7 Colorful Canoe Trips to Try This Fall

There's nothing like vibrant autumn hues reflecting off the water. 

7 Colorful Canoe Trips to Try This Fall

There are few better ways to witness the fabulous fiery colors of fall than from the water. The air is crisp and reflections from the foliage dance on the surface around you. So, why not grab your paddles, slide your canoe into the water and take in all that autumn has to offer? Here are a week’s worth of colorful canoe trips to try this fall.

Yellow River Water Trail, Allamakee County, IA

Tucked into the far northeast corner of Iowa, snaking through the bluffs of the state’s Driftless Area, you’ll find the Yellow River. As it makes its way to where it joins the Mississippi, the Yellow River Water Trail cuts through one of the largest remaining stands of deciduous hardwood west of the Mighty Miss: The Yellow River State Forest. As you can imagine, then, a paddle down the Yellow is magnificent during the autumn months. If you need a canoe, you may be able to rent from Off the Driftless Wellness and Adventure Co. in Decorah, which is about 20 minutes from the nearest put-in on the Yellow River Water Trail, outside Postville.

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Little River, Townsend, TN

For a canoe adventure on the shoulders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the fall colors are dazzling, head to the gateway community of Townsend, Tennessee, at the park’s west entrance. There, the Little River flows out of the park on its 59-mile journey through the Cherokee National Forest to the Tennessee River. The Little River is rated at Class I above the Melrose Dam, so paddlers who are less seasoned or who are looking for a more flatwater experience, should put in below the dam. Bring your own boat, or rent a canoe from River John’s Outfitters near Townsend.

Ruedi Reservoir, Basalt, CO

Surrounded by tree-carpeted mountains and red rock cliffs, Ruedi Reservoir, an impoundment of the Fryingpan River near Basalt, Colorado, witnesses an annual gold rush every autumn, as aspens start becoming golden near the treeline in August and then, over several weeks, spread their colors downslope. Several campgrounds are located along the reservoir’s shoreline, making for a fantastic fall foliage weekend getaway.

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Lower Columbia River Water Trail, WA

Fall in the Columbia River Gorge is… well, gorgeous! Take advantage of the Pacific Northwest’s autumnal splendor with a paddle along the Lower Columbia River Water Trail. Put in downstream of the Bonneville Dam below Cascade Locks; there’s a boat landing at Beacon Rock State Park in Washington. From there you can enjoy exploring the Pierce National Wildlife Refuge and all the waterfowl that use the river as a flyway in the fall, as well as the magnificent autumn foliage of Mt. Hood National Forest across the Columbia in Oregon. The nearest rental is likely Gorge Paddling Center in Hood River, Oregon.

Northern Forest Canoe Trail, VT

With more than 740 miles of waterway that includes the Adirondacks and the forests of New England, it’s hard to go wrong anywhere on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail when you’re seeking fall foliage. For a section of water with fewer people and guaranteed foliage, make for the Vermont section, upstream of Lake Champlain on the Missisquoi River. You can rent a canoe from Up North Canoe and Kayak Rental in Morristown. 

Buffalo National River, AR

A gorgeous, wild stream connecting two units of the Ozark National Forest, the Buffalo National River is lined on both sides by dense hardwood forest, that in autumn, explodes in fiery colors. As a bonus, the Buffalo and nearby White River are also world-class trout streams, and fall is the perfect time to chase a trophy brown trout. If you need a canoe—or lodging or a fishing guide—Riley’s White and Buffalo Outfitter, near the confluence of the two rivers, is the place to go.

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Namekagon River, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, WI

Together, the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers comprise the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Although the park’s namesake river is, itself, gorgeous in the autumn, a paddle on its narrower, heavily forested, and less trafficked companion offers a full serving of fall foliage with a little bit of serenity on the side. For a portage-free paddle, put in below the Trego Dam on the Namekagon and you can float beyond the confluence of the two rivers, past the St. Croix State Forest and camp at St. Croix State Park, on the Minnesota side of the eponymous river, just downstream from Danbury, Wisconsin. There are also several designated paddle-in sites along both rivers, throughout the park’s 200-plus miles of waterway. If you need a rental, you can find one at Jack’s Canoe Rental in Trego, Wisconsin.

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