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Backpacker Magazine – September 2005

Paddling's Greatest Getaways

16 wild ways to find backcountry solitude and big-time scenery. All this, and you can bring the ice chest, too.

by: Larry Rice


{Washington}

Best Island Hopping
Sea kayak through the San Juans' emerald water, camp on wild beaches, and call orcas by name.

Don't judge the San Juan Islands by the lines of traffic waiting to board the ferry at Anacortes. Those other folks are there for the islands' quaint towns, busy lodges, and ubiquitous smoked salmon. As a paddler, you can find serenity (and salmon, too) while striking out into one of the planet's premier sea kayaking destinations. A rain shadow cast by the Olympic Mountains creates surprisingly clear weather for the Northwest, with sweet sunsets and good visibility for the life-list sights: orcas and other whales, Dall's porpoises, bald eagles perched in 200-foot Douglas firs, and scores of secluded islands on which to wash up for the night.

For a low-mileage weekend trip, head to Stuart Island, a 5-mile paddle from Roche Harbor on San Juan's north end (add 5 miles if you start at Friday Harbor, where the ferry docks). The current in the mile-wide channel crossing can be strong and fast, so check tide charts (aim to start toward the end of a flood tide; www.saltwatertides.com). Camp at Prevost Harbor for beachfront sites, and be sure to hike the 3-mile dirt road to an abandoned clifftop lighthouse with sensational views across the Haro Strait to the Canadian Gulf Islands. Keep a lookout for the San Juans' famed orcas--more than 80 named individuals inhabit the strait from May to October. Got more time? Make your way to the remote islands north of Orcas Island--Clark, Matia, Sucia, and Patos. Arrange kayak rentals through the folks at Discovery Sea Kayaks (www.discoveryseakayak.com); they can set you up with a local guide to come along and help with route-planning, navigation, and paddling, while you bring your own food and gear.

Get there Board the ferry at Anacortes (70 miles north of Seattle via I-5). Kayak rentals, groceries, and other services are available at Friday Harbor. Ferry info: (800) 843-3779; www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

Season May through September; avoid the busiest midsummer weekends

Difficulty Moderate. Basic sea kayaking skills are required, but wind and current can create challenging conditions. Beginners should not attempt open-water crossings without a guide.

Contact Washington State Parks, (360) 902-8844; www.sanjuanislandsdirectory.com




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Pennyyork
Feb 02, 2013

was wondering if anyone knew my father kenneth York he guided the Allagash for years.I would be interested thank you

Markus Harrild
Apr 02, 2012

Although you've listed some great waterways, and have limited space for your article, you know, your readers are going to chide you about not listing their favorites. So, to add to that list of incredulousness, when was the last time you paddled down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, in Central Idaho. For raw jaw-dropping beauty, aqueous power, a wicked challenge, and a great trip, you've got to list this gnarled ribbon of water that slices through the River of No Return Wilderness. I could understand leaving other waterways off your list, but not this beauty!

Anonymous
Mar 30, 2012

Wow, I can't believe the (insert favorite) river wasn't included. This is the best! Some of the most beautiful scenery is found on the (insert favorite) river....

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Richard M McFadden
Mar 29, 2012

WOW! Do not depend on Larry Rice on this one. First off. The Glory Hole pictured is not even in the Buffalo watershed. Second, the LOWER section will be low in the Fall. The upper half of the river will be virtually dry. The Buffalo is rain dependent, not spring fed. Summer is hot and humid with low algae filled water. The Buffalo is my river. It is by far my favorite river and I spend a lot of time there. Obviously Larry Rice does not. I will be joining Kenneth L Smith tomorrow for a week of trailbuilding on the Buffalo. Ken will be trailbuilding in the fall. If you love trails it is a chance to be in a wonderful place extending the Buffalo River Trail.
rmmcfadden@yahoo.com.

DblKnt
Mar 29, 2012

The Allagash is indeed beautiful in Sept / Oct
but the river sections are very shallow and rocky.
You will likely be limited to the lakes.

Summer months usually have the best river flow.
Bring 100% DEET and a head net!

David Scarborough
Mar 29, 2012

I cant believe yall left out the Alabama Scenic River Trail, a trail that spans from NE Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico and includes the Bartram Canoe Trail, a trail that meanders through the beautiful Mobile/Tensaw River Delta.
http://www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com/
http://www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-adventures/bartram/index.htm

Anonymous
Mar 29, 2012

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