Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota/Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario
The Boundary Waters/Quetico Wilderness has been called the canoer’s Mecca, and for good reason. Over 2,100,000 combined acres. More than 3,000 lakes. The US side alone has more than 1,500 miles of canoe routes and 2,000 backcountry campsites.
Whether you pull a trip together on your own or go through one of the many local outfitters, once you experience it you’ll want to keep going back to this pristine wilderness. You’ll share the area with moose, bears, wolves, eagles and a host of other local wildlife…and a few people, too.
Best time of the year: May-October. Busiest: July and August.
Northern Forest Canoe Trail, New England
740 miles of connected waterways through New York, Vermont, a jaunt into Quebec, then New Hampshire and Maine. The route goes through a few dozen communities, with sleeping options (campsites or inns) every 15 miles.
Paddlers on the NFCT journey on lakes, on rivers—including some whitewater stretches—and over portages. Route options abound, from day trips to through-paddles.
The NFCT winds through some of the most beautiful areas of the Northeast, including the Adirondacks in New York and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Maine.
Best time of year: May-October. Busiest: July-August
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
The largest intact blackwater swamp in North America. That means the water is slowly flowing through forested wetlands, and the decaying plant matter turns the clear water a dark color.
The Refuge covers almost half a million acres. There are 120 miles of water routes throughout, 50 of those open to canoe and kayak only. A handful of platform campsites are available by reservation—platforms to keep you up off the ground that’s inhabited by alligators and snakes…seriously!
If you’re looking for a multi-day trip, continue to paddle the Suwannee River from the Okefenokee Swamp.
Best time of year: November-April. Busiest: March and April.
Bowron Lakes, British Columbia
72 miles of connected lakes, rivers and portages set in the Cariboo Mountains section of the Canadian Rockies. Bowron Provincial Park is known world-wide for its canoe circuit (in fact, the three testimonials on a local outfitter’s website are all from Europeans).
Backcountry campsites, abundant wildlife, mountains, forests and deep, clear lakes are all part of the canoeing experience at Bowron. Allow 7-10 days for the full circuit.
Best time of year: Mid-May-September. Busiest time of year: July and August.
Nahanni River National Park Preserve, Northwest Territories
The most remote destination on our list, this river trip is reached only by float plane. The Nahanni is known for its spectacular scenery—including mountains, 3,000-foot canyons and 315-foot Virginia Falls—and an adventurous ride on 1 and 2-class rapids.
You’ll want to be either an accomplished paddler or connect with an outfitter for a trip on the Nahanni. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? According to the testimonials…yes!
You’re so far north you may see musk ox and caribou, among the other abundant wildlife, as well as the midnight sun. And don’t be surprised if it snows, even in mid-summer.
Best time of year: June-September. Busiest time: July and August…if you can call 1,000 visitors a year busy!
Green River, Utah
This popular rafting and canoeing river is 730 miles long. Its Utah section winds through some of the American Southwest’s most amazing canyons including Flaming Gorge, Dinosaur National Monument, Desolation Canyon and Canyonlands National Park, where it spills into the Colorado River.
Because the Green runs through the desert, its water level is dependent on annual snowmelt from the mountains near its mouth and northern end. Because of that, current speed and the campsite quality along the way varies year-by-year.
Best time of year: Spring and Fall. Busiest: April-May