How to plan overnight trip?

I am a newbie and have done the day thing with the family on lakes camping overnight etc. We would like to venture into longer trips such as canoeing rivers from one location to the next camping over night - you know the things that most experienced normal canoeers would do!!! How do I go about planning a trip? I would be taking two children with me.

So 2 adults - 2 children - one canoe - tent - food etc.

The other question and more important - you launch from one location end up in another - How do you get back to your car? Or how do you get up river with all your gear in order to paddle back o your car. If its any help I live in NJ and would be trying to plan this trip in NJ, NY, PA or DE area.

Thank you for any assistance you can give.

Some suggestions…
Join a club in your area. They can help you.

There are many books on this topic. Cliff Jacobson has some good ones.

There’s lots of info on this website that you can start with. You need to spend the time to research.

Make sure your canoe isn’t overloaded. Two adults, 2 kids (what’s their weight and activity level?), and gear require a sizeable boat. An 18’ Prospector is a versatile type that hauls a lot safely.

River paddling requires some different skills. It will be more enjoyable and safer to learn before you go.

Lots of folks have loaded their family and gear into a canoe and headed downriver. Sometimes it works out, but usually the family isn’t crazy about doing it again. If you all prepare, it’s more likely that you’ll want to do it again. It’s also much safer.

You might have noticed that I mentioned the safety factor several times. I would check into classes thru your park district or local college. It’s a good investment.

I hope you and your family decide to river camp. It’s worth the resources it takes to learn how to enjoy it safely.

Pamskee offers good advice
I too would be concerned about the size of your canoe and it’s capacity to safely handle 2 adults, 2 children and sufficient gear to make a trip of 2 or more nights enjoyable.

Check for other books on canoe tripping with children but this one comes to mind: Canoe Tripping With Children: Unique Advice to Keeping Kids Comfortable (Paperback)by David Harrison. General canoe/camping books usually address traveling with children also.

As for transportation, unless you have a friend willing to shuttle you either up river or pick you up down river or unless you hook up with a local club your options are primarily to hire a local outfitter to do the shuttle for you. This is often what I do and I will arrange for the outfitter to pick up my truck at the put-in after I have departed on the river and to drop it off at the designated take out. This requires two sets of keys but I find it works well.

Again, Pamskee’s advice on getting some river practise through day trips is sound advice. River travel is quite different from flat water, even slow rivers offer unique challenges. Also, once you have decided to take the plunge, try packing your gear and canoe on dry land to see if it will all fit. Remember gear should be made waterproof in case of the unexpected dump or rain storm or rough water. This is particularly true of clothing, sleeping gear and food. depending on the remoteness of the river, wet gear is at best an inconvenience and can be very serious.

I don’t want to discourage you from this unique and close family bonding experience but, go prepared to really enjoy the opportunities canoe tripping provides. Best of luck to you.

Check with the liveries
on the Delawae river, some have a camp ground or multiple campgrounds. They have canoe and camp packages. They provide the canoe, and campsite, you meet at the camp ground, they shuttle you upriver, you paddle to the camp ground, you spend the night, and paddle the next day. They pick you up and take you back to the camp ground and your car.

Doing this will take a lot of the stress off the first few times, and let you pratice your paddling skills with out having to worry about dumping and losing all your stuff. Plus with two adults and two kids, where will you put the camping gear? And doing this will let you know if you and the family will like it with out a big investment in camping gear.

Try and find another family to go with you, saftey in numbers. The liveries can also advise you on whitch parts of the river would be best for you.

The idea is for everybody to have a good time.

Good Luck

think lightweight…
If by any chance you and your wife already do some backpacking, you might be in pretty good shape. If not, you might find you’ll need to make a few gear purchases to make canoe camping for a family of four work. But it CAN be done. We’ve had a couple with two young children on some of our overnight trips. But they both had done a lot of backpacking so they already had a lot of lightweight, compact camping gear and were very good at traveling light. As also mentioned, you’ll also want a drybag to make sure your stuff stays dry.

