10 Best Places to Kayak in the United States

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America has much to offer by way of kayak experiences for all levels of paddlers. From mountain meadows to towering pines and hot springs to narrow valleys, deep gorges, and glacier waterfalls, take your pick! Wildlife is plentiful in these mostly protected and pristine areas. Please, be safe out there. Check local websites for water flow conditions, permit regulations, and weather. Remember to dry pack your cell phone, and never paddle alone.

Adventure awaits!

  1. Upper Iowa (Iowa) – The glaciers didn’t reach this cliff lined gorge in the mostly flatlands of the Midwest. Breathtaking limestone bluffs lining the river rise as high as 280 feet. Named one of America’s 100 Greatest Adventures (National Geographic Magazine), this river flows through three counties before reaching the Mississippi. The river is thick with wildlife like bald eagles, deer, and turtles, and boasts excellent fishing. This is a perfect family trip with an average depth of 3 feet with moderate waters. It’s best to go in the spring or early summers when water levels are highest and be sure to check online for current stream flow conditions.
  2. Lake Tahoe (California, Nevada) – With over 72 miles of shoreline and 30 public landing sites, there is much to see and experience on the “Lake in the Sky”.  From beginner to experienced, this stretch of crystal clear water surrounded by glorious mountain scenery, is free from strong currents. Plan a day trip or multi day, starting with the popular Emerald Bay and Zephyr Cove.
  3. Rio Grande (Texas, New Mexico) – The Upper Rio Grande is 6.3 miles long, rated Class III and famous for its wild whitewater canyons in northern New Mexico. The Middle Rio Grande is more gentle, and family friendly. Keep your eyes peeled for Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and a large variety of waterfowl and songbirds as well as beaver, wild turkey, and coyote! Along the border of Big Ben National Park, the Rio Grande cuts through three remarkable canyons. The Rock Slide in Santa Elena Canyon has some adventurous rapids while the others run through wide open, serene wilderness in the Chihuahuan Desert
  4. Trinity River (California) – Known for its history of gold mining and Bigfoot sightings, the Trinity River runs 165 miles through the Klamath Mountain meadows and narrow canyons. The land along this route is designated National Wild, and the fishing is excellent. Different parts of this river offer class II, III and V ratings for all skill levels. Springtime holds the most ideal flow conditions but because it is controlled by two dams, it has much to offer through the entire summer.
  5. Colorado River (Nevada) – Specifically, the Black Canyon Water Trail. This portion of the Colorado River has been designated a National Water Trail. This 30 mile stretch contains breathtaking stops that include sandy beaches, brilliant coves, and hot springs, (bring swimming clothes!). One of the highlights of this trip is Emerald Cave. True to its name, when the sun is right, the water sparkles like a gem for a perfect photo op. The steady moving flatwater makes an ideal trip for first timers. This kayaking trip requires a $17 permit from the National Park Service intended to keep traffic on the river to a minimum.
  6. Chatooga River (South Carolina) – This river is best known for its role in the movie Deliverance, but the true fame and fortune of the Chatooga is the unrivaled wilderness setting. Federally protected since 1974, the scenery is unblemished by humans and the waters house over 100 species of fish. This tour is not for the inexperienced paddler. The two main whitewater rafting areas on the Chatooga range from class II to class IV. Take note of the Seven Foot Falls followed by the series of five blood pressure raising rapids, aptly named Five Falls. Thrill seekers abound!
  7. Rogue River (Oregon) – The Rogue River runs from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach. Scenes from “The River Wild” were shot in this federally protected wilderness. Lined with old growth Douglas fir forests, the bank is abundant with wildlife such as elk, deer, beaver, otter, black bear, and cougars. Rogue River is celebrated for its challenging whitewater rapids and superior fishing. Not to mention, the untainted wildlife population. To preserve this pristine setting, permits for rafters are given out sparingly in a lottery during the first six weeks of the year. After the lottery, there may be openings that were left unfilled and are available on a first come-first serve system.
  8. Salmon River (Idaho) – The Salmon River is the second deepest gorge in North America. It offers an awesome variety of fun including rapids, slow moving waters, and swimming holes. Beginning high in the Sawtooth Mountain and stretching 425 miles to the Snake River, this historic adventure will take you to Buckskin Bill’s lookout tower, past old cabins in the woods, and through evergreen forests and sandy beaches. To keep traffic to a minimum and maintain relative seclusion, permits are given via lottery system by the Forest Service.
  9. Prince William Sound (Alaska) – As close to paradise as you will ever get with over 15,000 square miles of coastal wilderness draped with glaciers, rainforests, and waterfalls. Prince William Sound is a mostly protected area of water with access to glaciers, a little less prone to rougher sea conditions. Taking this sea-kayaking trip could literally be a once in a lifetime opportunity as the glaciers are rapidly melting and old timers will tell you of a visible difference between now and 20 year ago. Now, let’s talk about the wildlife. Humpbacks, seals, porpoises, sea lions and eagles! This is a trip you will be telling your grandchildren about.
  10. Juniper Run (Florida) – Set in the Ocala National Forest, this seven mile route is best for experienced paddlers. This trip will take about five hours gliding through crystal clear, fast moving water. Though, best to carve out some extra time to explore some of the trails. Fern Hammock Springs gets an honorable mention as one of the best springs in Florida! The middle part of the trip alternates between wider, deeper water and narrow, short rapids. Kayaking is popular year round in this subtropical waterway where you’re sure to see alligators and otters in action.