Kayaking is one of the most popular and exciting outdoor activities in the United States, and there are plenty of great locations for kayaking. One of the best places for kayaking is in a national park. With its beautiful lakes and rivers, diverse ecosystems, and striking natural landscapes, a national park is perfect for paddling and exploring. Below, you’ll discover ten great destinations for national park kayaking.
Thrilling National Park Kayaking Adventures
1. Glacier National Park (Montana)
Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or a beginner searching for a new adventure, Glacier National Park offers some of the best kayaking in the country. Montana’s Glacier National Park has over 700 lakes. One of the best places for kayaking at Glacier National Park is Lake McDonald. It is the largest and deepest lake in the park. The beautiful clear turquoise glacier water is calm, and the views are simply breathtaking. Other lakes great for kayaking include Two Medicine Lake, St. Mary Lake, and Swiftcurrent Lake.
If you did not bring your kayak, do not worry! You can head to Apgar Boat Rentals or Glacier Outfitters near the park’s west entrance. They’ll provide all the gear you need to start your Glacier National Park kayaking adventure!
2. Everglades National Park (Florida)
Kayaking in the Everglades is an exciting and unique experience. With its winding rivers, serene mangrove forests, and crystal-clear waters, the Everglades offers a multitude of breathtaking vistas that are perfect for exploring by kayak. Furthermore, because the Everglades is home to countless species of marine life, there is also an endless array of wildlife to discover on the water.
Places to kayak in the Everglades include Sandfly Island Loop, Turner River, Halfway Creek, Nine Mile Pond, Noble Hammock, Hell’s Bay, Florida Bay, Bear Lake, Mud Lake Loop, and West Lake. In the park, you can rent kayaks from Gulf Coast Canoe and Kayak Rentals and Flamingo Canoe and Kayak Rentals. Everglades National Park is roughly an hour’s drive from Miami, Florida.
In addition, there is access to launch a kayak from Gulf Coast Canoe/Kayak Launch, with parking for kayak trailers available onsite. You can’t back up directly to the water, but it’s just a short distance to carry your kayak to the water.
3. Biscayne National Park (Florida)
If you’re looking for an exciting and scenic way to experience the natural beauty of Biscayne National Park, then kayaking is a must. The park offers outstanding kayaking opportunities, from calm inland water kayaking to the more challenging open ocean kayaking. With its abundance of stunning wildlife, spectacular coral reefs, and impressive geological features, Biscayne National Park is truly a kayaker’s paradise.
If you’re an experienced kayaker, you can take the 7-mile route across Biscayne Bay to the Boca Chita or Elliot Keys. You’re likely to see stingrays and jellyfish at Jones Lagoon. Hurricane Creek offers excellent kayaking and snorkeling. Be sure to bring your kayak or find a nearby rental company, as Biscayne National Park does not offer kayak rentals.
4. Channel Islands National Park (California)
Kayaking is a popular way to explore the stunning beauty of Channel Islands National Park. With its pristine coastline, diverse marine life, and picturesque islands, this vast park offers an array of kayaking experiences for both beginners and seasoned paddlers.
For those new to ocean kayaking, the waters around Anacapa Island offer gentle but beautiful scenery. And for more experienced kayakers looking for excitement, exciting channels and coves with crystalline waters provide excellent opportunities for spotting wildlife and exploring hidden caves along the shoreline.
The most popular spot for kayaking is Scorpion Beach on East Santa Cruz Island. However, expert kayakers may want to venture to San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands. Be sure to bring a kayak, as the island does not provide kayak rentals.
5. Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)
Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the most gorgeous and diverse regions in all of Alaska. Its shimmering glaciers, majestic mountains, and abundant marine wildlife provide a perfect setting for an adventurous kayaking trip.
You can choose numerous routes depending on your interests and skill level, and the park’s guided tours offer a great way to explore safely and with expert guidance. A guided tour is highly recommended for beginners as conditions on the water are known to change rapidly with wind or storms.
6. Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
Isle Royale National Park offers some of the best paddling opportunities in the country. Its untouched coastline, calm waters, and abundant wildlife make it an ideal place for kayakers of all skill levels to explore.
One of the great things about paddling in Isle Royale is that the distances between different parts of the park are relatively short. This makes it easy to plan day trips or multi-day adventures along different parts of the shoreline. The park is also home to abundant wildlife, including deer, moose, otters, foxes, bald eagles, and numerous fish species.
When visiting, you’ll want an ocean kayak, as recreational kayaks are not recommended in these waters. And you’ll have to take a ferry to transport your kayak to Isle Royal National Park.
7. Big Bend National Park (Texas)
Big Bend National Park is one of North America’s most stunning and diverse natural landscapes. With towering mountains, sweeping hot deserts, and picturesque sunsets at every turn, it truly is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Big Bend National Park also offers some of the best kayaking opportunities for those who enjoy being on the water. The peaceful and calm waters of the vast Rio Grande River wind through canyons flanked by majestic limestone cliffs on either side. In addition, several smaller creeks provide quieter routes where you can enjoy a peaceful paddle in solitude.
Canyons great for kayaking at Big Bend National Park include Boquillas Canyon, Mariscal Canyon, the Lower Canyons, Santa Elena Canyon, Hot Springs, and San Vicente Canyon.
8. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
Kayaking is one of the best ways to experience the beauty and diversity of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. With its rich turquoise waters, towering peaks, and peaceful glacial lakes, this park is truly a delight for kayakers.
Whether you are an experienced kayaker or just starting, there are several different routes to choose from within the park, each offering breathtaking views and plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting. Jackson Lake is a great spot to launch an inflatable kayak and enjoy the beautiful mountain views.
Kayaking through Grand Teton National Park will allow you to see the iconic Tetons up close and personal like never before – a truly unforgettable experience!
9. Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)
Voyageurs National Park is a vast and untouched wilderness area renowned for its stunning lakes, rocky shorelines, and abundant wildlife. But it is also an excellent destination for kayakers, offering a wealth of opportunities to explore the serene waters of this iconic northern park. Voyageurs National Park provides countless backcountry kayaking options for nature lovers, from quiet coves that are ideal for beginners just getting their feet wet to winding portages challenging advanced paddlers.
Due to an issue with invasive species, you are not permitted to bring your personal kayak. Instead, you can rent a kayak from a Voyageurs National Park-approved business such as Voyageurs Outfitters or Rainy Lake Aquatics.
10. Acadia National Park (Maine)
Acadia National Park is the perfect destination if you’re looking for an unforgettable national park kayaking adventure. This fantastic park is world-renowned for its stunning coastline, majestic mountain vistas, and abundant recreational opportunities. One of the most popular activities at Acadia is kayaking, and for a good reason – with over 100 miles of coastline to explore, there’s plenty of beautiful scenery to take in from the water. With crystal-clear water, breathtaking panoramas, and some of the best wildlife viewing on the East Coast, Acadia National Park kayaking is a truly unique experience.
Ponds and lakes at Acadia National Park, great for kayaking, include Long Pond, Eagle Lake, Echo Lake, and Jordan Pond. But if you’re looking for ocean kayaking, you’ll want to head to Mount Desert Island.
Final Thoughts on U.S. National Park Kayaking
Kayaking is popular in many of the country’s beautiful national parks. Whether you enjoy exploring hidden coves and quiet inlets or tackling the crashing waves of a storm-tossed sea, there are plenty of options for experienced kayakers and those just getting started. Be sure to choose a park with the right conditions for your skill level and experience. With proper preparation and planning, anyone can enjoy national park kayaking!
Alex Sumuel is the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! She's a proud Virginia native who has also founded the Explore Coastal Virginia website. Alex’s mission is to help people travel better.