Kayaking is one of the few sports that can bring people of all ages and skill levels together. Fortunately, great kayaking destinations can be found all over North America. Whether you’re looking for heart-pounding whitewater kayaking, lazy and relaxing kayaking, or epic, multi-day kayaking trips, we’ve found the best places in Canada, Mexico, and the United States to get out paddling.
Flowing from Yukon, through British Columbia, and finally through Alaska to the Pacific Ocean, the Alsek River is truly for the adventurous. Most kayakers choose to tackle the 180-mile class III journey down the Alsek with a guide, as the entire trip takes about 12 days. Nevertheless, it’s quite the journey! During the daytime, snack on fresh blueberries (just keep an eye out for bears!), cool down by breaking off pieces of the glaciers you pass, and try your hand at catching a wild king salmon. During the evenings, listen to the sounds of wild Alaska while admiring the aurora borealis above.
The Big Island
Hawaii’s Big Island is chock-full of opportunities for adventure, including lots of great kayaking spots. For some truly unique views from the water, head to the island’s southern coast, to the shoreline of Volcanoes National Park. You’ll see lava flowing from nearby Kilauea Volcano, but don’t worry, it turns to steaming rock before it reaches the water. It’s quite the sight! Not surprisingly, the ocean here is toasty warm, but if you’re intent on swimming, be sure to head off the coast a bit, as the water closest to shore can get hot enough to melt your kayak.
Brule River State Forest, Wisconsin
No matter what kind of kayaking experience you’re looking for, or how extensive your paddling background, Bois Brule has something for you. Known also as the Brule River, Bois Brule attracts kayakers of all skill levels with its various streams and paths. If the river’s famous whitewater rapids excite you, suit up for the 15.5-mile route that runs between Highways 2 and 13. The last eight miles are especially exciting, and present a challenge for even the pros. If something more sedate and relaxing sounds like your style, then meander along the 12-mile route from Stones Bridge to Brule, a calm tour with lots of stunning scenery.
Channel Islands National Park, California
Located just off the coast of Southern California, the Channel Islands are a family friendly getaway with lots of ways to enjoy the water. Near the harbor, kayak through the interesting History & Wildlife Tour, an artificial cave with lots of information about the surrounding area. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions and pelicans, both of which have made their homes in the harbor. Then head out further to enjoy the many coves and sea caves that surround the islands, including an intriguing emerald cave, a blow hole, and myriad cave arches. If the waves are calm, the snorkeling around the Channel Islands also makes for a good time!
Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park, Guerrero, Mexico
This North American kayaking destination is not for the faint of heart! Getting into the underground Chontalcoatlan Cave at Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park is the easy part — at least, if you consider paddling down a steep descent into the lofty cave opening easy. You can choose to kayak the cave’s underground river one of two ways: either at night, in pitch black, with nothing but a headlamp to light the way, or in daylight, at which time seeing is slightly easier. Either way, you’ll have to pay attention, as big boulders stick out over the rapidly churning water, just waiting to trip you up.
Churchill River Basin
Stretching from Alberta to Manitoba, the Churchill River offers kayakers plenty of places to start and stop. No matter where you get in the water, the views along this epic waterway are absolutely stunning. Paddle amongst the ice floes as you keep a lookout for seals, whales, dolphins, and birds. Speaking of whales, this area is one of the few places on earth where kayakers have gotten up close to elusive beluga whales.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Whether you’re just kayaking for the day or attempting to tackle the entire 280-mile route, the Colorado River is easily one of the best kayaking destinations in North America. For whitewater rafting, head for Lava Falls or Crystal Rapids, though there are just as many options for those seeking a more relaxed kayaking experience. Whatever you choose, one thing is for sure: the view of the famous red-rock canyon towering above you is breathtaking!
Located just off the coast of Georgia, Cumberland Island has a strong reputation for being one of the best places in the American South for kayaking. With more than 9,800 undeveloped acres, there’s plenty to see and do here. Paddle through the tidal marsh to the remote Brickhill Bluffs, keeping an eye out for wild horses, manatees, sea turtles, and even dolphins as you go. Kayaking Cumberland Island is an unforgettable experience, so don’t forget to plan ahead. The National Park Service only allows 300 people to visit the island at a time.
Devils River State Natural Area, Del Rio, Texas
In south central Texas, not too far from San Antonio, is Devils River State Natural Area. The titular river is an awesome place to spend a lazy day kayaking along the river’s uniquely green waters. Bring your fishing pole to fish — a favorite pastime in these parts — or stop on one of the picturesque sandbars for a quick tanning session.
