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Canoe camping (also known as canoe touring or canoe tripping) is a combination of canoeing and camping. It is similar to backpacking, but canoe campers travel by canoes or kayaks. This is a recreational activity primarily practiced in North America.
A person in a canoe can carry heavier and bulkier loads than a backpacker or kayaker, and can therefore travel farther and more easily under favorable conditions. Portaging by foot is sometimes necessary to pass between water bodies or around hazardous obstacles such as rapids or waterfalls, but most of the time canoe campers travel on water. Because they usually don't have to carry their gear on their backs all day long, canoe campers can bring more food and gear and undertake longer trips. This is especially the case with food which, unlike gear where the weight is essentially fixed regardless of the trip duration, increases in weight for each additional day of provision. Heavy weather can make canoeing difficult, especially in strong winds which create large waves and headwinds which work against that paddlers to slow the canoe. Trips may need to have extra days built into the schedule in case of weather delays.
Although most experienced trippers feel comfortable paddling straight through large bodies of water, canoeists typically stay within a few hundred meters of shore. In fact, since a fully loaded canoe only draws 12 to 16 cm (six to eight inches), it can approach a rocky shore as close as arm's-length. This proximity lets the canoeist observe aquatic and near-shore plants and wildlife from a perspective that walking on solid ground does not allow. Many people fish while canoe camping.
Canoeing provides a very different recreational experience than backpacking. It produces less noise, with no crunching boots and bouncing packs, and a lower level of exertion. Maneuverability on the water, and the easy shift to portaging over land, allow canoe campers to go places that simply cannot be accessed conveniently by other means of transportation which can include less crowded boat-in only campsites. The versatility of canoe tripping allows its campers to go places and see things that they otherwise could not.
Many canoe campers use specialized Duluth packs designed for both easy portaging and loading into canoes. Waterproof dry bags are frequently utilized to keep important items dry in case of inclement weather or capsizing.
Native Americans of many different tribes practiced "canoe camping" regularly, albeit as a means of transportation rather than a recreational activity. Before the age of roads, canals, airplanes, etc., the most effective way to travel across the vast expanse of northern wilderness was to navigate the countless small waterways that dotted the landscape as far as one could see. The canoe is perfect for traveling through these areas - light and relatively easy to carry, fast, able to traverse a wide variety of different water ways (small streams to intense rapids to huge lakes), and able to carry large loads.
It was for all these reasons that the early explorers of North America quickly adopted the use of the canoe, followed by missionaries, Coureur des bois and Voyageurs. Once trading posts were established in the interior, the canoe continued to be the primary transportation method, supplying such posts with regular canoe brigades. In northern Quebec, this practice continued until the middle of the 20th century.
As the "wilderness" of the Americas was tamed by railroad and later roads, the canoe as a means of primary transportation lost its practicality for obvious reasons. It turned into a recreational sport, a way for Americans and others to experience the pre-European America, and have a glimpse of a formerly never-ending wilderness. While recreational canoe camping has been enjoyed since the late 19th century by adventurous individuals, it was not until later in the 20th century that, with the advent of camping consumer goods, it gained mass appeal.
The history of the Grand Portage, MN is an excellent metaphorical microcosm for the larger change and the eventual invention of the idea of "canoe camping"...for fun.
Notable proponents and expeditions
An early proponent and popularizer of canoe camping was George W. Sears, a sportswriter for Forest and Stream magazine in the 1880s, whose book Woodcraft (1884), told the story of his 1883, 266-mile (428 km) journey through the central Adirondacks in a 9-foot-long (2.7 m), 10-pound (4.8 kg) solo canoe named the Sairy Gamp. He was 64 years old and in frail health at the time. 1⁄2
Also in 1883, American Canoe Association Secretary Charles Neide and retired sea captain "Barnacle" Kendall paddled and sailed over 3,000 miles (4,800 km) in a sailing canoe from Lake George, New York to Pensacola, Florida.
In Canada, Bill Mason was a well-known author, artist, filmmaker, and environmentalist who through several books and films published in the 1970s greatly advanced the popularity of canoe camping.
Like Mason and Sevareid, a number of modern-day canoeists have retraced the historic routes of the fur-traders and voyageurs and published books about their experiences. Noteworthy examples from Canada include "Coke Stop in Emo: Adventures of a Long-Distance Paddler" by Alec Ross, "Canoeing a Continent: On the Trail of Alexander MacKenzie" by Max Finkelstein and "Where Rivers Run" by Joanie and Gary McGuffin.
Sigurd Olson, prominent conservationist and north woods writer, traveled and camped by canoe extensively. These included long trips as he wrote about in his book The Lonely Land and well as frequent shorter trips covered in many of his books.
In the "Source to Sea expedition" of 2005, two students from North Carolina State University paddled 2,150 miles (3,460 km) down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to support the Audubon Society's Upper Mississippi River Campaign.
The book New York to Nome by Rick Steber details the story of Sheldon Taylor and Geoffrey Pope who paddled from New York City April 25, 1936 to Nome, Alaska August 11, 1937. This is the longest recorded canoe trip in history (1974 Guinness Book of World Records)
Henry David Thoreau, an American author and advocate of environmental conservationism, provided a written account of a long distance canoeing expedition in his book The Maine Woods. Henry David Thoreau’s canoeing expedition in Maine covered immensely remote areas that can still be experienced in Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness.
- Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
- Bowron Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia
- Churchill River, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
- George River, Nunavik, Quebec
- Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia
- Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario
- Lakeland Provincial Park & Recreation Area, Alberta
- La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, Quebec
- McLennan Lake, Saskatchewan
- Manigotagan River, Manitoba
- Missinaibi River, Ontario
- Moisie River, Quebec
- Nitinat Triangle, British Columbia
- Nopiming Provincial Park, Manitoba
- Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario
- Sayward Forest, British Columbia
- Nahanni River, North West Territories
- Temagami area including Lake Temagami and Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park, Ontario
- Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba
- Bodrog River, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County
- Hernád River, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County
- River Ipoly, Nógrád County and Pest County
- Rába River, counties of Vas and Győr-Moson-Sopron
- Sajo River, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County
- Tisza River
- The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
- Everglades National Park, Florida
- Ross Lake, North Cascades, Washington state
- Saint Regis Canoe Area, Adirondack Mountains, New York state
- Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine
- Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri
- Green River, Utah
- Wilderness Visionaries by Dale Vickery 1986 North Woods Press Inc. ISBN 1-55971-435-2 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] Chapter 5
- Bowron Lake Provincial Park - BC Parks
- Back Country Canoe Circuit
- University of Calgary Recreation, Fitness, and Outdoor Programs
- Nitnat Triangle canoe circuit
- Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit: Amazon.ca: Michel Gauthier: Books
- Bill Mason, Song of the Paddle: An Illustrated Guide to Wilderness Camping, Firefly Books, 1988. ISBN 978-1552090893 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Eric W. Morse, Freshwater Saga, Northword Press, July 1987. ISBN 978-0942802559 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Sigurd F. Olson, The Lonely Land, New York, 1961. ISBN 978-0816629978 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]