Canoeing Trips with a Club – Kayaks of course welcome


View of Patuxent River from Mount Calvert

It looks like the CCA redesigned their web site so I have updated the links to the new links.  Instead of a pdf document which lists the trip calendar, it is now an online calendar.  Look for the events that are aqua, as they are the novice (easy) trips.  There is a link to the legend in the right hand corner of the page. (Updated April 10, 2016)

If you have never been canoeing with a canoe club before, this article is going to give you some hints on how to proceed.  There are a couple of beginner, novice and practiced novice trips posted so far on the CCA Trip Calendar.  (Canoe Cruisers Association of Washington, DC)


How to Read the CCA Trip Schedule

The main page of the  Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington gives an overview of the club and includes a link to the Trip Schedule.  I’m going to make the assumption that the reader is a novice paddler or if not a novice paddler, wants to paddle places with children and therefore is paddling with novice paddlers.  If that is not your case, then ignore these basic instructions.

When you look at the Trip Schedule, the most important things to look at are the dates and the level.  It also tells you where the trip goes and who is coordinating the trip and how to reach that person.  If it says “dealers choice”, that means when it comes time to figure out the river to go on the coordinator is going to choose from what rivers are deep enough to paddle at that time. (With the new trip calendar, trips that say “BRV” and “MCC” are referring to trips that other clubs are leading – Blue Ridge Voyagers and Monocacy Canoe Club.) 

The Trip Guidelines state:

Novice – Beginning paddler who is proficient in flat water, knows basic strokes and can maneuver the boat in Class 1-2 moving water.

Practiced Novice Same skills as novice but more experienced in adjusting to unexpected changes in water level and weather conditions.

CCA is mostly a whitewater club.  For my family trips, I do not assume you know how to paddle in class 1 or class 2  moving water.  I do assume you know how to get in and out of your boat safely and how to keep yourself  and your family safe.  Also how to paddle well enough to go in a relatively straight line.  The water will be moving, whether because of tides or because of wind or both, so it is not quite the same as paddling on a pond with no wind.

CCA is reaching out to gain the next generation of paddlers and by offering some flat water trips to attract families and other beginners, we hope to keep our paddling club going for future generations.

Determining Which Trip to Go On

So you should first determine what your skill level is and if you can participate in the trip posted.  For my beginner trip, there is no experience necessary, but that doesn’t mean you can just show up without contacting the coordinator first.  For PN (practiced novice), the trip leader will want to know what your skill is.

Once You Have Selected a Trip of Interest

One or two weeks ahead of the trip, you email or call the trip coordinator and let them know your interest in the trip.  The coordinator is going to ask questions to determine if you know what you are doing.  For a PN (practiced novice) trip, the coordinator is going to want to know what type of boat you are paddling, how long you have been paddling, and what rivers you have done before.  If you are in a kayak, the coordinator will ask about your rolling skills.

For a beginner trip, (which I am leading this year), I’m going to ask what type of boat you have.  If you don’t have a boat, are you renting a boat?  I will ask about who is coming in your party, names and (if children) ages.  I will ask if you have a life vest for each member of your party and if you know how to determine what size life vest is appropriate for children – if you are bringing children.  Life vests must be warn when boating in Maryland and on all CCA trips.  If you are coming in a kayak, I’m going to find out what type.  If it is a whitewater boat, I will want to make sure you have a helmet and spray skirt.  If it is a flat water kayak, then you don’t need either, as the cockpit is much larger.

If you are canoeing or kayaking, I’m going to assume you know how to swim!  If you don’t know how to swim and you are over the age of 10, then you should probably not be canoeing.  So if you can’t swim, please do not go on a club trip. This is a basic assumption.

Your Preparation Before a Trip

Dry Bags for Storage

Dry Bags for Storage

On a club trip, everyone is 100% responsible for themselves.  So before the trip, consider what type of clothes to wear for the day. I wrote about what to bring paddling in a previous post.  If it is cool, then you want to wear some clothes to keep you warm, like nylon pants and a polypropylene top.  You will want a hat for sun, water for each person (at least a quart per person), some food for lunch.  You will need a dry bag to keep your gear dry.  In the case of a beginner trip, I guess you don’t need a dry bag, but you will need something to contain your gear in your boat, maybe a duffle bag.

If you are renting a boat, you need to make reservations before the trip.  So when you contact the trip leader, contact the canoe livery and get a canoe or kayak reservation at the same time.   If you are renting and have children, consider bringing their own life vests.  I have found many places that rent canoes are not adequately stocked with life vests sized for children.

In Case You Have to Cancel

If you have to cancel please call or email the trip coordinator to let them know you have a change of plans so we will not be waiting for you.

The Day of the Trip

If the meeting time is 10:00 am, that doesn’t mean you pull into the parking lot at 10:00 am, that means you have already arrived and taken your boat off your car and gotten all your stuff together by 10:00 am.  Most trips require a shuttle, so in those cases you may want to keep your boat on your car and inquire about who will be carrying boats versus keeping their car at the takeout.

The flat water trips I am leading do NOT require a shuttle, as they are out and back rivers flat water trips for families and beginners of all kinds.

If you are renting a boat, you don’t show up at the rental office at 10:00 am when the leader said the trip was meeting at 10:00 am.  You need to get your boat before the meeting time.

On places that have boat ramps, you drive your car to the boat ramp, unload your boat(s) and all your equipment and then drive to the parking spaces provided.  Boat ramps are not meant for parking.

Don’t Leave Valuables in the Car

DO NOT leave valuables in the car.  That means you need to take them with you. So you are going to need something dry to keep your keys (if you have a remote lock) and your wallet and maybe your cell phone if you brought it.  I have had stuff stolen out of my car before I wised up and realized to never leave valuables in the car.

