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Guide To Kayaking And Canoeing In The UK (The BEST Places!)

Nicola Burridge
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Kayaking and canoeing are great ways to explore the beautiful waters of the UK, whether you’re a seasoned paddler or a beginner. From the rugged coastlines of Scotland to the tranquil rivers of England, there’s no shortage of stunning locations to paddle. 

The UK boasts a wealth of paddling routes, ranging from gentle streams and lakes to challenging whitewater rapids. 

We’ll explore some of the best kayaking and canoeing spots in the UK, including the mysterious Loch Ness and scenic River Wye.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day on the water or an adrenaline-fueled adventure, there’s something for everyone when you’re kayaking UK waterways. 

Kayaking And Canoeing In The UK - Pinterest ImagePin

Best Places To Kayak And Canoe In England

River Thames

Kayaks on The Thames, UKPin

The River Thames is probably the most famous river in the UK and is known around the world for its rich history in one of the world’s most iconic cities. 

The Thames is the longest river in England (and the second longest in the UK) and is probably most famous for flowing through London. A river of historical importance from a commercial perspective, the River Thames is still the busiest river in the UK and great for a UK kayaking trip. 

While the entire river is not navigable, you can paddle from Lechlade in the Cotswolds to Teddington, just outside London. Paddling through central London could mean restrictions, particularly with paddling under bridges. 

Remember, you will need a license to paddle this stretch of the Thames and there are 45 locks to navigate on the route. You can paddle beyond Teddington without a license, as this is considered a tidal river downstream of Teddington.

You can rent canoes and kayaks at Cotswold Canoe Hire to begin your journey on the tranquil waters of the upper Thames. You can also launch here.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – easy, generally slow-moving river.

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Cotswold Canoe Hire, Park End Wharfe, Lechlade on Thames, GL7 3AQ.

The Jurassic Coast

Durdle Door, Jurassic Coast, UKPin

The Jurassic Coast stretches 95 miles along the south coast of England, within the counties of Devon and Dorset. 

This UNESCO World Heritage Site can be best experienced on a kayaking adventure. You can marvel at the rock formations and get up close and personal with some of the famous sights. This includes the wonderful Durdle Door, the natural stone arch over the sea at Lulworth Cove (that you can paddle through).

When you land at one of the many beaches, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for dinosaur fossils. The geology in this area dates back 185 million years and it’s the only place in the world where you can see rocks and fossils from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods in the same location. There are also hidden caves to look out for. 

This area of the Dorset Coast is also within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

You can rent kayaks and paddle boards from Lulworth Activities, just above the beach at Lulworth Cove. From the launch at Lulworth Cove Beach, paddle out of the cove and head west where you can find smugglers caves. Continue on where you’ll find Durdle Door just past Man O’War Cove. 

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – easy, generally calm coastal water. However, this coast is prone to large waves in stormy weather. 

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Lulworth Cove, West Lulworth, Wareham, BH20 5RH.

River Allen

River Allen at Allen BanksPin

Not to be confused with the river of the same name in Dorset, this River Allen flows through the scenic North Pennines. This can be a popular river for whitewater rafting and kayaking if you have the relevant skills and experience. 

There is a 2.5-mile stretch between Cupola Bridge near Allendale, Hexham, and the campsite at Plankey Mill that offers up to class 4 rapids. However, in drier weather, the river might not be high enough to run it. 

You can continue your UK kayaking adventure beyond Plankey Mill, as the river eventually flows into the River South Tyne after Allen Banks Nature Reserve, before becoming the River Tyne near Newcastle on the north east coast of England.

Hexham Canoe Club on the River Tyne offers river trips and lessons but you need to join as a member to take part in the river trips. There are no kayak rentals on the River Allen, so it is best if you have your own whitewater equipment. 

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class IV – very difficult and best left to the experienced paddlers. The river is very fast moving.

