15 Most Scenic Kayaking Destinations In The United States

Cancel that trip to New Zealand — you’re on a budget. When it comes to some of the world’s best paddling spots, you’d be surprised that the United States offers a ton. From the red basins of the desert, to tropical islands, to densely packed forest, here are 15 of the most scenic kayaking destinations in the United States. 

colorado river

Courtesy of Andy Atzert/Flickr.com

1. Colorado River – Arizona

What’s a more majestic Southwestern kayaking experience than paddling through the Grand Canyon? Red rock boulders and emerald green waters will accompany you as you float down the river. This is also the perfect place to look for strange cactus and plants of the Sonoran Desert.

lake tahoe

Courtesy of Bit Boy/Flickr.com

2. Lake Tahoe – California

Northern California is home to countless scenic spots for paddlers, but Lake Tahoe stands out among the list. This large freshwater lake is 11.81 miles (taking you to Nevada) long with snow-tipped mountain ranges and pine trees. Every stroke on your boat will be a Kodak moment.

hudson river

Courtesy of Bill Benzon/Flickr.com

3. Hudson River – New York

Sometimes, man-made scenery can be a fix for kayak addicts, and what better place better place to do it than the Hudson River of New York City? Watch the hustle and bustle of this massive city and enjoy the skyline as you paddle by. Of course if you should tire of skyscrapers, keep paddling until you get into the cozy forest of the Hudson Valley where lush green landscapes with trees will greet you (eventually). 

tuolumne river

Courtesy of Jim Bahn/Flickr.com

4. Tuolumne River – California

This California river stretches out 149 miles throughout Northern California and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Visitors can rent canoes, rafts or kayaks without any experience necessary and easily enjoy the serene water of this picturesque river. Of course, if you have a thrill-seeker adventurer in you, you can crank up the gears by whitewater rafting in some of the “rough” areas of the river.

rogue river

Courtesy of Clyde Adams III/Flickr.com

5. Rogue River – Oregon

In southwestern Oregon, the Rogue River in Siskiyou National Forest is known as an excellent spot for salmon fishing, but it’s also a great place to enjoy the scenery. Paddlers can easily take breaks from kayaking to go on hikes or set up tents in one of their designated camping spots. Can you smell the Douglas firs yet?

key largo

Courtesy of bdj238/Flickr.com

6. Key Largo – Florida

Essentially anywhere in the sunny Florida Keys is great for kayaking, but Key Largo harbors some of the finest spots to paddle around small islands and crystal clear water to see the coral reefs below your boat. You can easily park your kayak on one of the scattered islands and snorkel around to look for tropical fish, crabs and stingrays.

boundary waters

Courtesy of Ben Stephenson/Flickr.com

7. Boundary Waters – Minnesota

Neighboring Canada, the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota is a relaxing spot to canoe or kayak the boreal forest. Located in Superior National Forest, its calm waters allows paddlers to take frequent breaks to lie back in their boats to fish, cozy up with a good book, or admire the scenery. You’ll have it made.


Courtesy of Jon Dawson/Flickr.com

8. Youghiogheny River – Maryland

This 134 mile long river takes you from Maryland to Pennsylvania and provides an exciting water path for kayakers to get lost in. Not only does the river have a relaxing atmosphere (along with some rough whitewater rafting spots), but it’s also known for its thriving trout community living in the water (waiting to be your next meal). 

kennebec river

Courtesy of Noah Meyerhans/Flickr.com

9. Kennebec River – Maine

Running straight down through most of Maine, the Kennebec River is 170 miles long. Paddlers who wish to see the best of this New England state can explore several small towns, abandoned forts and forests from the comfort of their little boats. Oh, and be sure to make a pit stop in some of these towns for fresh wild-caught lobster.

pictured rocks

Courtesy of Les Infill/Flickr.com

10. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Michigan

Surprisingly, Michigan is home to one of the country’s most beautiful landscapes by the water. Massive arched rocks, lush green cliffs, waterfalls and sea caves makes this spot a perfect place for paddlers to get their ultimate fix. Cancel that kayak trip to Fiji, you can get it all in Michigan.

prince william sound

Courtesy of Matt Zimmerman/Flickr.com

11. Prince William Sound – Alaska

Of course, Alaska has to be on this list. In the Gulf of Alaska, numerous small islands and mountains are available for you to park your boat and explore the untamed wilderness.  You can also explore the abandoned ruins of a town called Valdez (destroyed in a tsunami). It’s not recommend to make this trip during the freezing winter — wait until the snow melts some. 

elk river

Courtesy of OakleyOriginals/Flickr.com

12. Elk River – Missouri

If you enjoy fishing, head over to the Elk River nestled in the Ozarks of Missouri. You can catch some of the best freshwater fish including the small-mouth bass and the channel catfish. Oh, and the scenery doesn’t hurt either.

lake chelan

Courtesy of Amanda/Flickr.com

13. Lake Chelan – Washington

Nestled in the heart of the North West, Lake Chelan is a haven for recreational sport enthusiasts. This 50-mile long lake is believed to be the third deepest lake in the United States at over 388 feet. Paddlers can fish for freshwater fish such as lake trout, long-nose sucker, chinook salmon, and mountain whitefish. The clear transparent water makes it easier for you to see exactly how deep this lake goes.

salmon river

Courtesy of Zachary Collier/Flickr.com

14. Salmon River – Idaho

This applies only to experienced whitewater rafters due to the river’s rugged water paths with strong currents. This river will take you through many rural farmlands and dense forests of Idaho. Bring a shovel and a filter pan on this trip — you might want to try digging around a bit since this river was once home to the gold rush migration of Idaho in the 1860s.

tallulah gorge

Courtesy of ChattOconeeNF/Flickr.com

15.  Tallulah River – Georgia

In Northern Georgia, the Tallalah River is 47.7 miles long (taking you to North Carolina) and is full of rocky forests and several waterfalls (passing by the falls, not diving off it). You can sight-see several rural logging towns along the river, including wildlife such as deer and bears. However, if you shall hear the banjos playing in the distance, it’s suggested you should paddle faster.

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