Camping From A Canoe Or Kayak

Some of my most cherished camping memories come from canoe and kayak adventures.

In 1975 I built an 18-foot canoe, and that started a tradition of camp and float excursions.

After completing the canoe I tried to make every outdoor destination one with a body of water easily available. I camp at lakes and streams when I can.

One (almost annual) event started right after the canoe build. When I first started this personal tradition I planned it for the July 4th weekend. I loaded the canoe on top of the car, and packed all my camping gear inside, picked up a family member to keep the car for me, and headed for Crawfordsville, Indiana.

In Crawfordsville I re-packed the gear into the canoe and took off down a stream called Sugar Creek. The Indians gave the creek that name because of the abundance of Sugar Maples that grow along the banks.

My usual float on the creek runs about 30-miles downstream. Since I only had the holiday weekend I had to make that trip in less than three days. It was always kinda rushed, but still, the scenery along that stretch is very rewarding even when I’m paddling almost constantly.

The part of the creek that I float flows from Crawfordsville, through both Shades and Turkey Run State Parks, and most often ends at the Jackson Covered Bridge. The animals and plant life that I see are nothing short of amazing.

Camping along the creek isn’t always easy. Each evening I look for a sandbar to pitch my tent on. The sand makes a comfortable base for my sleeping bag – after I clear the sticks and stones out of the way.

But sometimes all I find is a rock covered bank to spend the night. With water levels that rise and fall all the time those sandbars tend to move around, and sometimes they’re covered with water. No comfortable place for pitching a tent when there’s nothing but rocks.

I had a few nights where I just sat in my camp chair and dozed off and on. That has its rewards too, but it’s a story for another time.

Sugar Creek can be a dangerous water course, even for experienced boaters. I put that old canoe through a lot over the years. A few times when the water ran fast, I came around a turn in the creek and crashed into a boulder, or tangle of trees that a storm’s violence had torn up by the roots, and the creek just dumped in a pile.

One time I got crossways against one of those tree piles. The canoe tipped up sideways in the current and filled with water. All my equipment that wasn’t tied down floated away. It took me a couple of hours to get the canoe out. It was on the bottom in 3-feet or so of water, and I had to fight the current to pull it to the surface. When I did get it out the fiberglass hull was broken in a number of places. I spent a few days patching it, but it was ready to go when another camp outing came along.

Sometime in the early 1990s, I decided to make the switch to a kayak. I researched, found the one I wanted, and drove to the manufacturer in Nashville, TN to get it. It’s a tour boat with storage compartments front and rear for the camping equipment. That started a new phase of floating pleasures for me.

Over time my three day floats down Sugar Creek turned into five-day vacations. And after I retired I started making that trip more than once a year. Sometimes I go by myself, other times I have company. And whether I’m alone or not every visit to the creek I see new beauty.

I have a lot of experiences about camping from a canoe or to share, and about other camp excursions too. Check back every week or so to read my latest stories.