Spotlighting America’s Most Beautiful, Beginner-Friendly Kayaking Waters

Spotlighting America’s Most Beautiful, Beginner-Friendly Kayaking Waters

May 08, 2023

From backwater tributaries to big lakes and saltwater, too, kayaking can get you more places than nearly any other boat. Even better, kayaking provides a deeper, more meaningful experience that’s hard to match. Oftentimes, this means access to scenery and locations that are relatively untouched, incredible closeness to aquatic nature, and a peaceful boating experience that you can feel in your soul.

This kind of access and refreshment is good no matter who you are, and thankfully there are countless waters in the U.S. where you can find it. But if you’re looking to plan a particularly special trip, here’s a regional look at America's most beautiful and beginner-friendly kayaking waters.

With so much potential for awesome adventures ahead, the question is: where do you want to go first?

The Northeast

The Midwest

The South

The Southwest

The Rockies

The Pacific / Pacific Northwest

Kayaking in the Northeast

When we think of the northeastern United States, we may often think of bustling cities like New York and sprawling communities along the coast where you easily pass from one state to the next. However, there’s more to the northeast than developed lands, urban riverfronts, and the rocky coastlines of the Atlantic.

Between surprisingly navigable coastal areas and inland lakes and rivers, there are more than a few unexpected gems to explore.

Squam Lake (New Hampshire)

  • Outboard restrictions

  • Quiet waters

  • Islands to explore

  • Great fishing

  • Plenty of nearby towns and amenities

Saco River (Maine and New Hampshire)

  • Proximity to Mount Washington

  • Easy waters with canals, bridges, and riverfront beaches

  • Municipal properties with rich history to share

Coastal Region (Connecticut)

  • Tidal rivers

  • Lakes

  • Marshes

  • Diverse ecologies

  • Surprisingly calm waters

Kayaking in the Midwest

With backdrops like thick deciduous forests, chains of waterways, and landscapes dug out by glaciers, it’s hard to beat kayaking in the midwest. Not only is there amazing beauty to be found, many locations are relatively easy to get to, low risk, and options are so abundant that this list is just a glimpse at all there is to offer.

Here are our top kayaking destinations to consider in the midwest.

Pictured Rocks (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula)

  • Cliffside shorelines

  • Wondrous geologic formations like arches and caves

  • Stratigraphy (rock layers)

  • Guided tours that make Lake Superior’s challenging waters more manageable

Au Sable River (Michigan - Lower Peninsula)

  • Towering pines

  • Crystal clear water

  • Creek tributaries

  • Numerous campgrounds and liveries

  • Variety of gamefish ready to catch

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Minnesota)

  • More than 1 million acres of wilderness near the Canadian border

  • 1,000 lakes

  • 1,500 miles of canoe routes

  • Fishing galore

  • Numerous options for how to explore it all

Kickapoo River (Wisconsin)

  • Winding shorelines

  • Mixed landscapes

  • Easy currents (depending on rainfall)

  • Bridges

  • Riffles on the water that make the trip exciting yet manageable

Kayaking in the South

In the south, it’s not all gators, snakes, and oppressive heat. Even though those realities are present in some areas, there are still gorgeous and unique waters all across the south that are excellent for kayaking. The ecosystems alone make it worth planning a trip where you can see more wildlife than in any other part of the country and find yourself enveloped within breathtaking scenes.

Doing our best to avoid waters with riskier landscapes and wildlife (sorry to waters like the Everglades), here’s our list of favorite kayaking waters in the south:

Flint River Water Trail (Georgia)

  • 28 miles of possibilities, with diverse sections

  • Flat shoals, where you may want to stop short of going over the riffles, but you’ll definitely want to try to capture pictures and maybe even anchor up for excellent fishing

  • Hyper local fishing specialties like river shoal bass

  • Rich and lovely local plant life that includes spider lilies, orchids, needle palms, and rare relict trillium

The Cedar Creek Canoe Trail and Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

  • Old growth forests with some of the tallest trees in the country

  • Floodplain forests, swamps, cypress trees, tupelo trees, and tall bluffs

  • A wide variety of wildlife

  • Guided tours and outfitters nearby

Arbuckle Creek (Florida)

  • About 1.5 hours away from Orlando, if you want to plan a trip while in the area for other tourist attractions

  • Uncommon wildlife including otters, hogs, limpkins, kingfishers, egrets, and alligators

  • Cypress swamps, stringing vines, and unique scenery

Summersville Lake (West Virginia)

  • Family-friendly flatwater kayaking

  • Plenty of fishing for popular species

  • Beautiful coves with blue green water

  • Dramatic vistas that include mountains, craggy rock walls, and even a lighthouse

Kayaking in the Southwest

The southwest may be known for its arid wilderness, but it still has plenty to offer for kayaking adventures, especially if you’d like to explore picturesque landscapes with geologic formations unlike anywhere else.

