Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, I looked forward to the massive outdoor show, Canoecopia, every year. My dad and I would head down to the Coliseum and take in the spectacle with an excitement that rivaled kids on Christmas morning! After my mom and dad retired to the beautiful coast of Washington State, my brother, Luke, and I kept the tradition alive, road tripping to Madison to make a weekend out of the event.
Expansive Exhibit Hall
Canoecopia is the world's largest paddle sport show, held the second weekend in March every year. Gear and product manufacturers, outdoor and canoe clubs, outfitters, guides, canoe camps, land managers, park departments, and conservation groups from across North America crowd a huge exhibit hall, ready to show and talk to all the paddlers and wilderness enthusiasts about their latest developments. Whether you want to take a look at a specific type of canoe or kayak, test out a new piece of outdoor gear, find a group of people with the similar outdoor interests, or join an organization working to protect your favorite river, you can do it at Canoecopia. Truth be told, I think I've only bought one item over the past three years, but if you're a gear junkie, you will be sorely tempted in the exhibit hall.
The roster of speakers at Canoecopia is even more impressive then the exhibit hall. These presentations and everything I take away from them is the real reason I go to Canoecopia. With speakers from near and far, including big names like Kevin Callan, Cliff Jacobson, and Rob Kesselring, these sessions are information rich. From exciting trip reports to technique presentations and demos to route descriptions, I've picked up a ton of good info throughout the years. Linda and I explored the American Legion-Northern Highlands St. Forest canoe trails after hearing about them at Canoecopia last year. It was beautiful, just as described (although they left out the part about the booming mosquito population). One year, I stood in awe and watched Rolf and Debra Kraiker demo Canadian-style paddling in the hotel swimming pool. They were each in a full-sized canoe, leaned to the gunnel with only a foot or two to spare in the small pool, yet masterfully dancing and maneuvering their boats. This demo inspired me to practice these techniques, and while I'm far from their skill level, it has added another dimension of enjoyment and function to my paddling. These captivating presentations detailing recent trips and adventures really get me fired up for a Summer of floating rivers, creeks, and streams, enjoying quiet ponds, and traveling the big lakes of the northern canoe country—so much so that after this year's talks, Luke and I began plotting a canoe trip through Ontario's Quetico Provencial Park.
Canoecopia 2016—Mark Your Calendar!
With about 15 trips to Canoecopias under my belt, I can solidly recommend this show to anyone with even a modicum of interest in any paddle sport. Even if you're not into paddling, but just love wilderness camping, it's a great event! And if you're heading to Madison from the Minneapolis area, in the adventurous spirit of the weekend, I encourage you to take a bit of time and get off the interstate highway. There are several incredible scenic routes that can take you along the Wisconsin and Mississippi River valleys and through the Driftless Region.
Mark your calendar for Canoecopia 2016, and I'll see you there!