A canoeist can transport significantly heavier (up to 400 pounds or more) and bulkier loads than a backpacker or kayaker, and can therefore travel farther and more easily under similar conditions. Portaging by foot is sometimes necessary to pass between water bodies or around hazardous obstacles such as rapids or waterfalls, but most of the time canoe campers travel on water. Because they usually don't continuously carry their gear on their backs, canoe campers can bring more food and gear and undertake longer trips. This is especially the case with food which, unlike gear where the weight is essentially fixed regardless of the trip duration, increases in weight for each additional day of provision. On rivers, high water levels after storms can make river travel hazardous, while on lakes, winds and thunderstorms can produce strong winds which create large waves and headwinds which work against that paddlers to slow the canoe. Trips may need to have extra days built into the schedule in case of weather delays.
Although most experienced canoeists feel comfortable paddling straight through large bodies of water, most typically stay within a few hundred meters of shore. Since a fully loaded canoe only draws 12 to 16 cm (six to eight inches), it can approach a rocky shore as close as arm's-length. This proximity (and a canoe's inherent quietness) lets the canoeist observe aquatic and near-shore plants and wildlife from a perspective that walking on solid ground does not allow. Many people engage in fishing while canoe camping.
Compared to backpacking, canoeing produces less noise, with no crunching boots and bouncing packs, and a lower level of exertion. Maneuverability on the water and the easy shift to portaging allow canoe campers to go places that cannot be accessed conveniently by other means of transportation, which can include less crowded boat-in only campsites. The versatility of canoe tripping allows canoeists to go places and see things that they otherwise could not.
Many canoeists use specialized Duluth packs designed for both easy portaging and loading into canoes. Waterproof dry bags are frequently used to keep important items dry in case of inclement weather or capsizing.
Native Americans of many different tribes who used canoes for transportation, needed to "canoe camp" regularly. Before the construction of modern means of transportation and transportation routes, the most effective way to travel through the vast expanses of northern wilderness was to navigate the countless small waterways by canoe. The canoe was perfect for this purpose - light and relatively easy to carry, fast, able to traverse a wide variety of different water ways (small streams to intense rapids to huge lakes), and able to carry large loads.
It was for all these reasons that the early French explorers of North America, such as Louis Jolliet, quickly adopted the use of the Native American canoe. With them came Jesuit missionaries, coureurs des bois, and voyageurs. Once trading posts were established in the interior, the canoe continued to be the primary transportation method, supplying such posts with regular canoe brigades. In northern Quebec, this practice continued until the middle of the 20th century.
As the "wilderness" of the Americas was tamed by the construction of the railroad and later roads, the canoe as a means of primary transportation lost its practicality for obvious reasons. It turned into a recreational sport, a way for Americans and others to experience the pre-European America, and have a glimpse of a formerly never-ending wilderness. While recreational canoe camping has been enjoyed since the late 19th century by adventurous individuals, it was not until later in the 20th century that, with the advent of camping consumer goods, it gained mass appeal.
The history of the Grand Portage, MN is an excellent metaphorical microcosm for the larger change and the eventual invention of the idea of "canoe camping"...for fun.
An early proponent and popularizer of canoe camping was George W. Sears, a sportswriter for Forest and Stream magazine in the 1880s, whose book Woodcraft (1884), told the story of his 1883, 266-mile (428 km) journey through the central Adirondacks in a 9-foot-long (2.7 m), 10 1⁄2-pound (4.8 kg) solo canoe named the Sairy Gamp. He was 64 years old and in frail health at the time.
Also in 1883, American Canoe Association Secretary Charles Neide and retired sea captain "Barnacle" Kendall paddled and sailed over 3,000 miles (4,800 km) in a sailing canoe from Lake George, New York to Pensacola, Florida.
The adventure memoir Canoeing with the Cree relates Eric Sevareid's youthful journey with a companion from Minnesota to Hudson Bay in 1930.
In Canada, Bill Mason, who was an author, artist, filmmaker, and environmentalist, published several books and produced a number of films in the 1970s that greatly advanced the popularity of canoe camping.
Calvin Rutstrum was a wilderness canoeist and author, whom Bill Mason said "totally influenced me" and "he became my hero".
Like Mason and Sevareid, a number of modern-day canoeists have retraced the historic routes of the fur-traders and voyageurs and published books about their experiences. Noteworthy examples from Canada include "Coke Stop in Emo: Adventures of a Long-Distance Paddler" by Alec Ross, "Canoeing a Continent: On the Trail of Alexander MacKenzie" by Max Finkelstein and "Where Rivers Run" by Joanie and Gary McGuffin.
Sigurd Olson, conservationist and north woods writer, traveled and camped by canoe extensively. These included long trips as he wrote about in his book The Lonely Land and well as frequent shorter trips covered in many of his books.
Eric W. Morse, author, historian and notable wilderness canoe tripper traveled with Sigurd Olson. He authored books on their wilderness trips and on historical fur trade canoe routes in Canada.
In the "Source to Sea expedition" of 2005, two students from North Carolina State University paddled 2,150 miles (3,460 km) down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to support the Audubon Society's Upper Mississippi River Campaign.
The book New York to Nome by Rick Steber details the story of Sheldon Taylor and Geoffrey Pope who paddled from New York City April 25, 1936 to Nome, Alaska August 11, 1937. This is the longest recorded canoe trip in history (1974 Guinness Book of World Records)
Henry David Thoreau, an American author and advocate of environmental conservation, provided a written account of a long distance canoeing expedition in his book The Maine Woods. Thoreau’s canoeing expedition in Maine covered remote areas that can still be experienced in Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness.The Yarra River, Victoria
Murray River, Victoria & New South Wales
Brisbane River, Queensland
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
Bowron Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia
Churchill River, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
George River, Nunavik, Quebec
Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia
Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario
Lakeland Provincial Park & Recreation Area, Alberta
La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, Quebec
McLennan Lake, Saskatchewan
Main Lake Canoe Route, Quadra Island, British Columbia
Manigotagan River, Manitoba
Missinaibi River, Ontario
Moisie River, Quebec
Nitinat Triangle, British Columbia
Nopiming Provincial Park, Manitoba
Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario
Powell Forest Canoe Route, Powell River, British Columbia
Sayward Forest Canoe Route, British Columbia
Nahanni River, North West Territories
Temagami area including Lake Temagami and Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park, Ontario
Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba
Mecklenburg Lake District, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Bodrog River, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County
Hernád River, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County
River Ipoly, Nógrád County and Pest County
Rába River, counties of Vas and Győr-Moson-Sopron
Sajo River, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County
Whanganui River, North Island
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Everglades National Park, Florida
Ross Lake, North Cascades, Washington state
Saint Regis Canoe Area, Adirondack Mountains, New York state
Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine
Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri
Green River, Utah