Use Paddle Planner for Your Next Canoe Trip

9-minute read + 1-minute video

Paddle Planner is a unique online toolkit that makes planning your canoe and kayak trips easy and fun. “It’s Google directions for the Boundary Waters,” says founder Ben Strege.

canoeist in the bow of a packed canoe on a large lake

(Photo courtesy of Caleb Young)

Paddle Planner’s maps and community cover many different wilderness canoe areas in the US and Canada. So far, these include:

  • Minnesota—Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park
  • Wisconsin—Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest (and surrounding area)
  • Michigan—Sylvania Wilderness Area
  • Florida—Everglades National Park
  • Wyoming—Yellowstone National Park
  • Ontario—Quetico Provincial Park, Algonquin Provincial Park, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, Killarney Provincial Park, Wabakimi Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park
  • Manitoba—Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manigotagan River Provincial Park, Nopiming Provincial Park, Atikaki Provincial Park

Jay Harris joined Ben and Auralee Strege in helping to run Paddle Planner several years ago. He said, “I was reminded just recently in planning my current trip how useful these tools are. There’s a comfort level when I’m reading campsite reviews and getting specs on portages. I can read what people have to say about this place and that place. It lends a certain element of comfort, and even safety and security.”

Take a look at the video below for a synopsis of what’s possible with a Paddle Planner membership…

How Paddle Planner Membership Works

Paddle Planner offers four membership levels:

Free Forever—You can join for free and glean information on campsites, portages and lakes. Estimate travel time and distances for simple routes. You have access to the community for trip reports, campsite reviews and questions you’d like answered. Best for those scouting campsites, interested in simple routes and want to be part of the Paddle Planner community.

Enthusiast—The Enthusiast level at $29.99/year or $9.99/month adds many benefits like planning complicated routes over many days, Travel Time Assistant, the ability to save routes and settings, portage elevation graphs and downloading your route to your phone for offline use. Best for those who go on one or two trips a year but prefer complicated routes and longer trips.

Expedition Leader—For just $49.99/year or $14.99/month, the Expedition Leader membership level adds some key benefits like creating a custom GPX download of campsites, a free McKenzie map, high-res map exports, up to 5 alerts when your desired permit becomes available and ad-free scrolling. Best for those who love to do multiple trips each year.

sun rising in the mist over a wilderness lake

(Photo courtesy of Jay Harris)

Outfitter—Paddling-related businesses that lead and/or outfit many trips each year can opt for an Outfitter membership for $99.99/year. It includes everything at the Expedition Leader level plus having maps on your own website that include your location. Planning trips for your customers becomes much easier and faster.

Jason Zabokrtsky is the founder and manager of Ely Outfitting Company in Minnesota. He said, “Paddle Planner is an indispensable tool we use to share BWCAW route options with our clients. Paddle Planner empowers our clients with helpful data to compare routes and find the one that best suits their interests and expectations. There's nothing else like it.”

The Unique Tools Paddle Planner Offers

As of this writing, Paddle Planner has about 10,000 members and is growing. Your membership level decides the number of tools you have access to. These tools include:

Detailed Interactive Maps for most of North America’s best wilderness canoeing and kayaking areas (see list above). The interactive maps include campsites, park boundaries, parking areas and portages (with lengths in rods), and most importantly, the route builder.

The one-of-a-kind Route Builder will tell you approximately how long it’ll take you to paddle and portage from one location to another. This valuable feature takes most of the guesswork out of trip planning.

An Outfitter Database that includes location and services they provide. Each is linked back to their own website. The outfitters listed first are those that have an Outfitter Membership with Paddle Planner.

 two tents at a canoe campsite next to a lake

Campsite Databases for each of the regions they highlight. There are user ratings and photos included when Paddle Planner members have shared them. This is super helpful, with campsite number, lake name, user rating, size and availability.

A list with short descriptions and links for the various canoeing map makers in North America that cover the Paddle Planner regions.

KMZ and GPX Downloads for GPS use during your trip. KMZ files are used with Google Earth, and most are part of the Free Forever membership. GPX and custom GPX files can be used with several GPS apps and are part of the paid memberships.

The Community is a huge benefit of using Paddle Planner, and is part of each membership level. The Community section of the website includes a forum, photos and trip reports—all uploaded by members.