Trips for Families

If you are going on one of my family trips and you have children, consider bringing some pool noodles and a floating ball to play with.  In warm weather, squirt guns are fun.  In cool weather, leave the squirt guns at home.  I wrote about Canoeing with Children in this post.

At the Meeting Site

Introduce yourself to the coordinator.  If you have any questions, ask.  Be helpful to other people.  Once you have gotten your boats off the car, see if others may need help.  This is especially important with beginner paddlers, who may not be used to slinging boats on and off of cars.

On the River or In the Parking Lot

Introduce yourself to other paddlers in the group.  Paddling with a club is a great way to socialize and meet new people.  After I got to a certain level of paddling, I decided what was more important to me was the people I went with and not the river I went on. I have made a couple of lifetime friends that I met paddling or met somewhere else and invited paddling with me.  What really drew me into paddling was the friendly people.  I had actually started out rock climbing, but decided I liked the paddlers better, so I pursued paddling and not rock climbing.

After the Trip

Don’t forget all your stuff.  Pull your car up to the boat ramp, but don’t keep your car there longer than necessary.  Help people who are struggling with their equipment.  If you have food to offer, offer it around.  And lastly, thank the trip coordinator.  And consider joining the CCA.  I will be handing out membership forms at the end of my trips.

Follow FamilyCanoeingDC on Facebook to get notified about upcoming novice and practiced novice trips.



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Family Canoeing Trips with Other Families

FamilyCanoeingDC Teams with Canoe Cruisers Association

CCA patchDo you want to canoe with other families on trips that someone else coordinates?  I am joining with the Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, DC (CCA from here on).  And I’m expanding into Facebook to let readers know about family paddling opportunities with CCA.

By the end of 2015, I expect to have 10,000 readers of this blog!  I bet there are some readers who live in the Washington, DC area, have children and own a canoe or some kayaks. CCA is expanding their family canoe/kayak trip offerings for 2016.  I will be coordinating some flat water paddling trips in addition to the moving water family paddling trips which other CCA members will coordinate.  All family canoe/kayak trips will be announced on Facebook, as well as the CCA website.  I will also look into offering a canoe/ kayak trip to a place which rents canoes and kayaks.

History of CCA

When I started this blog, it was just to help other families find places to paddle with children.  I never expected to have so many readers.  But a little over two years later my statistics tell me a lot of people read this blog, or at least a page or two and that makes me think there are other families out there who are looking to do some family paddling — with other families.

This is from the front page of the CCA website.

The Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, DC, founded in 1956, has members from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and other nearby regions. We are a kayak and canoe club whose main purpose is to unite persons interested in paddling the Potomac River Basin and adjacent watersheds.

My association with the CCA goes back to my twenties, which is a long time ago.  My background with the CCA goes back to the very first time I paddled on the Potomac River. The first paddler I met was a CCA member and I have been loyal to CCA over the years. You can read about my first summer of paddling in my first blog post.  Of course over the years I’ve belonged to more than one canoe club.  I have belonged to the Monocacy Canoe Club (Frederick), Coastal Canoeists (Richmond), and the Greater Baltimore Canoe (and Kayak) Club (Baltimore).  It doesn’t matter whether you are in a canoe or a kayak, we call ourselves paddlers.  I started in a canoe, switched to kayak, and now I’m back in a tandem canoe.

The reason to do club trips is to meet other paddlers, enjoy the community of paddlers, and exchange knowledge about rivers and trips.  I have found paddlers are the nicest people.

The Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, DC offers more than just trips.  It offers flat water and whitewater canoe lessons, river kayak lessons, and swiftwater rescue classes.  The club works on conservation and river access issues and there is a racing part of the club.

I’ve taken just about every class they have given, at least once, if not twice.  Back when there were enough people for a solo whitewater canoe class to run a class and an instructor to teach that, I took that class too.

For years, maybe 30 or more years, the CCA, National Park Service and two canoe liveries (Swains in Potomac, and Fletcher’s Boat House in DC) worked together in the summer and offered free or $2 canoeing on the C&O Canal on Tuesday (Fletcher’s) or Thursday (Swains) evenings.  The liveries provided the canoes, the CCA would run it and offer some quick instruction at the beginning and the National Park Service would oversee it.  It was evening canoeing on the canal from 6:30 – 8:00.  Thousands of folks came by and paddled at one or the other places and got an introduction to canoeing.  I found this old Gazette article about the program.

Today, Swain’s Lock Canoe Livery is closed (The Swains retired).  Fletcher’s Boat House remains open, but the program is no more.  I think it has something to do with the NPS lack of support.  Whatever it is, we don’t have that available as an introduction to canoeing.  Many CCA members went for many years.  It was a way to get a little flat water practice, meet friends, and give some tips for new paddlers on the C&O canal.  I was a regular at Swains for several years.

I decided in August 2015, I wanted more families to paddle with and I could use this blog to leverage paddles over to the Canoe Cruisers Association.  They are looking for the next generation of paddlers too!  I’ve always appreciated CCA in that the club has always been very welcoming of beginners and has always offered lessons for a reasonable cost.

I thought Facebook might be the way to go to let families know about family friendly canoeing opportunities with CCA, so I have created a Facebook page for FamilyCanoeingDC.  I’m hoping people will “like” the page and that will be an easy way to get the information about trips out.

I have created the page in the fall of 2015; I figure that gives me all fall, winter and spring to get “likes” and find people interested in family paddling.  If you are not on Facebook, you can still look at the CCA website to find family friendly paddling opportunities.

