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​​Most Incredible Long-Distance Paddling Journeys In The US


Paddling is a fun activity that almost anyone in the US can enjoy on a casual basis. There are endless lakes, rivers, and oceans to explore throughout the 50 states. But some paddlers crave more than a leisurely afternoon excursion.

Those with a thirst for adventure and who take paddling seriously often like to push the limits of how far a person can go armed with only a small vessel and a paddle. It is for these wanderlusts that the multi-day long-distance paddling excursions are a perfect match.

There are many great long-distance paddling journeys in the US, but there are some that are truly exceptional and worth traveling for. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) in Maine’s wilderness is an iconic and bucket-list-worthy long-distance paddling journey, as is a multi-day trip on the Salmon, Mississippi, Klamath, or Missouri River. The Florida Everglades, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the Boundary Waters of Minnesota all offer incredible ornate long paddling options.

If you are on the hunt for an epic multi-day adventure on your vessel of choice or seek a challenging paddling excursion worth getting in shape for, then make sure you keep reading. Each of these expansive waterways offers its own unique and breathtaking glimpse into a slice of preserved American wilderness. Many of these locations are wildly different from one another. Some travel through tropical mangroves, while others traverse through frigid salmon-filled waters, but all of them are worth exploring.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail

There is arguably no long stretch of rugged paddling waters that has such purely North American qualities as the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT). The NFCT is a 740-mile length of historically rich and wild water bordered by tall evergreens that stretches from Fort Kent in Maine all the way to Old Forge, New York. It has become a pilgrimage for many long distance paddlers over the years. This trail was officially completed in 2006, but its waters have been explored for hundreds of years and were vital to many of the indigenous people throughout the regions this route touches.

There are beautiful New England landscapes throughout, but what makes this journey so incredible is its constantly varying conditions. There are lazy stretches of river, large placid lakes, as well as challenging rapids ad waves.

This is also the longest contiguously mapped water trail in the US, making it a challenge worth taking on for anyone looking for an almost insurmountable long kayak or canoe trip. At 740 miles, this trip is bound to take weeks or can be undertaken in chunks over the course of many months or years.

The NFCT has many areas to camp along its waterways, and there is even a system of well-maintained hiking trails for those who like to explore the rugged northeastern terrain in and out of the water.

Salmon River, Idaho

The Salmon River in Idaho is one of America’s most important and storied paddling rivers. Idaho’s Main Salmon River allows adventurous paddlers the opportunity to traverse through a wide variety of water conditions.

There are placid stretches that can quickly change to faster-moving waters, and then there are full-on Class III whitewater rapids for those who like to experience some raging whitewater on their long distance adventures.

The Main Salmon River winds through some stunning regions of Idaho for 104 miles. There are pine forests as well as fields where you can spot rare mammals like elk and bighorn sheep. Along this extensive stretch of river there are several sandy beach sections where camping is permitted for those on long paddling or rafting journeys.

Paddling long distances of the Salmon River in the summer is ideal, as the water in this river gets warm enough for enjoyable swimming during Idaho’s summer season. There are group rafting tours for those looking for an organized paddling experience, or you can canoe or kayak this pristine American river on your own if you have the skill and sense of adventure to concur this river’s rapids.

The Mississippi

The Mississippi River has been America’s most fabled river since the days of westward expansion and Mark Twain. It divides the United States in half, beginning just shy of Canada and spilling out into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans. Paddling the entirety of this river can take four months or longer, but many have endured its entire 2,340-mile stretch.

But you don’t need to take half a year off from work in order to enjoy a long-distance paddling journey on this vast iconic American river.

There are still some sections of the river that are reminiscent of the days of Twain and his characters. The region of the Mississippi River between Helena, Arkansas, and Arkansas City in particular seems to be untouched by time. Paddling anywhere near this area is a great way to experience the look of yesterday’s America.

The Mississippi River also passes by some incredible American cities including St. Louis, Minneapolis, Memphis, and New Orleans. This makes it possible to paddle from city to city for those after an urban paddling adventure to mix up the rural lands along other stretches of the river.

The Green River, Utah

It doesn’t get much more American than the southwestern United States. While this region is very dry, it has a few long and notable rivers. The Green River is perhaps the best body of water to travel along to soak all these vistas up while floating in a canoe or kayak.

The Green River stretches through several states and has areas of intense rapids. But there is also a stunning 140-mile stretch of the Green River in Utah where the river flows safely and smoothly through some of the state’s most remote and beautiful canyon-filled valleys.

