When winter hits Canada, some paddlers wait until snow and frozen waterways give way to spring thaws and warmer temperatures before venturing back out on the water. Others trade in their paddles for snowshoes or cross-country skis.
And others, well… they just don’t want to stop paddling—so they head south to warmer climes.
Here are five places for paddlers to enjoy when Canada is frozen over.
Georgia’s Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge
If you want to get up close with an alligator, the Okefenokee is the place to paddle. Located in southeast Georgia, canoeing or kayaking there may make you think you’ve paddled back into time.
Gators aren’t hard to find. Ten minutes into a three-day trip, one surfaced to our right, 20 metres away. They often sun themselves on low-lying mudbanks. One even swam past our wooden camping platform while we cooked dinner.
At night, point a flashlight along the banks, and you might see pairs of orange-red eyes blink back at you. You can often hear them bellowing at night. The one sound you do not want to hear is an alligator hissing while paddling past—it means you’re too close, and it feels threatened.
The swamp offers great birding. A sandhill crane foraged near us during breakfast. Later, we spotted a green heron while paddling down a narrow, jungle-esc channel. We also spotted some swallow-tailed kites, a pileated woodpecker and a prothonotary warbler.
If you go: You can paddle on your own, but still need to make reservations. If you want a guided trip, go to Okefenokee Adventures.
Georgia’s Coastal Islands
Quite different from swamp paddling, a day trip on St. Simon’s Island, one of Georgia’s coastal islands, provides paddlers with more birding opportunities and interesting local history.
Our trip took us into a salt marsh that eventually ends in the ocean. Winding back and forth in the narrow channel, we heard the distinct “oka-dee!” of red-winged blackbirds. We even spotted a few, and an occasional egret, looking for fish.
Along the way, we learned about The Battle of Bloody Marsh fought here in 1742 between the British and Spanish. The British won.
We paddled out of the marsh into Gould’s Inlet, to a small island for some lazy beachcombing.
Willets scurried around on the sand, and we saw plenty of hermit crab holes. The vegetation reminded me of the contrasts in this not quite temperate, not quite tropical, not quite wetland environment, as cacti peeked up through the sands along the island.
If you go: Southeast Adventures offers trips in various locations around Georgia’s coastal islands.
Florida’s Everglades National Park
When you hear “everglades,” your mind may conjure up images of a sea of grass or dark, murky swamps filled with alligators (like the Okefenokee). Those certainly exist there; however, there are also places where you can island-hop, as the national park includes the Gulf Coast.
I spent four days paddling in the Ten Thousand Islands, accessed from Everglades City, beach-camping all the way. We didn’t spot any gators but saw plenty of other wildlife.
It’s hard to pick one highlight. For me, it was a dolphin swimming under, then breaching right behind my kayak in one “mangrove tunnel”—narrow channels between the islands (keys) that sport very thick shoreline vegetation, creating a tunnel-like impression.
Nature also treated us to an eagle-osprey aerial battle over a fish; sea turtles and manatees swimming past our kayaks; and a flock of egrets taking turns “baby-sitting” younger birds in the shallows.
If you go: Visit Naples Tourism or Visit Florida to explore several trip options.
Kayaking to the world’s second largest barrier reef in Belize
In Florida, the islands are “keys,” in Belize, they’re “cays.” Both are pronounced the same way.
Cay-hopping by kayak in Belize is one of the world’s ultimate paddling adventures. Tropical breezes, beaches, sunshine and plenty of wildlife.
Most of the wildlife you’ll see on a trip off the coast of this Central American country is under the water. That means you’ll have to trade your paddle for a snorkel, mask and fins.
Three stops in a five-day trip provides plenty of opportunities for snorkelling. Make it to some of the outer cays, and you’re a short paddle from a barrier reef second in size only to Australia’s.
The corals alone are worth the plunge into the warm waters: giant brain coral, staghorn coral and fire coral (don’t touch it!) present an amazing view of nature. Then there are the creatures: a school of nine reef squid was a personal highlight, among the sea anemones and sea urchins, angelfish and butterfly fish.
If you go: To find a reputable guide, visit the country’s tourism website. I've travelled with Adventure Life.
Experiencing nature and Indigenous culture in Ecuador’s Amazon
The Galapagos is not the only place for a great nature experience in Ecuador. A trip to the jungle allows you to experience both nature and Indigenous culture.
It’s tough to beat a wake-up call from a howler monkey while camped at the top of a cliff along a jungle river. Or spotting flocks of macaws flying overhead as you paddle downstream.
Travelling with the Huaorani in the Amazon not only lets you see plants and animals in the jungle during day and night hikes, you’ll also get to taste things like yuca, a tuber similar to potato, that grows in the jungle; or tangy ants that enjoy a symbiotic relationship with certain tree species, aptly named “lemon-ant trees” by locals; maybe even dine on piranha fish (bony but tasty).
A visit to a village to learn how to use a traditional blowpipe or see men dressed in traditional attire (not much left to the imagination!) would highlight any trip.
If you go: The company I did the trip with, Adventure Life, does not do this trip any longer, but Amazon Adventures does.