So like FamilyCanoeingDC on Facebook and keep informed of family canoeing opportunities with the Canoe Cruisers Association.  You can join CCA here.


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Potomac River, south of Harper’s Ferry, WV

canoeists swimming in river

Splash Trip with Canoe Clubs

Potomac River, Potoma Wayside (VA) to Brunswick, MD

I specifically wrote this post about Canoe Safety in Moving Water because of this trip, so please take a look at it if you are unfamiliar with safety in moving water.

This paddle puts in on the Potomac River below Harper’s Ferry at the Potoma Wayside. This is the usual takeout for paddlers running the Needles (whitewater) section of the Potomac River and the Staircase (whitewater) Section of the Shenandoah River.

For this section, we put in at Potoma Wayside, Virginia.  It is just before the bridge where Rt. 340 crosses the Potomac River south of Harper’s Ferry West Virginia.   Our takeout was 5 to 6 miles downstream at Brunswick Landing in Brunswick, MD.  The takeout at Brunswick, MD, is just before the Rt. 17 bridge over the Potomac River.

We went on the “Family Splash Trip”, coordinated jointly by the Monocacy Canoe Club and the Canoe Cruiser Association of Washington, DC.  They have this trip every August on this section of the Potomac River, when the water is low and safe for families to paddle.

canoe put in

Put in at Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center

The put-in at Potoma Wayside is across the street from the gas station, and the put-in is a bear… long and steep downhill.  So our trip coordinator coordinated with Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center and we all paid money per person, per car and per boat to have our boat all its gear and ourselves transported to the put-in (on their property) close to the Potoma Wayside put-in.  It ended up being $20-$25 per family, so totally worth it in my view.  But you may be able to pay to park at the gas station and carry your own boat down.  I’ve carried kayaks and canoes up this take-out, but it is much harder to carry down than up. My sources tell me it is mighty hard to get one of the coveted spaces at the gas station, so you might as well pay Harpers Ferry Adventure Center.  And yes, from what I understand, it is a monopoly.

This was done at low water and with a pretty big group.  I guess it is a class 1, gently moving water, with maybe one noticeable drop.   There were about 6 families and many more who were paddling as couples and singles.  So there were lots of people who knew what they were doing, which is what you want in moving water.

The Monocacy Canoe Club has been doing this run for at least 20 years.  It is the “Family Splash Trip” in August.   This year the CCA (Canoe Cruisers of Washington, DC) joined MCC to coordinate this trip.   Last year’s trip was cancelled due to high water.

Running A Shuttle

parking at brunswick takeout

Parking at Brunswick takeout

We met at the take-out, Brunswick Boat Ramp in Brunswick, MD, which is on the river side of some train tracks.  Most people were in canoes but there were a fair number of kayaks too.

We needed to leave a couple cars at the take-out, all the rest of the cars went to the put-in. If you have not done a one-way canoe trip, that is the shuttle.  Take your keys with you. We put Mark’s boat on our car and Mark and his stuff in our car (his friend got a ride with another paddler).  And we all put our dry clothes and after paddle refreshments in Mark’s car, which was staying at the take out.  As a rule, I never leave anything of value in my car, I always take my keys, wallet, phone with me and put them in my dry bags.

There are train tracks at the Brunswick takeout.  We were caught between the Potomac River and the road for at least an hour while trains moved and stopped keeping us unable to run the shuttle.  Finally the trains moved and we were able to start our trip more than an hour late.

paddlersThe Trip

Since we paid Harpers Ferry Adventure Center to take our boats, equipment and persons to the put-in, we actually put in a little downstream of Potoma Wayside.  The water in this part of the Potomac Rive is moving and fairly flat.  There were a couple small ripples here and there.  We stopped about half way through at a small rapid.  Most everyone ran the rapid at the biggest drop (less than 1 foot), but you could run a smaller drop either left or right of it.

canoe in waterWe stopped at that rapid for lunch/ snack and the splash part of the trip. People sat in the water falls, kids swam and crossed the moving water from eddy to eddy.  We had over a dozen boats piled on rocks in the middle of the river.

This is a “Splash Trip” and this was the splash part of the trip.  I was not coordinating this trip, had I been, I would have suggested people bring their squirt

guns and pool noodles. We had more squirt guns than we needed and lent squirt guns to two other boats so we had someone to fight with.  It was an especially hot day, so sometimes I was asking for people to squirt me just to keep cool.

canoes at takeout

Takeout in Brunswick, MD

One of the boats went over in the small rapid and paddlers used their throw ropes to rescue both the paddlers who fell out and to retrieve the canoe which went over.

The takeout is on the upstream side of the Rt. 17 bridge, (Brunswick, MD) but you have to go into a little canal on river left (Maryland) to get to the takeout.

Close by there was a little ice cream shop that closed at 6:00 pm on Sunday. We sat outside of the The Little Red Barn Ice Cream Cafe in Jefferson, MD.  I thought we smelled too much as a group to sit inside with the other customers.  They serve both hand dipped and soft serve ice cream.

This was our first Splash Trip and we all had lots of fun.  My kid loved having the other kids around.  It was fun to float in the rapids and walk on the rocks.  All the kids just loved moving from eddy to eddy and trying to swim across the rapid.  Different parents were catching kids as they “ferried” themselves across the rapid.  It was a lovely day.


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Canoe Safety in Moving Water

I decided to write a little about canoe safety.  We went on a very fun Family Splash Trip, on the Potomac River below Harper’s Ferry, which I will write about soon.  Our friend Mark (who is a kayaker) brought a friend and borrowed our guest canoe.  Even Mark, who has been kayaking for 15 years, needed some tips on canoe safety.