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Cupola Bridge, Whitfield, Hexham NE47 8JZ. Launch is below the bridge. 

River Stour

People rowing boats down the river StourPin

The River Stour can be a relaxing place to paddle. Flowing through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty north of Colchester, this beautiful, slow-moving river can be a great river for beginners and canoe trips. 

The River Stour gradually flows east before it reaches the North Sea on the east coast of England between Suffolk and Essex.

All vessels must be registered prior to launching into the River Stour Navigation but if you are a British Canoeing member then you don’t need to register separately.

Launching at Brundon Mill in Sudbury, you can paddle the whole way to Cattawade, with the peaceful river taking you through meadows with overhanging trees and under old, low bridges. 

Canoes and kayaks can be rented from Stour Valley Adventure Centre in Sudbury.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – easy, slow-moving river that is easy to paddle for beginners and suitable for canoes.

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Stour Valley Adventure Centre, 42 Cross Street, Sudbury CO10 2DL.

Best Places To Kayak And Canoe In Scotland

Great Glen Canoe Trail

Great Glen Canoe Trail - Loch NessPin

The Great Glen Canoe Trail is a 60-mile water trail that stretches from near Fort William to Clachnaharry in Inverness. The scenic trail follows the historic Caledonian Canal so the waters in the canal are mostly calm. 

However, the trail also takes you through several lochs, where you are likely to encounter open water conditions, particularly when paddling across Loch Lochy and Loch Ness. 

Sea kayaks and canoes are recommended for the Great Glen Canoe Trail.

Because much of the trail is on the Caledonian Canal, you will be required to portage around locks to continue on the route. You should also register your trip ahead of time, as this can provide you with information regarding commercial traffic or maintenance. 

You will also receive information on the trail if you register, with details on portaging sites, camping areas, and other facilities along the route. 

You can rent canoes and sea kayaks from Snowgoose Mountain Centre at the far western end of the Caledonian Canal in Corpach, just outside Fort William.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – easy, calm canal waters. Expect open-water conditions on the lochs, as waters can be very choppy in windy conditions.

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Neptune’s Staircase, Banavie, Fort William, PH33 7NG. Launch after the series of locks.

Mallaig And The Inner Hebrides

Boats on Armadale Bay, SkyePin

If uninhabited islands and secluded beaches are your thing, then you should definitely visit the west coast of Scotland for a sea kayaking adventure. The waters around the Inner Hebrides are crystal clear, with rocky coves and white sand beaches reminiscent of the Caribbean. 

The fishing village of Mallaig is where you can catch a ferry across to several of the islands, including the largest of the Inner Hebridean islands, the Isle of Skye.

Skye can be an excellent place for a kayak camping expedition, with lots of remote beaches and wild scenery. This area is known for its wild camping opportunities.

There are several outfitters in the area, such as South Skye Sea Kayak, where you can arrange a guided kayak tour, including multi-day kayak trips. Because of the changeable weather conditions, most kayak outfitters don’t rent out kayaks without a tour guide to accompany you.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – coastal waters. These waters can be calm and sheltered in the bays and coves (and beginner-friendly). But expect open-water conditions on the north and western shores of Skye.

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Armadale Bay Beach, Armadale, Isle of Skye, IV45 8RB. Take the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale and the sheltered beach is next to the ferry port. 

River Spey 

River SpeyPin

The River Spey is the second longest river in Scotland, flowing for 98 scenic miles through ancient woodland from Loch Spey in the Highlands, through the Cairngorms to the Moray Firth, east of Elgin, where it enters the North Sea. 

The Spey is also the fastest-flowing river in Scotland and is known for its world-class salmon fishing. You’ll also find several good spots for wild camping along the river. 

The river runs through some of the most popular resort towns in the Cairngorms, including Kingussie, Aviemore and Boat of Garten. 

