The first time I was sitting in a boat (a folding kayak), I was one year old and my parents took me and my two older brothers for a trip on a river. This was their hobby and their way to get out of the city on weekends or go on vacation. The boats themselves were a real investment back then, but the vacation itself didn’t cost much. We took our two folding kayaks (each one for 2 paddlers and a small child sitting in the very front), a big tent and everything we needed for the trip. Our last vacation as a family was a four-week trip to Yugoslavia, when we children were 16, 17 and 18.
Ten years ago, when we all had families ourselves and our children were getting bigger, my brothers and I went back to this kind of vacation. Once a year, we take one week off work, away from our families and our normal life, and we go on a kayak trip together. The first couple of years, we did that with the 30 to 40 years old kayaks from our parents, but then we invested in new crossover kayaks.
We always look for rivers, that are long enough to at least spend 3 to 4 days on them, preferably even 5 to 6 days. We start somewhere in the mountains, close to the source of the river if possible. In the beginning, you usually have some whitewater — I only agree to whitewater 3 (up to 4 in some small spots is okay) or less. The further you go down the river, the easier it gets, usually.
We take everything with us in the kayaks: A tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, clothing, cooker, food, wine and most important: drinking water. It all has to fit in our three kayaks.
Reviving Kayak Vacations – The Loue
Our first river where we picked up again was an easy one — the Loue in France. We already paddled that river with our parents when we were 10, 11 and 12, so this was a good start for our revival.
The Loue is very well suited for beginners and family trips. There is no whitewater, just some easy rapids and weirs. The Loue is long enough to easily spend a week paddling. We started In Vuillafans, meeting at the Camping Municipal Le Pre Bailly, which is right next to the river.
It is perfect to start and end your trip on a camp ground. Here you can fill your containers with fresh water and park your car safely. At the end, you can either position your second car or find someone willing to bring you back to your starting point.
Don’t Leave A Trace
On the way, we are always looking for spots to stay overnight where we are alone. This is not possible in all countries but accepted in many areas in Europe.
There is a differentiation between wild camping and staying overnight. Camping wild is not allowed in most countries. Coming in the evening, sleeping in a tent and leaving in the morning is something else. We always make sure not to leave a trace and take all trash with us.
Croatia – Kupa, Korana, Mresnica, Zrmanja
The next year we chose two more rivers we already knew from the past. The rivers Kupa and Korana, back then in Yugoslavia, now in Croatia.
The Korana is one of my favorites. It starts in the Plitvice Lakes, has beautiful clear water and is a cascade river. This means it is tame water for one or two miles and suddenly comes the next drop down. These drops are between 1 and 6 feet high, and all rideable by kayak without great risk but with lots of fun. If one drop is too high for you, there is always a way around them.
If you ever come to that area, you should really look at the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It is totally overrun but absolutely beautiful.
A few years later, we discovered another river in that area that is even more beautiful – the Mresnica. Especially since the Korana was discovered by a rafting company a couple of years ago and has a new campground close to the river. The Mresnica is also a cascade river but with much higher cascades, so I wouldn’t recommend this for beginners or families with smaller children. Some of the cascades are not rideable. Instead, you actually have to find a way to walk your kayak down some smaller side cascades or carry it down a side path.
The extra work of navigating the cascades is well worth the adventure. The nature around you is beautiful, the water clear and in June (we always try to go before the main season) we didn’t meet anybody on the way down the river. The water is so clear that you can see the ground (and many fish) even if it is 3 to 4 yards below you. There are lots of places to stay and have a swimming break and it is fairly easy to find a nice spot to stay overnight. We always try to find one close to a cascade because the noise is soothing and you don’t hear the others snoring ?.
More Recommendations For Trips
Allier is a long French river that has many different characteristics. The upper part is a beautiful, lonely forest gorge up to whitewater 4+ (and even a part that is not passable). The middle section has nice sandy islands to camp on, but still some whitewater and rapids. The lower part is easy to paddle and well suited for family trips and beginners.
The Doubs starts in Switzerland (up to whitewater 4) and ends up in France.
The Ticino starts in Switzerland and runs mostly through Italy.
In Germany there are Ammer and Isar for whitewater fans. Iller, Amper and Regen are great options for leisurely excursions.
What Is So Special About These Trips?
Being outdoors for a couple of days, depending on only what you took with you, and leaving behind most of the “civilization” brings you back to what is really important in life. It doesn’t matter if your clothes are fancy, or your hair looks good. It does matter though if there is still enough drinking water and if you have clothing that keeps you warm or protects your skin from the sun.
Discovering a country from the water is quite different from what most people see during their vacation in a foreign country. You get to see beautiful landscapes, untouched areas and few people. Even if you do see people, it is usually a different experience. We are not in big tourist areas, so we get to see the “normal people.”
Sitting in your kayak, just enjoying nature and keeping an eye on the next rapid slows you down immediately. When we start our trips, once we are on the river, everything else is far away.
And after a couple of days, we are really thankful that we do have nice soft beds at home, running water and a hot shower. When was the last time you were really aware that this is something special?
Important Things To Think About
Always prepare your trip thoroughly. If you have never been in a kayak before, try one at home, preferably in a calm lake. For the first trip, you might consider day trips and renting a kayak. This usually includes pick-up service at your destination.
There are great sources on the internet to help you plan your trip and scout the river you are considering. German websites I can recommend for planning your trip are: http://kajaktour.de/ and https://www.faltboot.org/. Google Earth is also a good way to go down the river virtually in advance.
A couple of days before you go, check the weather conditions and the water levels. If the water is too low, it won’t be any fun and there might be times where you are not allowed to kayak. If water levels are too high, it might get dangerous.
Make yourself a list of the stuff you think you really need and test pack your kayak. Does it all fit inside?
Don’t forget sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a sun hat and waterproof bags.
If you need some help planning your first trip, or more information about those rivers I mentioned above, just send me a note.