Paddlers looking to float on a long-distance paddling journey along the Green River can start in the town of Green River, which is close to the Moab, a town that is world-famous for its smooth and picturesque canyons. From there, you can paddle and float down this winding river through great desert landscapes until spilling out into the Colorado River at Canyonlands National Park. This is perhaps the best long-distance paddling journey for those who have always wanted to experience the remote and unique beauty of America’s rugged southwest.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, MI

It is not only America’s long rivers that make for fantastic multi-day paddling adventures. The Great Lakes are also a fantastic water region to take an extended journey on waters that are perfectly suited for canoes and kayaks. One of the most picturesque areas of the great lakes is located along the shores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, especially the Lake Superior coast, has some unique and breathtaking scenery, with Pictured Rocks National Seashore being the pinnacle of this beauty. This preserved wilderness and shoreline has stunning rock formations, hidden sandy beaches, and even waterfalls that cascade into the water.

You can create your own long distance paddling route along the upper peninsula, as there are ample campgrounds for sleep, and many beaches to enjoy a rest. Some highlights of this area aside from Pictured Rocks include Indian Head Rock, Miners Beach, and Grand Island and its many natural attractions. A paddling trip in this area can be as short as an afternoon, but you can also easily tailor a two-week paddling itinerary, as there is so much to see in this region.

Missouri River, Montana

The Missouri River, while not as famous and predominant as the Mississippi River, is actually America’s longest river. The Missouri River stretches 2,341 miles and passes through 7 states. Paddling down certain sections of this river can make you feel like Lewis & Clark, as this body of water played quite an important role in their journey. For this reason and others, it is one of America’s most important paddling rivers.

This river sometimes requires portage to get around some of its major damns, but there are several very extensive stretches of the Missouri River that paddlers can enjoy a long float through some of America’s many varied scenic landscapes.

This river is muddy in parts, and its waters can be a bit challenging to navigate as the depths can range from very shallow to 20 feet deep.

There are wide lake sections and swampy regions. But all these variations simply add to the beauty and wonder of this iconic slice of Americana. To paddle to the entire Missouri River would require an extended leave of absence from your job since it takes at least 90 to 120 days to paddle the entire river. But it is also possible to conquer this river in many large sections.

Everglades National Park, FL

The Florida Everglades is a one-of-a-kind aquatic landscape in the United States. These Everglades are a 1.5 million-acre wetland located in southern Florida, providing a sub-tropical tropical environment for a wide array of plant and animal species - many of which are only found in this unique habitat.

You can launch a kayak or canoe at various points in this giant wetland, but the Everglades National Park is a particularly stunning area of this wilderness. There are guided tours that can take you into less-traversed areas and point out wildlife. This is a wise idea, as there are some potentially dangerous animals in these waters, including large snakes and alligators.

In addition to exploring the many hidden nooks and inlets within the Everglades, there are routes long-distance paddlers can take to reach the gorgeous Florida Keyes and its sapphire waters and famous coral reefs. This long-distance paddling journey is a true choose-your-own-adventure, with seemingly endless routes that take you to various ecosystems.

Boundary Waters, Minnesota

Another one of America’s most special, vast, and well-protected bodies of water is Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It is a wilderness and wetland area of more than one million acres, making it one of the largest protected wetland wilderness areas in the country. There are all sorts of wildlife species to see here, but the water is the true attraction. It is some of the cleanest fresh water in all of America, with some paddlers being so brave as to dunk a cup right into some of these lakes and drink directly from the source.

The Country waters are comprised of 1,500 miles of canoe routes with 1,100 lakes. This makes it an ideal place to embark on a multi-day long distance paddling excursion.

Located just 267 miles north of Minneapolis, this remote area might feel like worlds away from civilization, but it can be reached by car in just a few hours from Minnesota’s largest city. Taking a long-distance paddling journey through the Boundary Waters of Minnesota is arguably one of the best ways to disconnect from the modern world and re-establish a close relationship with nature.

Klamath River, California

Another stunning region in America that has multiple long-distance paddling opportunities is the Pacific Northwest. There are several protected lakes and coves to explore in California, Oregon, and Washington, but the Klamath River offers some of the most breathtaking and varied landscapes you could hope to see in this region. Best of all, it is also perhaps the most-suited body of water for a multi-day kayak or canoe adventure.

The Klamath River Flows from the California coast all the way to inland Oregon. It is 286 miles long and is the longest wild and scenic river in all of California. In fact, this watershed is as large as Connecticut and Massachusetts combined.

Its flows between mountains and valleys and much of the journey is rural, with very few towns along its shores. It has some sections with intense rapids, but for those looking for a smoother ride, consider waiting until after the rainy season subsides, and the river is more calm.

Summer months provide calm waters, with opportunities to cool off in wider sections of the river. This river is also home to a large rainbow trout population, making it ideal for long-distance paddlers who love fishing as well.

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