Outfitters have to be truly patient, knowledgeable and sometimes even psychic to answer their clients’ questions. It turns out there may be some stupid questions after all. Kevin Callan and Conor Mihell compile the best of the worst, the stupidest questions outfitters have heard about canoe tripping.

12 stupidest canoe tripping questions

1 Paging M.C. Escher

“Are there any loops that are
downstream the whole way?”

An easier journey is an understandable goal for novice canoe-trippers, but outfitters can’t bend the laws of physics. If you want a downstream paddle, look into a linear route with shuttle service to take you back to your vehicle.

person adjusts the declination a compass
Never get lost again with these essential navigation skills. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

2 Deep thoughts

“How will I know if I’m lost?”

The problem is, at least at first, you don’t. Being lost often presents itself as a nagging suspicion, followed by more concrete signs like missed landmarks, unexpected terrain and sometimes even circling back on the same location. To avoid getting lost, your best bet is to learn how to effectively use a map and compass.

3 Into the unknown

“Are there any undiscovered
lakes in the park?”

On a canoe trip, the important thing is that you are discovering the lakes for the first time. But no judgment if you need to invent some fantastic voyageur scenario to motivate yourself to get through the next portage. Speaking of which…

4 An ear for languages

“What’s a portage called in French?”

Sometimes you know more than you think you do. Let’s leave it at that.

5 Superior intellect

“Does the lake have a name?”

—A park visitor asks while pointing to Lake
Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world.

It really pays to do some basic research about a body of water before you attempt to paddle it. Setting aside safety concerns, at the very least you’ll avoid embarrassing yourself in front of the locals.

Black Deer Lying on Plants Near Green Trees during Daytime
Wildlife viewing always involves an element of luck. | Photo: Pexels

6 No guarantees

“Is there any sort of refund
if we don’t see a moose?”

Wild animals don’t plan their days according to our schedule, so even the most experienced guide can’t guarantee what you’ll see. But it is just this timeless nature that makes it so worthwhile to travel through the backcountry.

7 Bear necessities

“Do the pins on the map
mark the best spots to camp?”

—A park visitor asks about Quetico Provincial
Park’s map of bear encounters.

Some wildlife encounters are better off avoided for everyone’s sake. Canoe-trippers should know how to bear-proof their campsites before hitting the backcountry. Most outfitters and parks post information on bear safety (as evidenced above), so make sure you consult these resources where available.

8 Eye of the beholder

“How far do we have to canoe from the base in order to reach scenic surroundings?”

A big part of finding beauty in the world around us is taking the time to look. In everyday life we’re often in a rush, trying to achieve as much as possible in a finite number of hours. There are a finite number of hours on the river too, but you’ll have a more memorable trip if you let the experience come to you.

9 Word of mouth

“We’re interested in a place someone told us about. Perhaps you could tell me a little more about it. The only thing I know is that it’s an island, and to get to it or near it, we will have to pass under either a bridge or a culvert.”

This is like asking an Australian friend, “Do you know ‘Dave’ from Australia?” The world is full of places to paddle, just like Australia is full of Daves, so the onus is on you to pick one. Otherwise, you can ask a different someone (an outfitter) to recommend a place that they actually know exists.

a canoe tripper asks stupid questions
It turns out there may be some stupid questions after all. | Illustration: Lorenzo Del Bianco

10 Training wheels

“Would it be useful to have wheels for the canoe, or are the trails too rugged for a wheeled canoe?”

This one isn’t as stupid as it sounds, because a canoe cart can be indispensable on long-distance trips like Mike Ranta’s cross-Canada canoe expeditions. But for the average canoe trip, you better gird your loins and get ready to portage that canoe. It builds character.

Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels
Cute, but not to be trifled with. | Feature photo: Janko Ferlic/Pexels

11 Bear necessities, part two

“My daughter really wants to cuddle with a baby bear. Where is a good place to find one?”

It’s hard to believe that this line of questioning actually occurs, but social media and news reports are full of evidence to the contrary. At this point, maybe your canoe rental should be cancelled.

12 The longest portage

“I am heading to the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail and need to know how much it is to rent a light two-person canoe for seven days?”

Just like you can’t hike across a watery lake without scuba gear, you can’t canoe a backpacking trail. Unless you really love to portage, that is—like the brothers who carried their canoes to Mount Everest. For the rest of us, the presence of water is the first prerequisite for a canoe trip. Do we really need to say this?

Paddling Magazine Issue 65 | Fall 2021

This article originally appeared in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.


Cute, but not to be trifled with. | Feature photo: Janko Ferlic/Pexels



  1. The funniest one I heard, was a youth on a canoe trip in Sweden. The group were all camping in hammocks and I went along to inspect their camp. One youth was roaming, looking up at the trees, his camp was not setup but all the others had hammocks up and they were cooking their evening meal.
    I asked, “Where’s your camp?” the lad answered, “I am looking for two trees of the same height!” I simply pointed to 2 trees and said “Set up there.”
    The same youth did ask me earlier in the trip, “How many fatalities do you have on these trips?”. Had I known at the time, what he was like I may have said, he could be the first!
    He did settle down and get himself organised.
    He went off to University and I think he was studying Philosophy?


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