How to Kayak a River with One Car – 10 Different Ways

If you’ve ever had to ask yourself how to kayak a river with one car, you’re not alone. But don’t worry, in this post I’ll go over ten different ways to do it.

To kayak a river with one car, you can use loop routes, do out-and-back paddles, use a bike as a shuttle, use a local shuttle service, partner with another kayaker, use public transportation, use an on-demand car service, walk, do a camp and return, or hitch hike.

how to kayak a river with on car

1. Loop Routes for Kayaking

The loop method is a neat solution for those who want a hassle-free paddle adventure without worrying about transportation logistics. Essentially, the loop method involves choosing river routes that circle back to where you started. Imagine paddling upstream, maybe even through connected lakes or canals, and then leisurely floating back downstream to your original spot. It’s a fantastic way to get different perspectives on the same route, and best of all, your car’s right there waiting for you when you’re done!

This approach is perfect for solo kayakers or anyone with just one vehicle. Instead of fussing with shuttles or arranging pickups, you get to focus purely on the paddling experience. And while it might be a bit of a workout going against the current at times, the reward of a simpler, round-trip journey makes the loop method a favorite for many water enthusiasts.

Step-by-Step Guide to the Loop Method

  1. Research the Area: Start by checking local kayaking guides, maps, or apps. Look for rivers that have circular or looped waterways.
  2. Check the Current: Some rivers are milder going upstream. Choose a route that suits your strength and paddling skills.
  3. Identify Landmarks: Keep an eye out for specific landmarks to make sure you’re staying on your loop and not veering off on a different waterway.
  4. Consider Linked Bodies of Water: Some loops might have you paddle through a connected lake or canal. This can change up the scenery and challenge level.
  5. Plan Your Duration: Loops can range from short 1-hour paddles to multiple-hour adventures. Make sure you know how long your chosen loop is and plan accordingly.
  6. Stay Safe: Always let someone know where you’re going, wear a lifejacket, and ensure you have the right gear.

The Pros and Cons of the Loop Method

No need for a shuttle or second vehicle.Paddling upstream can be physically demanding.
Experience varied scenery on the same trip.Possibility of getting lost if not well-marked.
Suitable for short, spontaneous trips.Might not provide the feel of a downstream journey.
Can be more predictable in terms of duration.Limited options compared to point-to-point routes.

2. The Out-and-Back Method

Think of the out-and-back method like a hiking trail that doesn’t loop: you paddle downstream to a certain point, soak in the views, then turn around and retrace your route back to the starting point. It’s as straightforward as it sounds. While it may mean you’re seeing the same scenery twice, there’s something uniquely rewarding about navigating a river both ways, experiencing its twists and turns from different angles.

Step-by-Step Guide: Out-and-Back Paddles

  1. Choose Your Waterway: Find a river stretch or lake that you’re comfortable paddling both ways.
  2. Set a Destination: Before you set off, decide on a turnaround point. Maybe there’s a landmark or specific spot you want to reach.
  3. Paddle Out: Head upstream or across the lake, enjoying the journey and keeping an eye out for your chosen destination.
  4. Take a Break: Once you reach your turnaround point, stretch your legs, have a snack, and enjoy the surroundings.
  5. Head Back: Turn your kayak around and paddle back to your starting point. The return trip will be easier since the current will take you back.

Pros and Cons of Out-and-Back Paddles

No need for a shuttle or second vehicle.Might feel repetitive with the same scenery.
Familiarity on the return journey.Going upstream can be more demanding.
Flexibility in choosing your distance.Potential for changing conditions on return.
Ideal for those wanting a straightforward route.Less of a sense of exploration than looped or point-to-point routes.

3. The Bike Shuttle Method

Ever thought of merging a bit of land adventure into your kayaking trips? That’s the essence of the “Bike Shuttle” method. Here’s the gist: you use a bike to shuttle between your starting and ending kayak points. It’s an eco-friendly and efficient way to handle the logistics of a one-way river paddle. Plus, you get a lovely blend of cycling and paddling, making for a full-bodied outdoor adventure!

Step-by-Step Guide: Bike Shuttle

  1. Pick Your Paddle Route: Determine your kayaking starting (put-in) and ending (take-out) points on the river.
  2. Stash Your Kayak: Leave your kayak securely at the put-in point. Make sure it’s well-hidden or locked if possible.
  3. Cycle to the Finish: Ride your bike from the starting point to your take-out point.
  4. Lock It Up: Secure your bike near the take-out point. A good bike lock is essential!
  5. Head Back to Start: Use public transportation, hitch a ride, or even walk back to your kayak’s starting point.
  6. Paddle On: Kayak down the river, relishing the flow and scenery.
  7. Retrieve Your Bike: Once you finish your paddle, unlock your bike, and you’re all set for the next part of your journey.