American Whitewater has an excellent Safety Code.  It is all inclusive, but I will highlight a few very basic things you need to know before canoeing on moving water.

Always Wear a Proper Fitting Lifevest (PFD – Personal Floatation Device)

In case it is not clear, each person in your canoe or kayak, should have a proper fitting life vest (PFD) and should be wearing it.  It is a law in Maryland.  Boat floatation cushions are not proper PFD’s. This website has pictures of different life vests.  Normally you wear Type III life vest when canoeing.

For children, you buy life vests by weight, not age.  An infant life vest is for 0 – 30 lbs.  It has extra floatation behind the neck, and has a strap that goes between the crotch.  The name, infant is a misnomer.  My child wore and infant life vest until age 3.5 due to his weight.

Children’s Life Vest – 30-50 lbs – the next size for children is for the weights listed.  This type does not have extra floatation behind the neck, but it does have a strap that straps under the crotch. This strap is to make sure the child does not fall out of the PFD.

Children’s Life Vest 50-90 lbs – this is the next size up.  It is similar to the smaller life vest, made bigger, but this life vest does not have a strap that goes between the crotch.

Adult Sizes, XS, S, M, L, XL – well you get the idea.  Once the child has reached 90 lbs, they fit into an adult life vest.

Type II Life Vest – This type of life vest is also known as a horse collar life vest.  They are better than nothing and are quite good at keeping your head above the water, but they are not comfortable and people often take them off instead of wearing them while canoeing.  I linked to a youth Type II vest, it is for 50-90 lbs.  They make a type II life vest for 30-50 lbs, but those are horrible and your child is not going to be well protected with it.  There is no crotch strap and likely your toddler or young child could easily come out of that life vest.  I have an adult horse collar life vest in my possession because for one thing the adult ones are one size fits all, so if the person doesn’t fit any of my other life vests, he can fit that one.

When you Come out of your Boat in Moving Water

American Whitewater definition of Class I rapids (moving water):
Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.

If you fall out of your boat or your boat falls over, the first thing to do is lay on you back and face downstream. Use your feet to keep you away from any rocks.  Of course you try to hold on to your equipment (boat and paddle), but if that puts you in danger, let it go.  Children should be told to lie on their backs and face downstream.  Your child should be at least comfortable in water, if not a competent swimmer.  I’m assuming parents are competent swimmers too.

Do not stand up in moving water if it is over your knees.  Doing so could cause foot entrapment, you can read more about foot entrapment here.

 Make Sure the Painters are Stowed

IMG_6394Painters are the ropes on either end of the canoe.  American Whitewater says they should be between 8-10 feet and 1/4 inch or bigger rope.  Ours are long enough to use as end ropes when tying them to the car about 15 feet.  You don’t want that rope getting tangled in your feet or body if you and your boat go over.  In our canoes, we have put bungee cords to contain the painters.  We coil up the painters and stow them under the bungee cords.  If your canoe does not have a way to keep the painters out of the way, coil them up on a short leash.

 Proper Storage of Gear

Dry Bags for Storage

Dry Bags for Storage

You might be wondering how proper storage of the stuff you want to take with you in your canoe is a safety issue, but it is.  This is where my friend Mark needed a little pointer.  He took the painter (15 foot long rope attached to one end of the canoe) and tied the other end to a gallon water jug.   This is really unsafe, because if he and the boat went over, that long rope attached to essentially an anchor could easily get caught around his body or legs keeping him under the water.

Dry bag around canoe thwart

Dry bag around canoe thwart

So what is the solution to keeping your stuff in the canoe?  Buy a dry bag or two and put the stuff you want to keep dry in the dry bag.  Attach the dry bag to the thwart.  You roll up this type of dry bag and clip it around the thwart.

Other ways to attach stuff:  Install a tight line between two thwarts (at the gunwale) and hang carabiners off of it. Or install a patch on the bottom or the side of the canoe to hang stuff off of.

Tight line attached between thwarts.

Tight line attached between thwarts.

Picture of water bottle attached to d-ring

Water bottle attached to d-ring with carabiner

The reason to attach your stuff to the canoe is because you still want the stuff if the boat goes over. But you could just skip attaching your stuff to the canoe and let it fall out.  If it floats you can probably retrieve it later.  If it sinks, well bye-bye.

Many people bring a cooler with them and don’t attach it.  We do that on flat water, but decided to skip the cooler for class I rapids.  The safe way of attaching stuff in your canoe is to attach it with as short of rope as possible or a carabiner attached to a d-ring.   You don’t want to have long ropes with stuff hanging off it getting tangled up with the passengers if the boat goes over.

OK, so those are four basic safety rules with paddling in moving water, I will reiterate:

  1. Get and wear a proper fitting life vest for each person
  2. If you come out of a boat in moving water, float on your back, feet downstream
  3. Stow the painters (end lines) of your canoe
  4. Proper storage of your stuff in the canoe

There are lots  more safety measures to employ, like not paddling alone, learning to self rescue, learning how to use rescue equipment, learning to read water properly, learning to paddle well.  The best way to learn this is to join a local canoe club.  There are several around.  I am a member of the Canoe Cruises Association of Washington, DC and I have been a member of the Monocacy Canoe Club too, when I paddled more frequently.



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Mallows Bay, Potomac River, Nanjemoy, MD


Ferry Ghost Ship

We paddled Mallows Bay where there are lots of “Ghost Ships”.  You can read about the Ghost Fleet here and here.  Essentially there are more than 150 vintage World War I wooden ships which were abandoned in Mallows Bay.  Almost 100 years later, we can still see what is left of the fleet at low tide.

