Planning first overnight kayak trip


My girlfriend and I are planning our first kayak excursion into the wilderness. We are looking at spending some time on the Kickapoo river in Southwestern Wisconsin. It’s a fairly easy river offering plenty of primitive campsites.

I was looking for some tips and suggestions on planning the trip. Being our first time I don’t want to set unreal expectations as to our daily distance traveled. Would it be a better idea to set up a base camp to return to in the evening, or bring all of our gear with us? We will be in two Potomac Catalyst 100 kayaks.

I would like to traverse the entire river, but my biggest fear with that approach is arriving at the charted campsites and finding them all occupied and being stuck with nowhere to spend the night.

I’d like to start in Ontario and travel to a campsite in the reserve to spend the night, with a return trip the following day. Another option would be to park in the reserve, find a camp, and head out exploring. This would limit the amount of the river we would get to see.

A map of the waterway with campsites and trip times can be seen here:

Any help, tips, or suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Don’t know the area but…

– Last Updated: Jun-24-13 7:40 AM EST –

If I got the right boats on a web search, these are both 10 ft kayaks with very limited storage. They are wide and beamy so slow speed [guideboatguy has this right, it is more the length but 10 footers tend to come wide and beamy...], and I suspect hatch covers that are challenged at keeping things dry if they get much in the way of wave splash. I presume that you want to end the trip with your relationship to girlfriend intact...

I suggest that you keep it really simple. Drive to a camp spot, with the car holding stuff to assure a comfortable and dry overnight, and paddle around from there. If that goes well then think about more challenging efforts and probably boats better tuned to primitive camping.

I agree with Celia
I agree with Celia. I have a catalyst 100 and it is great for day paddling because it is so stable but, the rear hatch has limited space in a dry bag and the front hatch (which I put my wallet and car keys in). I am going car camping next weekend and I am bringing my catalyst for some friends to experience paddling. I use my 17 foot touring kayak for island/river camping.

A single overnight
might be doable depending on your camping style. Are you an ultralighter or do you prefer more creature comforts of home? If the latter then I would definitely agree with Celia and Remeny. If you are experienced ultralighters then I would look at making a trip of the whole river.

What arrangements can you make to get the kayaks back to the vehicles when the trip is over if you do the entire river?

Some thoughts

– Last Updated: Jun-22-13 11:19 PM EST –

Your boats are slow because they are short, not because they are wide. The extra width is a very minor concern compared to what happens if your speed gets up within roughly 0.8 mph (for boats of that length) of the theoretical maximum, and for your 10-foot boats that's about 4.7 mph. Most recreational paddlers go about 3 mph or less, and at such speeds the effort will be pretty minor in any boat. Once some people "turn pro", they really lose sight of the fact that tubby rec boats actually require hardly any effort at all going at speeds of about 3 mph (FAR less effort to paddle them than the average canoe, yet no one says canoes are too much work to paddle). Still, you'll really feel the difference when carrying a load of camping gear so it might be a good idea to do a trial run sometime with that amount of weight on board, just so you know what to expect. Of much more concern than speed is your tolerance for sitting in the boat for four or five hours. If you have no practice doing that, do it soon, at some location where you can quit early if necessary (not on an isolated river) before finalizing your trip plans.

On the other hand, the comments about gear storage are spot-on. If you have experience and the right gear to "go ultra-light", it's a very do-able trip. If you can't keep gear volume to a minimum, it may be advisable to get different boats, or maybe just rent a canoe this time. In any case, make sure you have good waterproof storage for everything (real dry bags or industrial-strength plastic bags, NOT trash bags). If you have an accident on the water you don't want to be out in the middle of nowhere with wet clothes and a wet sleeping bag.

By the way, back in the days when I camped on the river, I used a 12-foot jon boat propelled by useless 6-foot oars, and back then I didn't know enough to minimize my gear load so the boat was awfully sluggish. Maybe my tolerance for hard work is better than some, but I found it a very pleasant trip.

Your concern about finding an empty campsite is probably well-founded. I haven't camped on that river since the early 90s, before the preserve and established campsites had been set up. Also, I only camped in the fall when I had the river all to myself. I do know that on any nice summer weekend it's a very crowded river, but it seems to me that the simple solution is to be ready to hit the water EARLY on your first day. If you are on the water about three hours earlier than the rental boaters, you should have your pick of campsites even if you travel more slowly than they do. I'd recommend doing that even for a day trip. That river is SO beautiful, but much of that will be lost if you get stuck among crowds of rental boaters who can't keep from running into each other and feel the need to constantly shout everything they say.