Get Rec’d: Canoe the Cedar River

Beached on the Cedar River. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

There are 18,000 miles of river trails in Iowa, but the Cedar River is easy to access, wide enough to maintain a safe physical distance from anyone else there and can be done in an afternoon.

Getting started

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

If you’re new to the canoe, take one on a lake or pond to practice balance, paddle strokes and steering before hitting the river. And seriously, never stand up in one.

No rack on your car?

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Center and secure the front and back of the boat using ropes.

Use ratchet straps to tightly secure the middle of the boat through your car doors. Pool noodles can be used to keep the boat off the roof.

A secure boat while driving is crucial! Once it’s tied on, shake the boat with both hands. If the car moves with it, it should be ready to go.

Your route

There are two great options for a quick float from Palisades-Kepler State Park’s Lower Launch:

  • 3.5 miles (approximately 90 minutes) to South Cedar Natural Area (Look for a concrete ramp and wooded parking area at your right.)
  • 8.7 miles (approximately three hours) to Sutliff Access (Look for a steep concrete ramp to your left, just before the Sutliff Bridge and Tavern.)


Canoeing the Cedar River, with Sutliff Bridge in the distance. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

River awareness: Check your river levels before you go at If it’s high on the chart or by your own observation, consider rescheduling the trip. Pay attention to the weather both where you’ll be paddling and upriver.

Know your route: Check out for water trail maps.

A canoe and paddles: Rent, borrow or buy. If you or a friend don’t have a canoe, SOKO Outfitters in Cedar Rapids rents kayaks with transport rigs for around $50/day plus a credit card number. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace can be a great source for used boats, too, but keep in mind that anything over 13 feet must be registered through Iowa DNR.

Life jackets: It is required by law in this state to carry one life jacket per person on your vessel. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 84 percent of drowning victims were not wearing them at their time of death, so — just do it.

Transportation: Few things baffle an otherwise intelligent river paddler like how to efficiently transport oneself to and from a float. If you don’t have a non-participating driver willing to drop you off at launch and pick you up at takeout, plan on taking two cars. In both vehicles, have all necessary ratchet straps, bungees and ropes to safely tie the boat to the top (or remember to bring them on the boat with you). Park the boatless car where you plan to take out (be considerate when parking!), then ride together to launch.

Zip bag/dry bag: Bring a secure zip bag for sunscreen, SPF lip balm, a waterproof bag (a ziplock will do) for your phone, your car keys and any other items you consider essential.

Cooler and provisions: A couple of sandwiches, fruit, sparkling water, a beer or two, a coozy and an insulated bottle of ice water are my go-tos. Don’t litter. Don’t get drunk. A river is not the time or place to double down on your drinking problem. Just enjoy the natural world and have some respect for your mortality and that of the person you’re sharing a boat with. Bring only what you can handle and you’ll be more likely to survive the float as well as the drive home.

Appropriate attire: Layers are a must. When the sun is hot, you’ll be glad you brought a button-down. A hat with a wide brim and sunglasses are advised, and you’ll have to put your feet in the water, so wear sandals that will stay on your feet or shoes that can get nasty.

Help out: Pick up garbage along the way. Throw it in the boat until you have access to a trash can.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 284.

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