At the original Disneyland version of the attraction, riders embark and disembark from a small boat dock next to the Hungry Bear Restaurant in the Critter Country section of the park. Each canoe holds twenty guests, two per row. Each canoe has two guides dressed as frontiersmen (or frontierswomen) at the bow and stern. Riders / rowers are given a short lesson on how to how to paddle the canoe properly after leaving the dock. Small children are required to wear life jackets. Although the channel is too deep to walk in, the boats float.
As the canoe travels around Tom Sawyer Island, located in the center of the artificial river, the guides point out the sights along the way, such as a settler’s cabin and the Indian chief on horseback. The ride’s length depends upon how fast the paddlers are and how much other traffic is on the river. They typically travel much faster than the large boats, like the Mark Twain Riverboat which ride along submerged tracks, and have the right of way.
The canoes return by the last bend of Splash Mountain, where guides occasionally deliver an extra splash to passing riders with their oars.
This attraction is operates seasonally. It is usually open on the park's busier days in the warmer times of the year, but not on rainy days. The attraction closes at dusk.
It is one of only two attractions in Disneyland to be in three different lands without ever being moved. Originally called Indian War Canoes, the attraction opened on July 4, 1956, as part of Frontierland’s Indian Village expansion, with real American Indian guides aboard every canoe. Guests used a "D ticket" to ride the attraction. The Indian War Canoes closed with Indian Village in 1971 but reopened on May 19 as Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, inspired by the Davy Crockett miniseries, with the guides now wearing coonskin caps.
It became a part of Bear Country, home of Country Bear Jamboree, when that section of the park opened in 1972. The area was later renamed Critter Country in 1989, which now takes in Splash Mountain and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attractions. The canoes closed suddenly on October 3, 1998, igniting rumors that they were closed permanently. However, the attraction reopened the following June. Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes operates on busier days only, primarily in the summer and on weekends.
In addition to the Explorer Canoes, Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square operated the Mike Fink Keel Boats until 1997. This attraction was based on the miniseries episode "Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race".
On January 11, 2016, the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, along with the other attractions and shows along the Rivers of America, temporarily closed for the construction of a Star Wars-themed land. These attractions reopened on July 29, 2017.
On April 30, 2021, Disneyland Resort reopened after being temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, Disneyland's version of the attraction remained closed.
Walt Disney World
Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes debuted in Frontierland on opening day at the Walt Disney World Resort. A C ticket was required for guests to board the 35-foot long canoes from a dock located to the north of the Tom Sawyer Island raft launch and travel along the same path as other watercraft on the Rivers of America. Walt Disney World permanently closed the attraction in 1994 as part of Michael Eisner's cost-cutting campaign.
A canoe attraction opened in Tokyo Disneyland under the name of Davey Crockett Explorer Canoes along the Rivers of America in the theme park's Westernland. It was renamed Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes in 1992 with the opening of Critter Country.
In the backstory of Splash Mountain, the Beaver Brothers were the creators of the dam that burst and transformed Chickapin Hill into Splash Mountain.
An Indian Canoes canoe ride opened with the debut of Disneyland Paris on April 12, 1992. However, the Frontierland attraction closed in 1994.
Shanghai Disneyland's Explorer Canoes are owned by a pirate character named Bilge-Rat Bill and depart from Dead Man's Dock, taking guests around the island separating Treasure Cove and Adventure Isle's Q’olari River.
Disneyland employees compete in canoe races early in the morning called "Deadheads" before the park opens. They also hold competitions during the summer season, awarding trophies to teams that are the fastest or have the most improved times. The Finals Day course is once around Tom Sawyer Island in the opposite direction of normal river traffic, with the start/finish line at the south end of the canoe dock. Only one men's team has ever broken the 4:00 barrier since the addition of the River Stage and Fantasmic! show.