Leave No Trace Paddling: Protect What You Enjoy

Ideas & Advice / Paddling

The idea of Leave No Trace hiking has become increasingly popular, but what about Leave No Trace Paddling? For good or for bad we kayakers, canoeists, and stand up paddleboarders are all stewards of the waterways on which we travel. It’s important to remember how to protect these precious resources, while not missing opportunities to get out there and enjoy that which we work so hard to conserve.

As I’m prepping for my thru-paddle of the Connecticut River, I had the good fortune of spending some time on the water with with Andy Fisk, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. We talked about Leave No Trace Paddling practices, relevant kayaking gear, and the many people who work to protect the river and its recreational opportunities. Let me share with you five commonly accepted Leave No Trace Paddling practices to keep in mind on your next paddling adventure.

A gentle wake is all a paddler should leave behind on the water.

A gentle wake is all a paddler should leave behind on the water.

Leave No Trace Paddling

1. Plan Ahead: Take some time to learn of safe and permissible access points for your trip. Study your intended route. Print maps and store them in a waterproof map case. Load your landing site coordinates into your waterproof GPS device. All of these ideas will prevent parking illegally, bushwhacking an unanticipated landing spot and generally misrepresenting the paddling community.

2. Dispose of Waste: Seems simple, but in practice, we forget. Aside from trash that should be carried out, we should be cognizant of our human waste, especially along waterways. Learn what’s permissible along your route. If burying is an option, carry a trowel and use it. If not, pack it out in a secure container.

3. Leave Everything Where You FInd It: Instead of bringing home a bag of souvenirs, bring along an action camera with a waterproof case to document your trip. It might just be a rock you’re taking home, but what if everyone took one? What if some creature was living under that rock? Leave it be. Plus, waterproof cameras are a ton of fun. I suggest picking up a floating lanyard for it as well.

The same Leave No Trace Principles that apply on land work on the water as well, take only pictures!

The same Leave No Trace Principles that apply on land work on the water as well, take only pictures!

4. Campfires: Common advice is to minimize your campfire, but I suggest you skip it. Bring a small stove along instead. Firewood is hard to find. Further, no wood should be brought in from outside a region, as it could lead to importing new insects or other invasive organisms. Plus, cooking on a camping stove is way easier than trying to make a nice meal and a cup of coffee over an open fire.

My Leave No Trace Paddling partner on Memorial Day 2013, Andy Fisk of the Connecticut River Water Council

My Leave No Trace Paddling partner on Memorial Day 2013, Andy Fisk of the Connecticut River Watershed Council

5. Respect Wildlife: Don’t paddle up too closely to nesting birds or other creatures along the river. Use your camera’s zoom to capture the moment. Better yet, slow down, relax and absorb the moment of sharing space with something so cool as a moose, loon or beaver. Consider carrying field guides with you and store them in small dry-bags behind your seat or in your cockpit: learning exactly what you’re looking at can be quite rewarding. Keep notes in a write-in-the-rain notebook to accompany your pictures. A great picture with great notes can be an awesome thing!

Knowing how to minimize our impact is a great feeling, but implementing that knowledge can transcend an outdoor trip to a rewarding and fulfilling experience for both you and those who follow later. In fact, enjoying New England’s waterways while practicing Leave No Trace Paddling methods can be some of the most important stewardship an area will ever see. Without recreation, it’s nearly impossible to muster public support for conservation and protection of awesome waterways such as the Connecticut River. Responsible recreation is an important factor in protecting our favorite rivers and trails for future generations.

 ”We have been working to help people get to the river for decades. Our paddler’s guide first came out in the 1960s because we know the Connecticut is one of New England’s iconic rivers, and the Source to Sea paddle is an epic journey. Whether you are paddling all 400 miles or just a short day trip, getting on the water connects us to our landscape, our history and to each other.” -Andy Fisk, Executive Director, Connecticut River Watershed Council.


I welcome you to check out my recent trip on the Connecticut, from White River Junction to Windsor, VT

Justin Chase

Justin "Cracky" Chase is the author of the online journal, Outdoors, By Cracky! Want to get outdoors in New England? Follow him! www.outdoorsbycracky.com


  1. June 12, 2013, 3:10 pm

    Abby, Thanks for the comment about trash along the river. Paddlers can also help with the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s 17th Annual Source to Sea Cleanup on October 4-5, 2013.

    More than 2,000 volunteers of all ages and abilities are expected to head out to places of their choice all along the four-state watershed to clean the Connecticut River and its tributaries on foot or by boat. I hope you will consider joining us. Sign up for our e-mail list to be notified when registration is open for this year’s cleanup.

  2. Abby Nash
    June 7, 2013, 4:15 am

    Awesome post Justin. I get so angry and sad when I see trash along a trail or floating in a river. Great job bringing visibility to an issue that needs to be talked about! (And nice pics :D)

  3. June 6, 2013, 10:36 am

    A great addition from the folks at the New England Kayak Club! Although it doesn’t seem to make LNT’s “official” list, it seems it sure should: Washing your boat before entering the water. This does a ton to prevent importing invasive weeds and other organisms from previous paddling trips. Many New England lakes and rivers are suffering from invasives. Thanks for the suggestion!

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