We actually went to the Ghost Ship area of Mallows Bay, and then we paddled upstream to where there is a point along the shore and spent time playing with water guns and wading. There are safety considerations for both parts of this trip and I will address them separately.



Mallows Bay

This is my first time visiting this place.  I heard from my friend, Mark, that when paddling here, you need to take into consideration both tides and how recently and how much it has rained in the area.  (And by “area”, I mean the drainage area of the Potomac River.) We checked the Tidal Chart.  On the day we went, the low tide was at 9:04 am and the high tide at 3:31 pm.  This tide chart shows both the times of the low and high tides, and if you look at the bottom of the chart, you can see how low and high the tides will be on a particular day.   On our particular day, the morning low tide was 4/10 of a foot higher than zero level.   It had not rained in a week or more so there was no extra water that would be contributing to making the water level higher.  And water levels on the Potomac are usually low in the Summer.  I only know the gauge readings for Little Falls, which is a gauge much higher up in the watershed, but I checked (after the fact) and the reading was 3.07 which is normal low for this time of year. That told me (as I had presumed) that there was not extra water coming in from higher up in the watershed which might raise the levels down here.

Of course it would have been best if we could have arrived before low tide, but since we were traveling from 1.5 hours away, we decided on an arrival time of 10:00 am, one hour after low tide.  After unloading canoes and getting stuff ready, we did not launch until 10:30 am.

Boat Launch

Mallows Bay Boat Launch

Mallows Bay Boat Launch

The boat launch at Mallows Bay Park is huge. It has both a concrete canoe and motor boat launch and a separate kayak launch on a floating dock.  You drive down to unload your boat and then drive back to the top of the hill for parking.   There is parking for more than 30 cars and places for cars which are towing trailered boats.  Mallows Bay Park is open 5:30 am until dusk.  There are port-a-potties in the parking lot.

Ghost Ships

Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship

The launch is on a inlet, which is much calmer than Mallows Bay.  From the inlet you can see the remains of a large Ferry ship, (according to a volunteer at the park).  There is as osprey nest on the boat and we were told not to paddle too close as the osprey would be angry (read fly toward you) if you go too close.  So probably the osprey were nesting.   In the inlet is the remains of a PT boat (again according to the volunteer).

We paddled toward the ferry and paddled around to see it but did not get too close.  This ferry is outside of the part of Mallows Bay which is the Ghost Fleet area.  The Ghost Fleet is surrounded by pilings.  It takes less than 10 minutes to paddle from the boat launch to the pilings and the start of the Ghost Fleet.

Paddling Safety in the Ghost Fleet

Steel bars sticking up all around.

Steel bars sticking up all around.

We were in two canoes.  My husband and I paddled in separate canoes so that we would have at least one experienced paddler in each canoe.  We each took the back of the canoes (the stern).   I had an inexperienced adult in my bow (front) and my husband had a 9 year old in the bow and an 8 year old in the middle, and they only occasionally paddled.  But mostly he was on his own.  Even if we had had one more adult to make this an easier paddle, we would still have split up the experienced paddlers so that there was one experienced paddler in each canoe.

When we got to the Ghost Fleet, it was already more than 1.5 hours after low tide and the tide was coming in.  There were still lots of boat hulls visible from the surface.  But much of what there is to see is still underwater.  What is left of these boats is some wood but mostly lots of huge steel bars that held the boats together.  These steel bars, both under and on top of the water are a huge safety risk.  The last thing you want to do is get out of the boat, or fall over in the area.  The waves coming in were both from the tide but also occasionally from the wake of motor boats.  Mallows Bay is what I call open water, even if it is somewhat protected in the bay.  It would be easy to get broached against the ghost ships if you get stuck being pushed into the steel bars, which I will call rebars, but are actually some sort of bolt or rivet to keep the boats together.  So because of these dangerous rebars sticking out of the water, it is important to look at the underwater ships from the down tide side of the boat.  I’m not sure if that is a word, but you want to have the tide pushing you away from the rebars, not into the rebars.

For this part of our trip, I think you need to be at least an intermediate canoeist to do it safely.  If you have a hard time controlling the canoe and steering it, it will be a pretty difficult and potentially dangerous paddle at low tide.  At higher tide, where there are not so many rebars sticking out of the the water, it will not be as dangerous.

For kayaks, it will be easier all around to do this paddle in kayaks because you have less likelihood of being tipped over by waves. If you do this paddle without many canoe or kayak skills, you would be safer staying out of the area between the boats where you could get pushed into rebars.

Paddling on to the Point


Paddling to the point, cliffs in the background

We paddled past the Ghost Ships to the point (north). We were paddling with the tide on the way out so it didn’t take too much effort to paddle up to the point, but knowing it would take a lot of effort to paddle back against the tide and the wind and waves.

There are some steep cliffs before you get to the point, which we avoided.  There was a small beach to land on which was covered with drift wood at the high tide mark.  But there was a place for the kids to play in the water, floating in their life vests and squirting their squirt guns.  We had lunch on the beach and made sure to pull the boats pretty far onto shore as the tide was continuing to come in.

