Explore 5 of the best paddle-to camping adventures in America

Frustrated that your favorite campsites are at capacity every weekend? Yeah, so are we.

But as spring and summertime sites are filling up quicker than we can pull up Google Maps, it’s time to push beyond the parking lot and out into the open water.

Your next adventure is only a paddle away. Photo courtesy of mnScouser/Flickr.
Your next adventure is only a paddle away. Photo: Courtesy of mnScouser/Flickr

Boat-in camping is the ideal way to gain a little separation — loading your gear into a canoe or kayak and paddling away from the shore-bound masses to remote camping spots along the banks of our favorite waterways. Out of the reaches of roads and cars, many of our favorite campsites are just a paddle away, whether it be a quick one-night trip or a full-week adventure.

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It’s a big world out there, and a canoe commute can seem a little intimidating on paper, but fear not. Here are a few ideas on where to get started.

Summit Lake, Oregon

Photo courtesy of Collin Votrobeck/Flickr.
Photo: Courtesy of Collin Votrobeck/Flickr
While Washington gets a lot of the credit for its waterways, Oregon is quietly home to a cache of sapphire mountain lakes that will make your head spin.

One of these blue beauties is Summit Lake in Deschutes National Forest. Offering up sweeping views of Diamond Peak, Summit Lake is pure snowmelt, meaning it is both clear and darn cold.

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That being said, boaters can paddle to Berry Island in the center of the lake and set up camp in one of Oregon’s most remote lake sites. Located near Oakridge, Oregon, Summit Lake is accessible only via fire road, so make sure to have a vehicle with some ground clearance.

Note that this is more of a late-summer trip, as it takes a little while for last winter’s snow to fully melt out.

Green River, Utah

A photo posted by Todd Harris, PhD (@riverfreak) on

While the Green River winds 730 miles through three states, our favorite stretch of this behemoth has to be the water that runs through some of Utah’s most impressive canyons. Western canoe campers will get treated to one of the best scenic paddles out there when they drop into Labyrinth and Stillwater canyons before winding through Canyonlands National Park.

If rugged desert and expansive canyons aren’t enough adventure for you, ancient Native American petroglyphs line several canyon walls as well, adding some living history to the mix.

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The Green River is best around late summer into early fall, when spring rains have receded and camping spots along the edge of the river dry out. Make sure to secure all necessary permits before floating into the national park, and plan on at least a week of river travel. Trust us, it’s worth it.

Roanoke River, North Carolina

Photo courtesy of PaddlePartner.
Photo: Courtesy of PaddlePartner
North Carolina is home to the Southeast’s largest stretch of wetlands, making it the ideal locale for some paddle-to overnights.

In fact, to account for the wet, marshy terrain throughout the state, local organizations and outdoors enthusiasts have built camping platforms to keep adventure campers high and dry no matter what the conditions.

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One of the best platforms and one of our favorite canoe camp spots is the Three Sisters Platform along the Roanoke River. Situated 15 miles from Jamesville, the platform sits on the edge of a wide-open bay ideal for stargazing and smooth paddling.

The site does have a price tag ($25 per pair, per night), but the solitude is well worth it.

Boundary Waters, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of Briandjan607/Flickr.
Photo: Courtesy of Briandjan607/Flickr
Forming the natural boundary between the U.S. and Canada, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters are a natural wonder that is already high on the list of many outdoor adventurers.

A maze of thousands of lakes and waterway links, the Boundary Waters feature over 1,500 miles of canoe routes, catering to the multi-month journeyman, the weekend warrior and anyone in between.

The massive network is known for its crystal cold waters and expansive wildlife, giving it a true off-the-grid feel, if even for an afternoon. For first-timers, putting in at Motdur is a great way to connect a few lakes with a lot of camping options.

Overnighting in the Boundary Waters requires a BWCA permit ($16 a night), which are awarded on a rolling basis.

Current River, Missouri

A photo posted by @kaia.amber on

Situated deep in the Ozark Mountains, the Current River is 90 miles of paddling possibility. Designated a National Scenic Waterway, the stretch of slow-moving river is spring-fed, meaning its water is clear and cool all year.

Because the Current cuts through public land, campers can set up a tent anywhere along the banks of the river, whether it be in a more popular site or off the beaten path. The Current also features a handful of caves for exploring in between long paddles between deciduous hardwoods and the impressive Ozark Range, making it one of the country’s most beautiful waterways.

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