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Best Places To Kayak In The U.S. – The Definitive Guide On Where To Paddle

The US has some of the most diverse landscapes in the world, from deserts and mountains to forests and plains. There’s even a massive coastline to check out.

With so much country to explore, it can be difficult to narrow down your search for the best places to kayak in the US. Here are some of our top picks for your next paddling adventure.

U.S. Kayaking By State

Best Kayaking Places For Beginners

1: Busse Woods, Illinois

Busse Woods is an ancient forest that’s easily accessible from downtown Chicago. It features a 457-acre flatwater lake that can be ideal for new paddlers. There are several places to launch and you can rent kayaks from the lake’s boating center.

There are lots of little islands and coves, so you’re never too far from a landing spot if you want to stop for a rest. There are also many picnic areas so you can make the most of your day on the water.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
E Higgins Road, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007.


2: Marina Del Rey, California

Marina Del Rey offers calm flatwater, ocean breezes, and plenty of amenities nearby, making it a great choice for beginners. You can paddle around the sheltered harbor waters, exploring the various basins as you get to grips with your newfound paddling skills.

Kayak rentals are available at Marina Beach, where you can also launch easily in shallow water. The beach is in a cove, so it can be an ideal place to paddle for the first time.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Marina Beach, 4135 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292.


3: Merrimack River, Massachusetts

The Merrimack River is a slow-moving river that can be ideal for new paddlers.

Paddling from Tyngsborough to Lowell is roughly five miles, which should take around an hour - just enough to give you a taste of river kayaking.

The route can be relaxing, with leafy riverbanks and a little beach to stop for a rest. You can rent kayaks from the boathouse in Lowell.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
71 Frost Road, Tyngsborough, MA 01879.


Best Places To Go Kayaking With Families & Kids

1: St. Regis Canoe Area, New York

A mother and a son on a red canoe
Courtesy: Danny Weitzner on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This designated canoe area covers over 18,000 acres of the Adirondacks and can be a fantastic place for a family kayak camping trip. You can paddle on flatwater through wilderness landscapes, with lots of remote campsites that are only accessible by water.

The area is surrounded by forests, with plenty of wildlife to be found. Kayak and canoe rentals can be found at the St. Regis Canoe Center, where you can also arrange a guided adventure.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
875 Floodwood Road, Saranac Lake, NY 12983.


2: Manchac Swamp, Louisiana

Manchac Swamp can be an ideal place for a family adventure, as you can paddle through the swampy wilderness on the lookout for wildlife along the way. The water is calm, making it ideal for little paddlers who are just learning.

The swamp is surrounded by picturesque cypress forests and is home to alligators and ospreys. The bayou to access the swamp is also a designated Scenic River. Several outfitters can be found near New Orleans, with most offering guided tours and even moonlight tour options.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Old US-51, Laplace, LA 70068.


3: Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Paddling into Wise lake during a flood

Congaree National Park features the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, which can be an ideal trip for families with small kids. This slow-moving creek flows through the wilderness and is surrounded by ancient forests, including some of the eastern United State’s tallest trees.

It can be a great place to spot wildlife. And when you’ve had enough of paddling, you can check out the visitor center or take to the hiking trails. There are also campgrounds in the park. Kayak rentals and tours can be found in Columbia.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Bannisters Bridge, 183 Roger Myers Road, Hopkins, SC 29061.


Best Kayaking Lakes

1: Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Paddlers on pedal kayaks and paragliders on Lake Tahoe, CA

With shores in both California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is a large alpine lake that offers plenty of recreational opportunities. With stunning mountain scenery in every direction and crystal clear water, you’ll probably want to spend more than a day on the water.

There are several parks, campgrounds, and marinas in both states, offering a choice of launches. Launching at Camp Richardson in the south, you can paddle into the famous Emerald Bay. Camp Richardson Marina has kayak rentals.

Where to launch and How to get there:
1900 Jameson Beach Road, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158.


2: Jackson Lake, Wyoming

A view from one of the docks of the lake Jackson
Courtesy: Mark Byzewski on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Jackson Lake is surrounded by the incredible scenery of Grand Teton National Park, with the mesmerizing Teton Range providing a picturesque backdrop. 

This flatwater lake is surrounded by nature, making it ideal for wildlife viewing. Moose and bears can often be seen in the national park. Remember, you’ll need to use bear-proof canisters if you plan to camp around the lake.

Where to launch and How to get there:
100 Colter Bay Marina Road, Moran, WY 83013.


3: Lake Powell, Utah

Lake Powell has some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the country and is surrounded by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The lake is part of the Colorado River and is surrounded by canyon walls and geologic rock formations, including the Rainbow Bridge.

There are quiet coves and wakeless canyons. You’ll also find plenty of beaches for stopping. Camping is allowed anywhere on the lakeshore.

Where to launch and How to get there:
UT-276, Lake Powell, UT84533.


Best Kayaking For Beautiful Scenery

1: Lake McDonald, Montana

 Two paddlers on a calm McDonald lake surrounded by snowy mountain peaks
Courtesy: GlacierNPS on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This stunning lake in Glacier National Park is surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery that was carved out by huge glaciers thousands of years ago. Gravel beaches make for easy launching and there are several campgrounds nestled in the beautiful forests along the shoreline.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Apgar Boat Ramp, West Glacier, MT 59936.


2: Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Paddling close to moving glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Courtesy: NAParish on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kayaking through Kenai Fjords National Park is a bucket-list-worthy experience. Not only are you met with spectacular mountain scenery, but you can also paddle close to Aialik Glacier - an actively calving glacier where you can hear the ice moving.

This can also be an excellent spot for viewing wildlife, particularly orcas, whales, and seals. Kayak tours and rentals can be found in Seward.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I (easy to moderate due to coastal conditions)

Where to launch and How to get there:
1300 4th Avenue, Seward, AK 99664. Ferries depart from Seward to take you to Aialik Bay.