Pros and Cons of the Bike Shuttle Method

Eco-friendly; no need for cars or motorized shuttles.Requires the added effort of cycling.
Merges two great outdoor activities.Need to ensure both kayak and bike are securely stored.
Offers flexibility in planning your route.Might be challenging in adverse weather conditions.
Reduces logistical complexities.Not suitable for those who don’t cycle or don’t own a bike.

4. Use Local Shuttle Services

The easiest way to kayak a river with just one car is to use a local shuttle service. This is where a local business drives you to the starting point and you end at or near your car. You’ll probably find that this is the most expensive way to kayak a river with one car but it’s also the most convenient.

Step-by-Step Guide: Using Local Shuttle Services

  1. Research Ahead: Before your trip, look up local shuttle services in the area you plan to kayak. Many popular kayaking destinations will have them.
  2. Book in Advance: Especially in peak seasons, these shuttles can fill up. Reserve your spot to ensure a smooth trip.
  3. Park and Meet: Drive to the designated take-out point, park your car, and meet the shuttle there.
  4. Get Transported: The shuttle will transport you (and often your kayak) to the put-in point.
  5. Paddle Away: Enjoy your kayaking journey down the river, knowing your car is waiting for you at the end.
  6. End and Drive: Once done, your vehicle is right there. Pack up and head on to your next adventure!

Pros and Cons of Local Shuttle Services

Convenient and hassle-free.Might be a cost involved.
Allows for one-way river journeys.Availability might be seasonal or limited.
Often tailored to kayakers’ needs.Requires advanced planning and reservation.
No need for personal transport logistics.Reliability depends on the service provider.

5. Partner with Another Kayaker

Ever thought about turning your kayaking journey into a two-person venture? That’s precisely the essence behind the “Partner with Another Kayaker” method. It’s all about teaming up! By coordinating with a fellow kayaker, you both can use your vehicles to solve the logistical puzzle of a one-way river trip. You drop a car at the endpoint, drive together to the start, paddle down, and when you get back, your car is waiting for you. It’s not just about convenience; it’s also about sharing the adventure and making memories with a fellow river lover.

Step-by-Step Guide: Partner with Another Kayaker

  1. Find a Partner: Connect with a fellow kayaking enthusiast, whether it’s a friend or someone from a local kayaking group.
  2. Plan Your Route: Decide on your put-in (start) and take-out (end) points on the river.
  3. Drop a Car at the End: Both of you should drive to the take-out point, leaving one car there.
  4. Drive Together to Start: Hop into the other car and drive to the put-in point.
  5. Kayak the Route: Paddle downstream together, enjoying the camaraderie and shared experience.
  6. Retrieve the First Car: Once you reach the take-out point and your waiting car, drive back to the put-in to collect the other vehicle.

Pros and Cons of Partnering with Another Kayaker

Simplifies transportation logistics.Coordination needed between two schedules.
Adds a social element to the adventure.If not a friend, trust is needed with the other kayaker.
Shared responsibility for planning.Requires two vehicles, not suitable for solo kayakers with one car.
Can provide safety in numbers.Differences in paddling speed or experience can be a challenge.

6. Use Public Transportation

For many city-dwelling kayakers or those in well-connected areas, public transit can be an easy way to kayak a river with one car. The idea is simple: use buses, trains, or even ferries to travel between your start and end points, letting you tackle those one-way river routes without a vehicle fuss. It’s budget-friendly, environmentally sound, and offers a refreshing blend of urban meets nature in your adventure.

Step-by-Step Guide: Use Public Transportation

  1. Research Routes: Find out which public transportation options serve your intended kayaking route.
  2. Check Schedules: Ensure the transit times align with your paddling plan. Don’t forget to check weekend or holiday schedules if relevant.
  3. Start at the Beginning: Begin by taking your kayak to the drop-off point (where you’ll start your kayak journey) via your car.
  4. Secure Your Kayak: Safely stash or lock up your kayak at the starting point.
  5. Drop-off Your Car: Drive your car to the endpoint.
  6. Transit to the Start: Use public transport to head to your put-in point.
  7. Paddle On: Navigate the waters, and when you get to your end-point, your car will be waiting for you.

Pros and Cons of Using Public Transportation

Environmentally friendly.Limited to transit schedules and routes.
Potentially cost-effective compared to shuttles.Can be time-consuming with wait times and transfers.
Adds an urban twist to the adventure.Requires careful planning and possibly multiple trips.

7. Use On-Demand Car Services

With the tap of a few buttons on your phone, services like Uber, Lyft, or local taxi apps can transport you (and often your kayak) between your start and end points. No more logistical nightmares, no more shuttle schedules — just pure, seamless adventure, powered by the wonders of modern tech.

Of course, a taxi isn’t going to be able to pick you and your full-size kayak up so you’re going to have to get a kayak that fits inside a car. If you’re lucky enough to have one, here is how to use on-demand car services to kayak a river.