Down East Islands
Kayaking around this group of islands off the coast of Maine is a great way to see a part of America that is still quite wild and rugged. Lots of tours offer guided kayak trips from various spots along the coast, though those who are especially adventurous can take on sea kayaking here on their own. However you choose to enjoy this beautiful area, keep an eye out for wildlife, including whales, and don’t forget to explore the many hidden coves and isolated rock beaches that reward the brave kayaker.
Eleven Point National Scenic River
Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri
Mark Train National Forest and the Eleven Point National Scenic River are tucked into Missouri’s scenic Ozarks. The Ozarks are well-known for their many outdoor adventure opportunities, including kayaking. Though some of the 44-mile long Eleven Point River is a bit challenging, the majority of it is perfect for a relaxed meander through one of America’s most beautiful natural settings.
Everglades National Park, Florida
There’s something almost mysterious about The Everglades. With more than 10,000 tiny islands, lush flora, and mangrove forests that look like something out of a science fiction movie, The Everglades are a blast to explore via kayak. Row through the mangrove tunnels, head to the Everglades National Park’s backcountry for some fishing, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. Snakes, alligators, and birds of all kinds are commonly sighted, though the luckiest kayakers will also spot a manatee, otter, dolphin, or even a shark or two.
Vancouver, British Columbia
If the rest of our best kayaking destinations seem a little too wild for your tastes, then consider heading out onto Vancouver’s False Creek. This totally urban waterway runs right through Vancouver, British Columbia’s biggest city. Time your kayak rental to enjoy the sunset and city lights, or paddle through the daytime hours to enjoy stops at the food markets of Granville Island, ice cream stands, and the beaches of Stanley Park.
Head to the upper Gauley River in the backcountry of West Virginia, and you’ll learn first hand just why this state is called the Mountaineer State. Avid kayakers come from all over to kayak the rapids of the Gauley. Though it’s the perfect destination to spend a day kayaking, pack your camping supplies and take your time traveling down the river.
Isla Espiritu Santo
There’s a good reason that the many islands off the coast of Baja are collectively referred to as the “Mexican Galapagos” — they’re full of stunning scenery and teeming with wildlife. The island of Isla Espiritu Santo is especially impressive. As you’re paddling through Baja’s warm turquoise waters, keep an eye out for animals endemic to this unique region. These include the tiny vaquita porpoise, billfish, and on the island itself, a type of jackrabbit that only lives here. Whales, dolphins, sharks, and birds of all types can also be spotted frequently.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Kayaking on Jackson Lake in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park yields some of the best mountain views available just about anywhere! The 25,000-acre lake was formed as a result of a large glacial hollowing between the two nearby mountain ranges, and has more than 15 little islands throughout. Bring your fishing pole to catch some trout or mountain whitefish, and keep your eye out for bear and moose sightings. You can also paddle along the lake’s shoreline to see some of the national park that is unaccessible any other way.
Ocala National Forest, Florida
Juniper Run consistently ranks amongst one of the best places in the U.S. to canoe and kayak, and is undoubtedly one of Florida’s coolest attractions. The seven-mile waterway meanders through lush jungle with lots of wildlife. The water is so crystal clear you’ll want to plan extra time for swimming along the way.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park’s 750+ miles of rocky coastline is too jagged for efficient hiking, but kayaking happens to be the perfect way to see this stunning shoreline. Paddle through this remote wilderness, where the local geology still hints at the massive sheets of ice that once covered it. There are dozens of hidden caves and coves to explore, plus the many fjords and floating icebergs. If you’re lucky, you may even spot an orca, humpback whale, or sea lion.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah
Two million people visit Lake Powell each year, and many of them bring their kayaks! Straddling the border of Arizona and Utah in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Lake Powell is an exciting place to kayak. Paddling through the Lost Eden Canyon makes for lots of twists and turns, plus myriad coves and inlets perfect for a swimming or snorkeling break. If you’re really adventurous, pack a tent and spend the night along one of the canyon’s isolated red-rock “beaches.”
British Columbia, Canada
Adventure kayakers are sure to get a kick out of kayaking the man-made concrete channel (read: drainage ditch) in Lions Bay. Located near Vancouver, Lions Bay has become a go-to kayaking destination for those who want a little 45-mph rush to come with their kayaking experience. The water chute, suitable for brave beginners and pros alike, descends a half mile down into the Howe Sound. It must be done at high tide, otherwise, rocks will greet you as you enter the Sound.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
It’s one of the world’s most famous lakes, and there is no better way to experience it than by kayak! Glide over the otherworldly turquoise waters and awe up at the snowcapped mountains of Banff National Park. You won’t run out of beautiful natural sights to admire from the water, but should you feel the need to get closer to the mountainside, simply park your kayak and go for a short hike amongst the stunning unspoiled natural surroundings.