Safety of Paddling to and from the Point

Playing at the Point

Playing at the Point

This was one tough paddle coming back from the point.  We had to paddle in open water with waves and wind.  Remember at this point we were paddling against the tide.  I think to do this in a canoe, one should be a strong intermediate paddler and have some experience with open water.  It would be considerably easier to do it in a kayak, plus you wouldn’t have as much chance of going over and being swamped by waves.  It took all of our strength and skill to make it back to the more protected Ghost Ship area.  We needed to keep far enough away from shore so we didn’t get washed into shore. But we needed to keep our boat turned 45 degrees to the waves to avoid being drenched.  Head on the boat takes on more water.  If our boats had been turned parallel to the waves, this would have easily caused us to go over.  So you need a real understanding of this and the skills to paddle keeping your boat angled to the waves yet still making forward progress. And I am no expert in open water paddling.  This is probably my third or fourth time doing it.

Back to the Ghost Fleet and Paddling to the PT Boat

Once we made it back to the Ghost Fleet, the paddling became easier.  It was noticeable how much the tide had come in since we had been gone and how more of the boats were covered with water.  We paddled back to the boat launch and past it in the inlet to where the volunteer said there was a sunk PT boat.  We paddled up to the PT boat, looked around and called it a day.

Fun Quotient

I originally invited several families to go with us and many who were interested could not go the date and time I was leading this trip.  I thought I would do it again for the other families, but in talking with my husband, he thinks the fun quotient was just not there for the kids.  There were limited opportunities for playing due to the wind and waves, while on the water.  The place where the kids did play was way at the end of Mallows Bay, where it was difficult to get back from and took a certain amount of skill to paddle.

There is one other place we stopped, where we saw some kayaks taking a break on a sand bar (or maybe it was a sand bar on a sunken ship).  But this location was small and there were rebars in the water close by, making it a very small place to play and another possibility to get hurt on all of the metal in the water.   So maybe in a few years, we will try again, for now there are other places to explore which don’t have the danger or metal spikes all around and have more safe places to have fun.

Post Paddling Refreshment

We hate to pass B&J Carryout in Accokeek without stopping.  All year they are open with burgers and BBQ.  But April until November there is a separate window open for ice cream. It is that seasonal window we used on this trip.

There is information about refreshments at the end of the Mattawoman Creek Trip Report. These are the same places to go when paddling Mallows Bay

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Canoe Camping Locally (Part 1)

I’m doing a little research on where to canoe camp in the mid-Atlantic area.  I’m not strict that you have to canoe and put all your stuff in the canoe and go camping.  I’m also going to include places which are nice to canoe and you can camp close-by. It is surely easier to car camp and canoe nearby than canoe up to your campsite.

This information is not exhaustive, but the start of my research.

Potomac River and C&O Canal (Maryland)

There are places along the Potomac River, hiker/biker campsites which you could presumably paddle to some of these or paddle for a couple of hours and then car camp at some of these. This is the link to read to find out where the camp sites are and what the regulations are.  Facilities along the canal and Potomac River are provided by RideTheCanal.

Swains Lock – they allow tent camping at Swains Lock in Potomac.  There is no drinking water until further notice.  But presumably you could canoe on the C&O Canal and then set up your campsite after an afternoon of canoeing.  I would not try canoeing on the Potomac River at this point, because it is extremely close to Great Falls.   I believe there are signs to warn paddlers to take out before Great Falls, but why risk getting to shore in time.

Paw Paw Bends – Potomac River.  The flat water section of the Potomac River at Paw Paw Bends is supposed to be nice.  There are several campsites. Paw Paw Bends campsite is a first come first served group campsite, but this link can give you ideas of where else you can camp if that site is occupied.

White’s Ferry – I noticed that you can put in at White’s Ferry, camp at Chisel Run and take out at Edwards Ferry.  Of course I have no idea what the paddling is like, but these access points are 5-6 miles apart and could be an overnight trip.  This page of C&O Canal maps is most useful, especially the one labeled “C&O Canal Map“.

The Park Service offers advice about where to camp along the Potomac River on multi-day river trips on this page. Of course you don’t actually have to do a multi-day trip, but this information is invaluable.

Tidal Potomac River (Maryland and Virginia)

The National Park Service has an informative website on locations to paddle (and camp) on the Tidal Potomac River.

Patuxent River  (Maryland)

There are some campsites on the Patuxent River.  Patuxent River Trail gives information about the camp sites and who to reserve them through.  Members and non-members of Patuxent Riverkeeper can rent canoes and kayaks along this stretch of the river.

Pine Barrens (New Jersey)

There are a series of rivers in south central New Jersey in the Pine Barrens which are perfect for canoeing and camping. But these are small rivers so you need to make sure there is enough water in the selected route to paddle it.  This link  has a list of all the local state parks you can camp in.  You certainly don’t need a guided trip down the Batsto or Mullica Rivers, but you will probably have to hire a local company to run the shuttle because the put-ins and take outs are in the back woods (pine woods) and impossible to find unless you are a local. I’ve camped at Wharton State Forest twice when I was canoeing the Pine Barrens.  But it was never really canoe camping, as we were really car camping after canoeing all day. But still a nice place to camp.   Canoeing the Jersey Pine Barrens is out of print, but available used. It is an interesting read as it contains the history and natural history of the area too.

But the river you will be able to canoe will be dictated by how much water is in any particular river at the time you want to paddle.  (These are very small rivers.) The Pinelands Preservation Alliance has information on canoe and kayak rentals as well as river trips.  You are going to need to set up a shuttle with one of these companies since there is really no way to find put-ins without local knowledge.  This keeps these local families in business.  These four rivers are the main rivers for canoeing: Batsto, Mullica, Wading, Oswego Rivers.   I think the last time I canoed the Pine Barrens, I used Bel Haven Canoes for my shuttle.  It looks like there are many more kayak/canoe rental places now than there used to be.

Hammonton is the “big” town near the Pine Barrens. It is also the “Blueberry Capital of World”.  If you look at where the blueberries come from in early July, they come from around Hammonton, NJ.

