For your first few trips, plan to run rivers that your guidebook—or another reliable source—indicates have good campsites and portages. Even better, find someone who has run the river before to come along, or turn your normal day run into an overnight and plan other activities like playboating, fishing, swimming and hiking to keep you busy.
Madawaska River, Ontario
Summer-long flows, superb campsites and over a dozen friendly class II-III rapids between Quadeville and Griffith make the 25-kilometre Lower Mad a weekend favorite in eastern Ontario.
Mattawin River, Quebec
The Mattawin has 18 kilometres of class III-IV boulder gardens, small drops and wave trains in a beautiful wilderness valley. Consistent gradient and dam-released volume within a 21⁄2-hour drive of Montreal make for a great overnight escape.
Whirlpool and Athabasca Rivers, Alberta
What these Jasper-area rivers lack in remoteness, they more than make up for in spectacular mountain scenery, wildlife and varied whitewater. Put in on the playful, low-volume class II-III Whirlpool just below Moab Lake and follow down to the Athabasca. Camp at Wabasso Campground, then continue down the large-volume class I–II Athabasca to Jasper.
White River, British Columbia
Well-defined features, fun surf spots and a remote setting make this two- to three-day run in the mid Kootenay drainage a great choice for solid class III paddlers. Fed by snowmelt and glaciers, the 42-kilometre section of the lower White also has some of the nicest wilderness campsites this side of the Rockies.
New River, West Virginia
Canoeist have long flocked to the upper New River, but the 30 miles (50 kilometres) of class II-III pool-and-drop rapids are equally enjoyable for first-time kayak campers.
Klamath River, California
Moderate rapids, warm water, easy access, superb scenery, beach camping and fairly light use make the Klamath a rarity in northern California. The Middle Klamath provides 47 miles (75 kilometres) of class II+ float-and-boat; below this, choose from a further 70 miles (112 kilometres) of class III rapids.