10 Put-in's That Take You From Vanlife To Packrafting In Minutes
Life on the road keeps adventure right at our doorstep, but pavement and highways can only take you so far. When we first hit the road we didn’t have a way to get out onto all of the beautiful lakes, and rivers we were passing daily, so once we got our packrafts, we made it a point to try to get out on the water as much as we could. We have been traveling with our packrafts all over North America--from Alberta, Canada, all the way down to Baja Sur, Mexico, and everywhere in-between. There are some occasions where we can’t commit to a multi-day packrafting trip or a 12-mile hike to a glacier lake. Some days, we just want adventures that are close to home! So, we have compiled a small list of some of our favorite places that take us from the comfort of our home-on-wheels, straight to the water in a matter of minutes!
Lone Rock Beach, Lake Powell, Utah
The Glen Canyon Recreation area is a dream for the Twain packraft! We spent a week at Lake Powell paddling through canyons and all over the lake. If you have 4WD this beach allows camping right along the water (free if you have a National Parks Annual pass) and any 2WD vehicle can make it to the upper beach parking area. You’ll be able to put your raft in the water just a short walk from your home with an incredible view of Lone Rock!
Lake Powell, Arizona
We are mentioning Lake Powell twice because this lake can be accessed from Utah or Arizona, and there’s just so much to see by water. We decided to check out some of the lake access near Page, Arizona. You can’t camp in the parking lot for the beach access that we put-in at, but you can camp anywhere on the island across from it, known as Antelope Island. We paddled across the lake with all of our camping gear and camped out on Antelope Island, and then woke up early to paddle out to some of the slot canyons nearby. The Twain handled this adventure with ease, as the waterway gets pretty choppy midday from boat traffic. The Hornet Lite also did well, but there was a noticeable difference with the tracking fin on the Twain versus no tracking fin on the Hornet Lite.
Teton River, Idaho
There were a few different places to put our rafts in along the Teton River. We chose to put-in right from camp. We paddled down the river and once we had gone a few miles, we then rolled up our Hornet Lite rafts, threw them in our backpacks and walked a few miles back to camp. Other people were calling a river service who would pick you up at camp (for a fee), drive you 8 miles or so up the river, drop you off, and then you would be able to paddle right back up to your campsite. If you do decide to packraft on the Teton River outside of Driggs, Idaho, you’ll enjoy a beautiful view of the Teton mountain range during your paddle down the river. From where we put-in, we did not experience any rapids just swift water which made for a quick trip down the river, and the Hornet Lite rafts were perfect for this trip.
Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park
We stumbled upon Jackson Lake on our drive south from Yellowstone National Park. When I say we “stumbled” upon this lake, you really can’t miss it. If you drive from Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park you’ll pass your first incredibly clear and close view of the Tetons with a large beautiful lake that perfectly reflects the mountains on it’s softly choppy waters. We paddled out onto this lake with our two Hornet Lite rafts, but the trip would have been much easier in the Twain raft. You’ll be able to put-in at the pebble beach right next to the boat launch and parking lot, and there is an island you can paddle out to across the lake.
This is an amazing spot to paddle out for sunrise. Although, you can not camp at this parking lot, but there is free camping close by in the National Forest!
Bahia De Concepcion, Baja Sur, Mexico
If you are not familiar with the Bahia De Concepcion, it is famous for its calm, crystal clear, and uber salty water from the Sea of Cortez. We spent weeks all long this bay packrafting to islands, fishing off of our packrafts, and catching sunrises from this body of water just a short distance from our home. This is one of the top places we would recommend bringing the Kokopelli Twain to. You’ll be able to go further and see more with the tracking fin. Camping is not always free along this area (the pinned spot can range from 100 pesos to 200 pesos), but its incredibly inexpensive to camp right along the beach in Mexico. If you’re up for an adventure, put this one on your list!
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
This is one of the more touristy locations on our list, but if you go about it the right way, you can have one of the most relaxing gorgeous day on this lake! With any busy lake or tourist location we visit, we go early early in the morning. I’m talking way before the sun comes up. We moved to the Moraine Lake parking lot in the wee hours of the morning, started our coffee, and then started packing up our stuff for a day out on the lake. You’ll be going from a parking lot (which fills up fast and then you can only access this lot by shuttle bus) to the lake in minutes. We paddled across the lake to get away from the hoards of crowds and rental canoes, and strung up a hammock on the other side of the lake shore.
Bow Lake, Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada
This stretch of highway is what you will have to look forward to headed north towards Jasper National Park. If you thought Moraine Lake was beautiful, just wait until you start passing more of these bright blue glacier fed lakes. We were pulling over constantly during this drive trying to find the next lake to get our rafts out onto. Time was of the essence as we were trying to make it to Jasper NP before nightfall. So, Bow Lake seemed like the best and most beautiful option for a quick put-in and quiet, peaceful paddle to breakup our long drive. You’ll essentially be parking at a pull off on the side of the highway, and walking down thin paths down to the lake shore where you’ll be able to put your packraft in the water.
I think we dubbed Bow Lake as one of the closest, and quickest experiences from driving to packrafting that we’ve had. And, boy, are we glad we didn’t just fly by this lake. We had it absolutely all to ourselves!
Flathead Lake, Montana
One of the best parts of traveling this way, are all the surprising new places you find. Flathead Lake was an unexpected find for us. Don’t get me wrong, we saw it on the map, but we were totally unaware of how beautiful this area of Montana was. Just south of Kalispell, Montana you’ll find the massive Flathead Lake. There’s really no better way to break up a long day of driving than getting out onto the water. Our Hornet Lite rafts did perfectly on this area of the lake since there was little to no boat traffic. This stop will be another parking lot to the water situation, not a spot to set up and camp at.
Middle Fork Flathead River, Montana
If you are traveling north through Montana, up towards West Glacier National Park, this will be an awesome spot to checkout. You can camp right along the Flathead River, and either take a bike ride up the river a few miles, or take a friends van up the river a few miles, and then ride the river right back down to your campsite. That was one of the most memorable times we have taken out our packrafts. There’s just something so awesome about paddling right up to your home-on-wheels waiting for you at the end of your day on the river.
We paddled out on the North Fork Flathead River in our Hornet Lite rafts, and they did awesome! There’s one area of decent-sized rapids, known as “The Ledge”. Our rafts handled them beautifully, but for the most part we rafted on a few small areas of swift water and then a lot of slower moving water, so plan your trip out with enough time to get back to [Middle Fork] camp!
*If this put-in is too far up the river from the campsite, there are a few closer marked put-in locations closer to camp
Colorado River, Moab, UT
This one comes as no big surprise. The Colorado River is famous for flowing through several states in the Southwest. But, during our time spent in Moab, Utah, this is one of the best ways to cool off during those hot spring and summer days in the desert! You can drive down Potash road and put in on some slower moving water, or you can head east on HWY 128 towards Castle Valley, and ride a few rapids. There are several different beaches and put-in locations along 128, and the river cruises right along the highway and red rocks, all the way back to the main highway that brings you into town. There’s large guided river tour boats, small watercrafts, boats, kayakers, SUP boarders, and packrafters paddling down the river, so if you need to get back to your van you would have no problem hitching a ride back to your starting point!