If you are a newcomer to the camping of any kind, or just new to camping out of a kayak, your best bet is to go on a trip with someone who is experienced. And also in somewhere where it suits kayaking. So, finding the best places to kayak in the US is important to make a plan where to go kayaking.
Kayak camping may not be as high up the ladder of camping complexity as snow camping in winter, but it presents enough challenges to make apprenticeship a wise option.
Kayaking with Commercial Packages (Kayaking Outfitters)
A good choice is a commercial or “packaged” trip, where you may only be required to show up with your own toothbrush. The outfitter will take care of virtually every other detail of food, equipment, and the itinerary. All you have to do is follow the leader’s directions, ask plenty of questions, and take note of what and why.
Most of these trips are participatory; in other words, you are expected to take part in the work. You have to carry your weight with a paddle, of course, but you’ll be loading and unloading the kayaks, making and breaking camp, helping with kitchen chores, setting up the privy, or whatever.
Is Outfitter Kayaking Recommended for You?
Commercial trips are recommended especially if you have not yet made major purchases of paddling or camping equipment. A careful study of the outfitter’s selections and inquiries into why he or she chose such equipment will give you a good data base when you go shopping for your own gear.
There are, to be sure, outfitters who skimp but the best ones have generally chosen gear that is tough and reliable, representing a major investment for that outfitter.
Check Out Some of the Things Before Kayaking with the Outfitters
Since your main objective is to figure out how to plan and execute your own trips, make sure the outfitter spends some time going over the itinerary and charts with you.
- Why has he or she chosen this particular area?
- What permits, restrictions, special features, or hazards will you encounter?
- What sort of paddling distances will you be expected to cover, and what are the safety valves if the weather deteriorates?
- Are open fires permitted?
- What are the arrangements for camp hygiene (water availability, human waste disposal, etc.)?
- Will you be camping on rock, sand, grass, or none of the above? How will wind and tides affect your plan?
The risk in a commercially outfitted trip is that you might be simply expected to follow the leader like sheep. Try to avoid such a program, or be a pest about getting the leader to go over the charts with you.
That’s surely after keeping you and others in your group posted as to where you are, where you are headed, and why. You are there to learn, not to be treated to a Disneyland travelogue.
Taking a Kayak Trip with Club
Taking a trip with experienced friends or with a club group is another option. If you are going to put yourself in the hands of friends or acquaintances, you’ll have to be your own judge of the quality of leadership, judgment, and potential for learning the ropes.
In the case of club trips, the club’s own history will have to be your guide. I am familiar with a dozen or more clubs around the country, which is hardly the basis for a comprehensive evaluation. But these clubs take themselves and their programs seriously.
Most trip leaders have met club-imposed criteria, and the trips they lead have been graded by degree of difficulty. There are as many rating systems as there are clubs, but spending a few minutes studying this example can serve as a self-evaluation. In other words, would you feel comfortable on an SK III trip?
Each winter, this particular club publishes a new schedule of trips for the coming year. A brief description of the trip, the date, and the leader’s name and phone number are the common elements. You can usually obtain club names for your area from a local retailer of paddle-sports equipment.
Club List for Kayaking Near You
- Birmingham Canoe Club (ALABAMA)
- Desert Paddlers Club (Arizona)
- Southern Arizona Paddlers Club (Arizona)
- California National Canoe and Kayak Club (California)
- San Francisco Sea Kayakers (California)
- Colorado Whitewater Association (Colorado)
- Rocky Mountain Canoe Club (Colorado)
- Coconut Kayakers (Florida)
- Palm Beach Pack & Paddle Club (Florida)
- South Florida Bush Paddlers Association (Florida)
- Atlanta Sea Kayakers (Georgia)
- Bradstreet Sea Kayakers (Ohio)
- Georgia Canoeing Association (Georgia)
- Bayou Chapter Ozark Society (LOUISIANA)
- Superior Kayak and Outdoor Adventure Club (Minnesota)
- Cascaders Canoe and Kayak Club (Minnesota)
- Adobe Whitewater Club of New Mexico
- Cold Spring Kayak Club (NEW YORK)
- Metropolitan Canoe and Kayak Club (NEW YORK)
- Three Rivers Paddling Club (PENNSYLVANIA)
- Lehigh Valley Canoe Club (PENNSYLVANIA)
Where to Kayak: Organized Areas Vs Wilderness
What is a Wilderness Area?
