Essential Paddling Guide: National Park Paddling Picks, From Day Trip To Sojourn

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Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a great daytrip, and extended trip, paddling option in the National Park System. NPS photo.

So much water, so little time. Unless you're independently wealthy with nothing to do but play, how can you take advantage of all the paddling adventures that exist in the National Park System. We have some suggestions.

Best Multi-Day River Trip

Looking to get away from a few days or more? Here are some wonderful multi-day river trips with great scenery to bolster the paddling experience.

* Colorado River through the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. There is no more iconic river trip in the Lower 48 than the Colorado through the Grand.

* Green River through Gates of Lodore in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah. Though just four days long, in most instances, the incredible geology on display and the history of John Wesley Powell are incredible.

* Buffalo National River, Arkansas. The country’s first national river remains a free-flowing stream with vistas of hardwoods and bluffs.

Best Multi-Day Lake Trip

Lakes don’t typically offer rapids -- though winds can blow up waves! -- but they do offer incredible vistas and connections with the water- and landscapes. Here are some big lakes worth sampling:

* Rainy Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota. This big lake offers a backcountry experience akin to what the 18th century fur trappers lived on a daily basis. Plan carefully (ie., reserve campsites and study your topo maps) to avoid long, long days paddling.

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Paddlers can disappear into the backcountry of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve for weeks. Kurt Repanshek photo.

* Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Set out on either Shoshone Lake or Yellowstone Lake and you’ll be assured of paddling nirvana. Both lakes offer chains of campsites you can reserve to make your days in the saddle as long or short as you desire.

* Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah. With such a vast reservoir, and so many side canyons, you can escape for a week with your sea kayak.

* Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin. Load your sea kayak for an extended sojourn and island hop in Lake Superior.

Best Extended Ocean Trips

Paddling in the ocean isn't for everyone, but skilled paddlers can lose themselves for days, even weeks, with some of these adventures.

* Glacier Bay, Glacier National Park, Alaska. With the 65-mile-long bay at the heart of this park, you can disappear for weeks on end if you’re properly outfitted. Here sea kayaks are the preferred vessel for safely navigating the bay’s waters. For a lift, consider reserving a ride on the park’s ferry for a shuttle far up the bay where you can leap off and paddle into side arms.

* Florida Bay, Everglades National Park, Florida. You can spend a day paddling about Florida Bay, or arrange for several overnights with camps atop chickees that will keep you out of the water. Head out in winter to avoid the high heat and swarming bugs of summer.

* Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina. Experienced sea kayakers have 56 miles of undeveloped barrier islands for exploration and “wild” seashore camping. Pack your rod and tackle and you can feed yourself as you go.

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Everglades National Park offers a rich backcountry experience for paddlers. NPS photo.

Best Day Trips

There are countless options for day paddling trips in the parks, from white-water runs to easy paddles. Here are a few.

* New River, New River Gorge National River, West Virginia. Adrenalin-infusing rapids fill the day.

* Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. An easy canoe below a spectacular setting of crags.

* Channel Islands National Park, California. Spend the day exploring sea caves by kayak.

* Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana. Explore a section of the Southern Lake Michigan Water Trail, a paddling route that traverses the 40+ miles between Chicago, Illinois, and Michigan City, Indiana.

For more options, be sure to consult the directory in Traveler's Essential Guide to Paddling in the Parks.