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Canoe Camping – Isle Royale, MI

isle_royale_002-webIsle Royale National Park (Michigan)

This was my first canoe camping adventure.  I did this with one friend and there were no kids along.  I think Isle Royale would be a great paddle for when a child is 12 or older. And especially if there are a couple of families together.

I paddled with a friend from college,  several years after college.  I met my friend, Gus, when we were freshman on the Wilderness Program which took place one month before college started and was designed for the freshmen.  It was three weeks of backpacking in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. (They also had a three week program of canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Canada — but I selected the backpacking trip then.)  Gus and I  were tent and cooking partners for the final five days of the trip and we have been friends ever since.  He also had years of Boy Scout experience and some canoeing at Boy Scout camp experience.  So what better way to visit a friend than plan to meet at a vacation destination and have a little adventure.  I had never canoe camped, but I was a pretty competent canoeist and kayaker and I had camped quite a bit.  So I proposed a vacation to my friend who lives in the Midwest as a nice way to visit and vacation.

I chose Isle Royale over Boundary Waters Canoe Area because there are just so many entry points in the Boundary Waters that it would take a lot more research to figure out where to go than in Isle Royale.  Of course if you go with an outfitter that is no problem at all. But I was outfitting and planning my own trip.

You are going to need this Trails Illustrated Isle Royal Map and the book: Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails and Water Routes.

There are several ways to get to Isle Royale and none of them is cheap.  You can take a ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota.  You can take a ferry from Copper Harbor, Michigan or Houghton, Michigan.  You can take a seaplane from Laurium, Michigan.  Or if you have a private  boat, you can sail it to different harbors.  We took the ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota.  One thing about the ferry from Grand Portage, it circumnavigates the island, so you can get on or off at different locations.  I think it is the only ferry that does this circumnavigation.

This trip took place back when you could take several pieces of luggage on an airplane for free. So between the two of us we were able to take most of what we needed on the airplane. Now-a-days there would be a problem because they allow less luggage and you would need to ship your backpacking stove to your destination, because even without gas in the stove, they are not going to let you carry a stove on the plane which has ever had gas in it.  You might have to ship other of your gear rather than take it on an airplane.  I would have liked to take my paddle, but didn’t because of airplane luggage considerations.

We both flew into Duluth, MN, where we rented a car and provisioned.  In Duluth, we bought contractor bags to put inside of our backpacks and duffel bags.  We bought a gallon container of white gas  for my stove, filled a couple of fuel bottles and left the rest in the car.    At the end of the trip, I emptied the remaining fuel back into the gallon container and gave it to whomever would take it at  the end of the ferry ride.  We bought whatever food we needed that we hadn’t already packed at home.

I had a couple of dry bags which I kept things I really wanted to keep dry, like my sleeping bag and food.  I took my neoprene socks, but I might have taken my wetsuit except my friend didn’t have one, so I just didn’t take it.  I did take my paddling jacket – which is sort of a waterproof windproof jacket I would wear over my long john top or t-shirt, depending on the weather.

There are a bunch of wonderful state parks along the drive between Duluth, MN and Grand Portage, MN and we stopped at couple on the drive north. We spent the night in a motel in Grand Marais, Minnesota, where we rented a canoe from an outfitter.  We packed everything in the canoe the night before our ferry ride at the motel, just to make sure it fit and then took it all out so we could get the canoe back on the car and the bags into our motel room for the night.

There are lots of different routes you can take in and around Isle Royale.  They have a maximum number of people at each campsite, so you have to check with the park service to see how they are reserving those.  They did not allow people to use wheeled canoe carts on the island for portages and I see it is still not allowed.  We didn’t have one, but I think it is crazy that they pretty much make the back country inaccessible for anyone except the young and strong.   Our route required a minimum of portaging, but if I went back, I would do a different route.  I would do a route that went from one inland lake to another inland lake.  Lake Superior is too cold to consider getting wet in (EVER), but my understanding is that the inland lakes can get pretty warm and you can swim in them.

I would not consider the route we took unless you have good weather and you are  competent paddlers.   And I would not do our route with children because of the danger of overturning in places where we were in open water.  There were a couple of iffy places of open water paddling and we were lucky and had good weather so we were able to do them.  It would have been much safer to have two or three boats to do the route we took, but alas we only had two people in one boat.

There is an hour time difference between Minnesota and Michigan.  You need to know this if you are leaving from Minnesota on the ferry.  Once you hit Isle Royale you are in Michigan and a different time zone.  Of course this is only important when you are considering returning ferry schedules.

To see the map of Isle Royale National Park, go to the park website and look on the bottom left for “View Park Map”. On that map you can see everything very clearly.

Day 1: Our route was as follows:  We took the ferry from Grand Portage, MN to Windingo on the south of Isle Royale.  Then we continued on the ferry until we got to McCargoe Cove.  We left the ferry at McCargoe Cove and began our trip.  The ferry goes all the way into McCargoe Cove.  We got off the ferry and by then it was afternoon and we set up our campsite in McCargoe Cove.  Then since we had never paddled together we paddled for awhile in McCargoe Cove, with just ourselves in the canoe.

Day 2: We started out on our second day to do our most difficult paddle.  It was the open water between the mouth of McCargoe Cove and Pickerel Cove.   It is the coldness of the water and the potential for disaster in open water with this route I do not recommend for families.  It was a very scary paddle, due to waves and wind and cold water.  We stayed along the coast for this paddle, about 60-100 feet from shore.  After a couple of hours we were at Pickerel Cove and decided to stay the night and set up camp.

