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

paddling on Seagull Lake
My husband, Nick, and I on a 5-day Boundary Waters canoe trip

I know I’m biased when I say canoeing is a singularly 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)

Nationally, according to the 2013 Special Report on Paddle Sports (published by The Outdoor Foundation and The Coleman Company), almost 10 million Americans went canoeing at least once in 2012. That number has stayed fairly steady over the past few years, give or take half a million.

If you weren’t one of them, 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 really a social activity. 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

Tons of outfitters rent canoes and kayaks these days. Most lakeside campgrounds 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, especially if there’s wind. If you’re at a large lake on a windy day, it’s not going to be as enjoyable. Take my word for it. Canoes have a reputation for being tippy — not altogether unfounded.

Like any other activity, it’s nice to start by having a friend teach you, or taking a class at a local park. You may save yourself some frustration and a possible dunking.

Where to go

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:

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