Setting Up a Paddling Shuttle With Only One Car

Kayak Shuttle. Photo Credit: John McGill
Photo by Mike Gael/Unsplash

Setting up a paddling shuttle can be an adventure in and of itself. A “shuttle” refers to the procedures surrounding getting paddlers and all of their gear to and from the water while on a paddling trip. The events around setting up a shuttle can actually get quite confusing as there are a variety of factors that will affect how the shuttle is executed. There are many times when it is impractical to take two cars on a canoe or kayak trip due to the distance you will be traveling or simply because you may be paddling alone. Here are five options for you in these cases.


Normally hitchhiking isn’t considered a safe activity to do. There are some rivers though where it is a very common activity. Since the locals are quite accustomed to paddlers in these areas or the people driving the roads are also outdoor lovers it is pretty easy to hitch a ride. If this is your plan, make sure the take-out and the put-in are on the same road, this way there is no difficulty getting a ride back to your car. It is also a good idea to be in your gear as this will let people know you are a paddler and not a vagrant.Even when hitchhiking, there are two options on how to proceed with the day. You could drive to the put-in, paddle to the bottom, and hitchhike back to your car. This is the most common way to do it. If you aren’t running late, another way to do this is to drop your gear off at the put-in and then drive to the take-out to leave your car. Then hitchhike back to the top, put your gear on, and paddle to the bottom where your car will be waiting for you. I personally prefer the latter method as I’d rather get the “work” done first and not have to find a ride when I’m cold and tired. Whichever way you do this you will most likely have to leave your boat unattended while you are hitchhiking.

Make a Friend

If the river you are about to canoe or kayak is a highly paddled location you could drive to the put-in or take-out and meet another paddler who will help you run the shuttle. It is also common in these situations to put in and paddle and meet someone who is willing to take you back to your car at the end of the trip. You should realize up front though that they may or may not have room for your boat in which case you will need to leave it unattended at the bottom until you can go and pick it up.

Have a Non-Paddling Friend Run Shuttle for You

This is perhaps the most desirable of all situations. In this scenario someone is with you who wants to hike, bike, watch you paddle, or lives nearby. Whatever the case, they are going to do all the work for you. They drop you and your gear off at the put-in and then meet you at the take-out at some agreed upon time. That’s it. It’s really rather great to be honest with you.

Pay for a Shuttle Service

There are rare locations, situations, and events where there is such a thing as a shuttle service available to paddlers. Sometimes it’s just a local who has the time and will run kayaks and canoes back and forth for a small fee. Other times, like at some festivals, huge trucks are rented for this purpose. Nice as this sounds, it often isn’t the easiest thing to do as you are forced to be on a schedule, figure out how to set it up, and they are often booked or filled up pretty quickly. If you are able to set this up in advance it will save you the headache of trying to do it last minute.

Hike or Bike

This method works well when the river runs alongside of a road. Remember though, you will be peddling or hiking up for the most part. Decide whether you would rather hike or bike before you paddle or after you paddle. If before, then drop off your canoe or kayak and gear at the put-in and drive to the take-out. Leave your car at the bottom, bike back up, lock your bike at the put-in, paddle down, pack up your gear, and don’t forget to drive back up for your bike!

Paddling Shuttle Tips

If all things are equal, it is better to leave your car at the take-out. This way when you are finished paddling for the day you can simply get in your car and leave.

If you must drop gear off while running the shuttle, try to leave someone with it or hide it.

Use common sense. If the put-in is closer to where you will arrive, then you may want to go to the put-in first and drop things off.

Make sure that the vehicles at the take-out has enough straps to secure the canoes or kayaks at the end of the day. If you don’t have extra straps to leave in the car, you may have to carry the straps in your boats.

Leave a towel, warm clothes, shoes, food, and drink in the cars at the take-out.

Don’t lock your car keys in your vehicle.

For more information on setting up paddling shuttles read Everything You Need to Know About Setting Up a Canoe or Kayak Shuttle.