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Kayaking In North Dakota – Guide To Paddling The Peace Garden State

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking in North Dakota can be a great way to explore the state’s natural and cultural history. You’ll find connections to the Jurassic period, Native American culture, and the pioneers.

There’s also wildlife, such as buffalo, moose, and bighorn sheep.

Here are some of the best paddling spots to check out in the Peace Garden State.

Railroad bridge over Missouri riverPin

9 Best Places To Kayak in North Dakota

1: Lake Metigoshe

Lake Metigoshe is located in the Turtle Mountains near the Canadian border. It’s surrounded by aspen forests and can be a great place for wildlife viewing, including bears and moose.

This flatwater lake features coves and islands and can be ideal for family trips, with campgrounds nearby. You can launch and rent kayaks at Lake Metigoshe State Park. An alternative launch can be found at Hahns Bay, on the western shores of the lake.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

East Shore Park Road, Bottineau, ND 58318. The boat ramp is inside the state park.

2: Sheyenne River

Canoers and kayakers launch from Valley City National Fish Hatchery into the Sheyenne River as part of the annual Riverfest eventPin
Courtesy: USFWS Mountain-Prairie on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Sheyenne River is a slow-moving river that can be a relaxing place to paddle, with wildlife and natural scenery along the route.

A good place to launch is at Fort Ransom State Park, where you can also rent kayaks and canoes. For longer trips, you can put in 22-miles upstream near Little Yellowstone Park, but there aren’t many places to stop en-route.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

5915 N 2nd Street, Fort Ransom, ND 58033.

3: Pembina River

The Pembina River can be one of the best places to paddle in North Dakota in terms of forested wilderness. The river flows through the largest untouched forest in the state, so it can be the ideal place if you want to get away from it all.

The Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area can be a good place to launch and you’ll find kayak rentals on-site. The river has easy to moderate whitewater.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy/moderate)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Brickmine Bridge, Unnamed Road, Walhalla, ND 58282.

4: Missouri River

A young woman paddles on a yellow kayak at the Missouri River on a summerPin
Courtesy: Roderick Eime on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Missouri River can be ideal for multi-day kayaking trips, with plenty of access points and places to camp along the way. A decent trip can be from Stanton to Bismarck, which can take around two days.

Midway on this trip, you’ll find Cross Ranch State Park, which has campsites and river access, as well as a Lewis and Clark campsite marker from the famous expedition along the river to the Pacific. You can rent kayaks from the state park or by arranging delivery from other outfitters.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy to moderate)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Stanton, ND 58571.

5: Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea is the third-largest reservoir in the US, offering miles of shoreline to explore (more shoreline, in fact, than the California coast). There are many places to launch, as well as several state parks and campgrounds.

On the northwest shores, Lewis and Clark State Park has a boat ramp and kayak/canoe rentals. This launch offers views of the hills and buttes of the Badlands.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

4892 119th Road NW, Epping, ND 58843.

6: Devils Lake

Devils Lake is the largest (natural) body of water in the state. It can be an excellent place for kayak fishing as well as exploring. The lake is particularly known for its perch fishing.

Because this is a large lake, it can sometimes be windy and choppy but there are plenty of bays and coves that tend to be more sheltered for paddling. Kayaks can be rented from Woodland Resort on Creel Bay.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Devils Lake, ND 58301. The boat ramp is in Grahams Island State Park.

7: Red River

Racing on the Red river near FargoPin
Courtesy: Fargo-Moorhead CVB on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Red River can offer many miles of paddling, giving you options for multi-day trips. The river flows along the border with Minnesota as it heads north to Canada.

There are several places to rent kayaks, including in Fargo. There are also many access points to make it easy to plan shorter trips if necessary. An easy place to launch is at Lindenwood Park in Fargo, which is also ADA compliant, making it more accessible. There are two dams to portage as you head through the city of Fargo.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

1905 Roger Maris Drive, Fargo, ND 58103.

8: Harmon Lake

Harmon Lake is a pretty new manmade lake, just north of Bismarck, that’s been developed with recreation in mind. There are kayak rentals, a campground, and a boat ramp, as well as a fishing pier and dedicated kayak launching dock.

This small lake features calm water and can be ideal for beginners and short family trips. You can paddle around the lake in around an hour. There are small coves to explore and the water is surrounded by natural scenery.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Mandan, ND 58554. The boat ramp is next to the campground.

9: Lake Renwick

Lake Renwick is an impoundment of the Tongue River and can be a relaxing place to paddle, with beautiful scenery and calm water for easy paddling.

You can launch at Icelandic State Park, where you’ll find a boat ramp and kayak rentals. The park also has a nature preserve for wildlife viewing, plus camping and cabins. There are also several trails for hiking once you’ve explored the lake.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Akra Road, Cavalier, ND 58220.

North Dakota Kayak Laws

Do You Need To Register A Kayak In North Dakota?

No. But if you have a trolling motor attached then it needs to be registered.

US Coast GuardPin

Here are some of the main laws for paddling in ND. You should always check local and state laws for yourself, as they may differ. This guide is not intended to be legal advice.

  • PFD is required to be carried for each person on board any kayak or canoe.
  • Children under 10 must wear a PFD while paddling or a passenger.
  • Registration is not required for kayaks unless there is a motor attached.
  • Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is illegal in ND. You will be considered intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of 0.10%.
  • white light is required for paddling at night.
  • whistle is required for paddling on ND waters.

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