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Choosing the Best Kayaking Route

Kayaking is more than just launching the boat in the water and paddling with abandon. It is important to put some preparation and planning into your trips. But how do you choose the best kayaking route?

There are a number of kayaking route considerations besides the path you want to take. In addition to reading a map, you should consider weather/tides, launch and retrieve points, and composition of your group.

If you are just beginning to kayak and get the feel for paddling your boat, you might just stay within a prescribed area within sight of your launch point, but as soon as you begin to really take to the water, you need to plan a kayaking route.

Choosing the best kayaking route will include:

Plotting your course

How long will you paddle and over how many days? Is this a multiple day trip? Knowing your average paddling speed is nice at this point, but also keep in mind that you probably don’t want to paddle sun-up to sun-down for days on end.

Give yourself plenty of time for breaks and even side trips to see what the land has to offer. Especially for beginner kayakers, only plan for a few (5-10 miles) per day. This gives you time for stretching stiff muscles, resting, and exploring. You could also intersperse a short rest day in between long paddle days.

Sit down with a map (or even a local) and check out the route “on paper”. Are there obstacles like dams or long stretches without put-in points? Will you need to portage, or can you keep to the water the whole time? Are campsites established or not? Take into consideration how far you actually are from “civilization”. If you should need emergency care, how quickly could it arrive? (This will impact how you pack and if you need to be prepared for handling extremes on your own.)

Make sure you are aware of tides and how low or high water can affect your efforts to camp/rest/etc.

There are a number of apps that can help you map your route. Also consider charts and GPS as you look at possible routes. But whatever you use, make sure that you understand what you are reading and can follow it from the water.    

Preparing logistics (getting there and back)

After you’ve selected the area you want to kayak, it is vitally important to get a few logistics out of the way as soon as possible. First, are you taking a circular or linear route. If you are taking a circular route things are much simpler as you will launch and retrieve from the same location, with your vehicle ready and waiting where you left it. However, much of kayaking is not so simple. A linear route will require that you have both transportation at the beginning of the route and someone to pick you up (or a vehicle staged and waiting) at the end.

You also need a vehicle that is able to adequately handle all yaks, people, and gear. This is an important step not to miss. Can you actually get to-and-from your launch and retrieve points? This step can be such a headache that many paddlers will opt for a concierge service that can help with these logistics. It could be money well-spent for some peace of mind. 

Also, are there accessible points along your route? Will you have access to established campgrounds or will you be responsible for finding/clearing camping spots? Again, this will impact your packing needs.

Getting these logistical details squared away can let you focus on the actual paddle.

Planning for your crew

Another huge part of planning the best kayaking route is knowing your crew. Are you taking a solo paddle or will you be joined by an entourage? While there is safety and enjoyment in having friends at your back, it also presents a few challenges to establishing your route.

You need to honestly assess the skill levels, strengths, and weaknesses of your fellow paddlers. Don’t plan a challenging route when you have first time kayakers. Avoid wearing out your crew with a long paddle. You are only able to go as far as your slowest paddlers.

Take this into consideration when planning. Pair experienced paddlers with less experienced ones. If tandem kayaks are an option, they are a nice touch for bigger groups.

Lean into everyone’s strengths and rotate partners, if possible, to encourage connection and keep up conversation/community.

Ensure that everyone is on the same page before launching.

Perusing the forecast

You’ve planned on paper, discussed with your crew, hired a service, taken the days off work, and then mother nature has other plans. As hard as it is to cancel plans, always be smart about the weather. Watch the forecast in the days preceding your trip. And be willing to make the hard, but necessary choice, to delay/postpone/cancel. Neither you (nor emergency services) wants to be caught out in miserable, dangerous weather.

Don’t mess around with high winds, lightning, or storm surge. It just isn’t worth it.

Filing a float plan

Lastly, the best route is the route that you leave behind! Make a copy of your plans and leave with a trusted friend. Another copy should be submitted to rangers or authorities. Don’t deviate from the plan unless forced to by an emergency. Even in this day of cell phones and GPS, a hard copy of your float plan is vital.

Include:

  • Names of participants/contact info
  • How many and brief description of vessels
  • Expected times of departure and return
  • Expected route (and stopping points)
  • Final destination

Have a designated friend in charge of contacting help if you don’t report within a prescribed amount of time. (And then remember to contact said friend when you are safely retrieved. It’s embarrassing to have the local authorities tracking you down when you forget to make that connection.)

 

Whether you are leaning into trusted locals and guides or crafting your own plan, preparation is still key to choosing your best kayaking route. Know your path, know your party, know your plan, and enjoy!

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