I’ve been addicted to hiking long-distance trails since my first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail back in 2002. Through all the miles (over 11,000!) and blisters (I’ll spare you the details), I’ve enjoyed seeing all the different landscapes our long trails pass through. High alpine meadows, flat desert expanses, deep forests of ancient trees, I could go on and on… but it was the river canyons that tugged at my imagination. I’ve walked through and along many stunning river canyons, but what would the view look like FROM the water?
Rivers were the paths of least resistance when Native American tribes traveled trade routes and accessed fishing grounds. Explorers took to the rivers to find routes to the west, and most cities were built along the banks of a river for ease of transportation and commerce.
Rivers are trails too!
When I met my partner over 10 years ago and learned his sport of choice was kayaking, I started to dip my toe into the boating world, but the passion really took off when we found out about packrafts. Small, lightweight inflatable boats that we could carry in our backpacks to access wilderness lakes and rivers? Brilliant! Backpacking + kayaking = packrafting.
There is a trick to fitting all your packrafting gear in a backpack. In addition to the normal gear you would take on a backpacking trip (sleeping bag, tent, stove, food), a river trip adds some pounds (paddle, PFD, boat, dry bags, whitewater helmet, throw-bag). Fortunately, Six Moon Designs has a packraft-specific pack that is up to the task (and pounds). The Flex Pack has helped us access remote rivers like the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon, upper reaches of the South Payette River in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, lots of low-volume creeks around our home-state of Oregon. In fact, I’ve even used the Fusion 50 for packrafting adventures for its superior load-carrying abilities.
Everywhere I turn I see new packrafters exploring high-alpine lakes and distant rivers. I’m thrilled that others are learning that rivers are trails too, and at the heart of it, exploring our amazing network of public lands through water adventures.
It’s important to know that packrafting is a riskier sport than backpacking. Rivers are not to be underestimated, and it’s a great idea to take some kayaking lessons and a swift water rescue course to learn how to read a river, how to paddle safely in moving water and how to rescue yourself and others should disaster strike. Just because packrafting makes water more accessible doesn’t mean the risk is any less, and once you are comfortable with your skills and the challenge a river can offer, you can enjoy the view from the water. It’s an amazing perspective of the landscape, and you will know first hand that rivers are trails too.
For a glimpse into one of my packrafting adventures, enjoy this video of me packrafting a stretch of the Blue River in Oregon, and check out some of my packrafting adventures at Adventures with Packraft: Video Blue River