Canoeing in Ohio

I have just recently began canoeing as a way to spend time with my children. We enjoy camping as well and want to combine the two. There is a fairly large slow moving river nearby that runs from our general area all the way to the Ohio River (approx 120 mi.) Is it completely unrealistic to think that I could make this trip from a logistics point? There are several places where the Scioto River passes through fairly populated areas where we could re-stock simple supplies such as food and water. I would scout this first. Also, if it is reasonable to consider, what kind of distance / mileage could a person expect to make in a days time? Any help, suggestions, opinions, or info on this stretch of river would be greatly appreciated.

Milage per day… w/ or w/o kids?
I have a young daughter who I plan on kayaking with this summer. The biggest question about milage per day is to determine if that’s with or without kids. And, what kind of attention span will the kids have for a whole day of paddling?

First, there’s no good reason not to make the trip.

Second, depending on the age of the children you can expect different “levels of participation” from them.

Third, as much as you can, “know before you go.”

Is this the same river in Ohio you have in mind?

“Ohio whitewater - Scioto River,

O’Shaughnessy Dam section whitewater kayaking, rafting, and paddling information.

Relative to most other whitewater spots in Ohio this one requires a bit more skill. For whitewater rafting and kayaking it’s a fun place, don’t count on staying dry paddling here if you’re not an expert. This is an extremely short section so it’s not like you’re gonna spend hours on the river in one stretch. The O’Shaughnessy Dam stretch is recommended for paddlers of medium experience, beginners should probably stay away from this stretch unless they go with an experienced paddler.”

How old did you say those kids were?

Try a shorter “Trial” Section
I had the same goals a few years ago. We live near the Little Miami in Ohio. I tried some day trips with known milage to see if my son enjoyed it and how long he would stay attentive. We have worked up to Multiday self supported trips camping on Islands and known camping areas. He is now 10 and really enjoys our trips. He paddles only for the rapids or the long pond areas if we want to get somewhere. I mostly do the paddling so I kind of put him on the good fishing spots.

Try it a little at a time and work up to your goals.


guide book
There’s an Ohio canoeing guide book available:

I read a copy years ago and seem to remember the author not being very kind to the Scioto - something about the valley being heavily impacted by agriculture and the view never changing. Never paddled it, so I don’t know if that’s an accurate characterization or not.

A book you may want to check out…

is a “Guide to Kayaking and Canoing in Ohio” (see link). I think you may find it pretty useful for what you are wanting to accomplish.

I’d check with Steve Early at the Paddlepower shop in Chillicothe. He’s also a leader in SOFA (Southern Ohio Floaters Assoc.), who frequently paddle the area.

I think the Muskingum is a little more boat camper-friendly. You can camp at most locks free. The locks are manually operated and there is a charge to go through. In most cases, it’s easier to skip that by portaging.

you need local information
I don’t know any details about the rivers you’re considering. Here’s some general advice about running unknown rivers.

If you know the river can be navigated by small powerboats, that’s a good sign (for safety, not necessarily for peace and quiet).

If not, it’s important that you get some information from people who have paddled the river before you set out (possible sources: direct interviews, guidebooks, trip reports on the web). There are all sorts of hazards on rivers, and if the current is strong, you might not be able to keep away from the hazards. Some examples: livestock, wires and fences to keep the livestock from walking downstream, rocks, rusted iron bars protruding from concrete, security guards with guns, fallen trees, breached dams, mucky edges that prevent your getting onto solid ground, culverts that carry the river under roads. In some cases, a river will be fun and easy for most of its length but have a short, deadly section in the middle; there are only two ways to find out about that section: the hard way, and research.

If you can’t get information from other paddlers, I recommend that you scout the river with another adult and no kids. You can perhaps scout some sections from a car, getting out often enough that you cover every single inch of the river. Some segments you will probably need to paddle. The dangerous stretches might be exactly the stretches that aren’t easily visible. If the current permits it, it’s a little safer to scout from below, paddling up the river, because then it’s easy to back off from any hazards.

As a very rough estimate, you can probably do 20 miles a day of easy river. If it’s a difficult river, 5 might be a challenge; if it’s a fast but safe river, 40 is possible. A reasonable paddling speed for a motivated beginner is 3 mph; add 1 mph for the current (just an estimate); figure at most six hours of paddling; and you get 24 miles per day, assuming no difficulties.

Water levels on most rivers change remarkably with the seasons, and even in a matter of hours after rain. If you run a river safely and happily once, you can’t assume that you can just plunk your boat in again without thinking about it. If the local paddling community has a system for reporting water levels, see if you can get involved in it.

Be safe, and enjoy your river.

– Mark

Gee, I’m glad I didn’t do all those
things when I started canoeing in Lexington, KY. I would have missed out on some great single boat runs.

I’m the cautious type
But were you a beginner with kids in the boat?

– Mark

Google Earth
Check out the route with google Earth

The Muskingum Locks
Are hand-operated, and historic. Operators man them on Thursday-Sunday during the warm months. You can get a season pass to go through as many as you like for $15. It is kind of fun to lock through these historic locks, and not all the portages would be easy, so it is definitely worth the 15 bucks.

There are three avid paddlers I know
In central and SE OH that may give you local advice. All are good and knowledgable.

They go by P-net names of;


Fwalburg (sp?) sorry Frank


Perhaps search for a post from these folks and send an email. Good People.

Canoeing and Kayaking Ohio Rivers
and Streams–the book mentioned above–will give you take out/put in information for the whole length of the Scioto, as well as the location of hazards. Some of the information is dated, and a few of the mentioned put ins are pretty overgrown or tricky. but it is definitely the place to start. go to the Columbus Outdoor Pursuits web page, and check out their paddling section. You can post on their forum, and probably find people with lots of updated information.

I’d try a bunch of one and two day trips on various Ohio rivers before doing the whole Scioto. The Kososing is very scenic. the Walhonding is runnable almost all year–though it is slow, easy water. The Muskingum is very wide and easy to navigate, but it is not as scenic. Big Darby creek and the Mad River are also places you might want to check out not far from you.

Biggest issue for long trips:
Rivers vary widely in the number and placement of potential campsites. Some have lots of public land along the banks, and some have none. Also important is your tolerance for less-than-ideal campsites, in cases where you might be camped in the woods, brushy places, or if dry level ground is hard to come by. Local paddling guides are likely to discuss this issue, if the river is reasonably popular for paddling.

don’t forget LesG NM

paddling clubs
You might also contact the local paddling clubs as there will be a lot of extra resources there to offer helpful information.

Drop me a line
As Wes suggested above there are some Ohioans who would be more than happy to introduce you to some streams in the Buckeye state. I’m in SE Ohio and frequently float the streams in my area: Athens, Hocking, Vinton, Meigs, Washington counties, etc. Please feel free to drop me a line if you’d like.

The book suggested by a couple of people above is a ‘must have’ book for Ohio paddlers. It is a bit dated, but it’s the only resource of its type available that I’m aware of. The majority of the info in it is spot on, but there are some errors that suggest the authors may not have actually paddled every stretch they cover in the book (???). It’s still well worth the cost though.

Also note that most of the length of the Scioto runs through farmland in a broad valley. It has high banks with limited views for much of its length. It’s not what I would call a very interesting stream (scenically) compared to others in Ohio – just my take on it – others may express more enlightened views. One smaller stream that empties into the Scioto in southern Ross County is well worth the effort to float – Salt Creek is a treasure. -RK

You said you were giving general
information about running unknown rivers.

contact info
You can find Steve through…

and Southern Ohio Floaters Association is at…