One of the best things about canoeing is the opportunity it provides to explore a wide variety of waterways and wild landscapes. This notion was reinforced last October when I went on two separate canoe trips within a two-week period.

The first outing was on the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River in central Washington State. Here, the mighty river flows through parched sagebrush-covered steppes fenced in by columnar basalt. It is a land of sweeping vistas and stark beauty.

Unlike most of the Columbia’s course, which has been transformed into a series of placid reservoirs, the 51-mile-long Reach has never been dammed. The vitality of the unaltered river was apparent as hundreds of silvery chinook salmon darted through its clear water beneath our canoes.

We drifted beneath the White Bluffs as a flock of white pelicans floated ahead at the same pace. Overhead, a warm autumn sun shone in a cloudless sky.

One week later, a cold, wet snow numbed my hands and face as we paddled across a dark, brooding lake in northern Minnesota. We entered a meandering channel lined by frozen bogs sprouting frosty pitcher plants and spindly golden tamaracks. The channel narrowed, and soon our canoes were breaking through a thin layer of ice on the water’s surface. We continued ice-breaking for another quarter mile, until the ice thickened and our canoes were halted. Under a leaden sky, we retraced the route back through our icy gash, across the choppy lake, over a slippery portage trail, and along the snow-covered shoreline to our wintry campsite. That night wolves howled in the distance as if to announce the change of season.

From sunshine to snow showers, western desert to northern forest, silent salmon to invisible wolves, the contrast between the two trips was striking. The only thing they had in common was the agile craft that made them possible.

In this issue of Canoe Journal, a variety of other paddling destinations are visited, ranging from arid Owyhee River canyons to a foggy Scottish loch. But most of the issue is devoted to that country where canoeing is not merely recreation, but a way of life – Canada. A special 30-page section features a sampling of some of the finest paddling to be found north of latitude 49. A few of these places, like Quetico Provincial Park and the Bowron Lakes circuit, are well known to canoeists throughout North America. Others, like the Finnie, Hood, and Mountain, are seldom visited. Flowing through the remote far north, these rivers offer both challenge and reward to the intrepid paddler. It might as well be you.

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Check out this gallery of photos from the 2003 edition of Canoe Journal.