Birchbark Expeditions

WNY Waterways Program

Description | Requirements | Treks | Equipment | COVID Forms Fees | Availability | Registration

Program Description

The Western NY waterways canoeing program, is a turn-key experience for Scouts BSA and Venture units, providing canoes, paddles, safety equipment and a trained guide for canoe expedition on Western NY waterways. Intended as an introduction to BSA High Adventure, the program is an opportunity to experience canoeing in nearby waterways with a nominal cost.

Committed to delivering a safe experience to all participants, the program requires that all adults (18 and older) hold current Youth Protection Training, follow two-deep leadership requirements and adhere to BSA Safety Afloat policies.

The program has a nominal charge to cover wear-and-tear on the equipment ($15/person/day).  Initially limited to day trips (to meet COVID-19 social distancing requirements), the program will eventually include a number of one or two-night expeditions. 

“Our scouts had a great experience and saw Buffalo from a whole new perspective…the guides were really well prepared and knowledgeable”,  Bob O'Connor, Committee Chair, Troop 229

“The trip was great...definitely something that our crew and/or troop would do again”,  Mark Schneggenburger, Crew / Troop 416

Participant Requirements

As a BSA High Adventure program, all participants must meet the following requirements:

  1. Must be a registered with the BSA
  2. Youth must be 13 years of age (by September 1st of current year)
  3. Have passed a BSA Swim Skills Assessment at the swimmer level (blue swimmer) in the last 12 months
  4. Adults (18 and older), must have current Youth Protection Training.
  5. Units must provide two adults (one at least 21 years old) and if there are female participants, one adult must also be female.

Provided Equipment

The Birchbark Expeditions program will provide the following crew equipment for the duration of their planned trek:

  1. Canoes (a maximum of 21 canoes are available)
  2. Canoe trailer(s)
  3. PDFs
  4. Paddles
  5. Safety Equipment for each canoe, as required by NYS

Participant Required Equipment

Participants should plan to arrive with the following personal gear/equipment:

  1. Water shoes or other footwear that can get wet and cover the toes
  2. Outerwear (jacket) as appropriate based on the weather forecast
  3. Hat
  4. Water bottle (filled)
  5. Sunscreen
  6. Bug repellent
  7. Light snack (for longer treks)
  8. Headlamp (for evening treks)
  9. Whistle or signaling device.

COVID-19 Pandemic Requirements

During COVID-19 pandemic, the program will adhere to all safety policies issued by the NYS and BSA at the time of their scheduled trek.  Should additional public safety restrictions prevent operation, units will be given the option of rescheduling or a full refund of their payments.

NYS and BSA rules for Phase 4 Covid-19 compliance:

  1. A completed COVID-19 Screening Form for each participant.  Unit leaders will complete an Attendance Record and it will be kept with the COVID-19 Individual Screening Forms.
  2. Travelling to and from the event:  travel by family group is preferred.  If group is mixed, masks are required.
  3. Six foot social distancing should be maintained during the event.  This is facilitated by the canoe lengths and the insistence of two people per canoe.  Participants will be required to have masks with them at all times. 
  4. All equipment will be pre-sanitized.  Each person will be assigned a personal paddle and PFD (participants may use their own).  Equipment must not be exchanged between participants without re-sanitizing.  At the end of the trek, all equipment will be sanitized before returning to trailer.  Wet PFD’s will be dried and sanitized by the guides if needed.
  5. Food, snacks and ample supplies of water will be supplied by each individual with the assistance of their unit leaders.  They will be individually packed and there will be no “sharing”.
  6. If a participant becomes sick, the activity will be halted and everyone will return to shore.  The unit leader will gather all information needed to report the incident to their District Executive using the Illness Reporting Form.  The sick person will be isolated and taken home.  After this is completed, the unit leader and the guide will decide to proceed with the activity or terminate it.



Fees to participate in a day-trip are based on a per-person charge of $15 each.  Multi-day treks will apply a $15/person/day fee.  A 50% discount will be applied to crews impacted by COVID-19 during the summer of 2020.

Units can reschedule due to inclement weather.  There are no refunds for no-shows or cancellations less than 7 days before their scheduled trek.

Trek Planning

Crews are encouraged to design their own canoe route, with some considerations:

  • Routes can be on either flat water or moving water less than Class II. 
  • We recommend that routes generally will be no more than 4 hours in duration. 
  • Ideally routes would put-in in one location and take out at a different location
  • Both put-in and take-out locations must plan to use public property or have the permission of the property owner
  • Custom routes must be reviewed by Birchbark Expeditions staff in advance.

Looking for some ideas?  See the list of recommended treks


The 2021 program will operate both weeknights and weekends starting May 15th, 2021 (pending weather and water conditions)

Current Bookings for 2021 Season:

Date Unit/District/Council


To reserve your expeditions, complete the Reservation Request form.

Request a Reservation