car next to a river while kayaking a river with only one car

How Do I Kayak a River With Only One Car?

If you’re kayaking alone, or with only one means of transportation it can be hard to plan a kayaking trip on the river. Rivers are directional, so if you’re planning to kayak one solo you may be wondering how do I kayak a river with only one car? 

There are three methods to kayaking a river with only one car. The Turn-Around Method involves parking in one spot, and then paddling in either direction before turning around and heading back to the car. The Middle Method involves paddling  upstream, then downstream, then upstream back to the car. The Ferry Method involves paddling downstream and then using ferrying equipment to get back to where you parked. 

Let’s explore each of these three methods so you can choose the best one for you to kayak a river with only one car. 

car next to a river while kayaking a river with only one car

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Three Methods to Kayaking a River with Only One Car

Method 1: The Turn-Around

When paddling a river, most people want to head downstream for most, if not all of their trip. But if you have only one car and you’re using the turn-around method, then only half your trip will be downstream. 

This method works exactly like you’d think. You get in the water, paddle in one direction, and then once you’re ready you’ll turn-around to head back to your car. 

There are two ways to approach the turn-around paddle: to start by heading upstream or to start by heading downstream. 

I prefer to start by heading upstream first. The reason for this is because the upstream paddle usually wears me out. So, when I reach the halfway point it’s easy to turn around and spend the last half of my trip coasting down the easier downstream portion.

But, to each their own. Choose whichever direction works best for you and the river you’ve chosen to paddle. 

Method 2: The Middle Method

This method is all about staggering out the exertion. You start out going upstream, and then about a quarter of the way up, you’ll turn back. When you reach the parking lot, you’re now at the half-way point. At this point you’ll continue downstream, until you reach about 3-quarters of your trip before turning back to the parking lot. 

If you didn’t follow that explanation essentials you go: 

Launch site –> upstream –> back to Launch site –> downstream –> back to Launch site. 

Why would someone choose this method? Soley so they’re not having to go the same direction the entire trip. You can also see more of the river since you wont only go towards one direction of the river. 

Personally, I feel this method is a little all over the place – but you may a person who prefers to spread out the upstream/downstream paddling while seeing both river directions in your trip. 

Method 3: The Ferry

The Ferry Method requires the most planning of the three, but is the only way where you can head downstream the entire way. 

Essentially the basis is that you have a car, and a second mode of transportation (bike, kayak roller, ride-share, etc…) for both the launch and let out sites. 

There are a couple ways to approach this method: 

Car at launch site: If the car is at the launch site, then you’ll need to determine what mode of transportation you’ll use on the way back. If you’re using a bike, then you’ll want to drop the bike off (with lock) at the end point. When you reach the end, you’ll secure your kayak, hop on the bike, travel back to your car, and then drive the car back to load up the kayak. If you’re using a ride-share then the method is the same, without needing to drop off or secure a bike first.

If you’re going to use a kayak roller, then it’s a bit different. You’ll drop the roller off before heading to the launch site. Then when you reach the end you’ll load the kayak up and walk it back with the roller to your car at the launch site. 

Car at end site: If you’d rather have your car at the end point, then you’ll need to drop your kayak off at the launch site (with a kayak lock to secure it) before returning to the end point to drop off your car. Then you’ll need to find your way back to the launch site by walking, biking, or ride-share. Your choice!

Of the two, my personal preference is to have the car at the end site. After kayaking down a river I’m usually tired, and don’t want to bike, walk, or kayak roll back to the launch site to THEN load up the kayak. But choose whichever works best for you! 

woman kayaking a river solo with only one car

Safety Considerations for Kayaking Solo

If you only have one car, then you may also be kayaking solo. If so, there are some safety considerations you’ll want to have in place to ensure your river kayaking trip is successful and safe. 

Tell somewhere where you’ll be: This is true of any solo trip (kayaking or otherwise). Telling someone where you’re going and including details like launch site, end site, water/weather conditions, and time expected for the time is crucial if you’ll be doing any trip alone. This way, if you get lost, or something happens, there’s someone who can alert authorities to be on the lookout for you. 

Bring communications equipment: For most of us communications equipment just means our phones in a dry bag. But, if you know you’re going somewhere without a lot of service then you’ll want some sort of communication/GPS device so people can locate you. I recommend this Garmin device, as it is durable, lightweight, and has some water resistance to it. 

Have common safety gear: Never go on a kayaking trip without a first aid kit. Seriously. I know it seems like an inconvient piece of gear – but that’s only as long as you don’t need it. The first time you hurt yourself out, you’re going to wish you had brought it. Along with a first aid kit, also pack enough food and water to get you through a night (even if you don’t plan on staying that long). 

If you are kayaking solo, check out our article with the best tips and practices on how to kayak alone to make sure you have everything you need before hitting the water. 

If you’ve been wondering how to kayak a river with only one car, I hope you’ve found a method that will work for you! If you’re looking to get out and kayak locally, check out our kayaking adventures page to find some great local spots to kayak. 

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