There are several places you can launch, with a good spot being the calm waters of Loch Insh, where you’ll find Loch Insh Outdoor Centre where you can rent kayaks and canoes. The Outdoor Centre also has showers and a restaurant. 

Class of Rapids Rating:

Up to Class II – easy, mostly flat river with Class II rapids at various points. At the upper stretches, particularly after heavy rain, some of the rapids can be Class III. 

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Loch Insh Outdoor Center, Kincraig, Kingussie, PH21 1NU.

River Tay

River Tay at DunkeldPin

The River Tay is another famous river known for its salmon fishing. This picturesque Perthshire river flows from Loch Tay, on the edge of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, through the Tay Forest Park and the city of Perth before it reaches Dundee and the Tay estuary.

The river can be paddled in its entirety from Kenmore on Loch Tay to the North Sea, with many places along the 120-mile route where you can camp or take a break. 

The river flows through several towns and villages so there are plenty of places where you can stock up on supplies. 

This can be a good spot for some mild whitewater kayaking, with some adrenaline pumping rapids (mostly class II and III). 

You can arrange a guided kayak trip (or a canoe trip) in Aberfeldy, on the banks of the River Tay through Beyond Adventure.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Up to Class V – a mixture of slow-moving water with fast, dangerous rapids in places. Most rapids are Class II and III. River is mostly flat between Perth and Dundee.

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Taybridge Drive, Aberfeldy PH15 2BP. River access is next to the Black Watch Memorial adjacent to Wade’s Bridge.

Best Places To Kayak And Canoe In Wales

River Wye

River Wye in Wye ValleyPin

The River Wye runs close to the Brecon Beacons and for a time, runs along the border between England and Wales and through the Wye Valley. 

Most of the River Wye features mostly slow-moving, gentle waters that can be ideal for beginners. However, when the water levels are high, it is not recommended for beginners. 

One of the best places to launch is from the town of Hay on Wye from where you can paddle 100 miles along the scenic river as it winds its way through the picturesque Wye Valley and into the Severn estuary and the Bristol Channel.

A nice bonus of this section of the River Wye is that it has a right of navigation all year round, so this is perfect for exploring on an extended trip.

It is worth noting that the river flows through England for a large portion of the route after leaving the launch site.

You can launch your own kayak or canoe onto the river from the Want to Canoe rental outfitters in the town of Hay, where you can also rent canoes.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – easy, generally slow-moving river with sections of Class II rapids. 

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Want to Canoe, Racquety Farm, Hay-on-Wye, Powys, HR3 5RS

River Usk

Tourists at Beacons Water Trail CanalPin

The River Usk is a beautiful river that flows through the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales. The stretch from Brecon to Talybont on Usk forms part of the Beacons Water Trail, which also includes the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. 

There are plenty of places where you can stop for a picnic or take a paddling break. There are even some wonderful riverside campsites if you want to spend more than a day exploring.  

You can also paddle the River Usk in a loop if you want different scenery on the way back. You can start on the river and use the canal to paddle back to the starting point.  

The river is mostly slow, with a gentle current, making it ideal for families and beginners. However, after periods of heavy rain and flooding, the river can be dangerous.

You can rent kayaks from Brecon Boathouse in Brecon. There is also parking next to the boathouse, plus you can launch your own kayak or canoe from the dock at the side of the promenade.  

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – easy, calm river with mostly flatwater. There are sections with Class I and Class II rapids. 

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Brecon Boathouse, The Avenue, Brecon LD3 9AY.

Snowdonia National Park 

Whitewater kayaker at the Tryweryn RiverPin
Courtesy: Proadventure.co.uk Activities on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If it’s adrenaline pumping rapids that you’re looking for, you can find world-class whitewater all year round at the National Whitewater Centre near Bala. 

The Tryweryn River lies within Snowdonia (Eryri) National Park in north Wales and offers a combination of Class 2 and 3 sections with Class 3 and 4 sections.

