What boats are best for a trip through Labyrinth Canyon?

What is the best type of boat to take through Labyrinth Canyon? Because the river is mostly flat, many different boats will suffice but some are better than others. Which craft you choose will depend on a few things like how big your group is, your required degree of creature comforts, and what your experience level is.

Labyrinth Canyon is a multi-day backcountry river float. It is considered a “self-support” trip. That means that it is not guided and that you are responsible for carrying everything that you need for the trip into (and out of) the canyon.

We’ll cover what to bring (ADD LINKS) and how to pack (ADD LINKS) in later posts.

Here we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different river crafts on Labyrinth Canyon trips. The most popular crafts are rafts, canoes, and kayaks (hard-shell, inflatable, and sea).


Inflatable river rafts can be a great way to travel through Labyrinth Canyon. Rafts are typically outfitted with oar frames and one person rows. We prefer the freedom of individual crafts over rafts, but rafts can be a great way to take a family with kids or small group through Labyrinth.

Raft advantages

  • Can carry lots of gear and beer
  • Can carry multiple people
  • Generally easy to load gear
  • Easy to get in and out of at camp and for hikes
  • Stable

Raft disadvantages

  • Big profile can act like a sail in the wind and be hard to row downstream
  • Slow and will require active rowing to move downstream
  • At low water, need to be very careful to find deep channels or risk going aground
  • Lots of setup/take down required

Rafts are good for

  • Families, particularly with small children
  • People with reduced flexibility that may have difficulty in canoes or kayaks


Canoes are a very popular way to run a trip down Labyrinth Canyon. Most outfitters have canoes available. These are the typical 16.5 foot long aluminum or fiberglass flatwater canoe. Canoes do require more expertise to paddle them efficiently. Generally, the person in the front provides the power, and the person in the back steers.

Canoe advantages

  • Comfortable sitting position
  • Can accommodate 1-2 people, possibly a third in the middle
  • Can haul a surprising amount of gear, including awkward things like coolers!

Canoe disadvantages

  • High profile that can catch a lot of wind
  • Awkward to get in and out
  • Can be tippy, particularly in high wind or swirly currents

Canoes are good for

  • Couples
  • Couples looking to test their marriage 🙂

Kayaks, inflatable

Inflatable kayaks (also known as IKs) are another popular craft for running Labyrinth. They have the advantage over rafts at being a little faster to paddle and having a lower profile in the wind. Novices should have no problem paddling an IK. IKs come in solo or double configurations. Doubles can be piloted by one person, too. These can be a good optio if you want to carry all your own gear, or for an adult with a child in the front.

Kayaks, inflatable advantages

  • Easier to get in / out than hard shell boats
  • Easy to paddle – no experience necessary!
  • No sprayskirt required

Kayaks, inflatable disadvantages

  • Slow forward speed
  • Ride low in the water — will probably be wet often
  • Low gear capacity — may need secondary support craft to haul gear and beer

Kayaks (inflatable) are good for

  • People seeking a little more adventure or individual experience but not the hassle of a hard-shell kayak.

Kayaks, hard-shell whitewater

Traditional hard-shell whitewater kayaks are another popular way to travel through Labyrinth. But be prepared. Normal whitewater boats aren’t designed to travel in a straight line. And they are also slow to paddle. You will spend a lot of time keeping the boat tracking straight and you will need to paddle nearly constantly to make progress down the river. And because they ride low in the water, you will need to wear a sprayskirt to keep water from entering the cockpit.

Kayaks, hard-shell whitewater advantages

  • Like a little sports car for your body
  • Low water displacement makes it easy to float over shallow areas and paddle far back into tributary streams
  • Can stop nearly anywhere
  • Useful as probe unit for checking out campsites before the rest of group comes through

Kayaks, hard-shell whitewater disadvantages

  • Can be uncomfortable during long days on the river
  • Generally don’t track well
  • Slow to paddle forward
  • Hard to get in and out of, particularly if the bank is steep or has heavy vegetation
  • Low gear capacity — may need secondary support craft to haul gear and beer

Kayaks (hard-shell whitewater) are good for

  • Lightweight solo trips
  • People wanting to explore tributaries, hard-to-access side hikes and campsites

Note that a new class of whitewater kayaks — the so-called “crossover” or hybrid boats that are designed for both whitewater and self-support — are an excellent way to travel through Labyrinth. This is, in fact our preferred mode of transport. We cover these boats in more detail in (LINK) another post.

Sea kayaks

Sea kayaks can be great for paddlers wanting to carry all their own gear. Most outfitters have sea kayaks available. They are stable, very fast, and typically have skegs controlled with a pully system by your feet to keep moving in a straight line. The also have often have water tight hatches for storing gear. Because of their large size, sea kayaks are not a good match for children who would be better in a raft, canoe, or IK.

Sea kayak advantages

  • Can carry a surprising amount of gear
  • Easy to paddle
  • Very stable
  • Usually more comfortable than hard-shell kayaks
  • Skeg for turning and to keep the boat tracking straight

Sea kayak disadvantages

  • Requires use of a sprayskirt
  • Storage compartments can be awkward to pack

Sea kayaks are good for

  • Solo travellers, or a small group wishing to do self-support

In conclusion, we recommend:

Rafts: for a small family with children or group of friends who wish to talk during the trip

Canoes: for couples

Inflatable kayaks: for more adventurous paddlers, but accompanied with a raft or canoe.

Sea kayaks: solo travelers or groups of self-support paddlers carrying their own gear.

Whitewater kayaks: paddlers accompanied with a raft or canoe for support.