Three friends and I are trying to plan a trip after school, and had a couple questions. First, a couple details: we want to paddle the Colorado River from Austin to the coast. We’ve done tons of hardcore hiking trips before and we’re all really fit as well as know how to pack light for these things.
Would we be better off with canoes or kayaks?
If we’re going downstream, how far can we expect to travel per day? Assume 8 hours of hard paddling.
Would it work to just take hammocks and blankets for sleeping?
Any other advice for us?
Thanks in advance for the help
Eight hours hard paddling per day
You will need to do some research to figure out your likely mileage. Most casual trippers figure on a travel speed of 3 mph. Anyone who's actually capable of paddling hard for eight hours can probably manage an average speed of 4 mph (you can go faster than that, but you'll find your average is always significantly slower than what you "can" do). Then you have to figure in how much travel speed the river current provides. This presents quite a range. Three mph for eight hours in nearly slack current gives you 24 miles per day. Four mph with the help of a 2-mph current lets you go 48 miles per day. Either end of that spectrum can be reasonable, depending on actual paddling speed and current speed. Wind will provide another reason for speed variation.
Edit regarding speed: In that article reference above, it says the water may be inches deep for significant stretches. When in such shallow water, figure a travel speed no greater than 2 mph, regardless of current, and maybe sometimes as slow as 1 mph. Shallows are a bear if you are trying to put miles behind you.
As far as which is better, canoes or kayaks, I'm an open-boat guy and prefer canoes. Others prefer kayaks. Packing gear in a canoe is a non-issue, except you should have everything in waterproof storage (there are several good ways to do that). With a kayak, packing and unpacking can be a slow, elaborate process by comparison, but those who do it don't seem to mind. Kayaks are much less affected by wind than canoes, and inexperienced paddlers in canoes will hate strong wind much more than those who've had years of practice.
It sounds like you folks are newbies, and you really should get some "seat time" in one boat type or the other, to find out just how well you can tolerate eight hours per day of paddling. Once you get some experience and your own boats (if you progress that far), you'll appreciate how much difference it makes to have the boat set up the way you like it, rather than jumping into some generic boat as-is. I'm betting you will find that your own comfort limits your paddling time more than your strength or enthusiasm. One thing with canoes, is that you can move around more, and put your body in many different positions, which helps a lot if you don't have perfect comfort otherwise. With kayaks, it's more important to get the boat fit right, because you can't move around as much.
I am a beginning paddler and like to canoe camp for 2-3 days on the Colorado, but only know the section between Austin and Smithville.
Both canoes and kayaks are used on the river. You’ll have to get in and out repeatedly when you get stuck in the shallows.
On my trip this week in a solo canoe, I averaged only 2 miles/hour for the whole paddling day, including all break times, but averaged 3-3.5 miles/hour for extended time periods. That includes river current! Slooow! A dedicated athletic paddler should be able to do better and the speeds on the Colorado 100 race may reach 4.5 - 5 miles in their dedicated boats. Current speed makes a huge difference though.
A strong southerly headwind will work against you and you will have to get out and line the canoe over the shallows at some places at the current water levels, every few miles.
I don’t use hammocks, but wonder if it may be difficult to find (the right kind of) trees on the islands/gravel bars you’ll likely camp on at least some of the time. I’ve been forced to camp on gravel bars without trees. The banks are private property. A tent may be better.
Go to southwestpaddler.com or get “Rivers and Rapids: Canoeing, Rafting and Fishing Guide; Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma” for a lot of information on the Colorado River.
You Texas paddlers must have it rough
Out of curiosity, I just looked for more info on this river. It's twice as long as the Wisconsin River, which is Wisconsin's biggest river, and I see by the air photos that it is very wide, yet right now most parts of Texas's Colorado River have less flow than many of the creeks near my home that are so narrow that even short, stubby willow trees that fall over end up blocking the whole channel (and the current in these tiny creeks is SLOW). Sort of puts your water-shortage issues in perspective!