Step-by-Step Guide: On-demand Car Services

  1. Choose Your Spot: Determine your put-in and take-out points for your kayaking journey.
  2. Drop-off Your Car: Drop your car off at the end point.
  3. Launch Your App: Open your preferred on-demand car service app to ensure there’s availability in the area.
  4. Drop-off at Start: Get dropped off at your put-in point with your kayak.
  5. Paddle Away: Navigate the waters, soaking in the beauty and thrill of the journey.

Pros and Cons of Using On-demand Car Services

Highly convenient with quick booking.Costs can add up, especially in surge pricing times.
No need to rely on personal or public transportation.Requires a smartphone and good network connectivity.
Available in many urban and suburban areas.Might not be available in remote or less-populated areas.
Can be quicker than waiting for public transit.You have to have a folding kayak.

8. Walk Back

The “Walking” method for kayaking logistics is as straightforward as it sounds. Particularly suited for short river stretches or when other methods fall short, this technique involves you, your kayak, and your two feet. You paddle a section of the river, and then you walk back to your starting point, kayak in tow. It’s raw, it’s earthy, and it’s a workout, but it ensures a connection with nature that’s unparalleled.

Step-by-Step Guide: Walking

  1. Select Your Route: Choose a short, manageable section of the river or stream to kayak.
  2. Start Paddling: Begin your kayak journey from your chosen starting point.
  3. End & Secure: Once you’ve kayaked the desired distance, secure your kayak at the take-out point.
  4. Walk Back: With or without carrying your kayak (depending on its weight and your comfort), walk back to the starting point.
  5. Retrieve Kayak: If you left it, return to the take-out point by foot or any other method to fetch your kayak.
  6. Gear Up: Use a kayak cart or shoulder straps to make carrying your kayak more manageable if you plan to do this regularly.

Pros and Cons of the Walking Method

No need for external transportation or technology.Can be physically demanding, especially with a kayak.
Environmentally friendly.Best suited for shorter river stretches.
Deepens connection with nature.Time-consuming compared to other methods.
Minimal planning required.Might require additional gear like a kayak cart.

9. Camp and Return

Ever thought of blending the thrill of kayaking with the serenity of camping? That’s what the “Camp and Return” method is all about. Instead of rushing through your kayaking journey in one go, this approach lets you paddle downstream, set up camp for the night, and paddle back up the next day. It’s a two-day adventure that lets you immerse yourself in the wild, enjoy a starry night by the river, and gives a whole new meaning to ’round trip’!

Step-by-Step Guide: Camp and Return

  1. Plan Your Trip: Identify a stretch of river suitable for both kayaking and camping, ensuring you have the right permissions for an overnight stay.
  2. Pack Accordingly: Along with your usual kayaking gear, pack camping essentials like a tent, sleeping bag, and food.
  3. Paddle Downstream: Start your adventure by kayaking downstream to your chosen camping spot.
  4. Set Up Camp: Once you’ve reached your destination, set up camp and enjoy a peaceful night in nature.
  5. Morning Trek Back: After a refreshing night, pack up your camp and begin your paddle back upstream to your starting point.
  6. Stay Prepared: Remember, paddling upstream can be more challenging, so ensure you’re well-rested and have adequate supplies.

Pros and Cons of the Camp and Return Method

Combines kayaking with the joy of camping.Paddling upstream can be physically demanding.
Extends the adventure over two days.Requires comprehensive planning and packing.
Allows for a deeper nature immersion.Potentially limited to certain areas with camping permissions.
Breaks the journey into two parts.Weather changes can impact plans.

10. Hitch Hike

I saved this method for last as I don’t recommend it. Hitch-hiking is illegal and it is dangerous. Since I know some people will probably do it anyway, here is how to do it correctly.

Step-by-Step Guide: Hitchhike

  1. Pick a Popular Spot: Choose a kayaking route frequented by tourists or locals to increase your chances of getting a lift.
  2. Safety First: Always inform someone about your plan and expected return time.
  3. Paddle Down: Navigate the river and reach your endpoint, keeping your destination in mind.
  4. Find a Suitable Spot: Once done, move to a nearby road where you’re visible and it’s safe for vehicles to stop.
  5. Thumb a Ride: Signal for a ride back to your starting point. Remember to smile and maintain a friendly demeanor!
  6. Communicate Clearly: When someone stops, be clear about where you need to go and offer to chip in for gas if possible.
  7. Stay Grateful & Respectful: Thank your benefactor and share a bit of your kayaking tale if they’re interested!

Pros and Cons of the Hitchhike Method

Adds an element of unpredictability & fun.Can be time-consuming, with no guaranteed ride.
Opportunity to meet locals or travelers.Safety concerns; not advised for everyone or every area.
Reduces carbon footprint.Might be challenging with a kayak in tow.
Often free or low cost.Weather can influence waiting times.

Jim Murphy

Jim's love for camping started at an early age. His parents would take him camping every summer, where he'd spend his days getting quality time in with his dad and his nights eating too many smores.

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