Books About Rivers and Paddling Adventures

Books About Rivers and Paddling Adventures

Rivers embody qualities that humans have long yearned for in life: boundless energy, the capacity for renewal, an ability to overflow and change shape and course over time. Our cultures have been drawn to them for life-giving water, fertile floodplains, the ability to travel if the water is wide and calm enough, and also for the adrenaline rush of coursing rapids.

These women-authored books celebrate rivers and paddling in different ways, from family canoe adventures to arctic expeditions, via research, trip reporting, and also reflection.

River Woman by Katherena Vermette (2018)

An award-winning Métis poet and novelist examines love as a decolonizing action in this collection of poems. “Like the river they speak to, these poems return again and again to the same source in search of new ways to reconstruct what has been lost.”.

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Portage: A Family, a Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life by Sue Leaf (2015)

This memoir traces waterways of North America, from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, rivers of the arid west, and Louisiana bayou—through Sue Leaf’s eyes and historical-minded memory from over 35 years of paddling with her family.

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Paddling with Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey by Irene Skyriver (2017)

Irene Skyriver celebrated her fortieth year of life with a paddle trip from Alaska to Washington, inspired partly by the stories of her natiive coastal ancestors. In this memoir, she weaves together details of her journey with generational stories.

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All My Rivers are Gone: A Journey of Discovery Through Glen Canyon by Katie Lee (1998)

If we’re ever tempted to believe Edward Abbey is the quintessential voice of this enigmatic drowned canyon, we should look rather to Katie Lee, actress, singer, and unwavering environmentalist—also known as the Goddess of Glen Canyon. This memoir tells the sad saga of the decision to flood Glen Canyon on the Colorado River.

(This book was republished in 2006 as Glen Canyon Betrayed: A Sensuous Elegy)

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Raven’s Exile: A Season on the Green River by Ellen Meloy (1994)

Renowned Utah naturalist writer Ellen Meloy reflects on eight years of seasonal floats through Desolation Canyon on the Green River, with her federal river manager husband, Mark. Her writing ranges widely from personal meditation to exploring the history and geology of place, from the perspective of the river and its banks. 

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Paddling North & Paddling My Own Canoe by Audrey Sutherland (2013)

Both of these beautiful books condense years or months of paddling into sheltered coves, inlets, and sometimes treacherous ocean or sound, from the Pacific Coast of North America and Hawaiian Islands. Audrey was a master paddler and an admirable nature writer, whose stories range continents and time, and inspire us in so many ways. 

Paddling my own canoe was originally released in 1978.

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Riverwalking: Reflectioons on Moving Water by Kathleen Dean Moore (1995)

A professor of philosophy and amateur naturalist writes twenty eight essays of meandering thoughts on life and nature, from the Pacific Northwest watershed.

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Hudson Bay Bound: Two Women, One Dog, Two Thousand Miles to the Arctic by Natalie Warren (2021)

Over the course of 85 days, two women canoe the 2,000-mile route from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay made famous by the 1935 classic Canoeing with the Cree. This book provides a vivid account of an awesome adventure that tests their own grit and relationship, in addition to introducing readers to people who live and work along the waterways and immersing us in this flooded, flowing environment.

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Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West by Heather Hansman (2019)

Within the framework of former raft guide and reporter Heather Hansman’s own paddling adventure on the Green River, this book is more so an investigation into how the water in the west is being used and where we might go from here in navigating environment and economies that rely on the precious desert rivers.

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Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge by Jill Fredston (2001)

Together with her husband, Jill Fredston rows the frozen and challenging coasts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Norway, encountering birds, bears, and whales in the arctic landscape. These stories are a condensation of decade of rowing, and offer a perspective that includes deep reflection of change over time, set in some of the most remote, harsh coastlines on earth.

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Upwards: The Story of the First Woman to Solo Thru-Paddle the Northern Forest Trail by Laurie Apgar Chandler (2017)

Upwards is a memoir of paddling all 740 miles of the NFCT in a 13-foot canoe, but it’s also a well-woven story of NFCT history, an exploration of faith, and story of a woman re-engaging with the nature word via the backwaters of New England.

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Ruthless River: Love & Survival by Raft on the Amazon’s Relentless Madre de Dios by Holly Fitzgerald (2017)

This is the true story of Holly and “Fitz” on their honeymoon journey down the Rio Madre de Dios in Bolivia in 1973—a story of extreme risk and working together in a rainforest ecosystem totally unfamiliar to them.

Note: As a story published five decades later, written perspectives on culture may be outdated from a modern perspective.

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What other river or paddling adventure books are on your list?

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