Na Pali Coast
Kauai natives claim the jagged cliffs of the Na Pali Coast make up the eighth wonder of the world. At any rate, this unique 17-mile coast is a stunning piece of geography, and there is no better way to take it all in than from the water. Paddle as close to shore as possible and gaze up the 2,000-foot-high cliffside. Myriad sea caves, coves, and waterfalls dot the coastline, and make for excellent hideaways to explore and swim. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot Na Pali’s only residents: dolphins, monk seals, and lots of tropical birds.
Ontario and Quebec, Canada
If whitewater kayaking is your game, then the Ottawa River is the place for you. The river extends into the provinces of both Ontario and Quebec. It’s been called “the best freestyle river in the world” by the pros who compete at the World Freestyle Kayak Competition. For big waves and even bigger hydraulics, head to the Main Channel, while the Middle Channel is a zig-zag of a course that flows mostly downstream. Either way, you’re in for a good time. And yes, there are even some slower parts of the river, with sandy beaches for sunning, waterfalls for swimming, and about 175 small islands for exploring.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Though Michigan has myriad lakes and rivers on which to kayak, we think the best place is Painted Rocks National Lakeshore in the very northern part of the state. The lakeshore runs more than 40 miles along Lake Superior and consists of massive sandstone cliffs rising up to 200 feet. As you paddle through the crystal clear waters, enjoy the colorful scenery, the arches and other natural rock formations. And don’t miss the hidden caves, some of which began forming more than 500 million years ago.
Prince William Sound
Alaska’s Prince William Sound, along with nearby Resurrection Bay, is consistently ranked amongst the best and most exciting kayaking destinations. The ocean here is remarkably calm, as barrier islands protect the water (and kayakers!) from the big, unbroken waves. This makes for a relatively relaxing atmosphere for watching the local wildlife. And you will definitely want to do that! Prince William Sound is a stunning, untouched ecosystem of glaciers, ice floes, birds, sea life, and maybe even a bear or two.
Salmon River or The River of No Return? Whatever you choose to call it, Idaho’s Salmon River (the official name) is one of the best kayaking destinations in North America. People come from all over to kayak through the river’s whitewater rapids, either for fun, practice, or as part of the many competitions that take place here. Because Salmon River is a popular go-to for kayakers of all skill levels, the river has been categorized into three parts. The sections known as the Lower Salmon and the Main Salmon are class III, while the Middle Fork straddles classes III and IV.
Just off the coast of St. John’s and other nearby towns, kayaking enthusiasts can find stunning natural scenery and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If you have the time and energy, consider heading out on a multi-day guided tour so you’ll have the best shot at seeing as much as possible. By “as much as possible” we mean icebergs of all sizes, humpback whales, minke whales, the endangered finback whales, and orcas. There are also various types of dolphins, porpoises, seals, and birds.
Yukon and British Columbia, Canada
The beautiful and challenging Tatshenshini River runs for 130 miles from Yukon to British Columbia in Canada. Kayaking this river means experiencing all of the region’s natural highs and lows. Wolves and bears are often spotted along the shoreline of the river, while spawning king salmon splash their way through the stream. Blueberries grow around the main campsites, and the aurora borealis can usually be seen come nightfall. Kayaking the Tatshenshini River may not be for the faint of heart, but it sure is for the passionate.
British Columbia, Canada
For a thrilling experience sea kayaking, head to the northern coast of Vancouver Island. This unique region is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to kayak right alongside killer whales. Small islands dot the landscape and make for great resting and/or exploring spots. Besides the aforementioned orcas, keep your eyes open for humpback whales, dolphins, otters, seals, black bears, and eagles.
Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana
The Virgin Cypress forest of Louisiana’s Lake Fausse Point is truly a kayaking experience unlike any other. Imagine California’s giant Redwood trees somehow landed amongst the bayous of the Deep South. Then you’ll begin to understand what it’s like to kayak through the Virgin Cypresses. Paddle through and up close to trees that are more than 2,000 years old, or kayak around the lake’s perimeter to enjoy more of the local flora and fauna. Because of its easy accessibility, family friendliness, and welcoming natural surroundings, there’s no doubt Virgin Cypress is one of the best kayaking destinations in North America.