We believe doing what you love is one of the more important things in life – and you all know how much we love the outdoors! This got us into a whole conversation with our friend Seth from The Wanderlust Dragon on his love for kayaking – so here are the best kayaking spots in the US according to a kayaker who knows!
Travel can be an anxiety-ridden endeavor for multiple reasons: airports, getting there and back, money, and much more. That’s why going out and doing what you love is so important. Kayaking is one such thing for me, and I’m here to share how it can be for you too!
There are a lot of reasons to love kayaking. As a kayaker, I’m always happy to share. And I’m going to do my best to stay on course. Or to use kayaking parlance to track straight.
One of many reasons to love kayaking is there’s something for everyone. There’s flat water, and there’s white water. There are rivers, lakes, seas, and more. So, let’s paddle our way on into it!
Best Places To Go Kayaking In The US For Beginners
We’re going to begin with some great spots for beginners. Please note, though, that when I say beginners, that doesn’t mean they aren’t appropriate for more advanced kayakers; it means that it’s safe and appropriate for everyone.
1. Colorado River, Arizona
The Colorado River, along with the Rio Grande, is one of the principal rivers in the US Southwest, stretching more than 1450 miles in length. At this size, there are sections of the river appropriate for all levels of kayakers.
For beginners, though, a couple of the best spots for flat water and beautiful views include near Lee’s Ferry and the lower Colorado between Lake Havasu City and Yuma.
TRAVEL TIP: You might also want to check out Havasupai Falls while in Arizona
2. Lake Powell, Utah
If you’re into gorgeous geographical formations while you glide on the smooth water, kayaking Lake Powell is for you. There are a lot of options, but one of the most popular is Antelope Canyon. One of the best ways in on your own is to begin at the Antelope Point Marina and flow on through Lake Powell all the way to the canyon.
3. Lake Tahoe, Nevada
One of the nice things about Lake Tahoe is that you can enter it from Nevada and California. The water is crystal clear and surrounded by breathtaking mountains and green forests. It’s a beautiful and pristine way to spend your time on the water.
4. Snake River, Wyoming
Snake River is a slithering slip of a river that meanders through several states in the Pacific Northwest. Depending on where you put in at, you will be greeted by a variety of ecologies. This diversity in nature also means myriad forms of wildlife, including river otters, bald eagles, and moose.
5. Kickapoo River, Wisconsin
Referred to as the “crookedest” river in the world, the Kickapoo is open for paddling in the entirety of its 126 miles. There are many great spots to launch from, but one is in Ontario, Wisconsin. Be prepared for sandy beaches, lovely fields, and sandstone bluffs.
6. Altamaha River, Georgia
The longest river in Georgia at over 137 miles, the Altamaha eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean. There are tons of slow flat water here for smooth kayaking and kayaking fishing, among other water activities. There’s also wonderful bird watching out here for all those birders.
7. Brazos River, Texas
While there aren’t any official kayak launches on the Brazon in the state of Texas, there are still plenty of places to put in on the water so feel free to take your pick. However, one suggested stretch for beginners is from Possum Kingdom Lake to Lake Granbury. There are some cool limestone bluffs along the way as well.
Best Places to Go Kayaking in The US for Intermediate/Advanced Kayakers
Now we will get into more intermediate and advanced spots, including but not limited to white water kayaking options.
NOTE: Please be advised that only kayakers with more experience should consider these options for safety’s sake.
The focus here will be on whitewater kayaking because that is generally considered the most intense form of kayaking. However, some would consider surf kayaking right there as well, and rightfully so.
However, white water kayaking has multiple levels of white water intensity. It’s similar to the levels given to hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes with the higher numbers being more intense.
White water rapids levels are from Class I to Class VI. Take a look at this great explanation from Western River Expeditions about each of these classifications for more information.
8. Nantahala and Ocoee Rivers
The Nantahala and Ocoee Rivers are located in beautiful North Carolina. The rapids on these sister rivers range from Class II to Class VI. Surrounded by green mountains, these rapids are exciting and rugged.
9. Gauley and New Rivers
Like North Carolina, West Virginia is home to its own sister river rapids between the Gauley and New Rivers. The classes of rapids between these two rivers range from I to VI. The upper sections include the lower levels (I to III), while the lower sections are more advanced (IV and up).
10. Rio Grande
The fifth longest river in the United States, the Rio Grande, winds through Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas before draining in Mexico. Rapids and entryways are open to kayakers in all three states. Rapid classes range from I to IV.
11. Grand Canyon (Colorado River, again)
Yes, we’ve already discussed the Colorado River above. However, the sections around the Grand Canyon are a bit heftier in their classifications with rapids as high as Class III or IV. And the formations from the Grand Canyon can’t be replicated.
12. Arkansas River
The Arkansas River runs through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The mixture of beauties to be seen on this river range from the Rocky Mountains to deep South greenage. Rapid classifications are from I to V.