We decided rather than canoe fully loaded to Belle Island, we would stay at Pickerel Cove.  There was one short portage to Pickerel Cove.  We took out all of our camping gear, set up camp and then set out to do a day paddle and explore in an empty canoe Amygdaloid Channel and Island.  There is also open water between Pickerel Cove and the west end of Amygdaloid Island, but with an empty canoe, it was much less dangerous and stressful.

Day 3: The third day we set off and canoed from Pickerel Cove Campsite along Pickerel Cove to Lane Cove. Again that is not a very long paddle. We set up an early camp and decided to do some hiking. We hiked inland to see Mt. Franklin and Mt. Ojibway. We got a good view at the fire tower at Mount Ojibway.

Day 4:  Day four started off with a short paddle and then a short portage into  Stockley Bay.  Then on to Five Fingers Bay and a short portage to Duncan Bay.    We didn’t plan on having long paddles every day. Because neither of us had ever been canoe camping, we decided to just do short paddles and we could hike or do additional paddling without equipment. We stayed at Duncan Narrows campsite.  Duncan Narrows is the most eastern campsite recommended for canoes. Had we been in sea kayaks, we could have gone on east to Blake Point.  They don’t recommend that canoes go around the point and due to that there is a lot of portaging.

Day 5: We left Duncan Narrows and backtracked toward where the portage point Duncan Bay to Tobin Harbor began. The only really bad portage of the whole trip was this portage. I think it is Tobin Harbor where the seaplanes land and I enjoyed watching the seaplanes take off and land in Tobin Harbor.  After the portage from Hell, we had one more portage to get to the next inlet, a short portage to Rock Harbor.

I thought I would make a comment about the equipment we had.  We rented the canoe from a regular outfitter in Grand Marais.  People in the Midwest who do a lot of lake paddling are used to portaging (carrying the boat).   Boats came outfitted with portage pads, these are a padded piece to fit onto the thwart to sit on your shoulders while you carry a canoe. But the canoe was already outfitted with canoe carry thwarts. Canoe carry thwarts are thwarts which have a carved thwart to facilitate portaging.  And I could not move the adjustable portage pads close together enough to fit on my shoulders. The problem is they should have put the portage pads on a standard thwart, and not a canoe carry thwart, where placement becomes a problem.  I was not able to move the moveable portage pads close enough together to fit on my shoulders.  So I either had to completely remove the canoe pads and carry with the wood on my shoulders, or Gus had to carry it because his shoulders were bigger and could accommodate the portage pads.  So if you are renting, this is something to figure out before you arrive at Isle Royale.  The portage from Duncan Bay to Tobin Harbor is pretty extreme. Here is the list of portages. That portage is 8/10ths of a mile and extremely steep. You couldn’t do it with a canoe dolly even if you had one and they allowed it.

Rock Harbor is the big built up area of Isle Royale, but at the time you could not camp there for more than one day.  We needed to camp at Rock Harbor the day before we took the ferry out of Rock Harbor, so we paddled past Rock Harbor to the next campground, which is Three Mile campground.  By the time we got to Rock Harbor and paddled past it we had really poor weather. It was very cold (this was July) and the rain would not let up.   We ended up staying in a shelter at Three Mile, which we had reserved in Windingo.  All of the shelters were occupied with people when we got there, so we just asked to see people’s permits, since we had a permit for a shelter.   We found the shelter for which people had no permit and stayed there.  We invited the interlopers to stay with us, but they decided they would rather stay in their tent.  We were glad to be in shelter (which are screened) because it was just so wet outside.  And there were so many mosquitoes.

At one point in our paddle it was raining so hard, we had to stop on the side of the island, get a tarp out and stay under the tarp with our boat while we waited for the rain to get lighter.  You don’t want to be paddling in the thunder and lightning, that is another reason why we pulled over.

Day 6: We paddled back to Rock Harbor for the last night before our ferry ride.  But it was so cold and rainy, that I didn’t feel like hiking around Rock Harbor.  If the weather was nicer, I would have considered a paddle (without equipment) across the bay to some of the outer islands on the Rock Harbor side of Isle Royale.  But with the fog and rain and cool temperatures, we didn’t do that.

Day 7: It actually cleared up for a ferry ride back to Grand Portage.  Since we continued to circumnavigate Isle Royale (clockwise), we got to see the rest of the island from the ferry.  The last stop is Windigo before heading over to Grand Portage, MN.

Yes there were lots of mosquitoes.  I had gloves to wear at night, long sleeve shirts and a mosquito net for my head.   After cooking dinner we usually sat in the tent to avoid the mosquitoes.  Some of the campsites had screened in shelters; they were the best.   They had an open front covered with screening, but you could still see out.

I had full rain gear, Gortex jacket and rain pants. Even with all of that it was hard to stay dry in a driven rain and bone-chilling weather.   I brought quite a bit of cold weather gear, but I think I could have used more.

One of the nice things about wilderness canoeing verses backpacking, is you can bring a little more stuff.  I brought song books, a small pillow, a backpacker shower.  We met hikers, and stayed one night with a couple who was sailing around Isle Royale in a catamaran.  Now they had a little more luxury than we did in our canoe.

There is a luxury hotel at Rock Harbor and you can stay as long as want if you can afford the nightly charge.  The rest of us who are camping can only stay one night at Rock Harbor.  And for us that was the night before we left, as the ferry check-in was 7:00 am, to go back to Minnesota and our rental car.

I remember reading that Isle Royale is one of the least visited National Parks in the US. I’m sure that is a combination of only being open in the summer and the remoteness and expense of getting there. It is not like you can drive into the park for a day or two.




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