It’s only the beginning of 2016. The snow is deep. But when that snow melts in a few months, it will come flowing into the rivers and rush its way out to sea. Now’s the time to use those long winter nights to plan some paddle trips. From whitewater to flat water, to playing in Poseidon’s den, here are some places to dip a paddle in the coming year.
Green River, Utah
Stillwater Canyon, despite the still water, is far from boring. It winds through 60 miles of indescribable rock formations in Canyonlands National Park. Dip your blade in Utah’s Green River and paddle past its confluence with the mighty Colorado. Stillwater can be many things: a pleasant relaxed paddle, a way of accessing difficult-to-reach backpacking routes into the maze district, a photographer’s paradise, and a side-hike and rock-scramble Olympics.
Put in: Mineral Bottom (Green River)
Take out: Spanish Bottom (Colorado River) via jetboat
Permits: Required but usually easy to get. Planning the shuttle is the tricky part.
The Paddler: Suitable for beginners as long as you avoid upriver winds.
Nuchatlitz Inlet, British Columbia
One section of the endless immensity of British Columbia’s coast, Nuchatlitz Inlet, is a series of islands and inlets on the north end of Nootka Island. The difficulty of getting there means you won’t have crowds on the many islands that offer spectacular camping and great paddling (conditions permitting) for experienced sea paddlers. Adorable sea otters float in big rafts (they were reintroduced to this section of the B.C. coast years ago). Spend as long as you can exploring the intricate rocky coastline.
Put in: Little Espinosa Inlet, accessed via rough logging roads across Vancouver Island.
Take out: Same, or the small down of Zeballos
The Paddler: Outer coast routes require ocean paddling skills, navigation and good judgement. Intermediate paddlers should stick to the extensive glacial inlets that are more protected from ocean swell, but can still be quite windy.
The Columbia River
Follow Lewis and Clark—and the route of a water molecule—from the Columbia Gorge 144 miles to the Pacific Ocean. Start in the cliffs of the Columbia Gorge, paddle through the urban metropolis of Portland and the island refuges of the wide lower river. Then start to feel the sea’s influence, ending at either Astoria’s salty piers or the cliffs of Cape Disappointment.
Put in: Hamilton Island near Bonneville Dam
Take out: Either the West Mooring Basin in Astoria, Fort Clatsop in Warranton, OR or Fort Canby, WA
The Paddler: Able to handle considerable mileage and fickle conditions, especially in summer when west winds can pick up.
The Salmon River
Paddlers flock to The Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River, but the Main Salmon, just below, packs its own charm: deep canyons through the wilderness, old homesteads and great camping. You’ll paddle across a chunk of the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48, and it will feel like you’re away from the world. The rapids, scenery and an added hot spring are a potent combo.
Put in: Corn Creek, Idaho
Take out: Vinegar Creek
Permits: Lottery from June 20 to September 7.
The Paddler: Able to navigate class 4 rapids in a wilderness environment.
Three Arch Rocks, Oregon
Three Arch Rocks—a short distance off Oregon’s Cape Meares—is one of the most stunning places to paddle on earth. Massive cliffs and arches to paddle through, sea caves, pelicans and waterfalls cascading into the sea line between Oceanside, Maxwell Point and Cape Meares. It doesn’t get much more dramatic—or exposed to the full brunt of the Pacific—than this.
Put in: Oceanside, Oregon
Take out: The same
Permits: Kayaking within 500 feet of Three Arch Rocks is closed during the summer months to protect marine life. Maxwell Point to Cape Meares is open year-round.
The Paddler: Skilled ocean paddlers in good conditions only.
The Grand Canyon
The shortest possible trip on the Grand Canyon winds 225 miles through some of the most famous and spectacular landscapes on earth. It’s a journey that’s often life changing: massive rapids, billion-year-old rocks, an infinite set of treasures to be discovered down each side canyon and a deep dive into river time, where the rest of the world falls away amidst evenings watching light play on the canyon walls. A lot of planning, skill-building, and group effort goes into this trip. You won’t forget it any time soon.
Put in: Lee’s Ferry, Arizona
Take out: Diamond Creek
Permits: Year-round weighted lottery, and very hard to come by.
The Paddler: Knows what they’re getting into. The names Crystal, Lava Falls, Horn Creek and Granite are legendary for a reason. The water’s massive, and you’re in a very, very remote place.
Your Back Yard
It’s not all dreaming about the ideal paddling trips in dramatic landscapes. Love for moving water and the skills to navigate it are built on whatever water you have nearby, even when you can only get in your boat for a few hours.
Put in: The closest you can find.
Take Out: The same.
The Paddler: You