judging time

What is the average, or rule of thumb, for determining how long it will take to canoe a gentle flowing river. I would like to start doing some quick trips with first timers, and I have been out of canoeing for several years now. I the past it was of no concern to me how long things took, but now when I ask people to go the first thing they ask it how long will it take. I can understand people needing to make arrangment for the kids, dogs,ect… The types of rivers we would like to paddle would be the typical slow flowing, no or little portages, day trippers.



Good Guess…
If you were going at a casual pace and not racing- A good rule of thumb is 2-3mph… If fishing figure you will get 1 mph.

This has been my experience on slow moving streams with minimal current where you do not always have to paddle to keep from stopping. The average gradient would range from 7-10 foot per mile.

but don’t take new ones on long trips.

Think, blisters, sore butts, and sore shoulders.



if you are in the god-forsaken midwest you can always expect wind to have as big an effect as current. The average midafternoon wind is often 10 to 15 mph. Given the unimpeachable rule that it will blow in your face whenever you are in a canoe or riding a bike, you might work hard to maintain 3 mph.


hard to say
That question is nearly impossible to answer. Slow flowing rivers in summer are often low enough that you may frequently hang up on sand and gravel bars. A headwind may be channeled and intensified on a river bed in such a way that it may completely overwhelm leisurly paddlers. Logjams may be encountered on smaller streams and necessitate portages that you didn’t anticipate. Beginners with poor boat control can spend as much time going from bank to bank as they do going downstream.

Assuming no bad headwinds, no hang-ups, portages, logjams and ability to paddle in a straight line, 2mph is reasonable in the absence of appreciable current.

With a helpful current you can add most of the current speed to your estimate, providing you can control the boat well enough to keep it in the water that is moving the fastest.

Remember that a river that you have paddled may be quite different at another time of year, or even a week later, for that matter.

Round Trips
If you do one way trips it can be easy to misjudge.

How long to shuttle?

How long on the water? What if there’s wind or obstructions to deal with?

How long to load and unload?

How long to get to your put in?

If I’m doing short trips with time constraints I often try to do round trips, preferably upstream (or upwind) and back. That way I can just paddle up for about half the time and turn back.

Generally though I try not to paddle with time constraints. Kind of kills the mood.


It’s best to have paddled a section
in similar conditions. If it’s dam controlled, things are often predictable, but with free flowing waters it doesn’t take much to go from too low to easy and easy to moderate. And you need to have an idea about the hazards and where they might be.

Run it without the newbies first and time it and check the flow if there is a gauge.


Too many variables…
…to apply universally. Best advice I can give is to consult local paddle shops or guidebooks - and add 50% for margin of error (unknown blockages, gear or operator problems, having too much fun, etc.) and then expect to go over that occasionally.

Like Tommy said, up-and-back trips are easier to plan for and control.