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Why water trails are better than land trails

The Cascadia Marine National Recreation Trail is a beautiful water trail off the northwest coast of Washington State. Located in Mike’s back yard, it provides him and thousands of other visitors a uniquely accessible and beautiful boating experience. The Marine Trail consists of over 50 designated campsites, as well as hundreds of public and private launch areas— many of which provide excellent levels of accessibility.

arrow From the Summer 2008 American Trails Magazine.

By Mike Passo

"A totally unbiased analysis by a kayaker with a disability."

I’m starting a movement... Land-lubbers have dominated the trails discussion for too long. No more, I say! Did Lewis and Clark choose to follow game trails to connect to the Pacific Ocean? NO! What was the most miserable and disheartening part of their epic journey? It was walking over the Continental Divide! Americans knew the score back then. Why walk when we can paddle?

Since those heady days, we Americans have lost our way. We have turned to the land as our primary means of travel and recreation. We need to return to the right path... the wet path... and, coincidentally, an extremely accessible path!

photo: wheelchair and kayak
Mike Passo preparing to transfer from wheelchair to kayak

I am a person with a disability, and I own a sea kayak tour company that operates in the Pacific Northwest. I have conducted extensive, pain-staking research on the subject and have discovered the following absolute truisms:

1) Kayaking is more fun than walking.

2) A water trail is already there. You just need to provide the means to utilize it.

3) Canoeing is more fun than walking.

4) Water trails are cheaper to build (refer to #2 above).

5) Rafting is more fun than walking.

6) Water trails are cheaper to maintain (refer to #2 above).

photo: bay with kayak
On the Cascadia Marine National Recreation Trail

7) Sailing is more fun than walking.

8) Your trail is one continuous overlook. Forget building a long winding trail up to the highest point in the park so you can see an expansive view of the ocean. Just float out on that ocean and it’s one big overlook experience.

9) Floating on an inner-tube is more fun than walking.

10) Water trails are more accessible: for the most part, water seeks to be flat. You can't say that of your local river bluff.

Now let’s talk finances. Let’s use a completely unbiased case study. Let’s say we wanted to run a trail the entire length of the Mississippi River. By land, this trail would cost approximately $138 Septillion, and would take 248 years to complete. By contrast, a water trail already exists the entire length. We would need to construct around 176 launches at $20,000 each, and about 400 campsites at $2,500 each, for a total cost of $4,520,000. I’ve known three miles of boardwalk to cost about that much money.

photo: kayakers smiling
Water trails are fun!

So, if you are having trouble getting your family up and down the steep trail down to Phantom Ranch in the heart of the Grand Canyon, or up and down the bluffs in Winona, MN, consider giving them a boat and personal flotation device, find a nice gentle access point to the water, and let them follow nature’s best, most accessible, ready-made trail to where they want to go... the water trail!

See more information about the Cascadia Marine National Recreation Trail.

Visit Mike Passo's Elakah Expeditions at

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American Trails offers this website as a public resource to share ideas and opinions on trails and greenways. We have not evaluated the accuracy, feasibility, or legality of any of the material or articles. The opinions and editorials presented here do not necessarily reflect the opinion or support of American Trails. American Trails does not discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis or race, religion, nationality, or political affliiation.

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