There’s no need to bring two cars on your next kayaking road trip. Take your boat, your friends, your car, and take to the road without worrying about the shuttle for these 10 U.S. rivers. We’re not talking about hitchhiking, bringing a bike along, finding commercial shuttles or public transport. We’re talking about one car, a boat and your own two feet.
1. Lower Youghiogheny, Pennsylvania
Nature gets the credit for creating the kayakers’ dream that is the Lower Yough. This section, known as “the loop” starts in the town of Ohiopyle and then runs a 1.5-mile section that creates a horseshoe bend and ends just below the town again. A short hike completes the loop and takes you straight back into town where you can either pick up your boat by car or carry it through town to hop back on the river. The experienced kayaker can complete the wet dream by kicking off the loop with a 20-foot waterfall right in the center of town.
River miles: 1.5
Hike miles: .5
Put-in: Ohiopyle State Park (39.870074, -79.493067)
Take-out: Just above railroad bridge (39.875018, -79.494469)
2. Vallecito Creek, Colorado
The creek is known by many as the best mile of whitewater in Colorado, and the hike is just as stunning, making every moment of lapping this run full-on for top level kayakers and hikers. The section of river is continuous boofs, slides and drops between granite walls more than 100 feet high. A trail paralleling the creek is stunning in its own right, taking you into the Weminche Wilderness. This run should be reserved for those with the boating skills and hiking stamina to take it on, as once you are in the gorge it is committing with little room to scout and even less to portage.
River miles: 1
Hike miles: 1
Put-in: Where the Vallecito Creek trail meets the river (37.51719, -107.5339)
Take-out: Vallecito Campground (37.48773, -107.53866)
3. Big Timber, Montana
A mile of technical, incredibly steep slides, falls and narrow boulder-filled channels, Big Timber creek should be scouted and only attempted by expert boaters at the right flows. But when the time is right, nothing in Montana compares. With your boat on your shoulder, be ready for the hike to get your heart racing as fast as from the cardio as the adrenaline of the approaching rapids. You have to hike 750 feet-per-mile up before you can descend it in your kayak.
River miles: 1
Hike miles: 1
Put-in: The Pinch (46.0443, -110.2915)
Take-out: Half Moon Campground (46.04169, -110.23851)
4. Wisconsin River, Wisconsin
The Ice Age Trail, Wisconsin’s long-distance hiking route, dips down to the river to parallel it for a mile of whitewater. The playful section of whitewater — many waves, holes and just a few substantial rapids — combined with the quaint path through the woods makes for a great afternoon pit stop.
Class: II-III+ (IV)
River miles: 1
Hike miles: 1
Put-in: Grandfather Dam (45.3126,-89.7849)
Take-out: Grandfather Dam Powerhouse (45.3001, -89.7915)
5. Spearfish Creek, South Dakota
Spiraling through the city center, Spearfish Creek is enough to make a kayaker want to move in to town. Starting in the town park and taking you through town to a highway bridge, you can make this run a morning sprint or spend the afternoon playing in surf waves. When you’re through boating hop out and carry your boat to the paved Spearfish Recreational Path that runs through the park and jog it back to your car. If you get hungry along the kayaking run or on the walk back you can top off the day by stopping at one of the restaurants along the way.
River miles: 2
Hike miles: 2
Put-in: D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery (44.4813, -103.8594)
Take-out: Old US 14 bridge near Valley Corner (44.5055, -103.86741)
6. Nantahala, North Carolina
The full adventure on Nantahala is perfect for those who like backpacking as much as paddling — but it must be timed right. The Nantahala has three renowned sections of whitewater, but the upper two rarely have enough water, making stringing the three together the ultimate challenge. Take it a step further and complete the shuttle using the Appalachian Trail. Bring what you need to make it an overnight and start the journey by locking your kayaks up at the put-in to the Cascades section and driving back to the heart of town where the Appalachian Trail passes through town. Take the trail south for 6.4 miles until you reach Tellico Road. Take a right and follow the road back to the river and eventually your kayak. After a night of camping, catch the river back into town. But you better wake up ready to rally, the river begins with stout class V, fading into the class III+ section known as the Upper before reaching the most well-known section of the Nantahala which is class II-III and takes you back into town.
River miles: 12
Hike miles: 11
Put-in: Horns of God turn-out (35.25, -83.6418)
Take-out: Nantahala Outdoor Center (35.3327, -83.5983)
7. Mill Creek, West Virginia
A classic West Virginia creek near the whitewater hub of Fayetteville, this rain-dependent creek is stacked with technical lines, must-make boofs and two waterfalls. The trail that lines the creek has overlook points for both waterfalls making them, and most of the section, easy to scout if you hike the shuttle before the run.
River miles: 2
Hike miles: 2.5
Put-in: Ansted Bridge (38.13209, -81.0889)
Take-out: Confluence of New River (38.11819, -81.1178)
8. North Fork of the Rogue River, Oregon
This stunning kayaking run should not be lost among the many on the Rogue River, as not only are its rapids the perfect combination of challenging and good clean fun, it is also in the depths of a lush canyon that has water when most of the surrounding runs are dry. The run’s proximity to a hiking trail makes the shuttle easy to set on your own.
River miles: 3
Hike miles: 3.3
Put-in: Natural Bridge Campground viewpoint (42.8894, -122.46421)
Take-out: Woodruff Bridge (42.8624, -122.505)
9. Narrows of the Harpeth River, Tennessee
Bell’s Bend, a six-mile loop not far from Nashville, creates close to full circle inside the scenic Harpeth State Park, allowing boaters to spend the afternoon on the river and end up back at their car at the end of the day. This is a beginner section ideal for first time kayakers, canoeists and stand-up-paddle boarding.
River miles: 6
Hike miles: 1/8
Put-in: Harpeth River State Park (36.149209, -87.119218)
Take-out: Same as put-in
10. St. Francis River, Missouri
While Missouri may not be known for its whitewater, it should not be overlooked. Surf waves, boofs and play spots crowd the river, as do paddlers from all over the state as well as surrounding areas on any weekend year round. A well-maintained trail through the surrounding conservation area runs along side the river, giving you a stunning perspective of the canyon and the perfect opportunity to take a look at the stretch before running it.
River miles: 2.5 miles
Hike miles: 2.5 miles
Put-in: Millstream Gardens Conservation Area (37.5709, -90.46611)
Take-out: Silver Mines bridge (37.555, -90.4386)
Note: Some river and hiking distances are approximate. This article is not a guide. Paddlers should always obtain local knowledge about hazards and flow before setting out.