Determining Distance per Day?

Hello Everyone!

I have a question about how to plan daily distances on a river I’ve never been on before. I know individual distances vary significantly, but I’d still like to get some ideas on what to consider when planning. The river is the Oconee River in south Georgia. Can you use something like the discharge cfs to help determine something like this? I’m trying to be conservative, as I’ll have our toddler on her first canoe trip and I’m sure I’ll be doing most of the work (in and out of the canoe) while my wife looks after the little one. Any advice is appreciated.



2 to 3 mph
is an average that fits many rivers and paddlers. This can be used until you find out more about the section of the river you are floating. The slower pace is suited for laid back paddling and slow moving rivers like those in the Coastal Plains. This allows time for photos, snacks, and others stops. With more effort paddling, 3 mph may be a better estimate.

The gradient of the river is more important than the discharge but both make a difference.


If you are a novice…
I would plan on about eight miles.

If you are intermediate figure 10 to 15, and if you are a long time paddler you would be able to estimate yourself.

Jack L

I consider
myself intermediate; I’ve done a lot of canoeing, but since this is my first trip with my daughter, I’m sure my wife won’t be able to contribute like she would otherwise. I think conservative is better, but I don’t want to launch at 8am, then be at the camp at 11am… I’m thinking 10 miles/day sounds good; that’s 5 hours at 2mph or a little over 3 hours at 3mph. I really think my biggest determinate of time is going to be the stops/breaks, but I have some control of that.

Thanks for the advice :slight_smile:

Also consider wind
Especially since you say your wife may not contribute as much as might be ideal, remember that a headwind will really take its toll on you. It might be wise to try to avoid a really windy day as your first outing, and if significant wind is unavoidable, consider going about two-thirds as far as you’d plan to on a normal day, or maybe even just half as far. Wind often taxes your endurance as much as distance.

10 miles down river …
… on a slow river is an easy run . Add a couple hours for shore breaks , lunch , etc. and you can fill up 6 hrs. of the day .

Give yourself 4 hrs. of paddling time for a leisurly 10 mile downriver . Something like an hour on the water , 30 min. shore break , another hour on the water … ect. .

If you’ve got a heavy headwind in your face , cut back on the shore break play time … better yet don’t go with the toddler on a high wind day .

High Winds
don’t concern me too much, aside from slowing us down. I haven’t seen very much high wind in South Georgia (at least compared with my recent trip canoeing the open water of the Everglades - that was tough). There may be enough to slow us down a bit, but that, combined with distance, is what I’m trying to figure out. I think rain is probably the only weather we’re going to be worried about…

I’m thinking fairly conservatively is the best bet; I’d rather spend more time on shore or have more leisure time than be stressed about making it to our destination in time. If paddling is especially slow, then we can cut down on the leisure activities (as suggested) and hump it to where we need to go.

well how far is it you need to go …

– Last Updated: Jul-19-13 11:39 AM EST –

...... to make camp the 1st day ??

Your trip planning (pre-flight) should include a map (or chart) and pre-determined way points (fixes) . These things become your objective (goal) , and you monitor your progress (time to/between way points) by them .

You can (and should) set and choose each leg of the days journey down river in advance (at home before launch day) .

When calculating the distance down the river , be pretty precise with your measurements by following the actual bends and path of the river . By doing so you won't be underestimating the total distance . Winding rivers can easily be twice the water distance from point A to B ... compared to a straight line between A and B , but I'm sure you know that . Just wanted to emphasize the care that should be taken when determing distance required to be covered (made good) .

As said prior , 10 miles down river on a slow river is an easy day run , moderate headwinds will still make a 10 miler a reasonable goal . 15 miles becomes an ambitious goal for a guy chauffering his wife and baby , add some winds and time will disappear quicker than you might imagine .

You got to know where you're going , how far it is you have to go each day ... before you launch . You really should know where you are all along the way as well ... and you should "always" have a plan B in place" . What will you do if for some unexpected reason you have to abandon your canoe or get off the water half way there ?? Can you hike out , can you wait it out , and to where ??

I never use a GPS but ya know ... they are useful (but never replace or abandon the map/chart with them) .

There's a number of questions I'll ask myself before heading out on a multi day down river .

1., ... how "FAR" do I "have to" go ??
2., ... how hot is it going to be ??
3., ... how remote will I be ??
4., ... do I want to just get down river as quick as possible (almost always that answer is "NO")
5., ... do I expect I'll be doing most or all of the paddling by myself in a tandem (chauffering) ??
6., ... how much work to do (set up) at camp after landing ??

7., ... how realistic is my plan B for the unexpected or emergency ?? (though I've never , having a toddler along would keep me over prepared and very realistic) .

and last but not least ...

8., ... do I feel like busting my ass all day or enjoying the float and company , will 50/50 work OK ??

Marathons are for a different day ... a leisurely day is for the wife and toddler . So your thoughts about keeping it conservative are spot on .

This Relates Closely
to how I plan a backpacking trip. Many of the points you made are the exact same points I consider. Of course I consider terrain instead of wind/water flow, but the idea’s the same :slight_smile:

From past experience -
young kids slow the pace - and rightly so. Best to plan on a pace about 1/2 what you would normally do. Slow down and enjoy the little one and keep her happy.

It’s already been mentioned…
but in my opinion, just as important as how many miles you should cover is to figure out how to know where you are at any given time. Say you decided to paddle ten miles a day. If you know where you are and how far you still have to go, then you can adjust all through the day. If you realize you’ve covered five of that ten miles in the first hour and a half (something that’s quite possible with favorable winds and easy paddling) you can slow down, stop and swim, explore an island, eat some snacks, and in general pace yourself. If you realize that you’ve only gone five miles and the day is more than half gone, you can pick up the pace and lessen the swim time.

I don’t use GPS, either, but I know it’s very useful IF you know how to use it and you can use it in conjunction with good maps that show the winding course of the river. I have always used the maps alone, but I use them religiously; I try to obtain topographic maps of any new river I paddle before setting out, and I now scan them and make a couple of prints of the river’s course that I can carry along, rather than taking the maps themselves. And perhaps even better, you can explore your river virtually on Google Earth, which now has aerial photos good enough to show individual logs in the river, and download and print the images. Of course, those prints and maps are only as good as your dedication to watching them as you paddle and keeping up with where you are on them.