The Best Scenic Autumn Paddling Trips

The Best Scenic Autumn Paddling Trips

Fall is in full swing, and there’s nothing better than enjoying the view from your kayak or canoe. Take advantage of the cooler days and the quieter sunshine when you plan an epic river camping and boating trip. Fortunately, there are many great locations to spend a day unwinding on the water and soaking in the last vestiges of the year. Let's dive in and discover where the best streams for paddling and fall viewing are, what to bring on your kayaking or canoeing trip, and even pro tips for planning the ultimate fall paddling trip.

When to Plan Your Fall Paddling Trip

If you're looking to do a little leaf-peeping on your autumn canoe or kayaking trip, you will want to plan far in advance. That's because fall could mean something different depending on your location. Northern states will experience their fall foilage in full color during mid to late September. Southern areas tend to have their leaves entirely changed from early to mid-November. No matter where you're planning, there is a perfect spot and time for getting the most out of your experience. 

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, is one of the top New England locations for fall leaf viewing and pristine kayaking streams. With kayak and canoe rentals dotting the coastline, it is pretty evident that there are ample opportunities for the best paddling in the watershed. Some parts of the watershed are outside of the park's boundaries. However, paddlers need not worry as parts of the watershed not in the park are owned and operated by the state, making them public lands. 

Stowe, Vermont

No list of best fall viewing places is complete without adding Stowe, Vermont's world-famous location. Known as the fall foliage capital of the world, each year, millions of visitors come to the quaint town to experience autumn beauty in all its glory. Both the Lamoille and Winooski rivers are popular with locals and tourists for canoeing or kayaking. These gentle rivers feed into the Waterbury Reservoir and feature small class I rapids. If you're planning a trip to Stowe for leaf peeping, you'll want to visit in late September for the best views. However, book your trip in advance because lodging and camping tend to fill quickly during this time. 

Columbia River Gorge

If you're looking to take a canoe or kayaking trip later in the fall season, look west towards the Columbia River Gorge that forms the border between Oregon and Washington. From beginners to advanced paddlers, there is a spot on the river to meet everyone's needs and skill levels. For a slower-paced trip, drop your craft in at Skamokawa and explore the lower river. This part of the river is quite gentle and leads boaters through various habitats and landscapes. 

The Poconos

The Pocono River, located in Pennsylvania, is a spot for gentle paddling and wildlife viewing that will leave you breathless. The peaceful Lehigh river winds across 109 square miles, and its gentle rapids are perfect for paddlers of all skill levels, including kids. Canoers and kayakers can find equipment rental shops all along the shoreline. There are also many options for lodging, including campgrounds, RV resorts and cabin rentals. 

Taos, New Mexico

Although most people think of the Northeast when they think of leaf-peeping destinations, the deserts of the Southwest also boast beautiful seasonal colors. The fall foliage in New Mexico is a sight to behold, especially along The Enchanted Circle, which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. However, paddlers can enjoy the fall colors by hopping on the Rio Grand and letting the slow-moving river take the lead. There are several great drop-in points for your canoe or kayak on the river, but the Wild Rivers Recreation Area is the most popular among locals.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The country's largest and most visited national park, Smoky Mountains National Park, is a sight to behold and next to Stowe, Vermont, the second most visited leaf-peeping location. River John's near Townsend, Tennessee, is a famous canoe and kayaking location in the park, and once you're there, you'll know exactly why. With miles of gentle rapids, this slow-paced excursion is perfect for paddlers of all skill levels. Spend the entire day on the river easily while indulging yourself with oak, maple, and hickory trees showing off their autumn colors. See wildlife such as deer, elk, and possibly a bear or two. 

Elkhead Reservoir, Colorado

If you enjoy the fall beauty of the Rocky Mountains but don't want to paddle large rapids, launch your canoe or kayak at the Elkhead Reservoir in Colorado. At nearly 900 acres, this isn't the most prominent place to canoe in the state, but it is the most relaxing. Canoers and kayakers can spend the day on the winding reservoir, with many places to get on shore and further explore the area. 

Pro Tips for The Perfect Fall Canoe Trip

While there's nothing more relaxing than spending a day on the water, taking in the sights of fall, there are some considerations you should take before planning your trip. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started.

  • Bring sunscreen! You might think you don't need sunscreen on overcast fall days, but that's when the harmful UV rays are the strongest.
  • Plan all aspects of your route before launching.
  • If you're planning on camping during your trip, but sure you are at your site well before nightfall.
  • It's always a good idea to carry emergency flares & whistles and wear high-visibility clothing on the water. 
  • Even if you're not planning on an overnight trip, bring extra food in case of emergencies. 

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