Canoeing

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