You’ve likely heard of classic backpacking routes like the Appalachian, Continental Divide or Pacific Crest trails. They aren’t the country’s only marquee wilderness pathways. A slew of designated water trails across the U.S. also make it easy to tour stunning multi-day routes via canoe, kayak, or standup paddleboard. Exploring a water trail takes all the guesswork out of your outing, whether you’re launching a leaf-peeping weekend trip in your canoe or a longer trek in a loaded sea kayak. These often overlooked trails offer everything from maps to well-marked access points and campsites. Leave little to chance on your foray into the wilderness—and leave logistical worries behind with your wake with the following five water-trail classics to put on your list.
Maine Island Trail
For some of the most pristine paddling on the planet, sink your blades into the Maine Island Trail, the country’s first water trail. Established in 1988, the Maine Trail established the paddling precedent for all others after it. The 350-mile-long waterway extends from Cape Porpoise Harbor on the west to Machias Bay on the east, with its namesake Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), the largest of its kind on the continent. Camp at one of 150 island and mainland sites along the route, each accessible by kayak, sailboat or other watercraft. Campsites on state land are free, while those on private islands are available with MITA membership (starting at $25). July, August and September typically offer the best weather, with September offering the bonus of lobster-red leaves. More Info: mita.org.
Northern Forest Canoe Trail
Tracing Native American and early European settler canoe routes, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail is the longest paddling trail in the nation, running 740 miles from Old Forge, N.Y, through Vermont, Québec, and New Hampshire to Fort Kent, Maine. Established in 2000 to connect people to the region’s environment, human heritage and communities, it’s been named the country’s “Best Canoe Trail” by Outside magazine, with its nonprofit organizing body providing maps, route selection options and more to anyone interested in paddling any or all of it. “It’s our vision to strengthen communities—both of paddlers and of place—through 740 miles of paddling in the northern forest,” says NFCT Executive Director Karrie Thomas. “We hope to inspire paddlers to recreate here and contribute to the resilience of the communities along its corridor, from the Adirondacks to Maine.” More Info: northernforestcanoetrail.org