7 Best Rivers in the United States for a Canoe Outing

The sun glistens off the surface of Kenai River in Alaska

Alvis Upitis / Getty Images

Some of America’s best paddling rivers are short and tame enough to be enjoyed in a day, even by novice canoeists and families. Other water routes, like the Kenai River in Alaska, are home to class III+ rapids and may take several days (and previous rowing experience) to cover. Despite their size or difficulty level, all great canoeing rivers flow past remarkable landforms and charming wildlife that bring visitors closer to the beauty of the natural world

Whether you're an expert rower or casual paddler, here are seven of America’s best rivers for a canoe outing.

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Eleven Point National Scenic River (Missouri)

The greenish-blue waters of Eleven Point National Scenic River

Charlie Llewellin / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Established in 1968, Eleven Point National Scenic River is a 44-mile section of waterway that cuts through Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri. Folks who journey down Eleven Point will paddle past the enchanting Ozark scenery of steep hills, towering limestone bluffs, and dense, deciduous forests. Several campgrounds sit along the river, making multi-day expeditions possible.

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Willamette River Water Trail (Oregon)

The pine-lined Willamette River in Oregon on a cloudy day

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Stretching over 200 miles along the Willamette River, the Willamette River Water Trail takes canoeists on an adventure through the majestic Pacific Northwest. The water trail is lined with a variety of beautiful trees native to the region like Oregon ash, Pacific willow, and red osier dogwood. Paddlers will be enchanted by bald eagles and spotted sandpipers in the sky and spring chinooks in the water below. The Willamette River Water Trail has two key guides that let visitors know where to find campsites along the route and other important information about the Willamette River.

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Kenai River (Alaska)

The Kenai River flows through an evergreen forest in the shadow of a snowy mountain

Frank K. / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Alaska’s 80-mile Kenai River flows from Kenai Lake near the Chugach Mountains to Cook Inlet. The turquoise river features whitewater sections of Class III and Class III+ rapids that may give beginner canoeists a difficult time; but for those who are up to the challenge, the rougher waters are absolutely worth it. The majority of the river runs through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to beautiful cottonwood forests and spectacular Chinook salmon.

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Huron River Water Trail (Michigan)

Autumnal trees behind the peaceful Huron River Water Trail in Michigan

Deb Nystrom / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

From Proud Lake in Milford, Michigan down to Lake Erie, the 104-mile Huron River Trail takes paddlers through rapids and calm water alike. Folks can travel the entirety of the Huron River, which typically takes about five days to complete, or they can explore the waterway on one of three designated 35-mile trips. The Huron River Water Trail includes five so-called “Trail Towns” along the route, which are dedicated to providing amenities, like food and lodging, for those on the trail. Private companies not only rent out canoes and kayaks, but also offer transportation between river access points so that paddlers can travel without having to worry about an upstream return trip.

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Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Turquoise water of the Buffalo National River on a cloudy day

Nicholas Chapman / EyeEm / Getty Images

In 1972, the Buffalo River was the first waterway in the United States to receive the designation of “national river.” Due to the protection of these waters by the National Park Service, the Arkansas waterway is one of the last few undammed rivers in the continental United States. This federal designation also prohibits the construction of commercial or residential development along the waterway, leaving the pristine natural beauty for all to enjoy. The Buffalo River is largely dependent upon rainfall as its water source, so conditions can vary widely.

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Black Canyon Water Trail (Nevada and Arizona)

Black Canyon Water Trail flows past the rocky desert landscape on a bright day

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The Black Canyon Water Trail flows for 26 miles within the Lake Mead National Recreational Area along a section of the Colorado River from just below the Hoover Dam to Eldorado Canyon. Canoeists will paddle by dramatic scenery from coves and hot springs to red rock cliffs and sandy beaches. The area along the route is home to a variety of stunning wildlife like desert bighorn sheep and peregrine falcons.

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Missouri National Recreational River Water Trail (South Dakota and Iowa)

The sun sets of Missouri National Recreational River Water Trail

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From Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota to Sioux City, Iowa, the Missouri National Recreational River Water Trail stretches 148 miles along the historic Missouri River. Visitors to the water trail will row past limestone bluffs and beautiful cottonwood trees, with the likely possibility of a bald eagle or two flying overhead. The waterway consists of two main river segments that are connected by Lewis and Clark Lake.