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The Best Canoe Trips

by Beth Johnson and Arthur Kuehne

Another Outings Corner featured an article titled “Why Tote It When You Can Float It?” that extolled canoeing and kayaking and overnight/multi-day trips. The Dallas Sierra Club even sponsored some canoe and kayak classes to help you get you started. Once people start canoeing, they often start asking which rivers are best for extended trips.

Below is a list of the some of the best streams in the Lower 48 that are suitable for multi-day trips. Each can be paddled in about a week; most have several put-in and take-out points to vary your trip length. They are all considered flat-water rivers, which means you won’t find many rapids of concern. Most are suitable for beginners, meaning you already know how to control your boat in moving water and are ready to put your skills into practice.

Sabine River in Texas – The Sabine River, on the border between Texas and Louisiana, is the river to canoe if you want solitude and beautiful white sand beaches. Lined with cypress, willow, sweetgum, and other bottomland hardwoods, the Sabine is the epitome of a southern coastal river. The best canoeing is downstream of Toledo Bend Reservoir, where you can canoe up to 120 miles before you get down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Buffalo River in Arkansas – Extraordinary limestone bluffs at just about every bend put the Buffalo on just about everyone’s top-ten list. The river corridor is protected by the National Park Service as the Buffalo National River, the first such designation in the Nation. Plentiful gravel bars make wonderful campsites, and bald eagles head a long list of wildlife living along the river. And best of all, it’s not that far from Dallas. The upper section, from Ponca to Pruitt, is rain-dependent, with significant whitewater, and is best done in boats not laden with overnight camping gear.

Current River in Missouri – Huge natural springs, caves (one you can even canoe into), and beautiful cool, clear water make the Current River a favorite destination for canoeists everywhere. Flowing through a corridor protected by the National Park Service as part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the Current offers numerous outfitters who will rent and shuttle canoes, plenty of access points, and plenty of places to camp. You can do anything from an easy day trip to a trip of over 70 miles. You can also continue on down the Current River below the federally designated section for an additional 100 miles.

Suwannee River in Florida – If you want to canoe the best river in the southeast United States, look no further than the Suwannee. Experiencing mirror-like “blackwater”, towering bald cypress trees graced with Spanish moss, a narrow valley flowing through classic Southern bottomland hardwood forest, fern-draped limestone ledges, clear springs and alligators, you’ll find the mysterious Suwannee a truly unique canoeing experience. The best section to float is the 84 miles from Fargo to Suwannee River State Park. If water levels permit, you can start higher up for a longer trip. Be sure to bring the sheet music for "Old Folks at Home”, the state song of Florida. You’ll want to sing it around the camp candle lantern.

Green River in Utah – As you canoe the 120 miles from Green River, UT to the confluence with the Colorado River, you will experience what many describe as the most spectacular canoe/camping trip in the Lower 48. The trip starts in wide open country but soon winds into Labyrinth and Stillwater canyons and Canyonlands National Park. If you like the magnificent scenery of southern Utah, this canoe trip is a must. Be sure to allow plenty of time to hike and explore the many side canyons along the river.

Upper Missouri River in Montana – Can you imagine camping where Lewis and Clark camped and reading from their journals as you see what they saw 200 years ago? With a mixture of spectacular badlands, big open country, and the history of early explorers, this river has become one of the most popular canoeing destinations in the west. The 149-mile segment from Fort Benton, MT to highway 191 is officially designated as the Upper Missouri Wild & Scenic River and administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

If you would like to learn more about these rivers, and many more rivers suitable for canoe/camping vacations, please visit www.canoe-camping.org. This award-winning website was created and is maintained by Mark McClain, former Chair of the Dallas Sierra Club. Mark has been organizing and leading Sierra Club and private canoe trips for over 20 years.

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