I think the idea of planning a trip that would let you stop at an established campground mid way through your trip might be a good way to ease into river camping - not as exciting, but still good to tackle one new challenge at a time. Canoeing down a river - even a pretty easy one - does take river reading skills and learning to negotiate obstacles. And an over-loaded canoe does NOT handle the same as an empty one - even an “empty” one that contains two adults and two chilren!

When I first started river camping, I did a dry ground trial packing of the canoe to make sure everything fit okay - and that was just for me and my stuff! Definitely make sure you’ve got everything packed so that it can fit, and then a trial lake paddle with the loaded canoe might be good too!

I think river camping with your kids is WONDERFUL, so I hope you find the resources to make it happen! Lucky kids!!!


All of you have given me such good ideas. I am going to start slow as was my plan from the begining. We already camp and have all equipment needed, we already canoe and have all the equipment needed for that as well. I just wanted to start putting it all together in a “fun” filled excursion but we all know what that means when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Your advice is greatly appreciated and I will keep checking back for new ideas.

Thanks again

Safety First
I’ve done several week-long canoe camping trips in the Adirondacks with big groups and small groups, but never with children. I’m imagining at least two backpacks, 4 sleeping bags, 1 big tent, all the food and cooking supplies plus other miscellaneous gear won’t leave much room for the children to move around in the boat.

If the kids are older and can handle a paddle, it might be worth the investment to rent a second canoe for your wife to paddle with one of the kids. If they’re young, it might be worth the time to do just a two-nighter or long weekend first before attempting a longer trip. I don’t want to discourage you either - if prepared properly, trips like this will be the most fun you all have and will remember forever. Best of luck!

I live in the NY/NJ area also and would be happy to answer more questions along the way if you wanted to e-mail me.

start slow
Try camping out in your back yard. Maybe you could paddle around a big lake by starting on north side and sleeping on south side then back to car. Congratulations on your noble quest. I think another canoe should go with you to help make it safe a nd fun.

Traveling with a single boat is inherently risky. Putting four people and overnight gear into any canoe less than a Tripper XL makes for a really risky trip.

And the ‘risk’ here isn’t just about group safety or survival. You want to have a good time. At least a good enough time that your boat becomes part of your family.

I wouldn’t do it.

I’d look through all the other suggestions made in this thread. There’s a lot of wisdom concentrated here.

Plan B is to add (rent, borrow) a two-place kayak for one adult and the younger kid. This makes the canoe MUCH more comfortable and manageable. Too, it makes recovery from an upset almost routine with a little practice.

Oh, yeah. Practice. When the weather gets warmer, take everyone and the boat to the local lake or swimming hole, tell the lifeguard what you’re going to do, and paddle around weighted as though you’re on a multiday trip. Swamp the boat and see whether you can control it. Dump it. Practice getting back in. Start in shallow water. This is a good learning moment. In shallow water, everyone should try to recover without PFDs. Then move out to deeper. You can try out your equipment lashing. (Think about lashing in your stuff, even for the supposedly mildest trip. Never mind that some will think you’re a sissy.) Another learning moment is figuring out that simply tying stuff TO the boat isn’t good enough. Tie it IN the boat.

My guess is that you’ll decide that, without airbags installed, you’d have to be rescued by someone else if you dump in deep water.

You’ll find a lot of information available in print and on the web about canoe craft. Don’t believe any of it without trying it for yourself. At lot of the stuff will be summer-camp/flat-water/empty-boat stuff that doesn’t work anywhere else.

In the meantime, get in touch with your local club.



Planning a trip
First try to get an idea of how far you can paddle in a day with your gear and family. Of course the distance will vary with the river’s flow and conditions, but you can get a general idea.

The Delaware River is a good place to start, because it’s easy and has a number of campgrounds along the way.

Once you have that down you can plan more ambitious wilderness type trips. Websites like this one are helpful, as you can read trip reports for your chosen destination, or ask about specifics on this message board.