For a list of the full toolkit, see the membership page.

Who Uses Paddle Planner?

“Our average user is not a beginner,” said Ben. “It’s not typically their first trip, although I think beginners are finding their way to Paddle Planner.”

Jay added, “I suspect first and second time visitors to any wilderness area tap into an outfitter and lean heavily on them for advice and maps and all that. As you gain experience then something like Paddle Planner gets more intuitive.”

 Paddle Planner interactive map screenshot

Example of a Paddle Planner interactive map

The more experienced the canoeists, the more Paddle Planner can work for them. In addition, more and more outfitters are learning about the many valuable and time-saving tools a membership provides. Being able to easily share and refine prospective routes with their customers online or over the phone is a huge benefit.

Josh Vermast has been canoe tripping in northern Ontario’s wilderness lakes for the past 20 years. After much frustration with the lack of detailed information available to plan their trips, he stumbled on Paddle Planner one day and knew he struck gold.

“Paddle Planner, much to my surprise, was exactly what I was already trying (and failing) to build! It was almost too good to be true. I immediately reached out to Ben asking if he would be interested in some free web design work…This was 2016.

“Over the next 6 years, Ben and I have been going back and forth building out a list of tasks and developing the new version of Paddle Planner into what we released last year (2021). I am incredibly proud of the work we have done. It really is the holy grail of tripping resources.”

Lori Johnson is another avid user. She said, “As the Event Coordinator of the Minnesota Border Route Challenge, I use Paddle Planner on a very regular basis to help in my event planning and tracking of paddlers. I am charged with tracking, monitoring the progress of paddlers and communication as they venture from International Falls, along the Canadian Border, through the BWCAW, all the way to Grand Portage and Lake Superior.

“Paddle Planner lets me and the crews determine travel distances, most advantageous routes and alternatives to avoid known difficulties when they are in the preparation phase of the Challenge.

“I also use Paddle Planner for mapping and trip planning for myself and my family. We make several trips each season. We usually have a combination of short, long, base camp and travel trips. PP is helpful in all these situations to get our plans coordinated, share and save routes before we go.

“One of the most impressive parts of PP is the quick responses I get when I have a question or problem in my planning. I usually don't ask easy things, so when I get an answer in just an hour or so, I am impressed!!”

 canoeist in the stern of a loaded canoe on a lake

(Photo courtesy of Forged from the Wild)

Partnering with Other Organizations

Ben, Auralee and Jay are on the lookout for other paddling organizations and businesses they can partner with to be more effective for the canoe and kayak tripping world. An example of success is their partnership with McKenzie Maps.

The McKenzie Maps Story

“The founder passed away a couple years ago, and he passed the business onto his nephew,” Ben said. “I was at a hockey game for my youngest son, and my wife was talking to one of the other mothers there. I was watching the game, and all of a sudden my wife turns to me and says, ‘They own McKenzie Maps!’ So we spent the rest of the game talking about it, and turns out they live six miles from me.

“I've always wanted to be careful to not compete with the map companies. They do a great job. I would rather partner with them to create a better experience for everybody, and we found a way to do that.”

The Friends of Wabakimi Story

Another example is their partnership with Friends of Wabakimi.

One of Paddle Planner’s most requested maps has been for Wabakimi Provincial Park. The park is extremely remote, several hours north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and roughly six times the size of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.

Ben had tried without success to contact someone from Friends of Wabakimi to get permission to use their extensive mapping of the area on Paddle Planner.

“Then I noticed the president of the Friends of Wabakimi had signed up on our website,” Ben said. “And so I contacted him and asked if we could work together on this—and we did. Now we have a great working relationship with them. Their goal is to increase awareness and access to the area and get more people to experience it. And we got to add it onto Paddle Planner and help other people become aware and plan their trips there.

“We also work with Save the Boundary Waters. They are an absolute joy to collaborate with, and we have many of the same goals.”

Jay affirmed, “We want people to know that we are wide open to other relationships. We want to collaborate, we want to network. We want win-win.”

Ben concluded, “We are not a big company. Just a few passionate paddlers who want to bring the wilderness experience to as many people as possible.”

ben strege, auralee strege and jay harris

The Paddle Planner team: Ben and Auralee Strege, Jay Harris

To explore more about what Paddle Planner has to offer, see:

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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