This is about some of the basics of river camping. The things and the skills you need to do a simple river trip.
Aha, you have just put in on a somewhat lazy river. The canoe is all loaded up with camping gear. As you paddle ahead you see the mountains rising in the distance and the abundance of rich green vegetation growing along the bank. The water is crystal clear; you could read a newspaper on the bottom in 8′ of water. The morning sun feels rejuvenating on your face. The air is as fresh as it can be. A slight breeze puffs up the river and all of a sudden you see thousands of cottonwood blossoms fill the air. It almost looks like snow. My wife calls them tree fairies. I think she gets euphoric out on the river with all that fresh air. Actually, the blossoms or fairies are cottonwood seeds; they have a fuzzy puff of hair like stuff around them and are lighter than a feather.
You see a rock sticking out of the water to your right. You pick up your fishing rod and cast. Right on the money just behind the rock then the water explodes with a nice Smallmouth bass about a 1 ½’ out of the water in the air. Now, after getting your heart under control, you think to yourself “let the games begin.” After a battle on rod and reel you unhook the bass and release it back into the water.
In the distance we here the roar of water, rapids are coming up. So you check the map and see a set of class one’s coming up. We put on your PFD’s and tie down all loose gear. As we approach we make a plan for how we’re going to get thru them. We pick up our speed and head for the main channel knowing at the bottom we have to cut a little to the right to pick up the channel that drops into a 5′ chute thru an intimidating ledge across the river. As you execute your plan, you can’t help feel the excitement building as you execute each turn. What a great feeling you have as you fly down the chute to still water knowing we did everything right. That’s the third endorphin rush in an hour.
Canoe vs kayak camping is a great way to camp. It is our favorite and we spend as much as 4- 5 weeks a year on rivers. We often put in for a week or 10 days at a time. We plan ahead of time for re-supply stops, ice, sodas fresh foods (if close by), dry meals and swap out our used clothes for clean. Sometimes, we leap frog our vehicles to an access point downriver. You lose a little time shifting vehicles around but get gain clean cloths, fresh food, ice and things you forgot and left in the truck.
We don’t paddle every day. Usually, we’ll make camp by a rapid. The sound of them at night is fantastic plus the fishing is usually good. It seems that a lot of wild life frequent rapids particular Otters. Rapids are entertainment too, we like watching others come thru. Some are very funny, while others are very skillful. We swim in the rapids when it’s hot, sometimes we tow 2-stacked sit on top kayaks behind our canoe to play in the rapids, fish, explore or do day trips out of camp. I do a little fly fishing from time to time and rapids are a prime spot. We may stay an extra day or two, and then push on to another spot. Canoe or kayak camping is a relaxing way to camp; we are never in a hurry.
Before you jump off and rent a canoe or kayak for your first trip down the river, there are some things you need to know. First off, knowing how to swim or at least be very comfortable in moving or rushing water. Second, having canoe or kayak skills from packing to paddling. Third, experienced camping skills, as these will pay off later. You need to see a raw site and make it home for a night or couple of days without harming the environment. Being able to handle a rainstorm, or other adverse weather. Having the right equipment, like dry bags instead of backpacks. Know how to maintain a fresh water supply and how to make a campfire with wet wood. You need a little more than KOA skills. And lastly, having the right attitude. Not everything is going to be perfect but you make it perfect or the best you can. Remember this is a water sport as well as camping. You might get wet from time to time and you have to be OK with that. Canoes and kayaks sometimes turn over or a sudden rainstorm comes up and your rain gear is in the bottom of the pack. No time to pull a “chicken little” thing.
Setting up camp in the rain or a storm can be challenging, it isn’t that hard just an inconvenience. By the numbers, first set up the campsite rain fly, next the tent under the campsite fly. Then after your tent is up with the tent rain fly on, you move it to where you want it to be. Next, is gathering firewood, and drying it out as in the article on “Campfires.” Next is unloading the rest of the gear you will need for now. Sleeping gear, cooking kit & food bag, cooler, clothes bag, and chairs if you have them. Next, get that fire going and get on dry clothes. I can’t tell you how good a cup of hot chocolate would taste at this moment sitting by a warm fire.
Hey, come on guy’s this is fun. It’s the adventure, the challenge; you made it happen, anybody that knows how can set up a camp on a bright sunny day. In the rain and blowing wind it’s different, but that hot chocolate will never taste as good as it did above, that’s what we call “right on.” While you don’t plan on a storm they sometimes happen and you can’t run from them. With good camping skills you can deal with it. What separates a good camping trip form a bad one is how you handle the things that go wrong. And you know, that’s the trip you might remember most. Remember that time we set up camp in the rain, or the trip when we left the tent poles in the truck.
It’s good to always plan a rain day on long trips, as it’s hard to get an accurate weather forecast that far in advance. It will rain, we just don’t know when your are going to have it until our NOAH radio tells us. Once we were out on a 10 -15 dayer and we had a good spot to hold over for a day while the rain passed. The next day our weather radio predicted more rain. Rather than lose a day, we elected to pack up and paddle on. This is where having good rain gear helps the comfort zone. We traveled 5 miles, shot 3 rapids and caught a bunch of bass that day. Late afternoon, the rain stopped, as we neared our planned camping spot. We are often GPS guided. We set up and had another nice night in the neighborhood.
So, now you have it, we think canoe camping is the greatest. We love it.
- Knowing how to swim or at least be comfortable in moving or rushing water
2. Experienced camping skills
3. The right equipment
4. Canoeing or kayak experience with light white water if doing any.
5. The right attitude. We are going to have a good time if it kills us.
You put all that together and you got a great trip. Leave out one ingredient and you could be inviting a disaster. Read the “Bloopers” when it’s finally written, an article on every thing that has gone wrong and how we handled it and hear about our experiences as well as our friends, this could be funny. We have no regrets, as this is our experience as to how we got to where we are today.
Try renting a canoe for a day trip and see you like it. While you are out there try to imagine what it would be like camping out for a night. Most likely you may not have any neighbors (fellow campers).
If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can contact me thru the website below and I can hook you up with one of half dozen-affiliate outfitters along the upper Potomac River WVA or the Shenandoah River in VA & WVA. They have canoes to rent and river maps and can transport you to your put in. If you are on your own I can give you directions to or Waypoints for Put in’s and Takeouts.