Figure out where you’re putting in and where you plan to spend the night. Try to have alternative spots in case you travel faster, or slower than expected.

As far as getting up river there are several options. You can bring two cars and leave one at the takeout, then drive the other and your gear to the put in. Another method is to find a local outfitter or guide (Google is your friend). They will transport you and your equipment to the put in for a reasonable fee and in some cases pick you up at the end of your trip.

In some cases a river is slow enough to paddle upstream for a day or two, then back down. The Oswegatchie in the Adirondacks is one of these.

A very good trip for beginners (if you don’t mind the drive) is the Allagash in Maine. There are numerous outfitters who will drive you to the put-in and meet you at the take-out. The river is well mapped with many designated campsites along the route. The river is an easy one to paddle, with nothing more than class I water along the way. It has two very short carries and one slightly longer one. A three-four day trip on the Allagash is great introduction to canoe camping.

So what canoe do you own or use?
And how old are your kids?

I have friends who paddled with both kids and gear in their Clipper Tripper 18’. They paddled big water (Puget Sound), lakes (Bowron), and bigger rivers. They had a lot of training and experience living in the outdoors. Their kids are teenagers now and they got a NovaCraft Prospector 16’ that is well suited to river tripping.

The experience you have car camping and day paddling lakes is a good start. If you and the family liked that, I think you’ll enjoy being able to go places that are more interesting.

We often base camp and then do day trips. It enables us to spend the time on the river and pick the sections we want to run. We camp in a central location and then drive to the river each day. It gives us the opportunity to paddle 5 different rivers while enjoying the comforts of base camping. We also river camp and haul our stuff, but both are fun. We travel with another couple when we base camp, so we have a built in shuttle. Our downriver trips usually require a hired driver. By the way, remember to tip the hired driver. They don’t make much money.

River tripping is great
Family river tripping is great, it is excellent family time. I have two boys and my wife and I have done many trips together. My kids are getting older now and canoeing is now in competition with their friend’s activities. I regret I did not get them started sooner but I will always cherish the time we have spend tighter on our adventure trips. Over the years we have progressed from day trips, to weekend trips and lately into extended wilderness trips in Canada (seen “places2paddle”, Quebec, Noire River trip report,). However, I have to agree with ravensjester the type traveling you are suggesting is risky. Yes, some canoe manufacturers advertise a load capacity of 1000 lbs plus. In reality most canoe are happy around 500 lbs. At around 500 lbs they are usually still maneuverable and have a comfortable margin of free board left. I would suggest you use two canoes instead of one big one. You take one canoe with one kid and your wife takes the other canoe with the other kid. If your wife is not ready to handle a canoe take a few paddling classes together, it is fun and you most likely will learn a trick or two. With two canoes you have ample room for a few comfort items (chairs, floor mats, etc.) and in the even something happens you have another craft to move on.

There are a few basics in tripping. Before you go onto any river you need to do some home work. You should know all the know hazards of the river (dams, rapids, etc) and if this river is inline with your skills. Before leaving for a river I always call a local outfitter to get and updated water level and possible obstructions (trees) I might encountered. All your items should be secured in the canoe, spills occur and usually happen when you least expect them. Looking for your stuff along the river bank is not fun especially if it is your sleeping bags. You also need to find a system to dry proof your essentials (sleeping bag, clothe). Always make sure you got plenty of water along or a means to make water drinkable. A spare paddle is also advisable. Well those a just a few suggestions there are other important items you need but I will move on.

Canoe shuttles are always interesting and sometime you need to be creative. The simple ways is through an outfitter. On many of my trips we pickup the outfitter and he rides with us to the take in, we unload and he drives the car to the take out. I have use a taxi once and also itch hiked with a paddle in my hand. If you are group, you self shuttle and save the shuttle money.

Well have fun paddling with your family it’s a wonderful thing to do, be safe and enjoy and make memories.