I’m always astounded by the large number of people who wrap up their paddling season on Labor Day. Yes, fall is a great time to hike and leaf peep, but there are a lot of good arguments for why fall paddling is the best. To name a few: the water is still warm, the scenery is stunning, and the crowds have moved on to other activities.

Below are 10 tips to help you extend your paddling season.

Fall scenery from the water
Credit: Luke Foley

10 Tips for Fall Paddling

  1. Plan your trip. There’s no denying that it gets darker earlier in the fall, but there’s still a lot of daylight to play in. Ensure you don’t get caught in the dark by checking the time of sunset and planning accordingly.
  1. Pack a light. Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Pack a headlamp and flashlight just in case you get benighted.
  1. Scout your route. Fall typically means lower water levels—which in turn means the river or stream you visited at the beginning of the season is possibly clogged with summer growth or doesn’t have enough water to paddle in. A couple of good resources for determining conditions are American Whitewater and Tides Near Me.
  1. Leave a float plan. Before hitting the water, tell someone where you’re going to paddle and when you plan to return.
  1. Wear your PFD. You should always wear a PFD when paddling, it can literally save your life. That said, in some states the laws regarding the use of PFD change with the season. For example, in Massachusetts, kayakers and canoeists are required to wear life preservers between September 15 and May 15.
  1. Expand your kit. Fall days are still warm, but mornings and evenings are often cool so pack a few extra layers. Light fleece is a tried-and-true piece of fall paddling gear.
  1. Wear appropriate footwear. You can still sport flip-flops in the fall, but save them for a post-paddle trip to the coffee shop or brewpub. At the end of a long season, you never know what hazards are lurking on the banks or under the water of your favorite paddling spot. A good pair of water shoes can save you from learning a hard lesson, like a painful puncture and a trip to the emergency room.
  1. Remember sunscreen. The cooler fall weather can belie the strength of the sun. Slather on the sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn or worse.
  1. Protect your gear. Whether you’re carrying your phone in the event of an emergency or a camera to capture images of the changing seasons, remember to protect your valuable electronics. Store them in a dry bag with some type of float attached.
  1. Have a change of clothes. There’s nothing that sours the feeling after a great day on the water more than having to drive home in wet clothes. This is especially true in the relatively cool weather. Pack a pair of pants or hoodie—or just keep a full set of dry clothes—in your vehicle, just in case you need them.
kayaking through Fall foliage
Credit: Luke Foley

Have Fun and Stay Safe

Extending your paddling into the fall is like unlocking a whole second season on the water. Just like summer, remember to take steps to ensure your safety, make good decisions, and have fun!


Do you have a fall paddling tip? If so, leave it in the comments below.