You can paddle the river if you are an experienced whitewater kayaker with your own equipment. But you need to pay a fee to the Whitewater Centre before you launch or you can try whitewater lessons in inflatable kayaks or duckies.

If a more relaxed kayaking session is more your thing, you can experience the stunning mountain scenery surrounding Llyn Padarn, a 2-mile glacial lake that features calm water that’s perfect for family trips. 

There are small coves to explore, a forested shoreline, and stone cliffs from an old slate mine. There are also lots of places to stop for a rest when you want to admire the views. 

Kayaks can be rented from Snowdonia Watersports on the shore of the lake and there’s a launch site and parking right across the road from the rental shop. 

Class of Rapids Rating:

Up to Class V – Tryweryn River is a combination of Class II and III rapids with sections that have Class III and IV whitewater. This is a fast river – not for beginners. 

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Snowdonia Watersports, Unit 2, Y Glyn, Llanberis, Caernarfon LL55 4EL. 

Holyhead, Anglesey

South Stack Lighthouse, AngleseyPin

Anglesey is an island off the northern coast of Wales. It’s known for its wildlife, beaches, history, and rugged coastline. This can be a fantastic place for a true sea kayaking holiday. 

The area is home to nature reserves and protected habitats, making it a great place for wildlife watching. One of the highlights is that you can see puffins in the area known as The Stacks. These rare seabirds breed in the cliffs along with other marine birds. 

As well as seeing puffins on the cliffs, there are also creatures to look for beneath your kayak. The waters are home to numerous seals that can often be seen bobbing near the surface. 

There are also beautiful sheltered bays and coves to explore – great if you want to find secluded beaches. This coastline can have rough waters from the Atlantic Ocean and it can also be windy, so it can be best to use a sea kayak to navigate this coastline if you plan to paddle a long distance. 

Kayak tours and rentals are available from Anglesey Pursuits and you can launch from the adjacent beach in Trearddur.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – coastal waters that can be rough in windy weather. Otherwise, the waters can be calm in sheltered bays and easy for beginners. 

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Traeth Trearddur, Trearddur Bay, Holyhead LL65 2UL

Best Places To Kayak And Canoe In Northern Ireland

River Foyle

River Foyle in Derry, Northern IrelandPin

The River Foyle may not be the most famous river in Northern Ireland but it is one of the most beautiful. And it is a popular place for a UK kayaking trip thanks to its designated canoe trail. 

This can be a fantastic place to view the wildlife of Northern Ireland as the river flows through the countryside as it meanders towards Lough Foyle at Derry. 

This is a mostly slow-moving river but it is tidal and it can get choppy the closer you get to the Lough and sea. The depth of the river can also be affected by the tides.

The Foyle Canoe Trail is a 33-mile trail that can take roughly three days to complete if you want to paddle the entire trail and do a little kayak camping along the way. There are several campsites along the route – some with more facilities than others. 

The river flows along the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland for part of the route at the beginning. And the launch site at Lifford is on the other side of the river from Northern Ireland. 

There are no kayak rentals on this river but you can rent kayaks on the River Bann at the Crannagh Activity Centre, around a 45-minute drive east of Derry.

Class of Rapids Rating: 

Class I/II – generally easy to paddle. However, tides and wind can affect the conditions as you head closer to the coast. 

Where To Launch & How To Get There:

Lifford Bridge, Lifford, County Donegal, Ireland. The river access point is across the bridge – not in Northern Ireland. 

Final Words

The UK is home to some of the best paddling experiences in the world, with both inland and coastal waters to explore. With stunning scenery, rich history, and diverse wildlife, you can immerse yourself in nature while discovering the local culture that differs every few miles.  

Whether you want to paddle peacefully through rolling hills and ancient woodland, alongside majestic mountains on a whitewater run, or past historic castles on famous rivers and lochs, the UK has something to suit every type of paddler.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments. And if you have a hidden gem you want to share, feel free.   

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