13. Potomac River
The Potomac River has five major sections in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. They are referred to as branches: North, South, Upper, Lower, and Tidal. The best white water kayaking is found on the Lower around the Mather Gorge with rapids in classes mostly between II and III.
14. Chattooga River
The Chattooga River runs from North Carolina into South Carolina and Georgia. The best rapids are in the first of those three states though. Rapid classes on this beautifully wooded river are from II to V.
15. Kennebec River
Located up north in Maine, this river has miles of great white water at Classes I through IV. Harris Station Dam, located on the river, releases water as part of their hydro programs four times a year. This provides even greater amounts of water resulting in more powerful rapids.
16. Rogue River
Filled with green, rugged scenery, the Rogue River runs through southwest Oregon into the Pacific Ocean. This gorgeous, pristine River begins near the famous Crater Lake National Park. Most of the rapids here are classes II to IV.
17. Salmon River
The Salmon River is in Idaho and is also referred to as the River of No Return partially because it’s the longest river in the continental United States, located in only one state.
The Main Salmon is one of the most popular portions of the river for white water kayaking, with rapids typically at levels III and IV. You can’t miss the breathtaking Sawtooth Mountains along the way, either.
Best Kayaking In The US FAQs
This section will discuss a few key questions when considering kayaking in the US and in general.
Part of the reason for my ambiguity in some of the answers is that it also depends at least partially on a couple of things, including what kind of kayaking you’re doing, what kind of kayak you want, and what kind of water you’re going to be on.
So, before we get to the questions, let’s examine these topics just a bit more.
What terms should I know before jumping into a Kayak?
Let’s begin with the types of water first because I think that will help with explanations later on about the kinds of kayaks and kayaking. Generally, there are three types of water: flat, white, and waves.
✅ Flat water is any type of water that’s just that flat; it is smooth and typically doesn’t move too quickly or at least not quick enough to not be smooth.
✅ Waves are just what they sound like, typically found in oceans, but don’t count out the Great Lakes because they produce some impressive waves too.
✅ White water is turbulent, fast water that often has obstructions in the forms of boulders and more; white water is generally found in fast-moving and twisting rivers.
There are multiple types of kayaking, but the most popular forms include recreational, sea, surf, whitewater, and fishing.
✅ Recreational is a broad, more generalized term. It typically includes any body of flat water (no waves or white water).
✅ Sea kayaking is on the sea, but it usually refers to being out on the open ocean.
✅ Surf kayaking is mostly on the sea but is more akin to surfing or body boarding because the goal is to ride the waves.
✅ White water kayaking, as mentioned above, is an extreme form of kayaking undertaken in swift, rough rivers.
✅ Kayak fishing can be pretty versatile, depending on the kayak and preferences of the kayakers. It can be conducted on the sea, rivers, lakes, or even ponds.
There are also lots of types of kayaks, including sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks. Basically, sit-on-top kayaks are open, while sit-in kayaks have a cockpit you sit inside, hence the name.
What is the best state for kayaking?
As mentioned above, there is no simple one-and-done answer to this question. It depends on a lot of factors, like the kind of kayak you use, the sort of water you want to be on, and the level of your experience.
However, I would say this. The states with the best options for the most different types of kayaking have to rank higher simply because they have more options.
Generally speaking, this means coastal states that provide rivers and oceans, which are much more likely to provide diverse forms of kayaking.
North Carolina has this diversity. As shown in the lists above, there are several white water rapids there, but there are also plenty of places on these same rivers for beginners.
Beyond that, North Carolina has miles of coastline with underrated beaches, including great spots for sea kayaking and/or fishing kayaking.
What is the best kayak for beginners?
If you are new to kayaking, there’s something that you should know. Kayakers can be pretty picky (and opinionated) about questions like this. Some more hardcore kayakers will only settle for the best.
I will say this, though. You start with what you are comfortable with and can afford. It will still depend on the kind of kayak you want, which still begs the question of what kind of kayaking you want to do.
My strong suggestion is, to begin with a low-end recreational kayak. The reason for this is that it’s more affordable and versatile. Recreational kayaks can be used on rivers, lakes, and oceans, given that it’s all primarily flat water.
Beyond that, they tend to have more storage and space. Most of them will also be larger in width, ensuring they’re less likely to tip; in other words, they’re much safer for beginners.
Several excellent brands exist, but I would suggest beginning with Perception. They have a great selection of beginner recreational kayaks. They’re at a reasonable price as well.
What is the best overall kayak?
Again, it depends on what kind of kayaking you intend to undertake. However, with this question, we can afford to be much snootier with our answer. We will stick with recreational kayaks, though.
Pelican sells a wide variety of kayaks. There are a couple of reasons they sell some of the best kayaks and canoes in the world. Two of those reasons are the high-end materials they use and the sleek designs they’ve created.
The Wrap-Up: Best Kayaking in the US
Kayaking is an amazing activity that’s both flexible and challenging. One of the many benefits is there are so many places where you can do it. Like travel, being on the water can be therapeutic in its own right.
Keep searching for your treasures, fellow wanderlust dragons!