Kayaking in the Fall: Paddling Tips and Watch Outs

Photo Credit: Johnny Brings/Unsplash

Some of the best kayaking and canoeing of the year occur in the late summer and early fall. The air’s a little cooler. There are fewer people around. And there is this sense of appreciation to be out there paddling before having to hang it all up for the winter season. However, this is also a fairly dangerous time of year to canoe or kayak for many of the same reasons. Here are some fall kayaking and canoeing watch-outs to keep in mind.

Don’t Underestimate the Cold While Kayaking in the Fall

So you’ve just come out of some hot summer paddling and all that goes along with it. Taking routine swims or even practicing kayak rolls was just routine. You could count on the sun to warm you right up and it was actually a wonderful respite to get wet. Of course, in the winter months, you know better than to get unnecessarily wet. However, the late summer and early fall are tricky times for kayakers and canoeists. It’s difficult to break the habit of taking a dip, getting wet, and underdressing.

When you set out, it might actually be warm. But get down into a canyon, into the shade, or out to see and it becomes cool really quickly. Don’t risk being uncomfortably cold and possible hypothermia because you’re unprepared and too far from your civilization to get warm. Be sure to dress for colder water conditions and overall safety.

The Days are Shorter at the End of the Season

Toward the end of the summer and into the fall, the days start getting shorter and shorter. Gone are the days when it is daylight past eight o’clock. You’re looking at a dark setting in around 6 and then 5. With the setting sun, this time of year comes the cold. Cold and dark are not friends of kayakers or canoeists.

Be sure to plan your trip to beat the sun off the water. Really, you need to beat the sun to your car. Many people during this time of year get off the water in time, but due to shuttle and take-out situations are left wet, cold, and in the dark while waiting for a ride.

Water and Weather: Expect the Unexpected

Season change also brings changes in the tides and currents. Also, there are often dam releases, letting go of excess water in reservoirs in anticipation of winter. The point is there is usually a distinct shift in the character of the water you are paddling in the fall from that of the summer. Be aware of it.

Along very similar lines, the fall is a time of year when the weather can shift without much notice. So, while researching the water conditions, be sure to understand the risks of weather rolling in and how that could affect your canoe and kayak trip. Fighting against wind or rain with hours left in a trip is not a fun way to spend an afternoon.

You’re on Your Own When Kayaking in the Fall

Padders are a crazy bunch. We are out on the water when everyone else is inside. Whether rain or shine, warm or cold, and in season or out of it, kayakers and canoeists are paddling. Of course, local authorities aren’t thinking that and it means the general public isn’t around either.

In other words, paddling in the months leading up to winter often means you’re out on the water alone, and when people aren’t expecting nor looking for distress calls. Have a contact plan. Tell someone close to you what you’re doing, where you’re going, and when they can expect to hear from you. Also, be sure to have all of your safety gear as well as cold-water apparel with you. This means packing a dry bag with some essentials just in case you need them.

Last Minute Trips Lead to Unpreparedness

Fall kayaking trips are often planned last minute while trying to take advantage of every ounce of nice weather before it gets too cold. These last-minute excursions can mean proper planning is foregone in the haste to get on the water. Don’t take these shortcuts.

You can eliminate a lot of frustration by having your kayaking gear and canoeing gear ready to go with this time of year in mind. This way when the opportunity presents itself, you can grab your stuff and get out on the water.

Parting Thoughts About Fall Paddling

So, yes, make the most of every opportunity to paddle before things freeze up. Yes, enjoy the fact that there are no crowds, the air feels nice, and the foliage is breathtaking. But, also be sure to plan ahead, be aware, and don’t cut corners. If you do that you’ll be sure to enjoy your fall kayaking and canoeing excursion before having to hang your gear up for the winter.