3: Napali Coast, Hawaii

A panoramic view of kayakers paddling down the Na Pali coast
Courtesy: Filipe Fortes on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Napali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai features some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery. Launch at Haena Beach Park and paddle along the protected coastline, famed for its rugged, towering coastal cliffs.

The only way to access this coast is by hiking or boating, so it can offer a remote paddling experience. Sea kayaking tours and rentals can be found in Hanalei. Kayaking along the coast is only allowed during the summer because of the large surf at most other times.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class II/III (moderate to difficult due to ocean conditions)

Where to launch and How to get there:
HI-560, Kapa’a, HI 96746.


Best Kayaking For Fun Adventures

1: Rio Grande, Texas

Resting and sightseeing in the Grand Canyon during kayaking tour
Courtesy: Jonathan Cutrer on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Flowing through epic canyons along the US/Mexico border, paddling the Rio Grande can definitely be an adventure to check off your bucket list. Kayak up and back through the rugged Santa Elena Canyon on a day trip or set off on a multi-day adventure through the Boquillas Canyon.

Kayak rentals are available in nearby Terlingua.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II to II/III depending on section (easy to moderate)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834.


2: Hells Canyon, Idaho

A rafting trip down Idaho's Hells Canyon
Courtesy: Nan Palmero on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, with a depth of almost 8,000 feet. Paddling through the canyon on the Wild and Scenic Snake River can let you experience some of Idaho’s best whitewater, with spectacular scenery as you travel through the remote wilderness. Camping at the side of the river adds to the fun.

Kayak tours are available from Boise or Cambridge.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class II to IV (moderate to difficult)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Pittsburg Landing/Campground, NF-493, ID 83554.


3: Grand Canyon, Arizona

A rafting trip down Arizona's Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the most famous natural landscapes in the US and paddling through it along the Mighty Colorado River can be an experience of a lifetime.

However, this is not an adventure for beginners, as the river features lots of whitewater with many Class IV and V rapids. It’s advisable that you have whitewater experience prior to kayaking through the Grand Canyon. Kayak tours and rentals are available in Page, and some offer rafting trips for beginners.

Class of Rapids rating:
Up to Class V (difficult)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Lees Ferry Launch, Spencer Trail, Marble Canyon, AZ 86036.


Best Kayak Fishing Locations

1: Lake Toho, Florida

A beautiful rainbow over the Toho lake
Courtesy: R9 Studios on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Toho is known for being the home of huge bass and is one of the most renowned bass lakes in the world. Bass tournaments are frequently held at Lake Toho. The lake covers 23,000 acres of flatwater and is home to lots of alligators and wading birds.

You’ll find easy access from downtown Kissimmee, with a boat ramp and marina at the northern shores of the lake. Kayak rentals can be found in Kissimmee on Shingle Creek.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Lakeview Drive, Kissimmee, FL 34741.


2: Lake Champlain, Vermont

Lake Champlain is frequently considered to be one of the best bass fishing lakes in the US. This large lake is home to more than 90 species of fish, with target species including largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike, and lots more.

There are many access points for easy launching and you’ll also find state parks, wildlife refuges and islands providing a picturesque landscape. Kill Kare State Park has kayak rentals and a launch.  

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
2714 Hathaway Point Road, St Albans City, VT 05478.


3: Willamette River, Oregon

Kayaking down the calm Willamette river
Courtesy: Travel Salem on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Willamette River can be one of the best places in the Pacific Northwest to catch salmon. The river flows through the city of Portland before reaching the Columbia River.

This river can be best known for its Chinook salmon in the spring. Below Willamette Falls can be an ideal spot. You can launch at the Clackamette River to give you good access to the Willamette and additional salmon fishing on the Clackamette. Kayaks can be rented opposite the boat ramp.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II (easy)

Where to launch and How to get there:
Clackamette Boat Ramp, Unnamed Road, Oregon City, OR 97045.


Kayaking Vacations & Trips

1:  Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska (for beginners)

If you’re a beginner, you might not want to opt for a multi-day trip, but you can still experience the beauty of the Kenai Fjords and the Aialik Glacier on a four-hour paddling trip.

The trip includes a ferry from Seward to Aialik Bay where you’ll get in your provided kayak and paddle to the famous glacier.  You might spot bears, orcas, and other wildlife on the way.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I (easy to moderate due to coastal conditions)

Cost and Duration:
$375 for 10 hours (3.5 to 4 hours paddling time)

2: Hells Canyon, Idaho (for advanced)

With up to Class IV rapids, this guided trip will let you paddle through some of the country’s most amazing scenery. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife on this five-day trip through the deepest gorge in the US. Your camp will be set up at each site ahead of your arrival and your meals will be prepared by your guides.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class II to IV (moderate to difficult)

Cost and Duration:
From $1500 for five days.

3. Grand Canyon, Arizona (for any cost)

If you’re looking for an epic paddling journey then this trip from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek could be ideal. You’ll paddle along the famous Colorado River through the spectacular landscape of the Grand Canyon, covering 226 miles.

You’ll camp alongside the river, with all your meals included, so you can spend your time relaxing and enjoying the wilderness.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class IV-V (difficult)

Cost and Duration:
$4600 for 14 days.

4: St. Regis Canoe Area, New York (for those on a budget)

Paddle through the Adirondacks on this two night/three day guided wilderness adventure. This is a family-friendly flatwater trip that can let you explore the Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes. There’s a chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat, including moose, bears and eagles.

Camping gear, food and kayak or canoe rental are all included.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Cost and Duration:
$599 for 3 days.

Kayaking towards American Rocky Mountains in the McDonald lake