Best Kayaking in the USA: 10 Must-Paddle Locations

Best Kayaking in the USA

So you’re looking to find some of the best places to kayak in the US? Well, here comes a list of tasty paddling destinations!

All destinations are not equal when it comes to great spots to get the boat in the water and enjoy your warm sunny days. Get ready cause we’re gonna throw ‘em at you hot and fast:

Asheville, NC

Whitewater kayaking at Green River Narrows

Green River Narrows (Image: Flickr / Todd F Niemand

Multi-year winner of “Beer City” awards, Asheville is nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina and surrounded by hiking, biking, climbing, and paddling. An hour drive in any direction will get you to more paddling locations than you can handle, and when you’re done, just head down to the brewery for a beer.

You’ll find loads of likeminded outdoor enthusiasts. Green River Narrows is a must-paddle location for hardcore kayakers.

Jackson Hole, WY

Snake River with Teton Mountains in the background

Snake River with Teton Mountains in the background (Image: Flickr / Leigh Anderson)

Don’t miss out on the Snake River in Wyoming. There’s tons of kayaking to be had around this world-class destination town.

And remember Yellowstone is a short drive north and winter time is anything but boring – skiing abounds in the Teton mountains. If you’re not busy paddling the Snake or Grey’s, then you’ll find yourself at home in this mountain town where active lifestyle and vertical adventure is the name of the game.

This is where the go-getters well…. Go get it.

Marquette, MI

Lake Superior at sunset

Lake Superior at sunset (Image: Flickr / Cathy)

Looking for a little less white water and a little more flat water? The paddling around Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is unparalleled. The views from the shoreline of Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior are not to be missed.

Miles of remote and abandoned interior lakes, streams, and rivers lend themselves to the adventurous kayakers looking for long stretches of paddling and camping.

Summer temperatures are mild, and Lake Superior’s cool breeze makes lazy afternoons the perfect time for a hammock nap.

Lake Placid, NY

Kayakers making their way across Lake Placid

Canoeing across across Lake Placid (Image: Flickr / diane cordell)

If you’ve never been to New England, let me tell you – it’s a wonderful balance of front country, back country, and everything in between. Within a short drive it’s possible to be in one of the densest metro areas in the US, and then disappear back into the forest without too much effort.

Paddling in the wilderness areas of New York state is said to be superb, though I have yet to explore the pleasure. Enjoy thousands of miles of rivers and lakes snaking through the primal forests which will have you feeling like Christopher Columbus as you explore the land.

Located in the middle of millions of opportunities to paddle your heart out is the quiet town of Lake Placid – a great place to get your exploration on.

Hood River, OR

Hood River Town

Hood River Town (Image: Flickr / Sam-Beebe)

How about a town where you’re a stone’s throw from backcountry skiing, mountaineering, days on the ocean beach, and paddling a network of whitewater and flat water kayaking? That little place is called Hood River.

Hood River its self is a moderate paddle for beginners and intermediates but make no mistake, there’s plenty of gnarly paddling to be found without much effort. Just follow the most seasoned looking paddler as they head out of town, boat strapped to the car, and you’re guaranteed to run into some high adrenaline paddling that will put your skills to the test.

Word on the street has it that the local beer is worth its weight – but you’ll have to test it out for us.

Richmond, VA

James River, Richmond

James River, Richmond (Image: Flickr / philip childress)

With the Appalachian Trail nearby and mountain sports opportunities galore, you’ll always have something to do after a good day of kayaking the rivers.

Covering the whole range of whitewater skill levels and flatwater paddles, you’re sure to find the kayaking that suits your needs here.

Richmond will keep you balanced between the needs of modern city life and the desire of every outdoor enthusiast to run to the mountains when life gets tough.

Keep the boat strapped on the car and the keys on your night stand because you’ll have plenty to explore. Downtown Richmond even features the James River where paddlers can play all year if they’re hearty enough.

Traverse City, MI

Sunset over Traverse Bay

Sunset over Traverse Bay (Image: Flickr / John Getchel)

If you’ve never been up to the Cherry Capitol, then you’re missing out.

Traverse City bustles with energy, tourism, and festivals year around. Nearby you can find dozens of inland lakes and rivers each with their own flavor.

Take the Kayak to Lake Leelanau and enjoy some micro-distilled liquors at the Norther Latitudes Distillery. Paddle Traverse Bay and enjoy the small but growing town from a distance as you wind around the bay, following the quiet Michigan shoreline.

You won’t find any whitewater around, but the terrain is surprisingly rolling and hiking paths are well maintained so you can enjoy biking or hiking right out your door.

If the winds turn from the North, watch out, the gales of November sank the Edmund Fitzgerald, and they’ll sink you too!

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN

Kayaking in the wilderness at Boundary Waters

Kayaking in the wilderness at Boundary Waters (Image:

You won’t find many towns nearby with easy access to the Boundary Waters, and that’s because there’s really no easy way to get in to this maze of paddling.

With thousands of miles of established canoeing and campsites stretching the length of the wilderness, this is an area where any itinerary is possible. Options here are limitless and, since it’s a Wilderness Area, you can camp anywhere you want - as long as you follow LNT principles in doing so.

Don’t be afraid to portage your canoe and keep your load light because the rivers, streams, and lakes are prone to abrupt endings, though it’s never very far to the next paddling opportunity.

Prince William Sound, AK

Kayaking around glaciers in Alaska

Kayaking around glaciers in Alaska (Image:

Get ready for some sea kayaking and make sure you have the proper training, skills, and equipment before launching into the Sound.

If you make the trip up to Alaska, however, you’ll be rewarded with backcountry opportunities unmatched anywhere else. It’s to be expected that breaching Orcas and sea life accompany any trip on the Sound, so keeping your camera ready is advisable.

Enjoy being surrounded by glaciers and aggressive, barren mountain slopes on all sides while you paddle the endless blue waters. Don’t be fooled though, that glacial melt means temps in the bay never really rise, so you’ll be in for an icy surprise if you make a mistake!

Salmon River, ID

River rafting on Salmon River

River rafting on Salmon River (IMage: Flickr / DAN)

This river has so many options it’s hard to even choose a start. Let’s suffice it to say that with a little research and planning you can make a week long or day long trip out of the Salmon River.

Call up and chat with the local guides and liveries to get the most current information. Base out of Missoula or Boise depending on your preference. We recommend choosing based on which town has the breweries that sound the best to you!

You’ll find that the Salmon River is quite remote so plan ahead and make sure to go in prepared to make the best use of your time while you’re visiting. Single day trips can be launched from Riggins, Idaho.


Did we miss one of your favorite spots to paddle in the states? Leave us a line and recommend a place for your fellow paddlers!

The best kayaking doesn’t always have to be the most challenging and we’re pretty sure you’ll love the lazy flat water just as much as the hardcore white water.

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  1. Hi Casey, great article! The United States has so many beautiful kayaking destinations to offer! The snake river in Wyoming is one place I would really like the opportunity to paddle someday. I actually have an article specifically on the best places to kayak in Michigan that I thought you might be interested in!


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