Here are our favorite kayaking recommendations for the southwestern United States:

Watson Lake (Arizona)

  • Under 100 acres and touted as one of the best small lakes in the country for paddlesports

  • Year-round accessibility with little seasonal precautions

  • No wake rules enforced on the entire lake

  • Incredibly photo-friendly lake, with amazing scenery

  • Beautifully reflective waters

  • Small coves to explore around a majority of the lakes shorelines

Fenton Lake State Park (New Mexico)

  • Trout fishing (and there are reportedly lots of bigguns in there)

  • Mountain Views

  • Camping

  • More than just brown landscapes that you may expect in the southwest, with rich green hills, brush, and huge ponderosa pines

Lake Mead (Nevada)

  • Convenient access from Los Vegas

  • Waters that naturally turn a brilliant shade of green, striking awesome contrast against orange and brown rock and sand

  • Shorelines with beaches, secluded coves, caves, and hot springs

  • Guided tours for maximizing what you see and for safe exploration

Limestone Bluffs Paddling Trail (Texas)

  • Only 40 miles from Waco

  • Touted as having virtually no current, making it navigable upstream or downstream

  • Limestone bluffs like the name suggests, plus beautiful hardwood forests

  • Historical sites like Fort Parker State Park

  • Plenty of portage spots along the shore in case you need to make a stop

Rio Frio (Texas)

  • Known as “Texas’ Favorite River”

  • Clear and beautiful spring water

  • Limestone and gravel riverbeds

  • Shallow waters

  • High limestone bluffs

  • Available cabins, lodging, and a state park to accommodate overnight stays

Kayaking in the Rockies

Despite some overlap between the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and the Rockies, there are some notable distinctions that set these Rocky Mountain waters apart. Beautiful in their own way, here are our spotlighted waters for kayaking at greater altitudes.

Blue Heart Springs and the Snake River in Hagerman Valley (Idaho)

  • Excellent water clarity

  • Vibrant blue water (no photo editing necessary!)

  • Nestled between craggy rock mountains and green brushland

  • Only accessible by boat from the Snake River at Banbury Hot Springs

Lake Powell (Utah)

  • Various interesting geology and formations

  • Narrow canyons and pass-throughs

  • Flat, pristine waters

  • Excellent swimming water, often boasting comfortable temperatures

  • Ample fish and wildlife watching

Lake Tahoe (California and Nevada)

  • Alpine views including high peaks surrounding the lake and snowcapped mountaintops

  • Crystal clear waters when you’re up close and present as deep blue as you zoom out

  • 300+ sunny days a year

  • Numerous rental spots for boats and equipment

  • Large white sand beaches

Noxon Reservoir (Montana)

  • Excellent alternative to crowds at Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks

  • Within the Kootenai National Forest

  • Great bass fishing

  • Flatwater with plenty of inlets and creeks to explore

  • Convenient launching at Trout Creek and Marten Creek Campground

Kayaking in the Pacific Northwest

Last but not least, the Pacific Northwest is known for warm coastlines, lush forests, and plenty of character amongst the towns and scenery. For kayakers, there's plenty to love and distinctions that set it apart in some spectacular ways.

You can even venture northward from the crowds of central and southern California, which we’d definitely recommend for optimal adventure in the following waters.

Mendocino Sea Caves, Lakes, and Estuaries (California)

  • Host to a variety of kayaking options

  • Estuary kayaking is known to be great for kids and canine passengers

  • Includes ocean kayaking options that require no experience or age level

  • Awesome views of coastal and ocean wildlife like sea otters, seals, seafaring birds, fish, and more

Deschutes River (Oregon)

  • Offers views of the city of Bend, Oregon as well as the heart of the state

  • Great mix of city and natural landscapes

  • Though you can opt to travel some rapids, common routes avoid them for easier paddling

  • Fun atmosphere with people on tubes, SUPs, canoes, and kayaks

Lake Shannon (Washington)

  • Quiet lake with low usage

  • Home to several sought-after trout species

  • Perimeter views include ravines, creeks, inlets, stumpy water, reeds, and other vegetation along shallows and shore

  • Several areas also provide looks at nearby mountains, birding spots, and hydroelectric dams

Lake Cushman in Olympic National Park (Washington)

  • Beautiful and flat blue-green waters

  • Mountain accents around the edges

  • Resorts and campsites to accommodate your visit

  • Dense pacific forests and sights of one of the most beloved parks in the U.S.

  • Seafood galore with fresh oysters, geoduck, and fish

Get Gear Worthy of any Kayaking Bucket List

With so many amazing places to explore, trimming down this list was the hardest part about it (followed closely by fighting the urge to get traveling to one of these waters ASAP). But now that you have a kayaking bucket list, the question is: do you have all the accessories you need?

From waterproof phone pouches to paddles and other accessories, make sure to get Kayak Essentials™ for anywhere your paddles take you.