A Note from the Richardson Tribe:
Paddling can be relaxing or exhilarating, and everything in between. It can be a peaceful slow jaunt on still water, or a frantic battle against the rapids. When we decided to begin our canoeing adventure, we opted for the slower-paced version. This we did for several reasons. When we began researching this activity in 2010, the children were 6, 6, 7, and 10, Rebecca and I were both pushing 50, and the challenge of carrying enough water craft to fit us all on a Jeep Wrangler narrowed our choices considerably. We had a lot to consider.

Ultimately, we decided to ask Santa to deliver two Dick's Sporting Goods canoes capable of accommodating three people each. I figured out that two canoes could be nested with very little modification allowing them to be carried with a minimal footprint. On Christmas Morning 2010, Santa delivered. Now, getting canoes for Christmas might seem a bit odd. It is, after all, pretty cold in the winter, even in our neck of the southern woods. In fact, for the first time in my life, there was snow on the ground on that Christmas morning. Needless to say, we didn't run right out and get in the pond. We waited a couple of days for that.

With regards to carrying the canoes on our Jeep, I began my research well in advance. I found a water craft rack manufactured by Warrior Products which was really nothing more than a luggage/light rack without the basket. It served its purpose but proved to be a bear to install correctly. Once the rack was attached to the Jeep, I discovered how difficult it was to load the two nested canoes by myself. I usually have some help, but I prefer to know I can do it solo if I have to. I solved the loading dilemma by installing a Cabela's Canoe Loader and Rack. This ingenious device made it much simpler and safer to load the canoes, plus it added significant support to the rear portion of the canoe rack.

So, with the transportation issue resolved and two new canoes, paddles, and life vests, we did what any eager family would do, we headed south. Our christening voyage of the Minnow and Manatee (yes, we name everything we own) was in the 70+ degree waters of Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National forest. We couldn't have asked for a better first experience. We were able to see and touch manatee while paddling around the peaceful waters. Bonus? No one was eaten by a gator!

We have since taken the canoes on several trips and have enjoyed them immensely. We even tried a little of that "moving water" canoeing, but we think we prefer the slower pace of still or slow-flowing water. If you are considering a way for your family to experience some water-based fun without breaking the bank, consider canoes or kayaks. If you aren't sure, visit a state park or outfitter and rent one to try on for size. Just remember your gear.

The Richardson Tribe

Canoeing at Fort Mountain State Park
Fort Mountain State Park near Chatsworth, Georgia has a peaceful little lake perfect for a scenic paddle. Canoes can be rented here for a reasonable price.

Canoeing at Stone Mountain Park
Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta, Georgia is an awesome place to camp and paddle. Private motorized boats are not allowed, so the water is often as smooth as glass. Very peaceful!

Canoeing at Salt Springs Recreation Area
Salt Springs Recreation Area in Florida's Ocala National Forest is a great place to paddle in the winter. A large family of gentle manatee live here.

Canoeing at Cedar Creek Park
Cedar Creek Park in northwest Georgia rents watercraft and provides transportation to the "put in" point on Big Cedar Creek. Groups with guides are common here. A good place to learn how to paddle.

Canoeing at Live Oak Landing
Live Oak Landing, an RV resort in Freeport, Florida, provides great opportunities to fish and see wildlife up close from the seat of a canoe or kayak.

Canoeing at Chester Frost Park
Chester Frost Park near Chattanooga, Tennessee is a favorite destination to camp and paddle. Both fishing and sunsets here are amazing here.

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Canoeing and Kayaking - What You Need to Know
There are a number of things to consider before purchasing a canoe or kayak. Here is a list of topics to research before you make a decision

  • Are you really ready?Canoeing at Live Oak Landing
    First, are you and your family ready for this? Can everyone swim? Can your partner and children follow verbal instructions? Piloting a canoe or kayak isn't necessarily difficult, but it requires a degree of coordination, maturity, and upper body strength. Even a calm pond can become difficult to navigate if the wind is blowing across the bow. Trust me, it's not fun to be on the lake while a thunderstorm is brewing.

  • Canoe or Kayak?
    This is obviously an important decision, and the answer will depend greatly on the size of your family and the ages of your children. Consider all these issues:

    - What are the skill levels of your family members.  If you want kayaks (single seat), everyone must be capable of maneuvering using a double paddle. Canoes are ideal for families with one to four children. Our family of six has two 15' canoes with centerCanoeing at Cedar Creek Park seats.

    - How many people will be riding in the boat? Some larger canoes can carry up to three people safely, but make sure you don't exceed the weight limit. When we go out on the water, I sit in the rear of one canoe steering and paddling. Rebecca has the same position in the second canoe. The two oldest boys sit in the front of each canoe and paddle.
    Each of the twins sits in the center seat. Eventually we will outgrow the canoes. I imagine we'll add a couple of kayaks for the older boys some day.

  • Still water or swift water?
    Canoes and kayaks are designed for specific applications. Some are built for taking on
    the rapids, and others are made to track straight on a still body of water. There are hybrids that can handle a little of both. Consider your family's desires and capabilities before making this decision. Two canoes on a Jeep Wrangler

  • How to get there?
    What can you carry on or behind your vehicle?
    There are many options for carrying kayaks and canoes on the top of vehicles. Obviously, the number of watercraft you can carry is somewhat limited by the size of your vehicle. If you can't fit enough on a roof rack, consider a small trailer. Various manufacturers make specialized trailers that can carry up to 12 or more kayaks.

  • Gear?
     Before hitting the water, you'll need...

    - an appropriate personal flotation device for EVERYONE.

    two paddles per canoe and one double paddle per kayak, and lanyard so you won't lose your paddle in a spill.

    - mirror or shiny metal for visual signal in case of emergency during daylight hours
    Canoeing on Big Cedar Creek

    - flashlight for visual signal in case of emergency after dark 

    - whistle or horn for audible signal in case of an emergency.

    - bow and stern lines - 10-15' long, 9/16 inch diameter rope

    - waterproof first aid kit

    - waterproof duffle for keeping items dry

    - bailing sponge to help remove water in case of a capsize

Motorhome pulling Jeep and canoes

Be sure to check your local laws and guidelines for any additional items that may be required or suggested. We strongly suggest visiting a park or outfitter to rent a watercraft to try out first. If available, take a class, or make your first excursion with an experienced  group. Listen to the experts, they have great advice. Never go out alone. Now, go out there and have some fun!