There's no better way to see nature's loveliest landscapes than on a river, the original highway.
The same rivers that carried hunters, explorers and traders now carry us, the sightseers. Paddling along, we see the same things they did: otters, eagles, fish and deer, plus lovely flora and endless sky.
Best of all, you never see the same thing twice.
You can paddle on your own, but then you have to make your way back upstream. It's easier and more fun to join one of the many trips organized by river associations, parks, schools and outdoors clubs.
Here are some of the river trips that sound most fun.
Paddling clubs offer even more great trips. For details on joining clubs, learning to paddle, trying out boats and buying guidebooks, see Planning a paddle trip.
For ideas about where to go, see 15 great rivers for paddling.
Paddle Namekagon in northwest Wisconsin. The St. Croix River Association offers this paddle on the Namekagon in the St. Croix River National Scenic Riverway.
Cost of the trip includes kayak, gear, shuttles, meals and hotel.
Minnesota state parks I Can Paddle programs. No experience is required for these five-hour paddles on state water trails for people 8 years and older. Cost is $25-$35, including canoe or kayak and gear for up to three people.
Rivers include the St. Croix east of North Branch; the Cannon near Faribault; the Zumbro near Zumbro Falls; the Root near Lanesboro; the Otter Tail in Otter Tail County; the Mississippi; the Crow Wing near Staples; the St. Louis near Cloquet; the Minnesota near Mankato; the Rum near Princeton; and the St. Croix near Taylors Falls.
Sea-kayaking trips on Lake Superior are at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. They're two hours, and the cost is $45.
The I Can Paddle program also includes stand-up paddleboard lessons and many day trips on inland lakes. The program is popular; reserve in advance.
Northern Wisconsin paddling with Nicolet College. This Rhinelander college offers an Outdoor Adventure Series with all kinds of canoe and kayak paddles on the Manitowish, Flambeau, Wolf, Peshtigo, Wisconsin, Tomahawk and Pine rivers. Most day trips cost $46, $61 with boat rental.
A trip for first-time Lake Superior kayakers to Sand Island in the Apostles costs $210, $275 with kayak rental, including meals and camping.
Fox River in central Wisconsin. The North East Wisconsin Paddlers offer many public paddles, including the annual Park to Park Paddle, 8.5 miles from Neenah to Appleton.
Great River Rumble. The members of the non-profit Midwest River Expeditions, based in Dubuque, choose a different river every year for a summer trip. Usually, a stretch of the Mississippi is included in the route.
Cost of $150 includes camping with showers, baggage shuttle, power-boat escort, entertainment and farewell party. Shuttle from the end point to starting point is $25 apiece for people and boats.
Milky Moonlight in Milwaukee. This annual full-moon urban paddle on the Milwaukee River is very popular, so reserve early. Boats aren't provided, but dinner is.
It's sponsored by Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the River Alliance of Wisconsin, which sponsors other trips, including the Fools Flotilla in Madison.
Mississippi River day trips in the Twin Cities. The nonprofit group Wilderness Inquiry, known for its outreach to urban youth and for making its trips accessible to the disabled, offers half-day paddles through the only gorge on the Mississippi, $45, $25 for youths.
It also offers three-day paddles on the St. Croix for women, $295.
Chicago River. The Friends of the Chicago River offer Urban Canoe Adventures, including the all-day Downtown Canyons trip, on the North Branch and South Branch of this revived river in the heart of downtown.