Inside A CSO Guided Trip

Being a participant in a guided trip can greatly reduce the stress and time required to organize and execute a trip of your own. Your guide should arrange the logistics, lodging, route, and deal with safety concerns. Depending on the trip there will likely be assistance with transportation, food preparation, and gear selection. Then once the trip begins you can relax and let your guide make decisions regarding weather, group management and safety. Not a bad way to spend a week or more.

CanoeSport Outfitters offers a variety of guided trips including day tours, weekend outings, week-long instructional based excursions, and adventures to primitive locations. A lot goes into planning and executing these trips. To help you decide if you’d like to take part in a trip with CSO or another guiding service, we thought we’d give you an inside look at what we do and how we do it.

Our Destination

The first priority for any trip is scouting or researching the destination. Before we can guide anyone in a specific area we typically plan a trip there ourselves. This gives us a chance to see what localized risks may exist, what the put-in and take-out options look like, and get an idea of the camping or lodging options. It also gives us a chance to scout local businesses that may be of interest to all or part of the group.

Our trip mix varies from year to year, but what we usually offer are day trips to Lake Red Rock, weekend trips to the Mississippi River, weeklong adventures to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Everglades National Park, and a weeklong instruction based trip to Tybee Island on the Georgia coast. Periodically we’ll mix in a trip to the Louisiana Coast or Lake Powell in Utah. Each of these destinations provide great scenery and fascinating historical sites. In addition, they provide paddling environments ideally suited for CanoeSport guides and instructors to provide coaching to clients to help them develop their paddling skills and confidence.

Acquiring Commercial Permits and Trip Permits

Many of the places we travel too fall under the management of the National Park Service. Behind the scenes this requires advanced planning and adds more to the cost of the trip in the way of commercial permits. As guides being paid to bring customers into these parks we have to apply and pay for a special permit. In most cases we have to acquire them months in advance. In the Apostle Islands we have to participate in a lottery to get group camp sites. For the most part these commercial permits are inexpensive if you lead dozens of trips to that particular National Park and can spread the cost over multiple trips. Since CSO typically leads only one or two trips each year to these areas and most National Parks have dramatically increased the cost, these commercial permit fees are becoming one of our biggest trip expenses.

Naturally, applying for a commercial permit can entail a lot of paperwork. For instance the application for a commercial permit to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore requires proof of Worker’s Comp Insurance, proof of Automobile Insurance, a list of company vehicles being used in the park, a list of guides along with their certifications, and a list of vessels being used. We also must provide an Operations Plan that details specifically what we will be doing in the park under that commercial permit. This document has to explain the types of watercraft we’ll be using, how often they are inspected, how large our groups are expected to be, what areas of the park we intend to use, what practices we use to reduce the impact on the environment, and how we will handle food preparation and distribution. Finally, we have to include our Safety Plan of Action explaining what training our clients will be required to have, what signaling equipment we’ll be carrying, what we will do if we have a hazardous waste spill, and more. Then at the end of every year, before renewal, we have to submit an annual report providing the number of people we brought to the park, what percentage of time those customers spent in the park on their trip, what our total revenue was for the year, and how much of that came from trips under this specific commercial permit.