Kayakpacking

where to kayakpack

From a 20 mile sub-24 hour overnighter (S24O - a term we repurpose here from adventure cycling) to multi day or weeks long journeys kayakpacking, in its most basic form, is carrying everything you need to explore the water and environment that you are on.

The adventures may begin close to home and be easy to organize and plan for, or they may require a good deal more research, reconnaissance and rigging to pull off.  No matter the length or location almost all kayaks can be made into capable crafts for kayakpacking.  The factor that makes the most impact on your chosen rig will be the type of water your route dishes out.  On flat water like smaller lakes and calm rivers most any kayak will do the trick – sit on top, stand up, or open top.  But on more technical class white water, off-shore or choppy big water then a more considered platform would make more sense and be safer.

Kayakpacking Route Types

Routes: Choosing the right route based on the time you have and level of experience is paramount to enjoying your outing. If you are going to roll your own route (become a contributor) or follow an exiting one here are a few things to consider as you start your planning. Long or short, kayakpacking routes come in two distinct flavors:   1: Round Trip.  These routes put-in and take-out in the same location.   2: One way.  These routes follow a linear path and require a shuttle set-up or exfiltration upon completion.

1. Round Trip

As the name implies these start and end in the same location and are somewhat more preferable in that they pose less of a logistical plan.

This isn't to say that you necessarily have to return on the exact same route that you took on the way out and may only be practical in some circumstances.

2. One Way

On these routes the put-in and take-out points are in different locations which requires transportation back to the put-in.  This added level of planning can often be a challenge, especially when you think about roof racks or trailers for your rigs.

Transportation back to the put-in can come in the form of hitch-hiking, a pre-planned shuttle (where you drop off a vehicle at the take-out to use to get back to the put-in) public transportation like trains, bus, taxi or Uber, or exfiltration by family or friend who would be willing to fetch you.

In addition to being out on the water one of the great joys of kayakpacking is planning for and exploring new territory. While there is no worthy replacement for our beloved topographic paper maps there are a number of good digital resources that can help you plan a successful (and safe) adventure.

Another factor that we have going for us is that most waterways, rivers, canals, lakes (unlike the land based counterparts) are protected for public, recreational use.  This means that, unless otherwise prohibited, if there is navigable water then you are most likely allowed to paddle it.  Private lakes may be accessible for use but be sure to contact the owners prior to putting in or you could find yourself in a heap of trouble.

A big part of our mission is to make kayakpacking routes more accessible which is also a big part of the problem – there is a very fragmented landscape of online and digital resources available.  One thing we have going for us is that free mapping apps and satellite imagery have never been more accessible.  Below are the tools and resources we use to plan and record our handcrafted kayackpacking adventures because, despite all of the electronic wizardry available, there is never a better replacement for good ol' fashioned human intel, reconnaissance and experience.

1. START AT THE PUT-IN

If you are new to kayakpacking and/or route planning the best first step you can take is to keep your eyes open while you are out and about or on your daily commute. Unless you live in one of the dryer climes of the planet chances are you cross over or near some pretty good starting places.  A good put in point and a body of water that has a decent depth for your particular craft is a good first place to start. The most limiting factor here might be locating suitable places to legally camp.

Most if not all Departments of Natural Resources (or your communities equivalent) maintain a network of boat ramps that make for some pretty low hanging fruit when it comes to finding a good put in.  If you are already in to kayaking then there are probably a few of your favorite day routes that could be spun into a good S24O or a 2-3 day adventure.

Alternatively, there are a few online resources for getting inspired — public and federal resources as mentioned below, local initiatives, mapping apps, and a few route sharing sites like these: (if you find more let us know and we will add them to the list)
https://www.walkjogrun.net/kayaking-routes/
https://paddling.com/paddle/locations/?lat=41.84&lng=-98.61&zoom=3
https://www.trails.com/flatwater-paddling-canoeing
https://www.wikiloc.com/trails/kayaking-canoeing

2. START AT THE END

What? you say! When legal camping is at a premium then locating these all but important end points may be a good strategy when you begin planning your next kayakpacking adventure.  When one or more known campsites are available on a particular body of water stringing them together with some paddle time in-between makes for an instant plan.   We employ this sort of planning when we are looking to put together a new S24O or a nice 2 day adventure.  Its how we planned the 1-Day 'UK Ullswater Reach' the 'Black River Time Machine' and our reader favorite 'Medina River Fall.
Find a predesignated campsite.  Could be in the form of a State or Regional Park or a National Park or National Forest. (also check out www.reserveamerica.com). If open camping is allowed then you are all but set.  You'll just need to determine how far you want to paddle before making camp.

Determine a good put-in.  This will largely be determined by how much time you have on day 1.  Could be that an hour or two is all the time you have before dark and the type of water you will be on.  Even a short 3-5 mile paddle will give you enough time to leave your troubles behind and shake the week off.  Most important thing is that you are out on the water and have secured a camp for the night.

3. FOLLOW ESTABLISHED WATER TRAILS SYSTEMS, national park or national forest

3.1 State and local Water Trails:  Water trails are marked routes on navigable waterway such as rivers, lakes, canals and coastlines for recreational use, some of which can be easily segmented into overnighters or multi-day kayak camping getaways.  Some, but not all, have predesignated campsites (even some on screened in wooden platforms) and maps which makes your work a lot easier. The Maine Island Trail (https://mita.org/) and the Roanoke River Paddle Trail (www.roanokeriverpartners.org) come to mind.  

3.2. National Parks Service Water Trails System:  The National Parks Service maintains a list of established water trails (21 as of this writing) with an overview of each so you can get a flavor of what to expect and links to their individual websites as available.  
https://www.nps.gov/WaterTrails/Trail

3.3 National Forests: If you did not already know you can camp anywhere in a National Forest unless otherwise marked so if your area happens to have a National Forest that has navigable water then you are probably looking at a great opportunity to build a great kayakpacking tour.

One of our most popular routes (and a staff favorite) ends at the Croatan National Forest and has excellent beach camping.

Check out their top 10 and top 14 best places to paddle websites at
https://www.nationalforests.org/blog/places-to-paddle-on-national-forests 
https://www.nationalforests.org/blog/fourteen-best-places-to-canoe-and-kayak-on-national-forests

also: https://roadtrippers.com/stories/kayaking-bucket-list-national-forests

3.4 American Trails National Water Trails System: As of this writing the list has 49 that include 'camping' and a full 76 all together

Are you new to the world of kayakpacking and kayak camping or know someone who is?

Download the FREE Kayakpacking 101 Guide. (2.2m pdf)

download for free