Wilderness is a word that has lost some of its cachet and has so many best places to kayak in the us. First of all, there is very little of what could truly be called wilderness left on the planet. Even if the road doesn’t go there, someone has surely scanned and cataloged it for some manner of resource plunder.
Today’s wilderness is tomorrow’s condo development or mining venture. Even the old-fashioned concept of wilderness is a bit suspect, since it was the advancing army of European settlers, “more numerous than the leaves on the trees,” who characterized the land as a wilderness.
This implied an inhospitable environment, but the land had of course sustained several thousand years of habitation and cultural development by the native peoples, whose domain was shortly to be appropriated and “improved” by the new arrivals.
Kayaking in the Wilderness Area: You Would be Surprised Sometimes
This is not a political tract, so we will continue to use the term wilderness to refer to those areas that are remote, undeveloped, largely uninhabited, and accessible only with difficulty or ingenuity.
In a true wilderness you should expect to see few recent signs of man, no trail markers, and the available information might be no more than a general description (no guidebooks).
What we usually find are patches of wilderness, which if we walk for half a day, mountain-bike for three hours, or paddle for a day, we will come to the bridge, the county road, the pipeline, or the guest ranch.
Nevertheless, the illusion is a nice one. Most of us spend our outdoor time searching out and celebrating those remaining patches of wilderness.
It is also no surprise that the tremendous popularity of the kayak coincides with a decline in the resource known as the wilderness. Using proper kayak paddle you can go on big water, and the ocean, in particular, is vast and the coastlines so extensive that the kayaker’s environment represents a virtual last frontier for the wanderer.
Let’s assume that finding your own wilderness to explore is an ultimate goal. Initially, though, you will probably gravitate, and wisely so, toward what I call “organized” wilderness.
Usually these are areas that have been set aside, designated, protected, or otherwise developed-or possibly not developed-so that they lend themselves to exploration and camping by means of small boats.
Organized Areas for Kayaking
If you are a canoe camper it is inconceivable that you would not be familiar with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, for example. Similarly, sea kayakers soon learn about certain areas that lend themselves naturally to being, and have been anointed accordingly as, sea kayaking destinations.
Often, such areas have had to be “organized” through volunteerism and political activism. Waterfront property is scarce, and coastal kayakers who wish to haul their boats out on a nice scenic beach are competing with persons who would like to own and “lock up” such spots for themselves.
With developers who believe such a spot would offer a high return on investment if only a six-hundred-room high rise could be perched thereon, or perhaps with some governmental agency that deems their prize beach to be the only habitat of the neon-bellied oyster catcher–thus kayakers may be greeted with a NO LANDINGS PERMITTED sign.
Needless to say, the organized areas that currently exist or are in the process of being assembled (for example, the Cascadia Marine Trail in the Pacific Northwest and the Maine Island Trail) are valuable indeed. Such organized areas are a good choice for you in your early explorations. These areas are also the likely venues for the packaged or outfitted tours.
Where to Go Kayaking in Rivers
Sadly, the number of rivers in the contiguous forty-eight states that offer the possibility of more than an overnight trip is a precious few. Some of these are big western whitewater rivers, most of which require permits, and many are renowned for their whitewater; these call for special skills.
Yet rivers such as the upper Missouri and the Yellowstone, both in Montana. the Green in Utah and Colorado, and the desert rivers of eastern Oregon are worthy of research. Many waterways consisting of rivers and their impoundments (dams) could offer cruising and camping opportunities.
Finding Campgrounds for Kayaks and Canoes in Rivers
But much of the challenge is finding suitable camping along these highly altered, in some cases heavily populated, waterways. The camping skills for this sort of adventure, which may be more akin to RV camping, are beyond the scope of this book.
Throughout Canada and Alaska, there are many rivers that over the years have attracted open canoes, but for many such trips, a kayak would be perfectly suitable.
However, even the largest kayaks lack the load capacity of a good expedition canoe, and if a trip in northern waters requires frequent or long portages, they would not be a good choice.
In Larger Rivers
Larger rivers such as the Mackenzie and the Yukon, on the other hand, would be fine waters for a kayak, and there are many northern rivers that typically expand into huge lakes along their course. Here the kayaker might find that on the big Take expansions the kayak is preferable to a canoe.
Although camping skills along a river are not much different from those required in an ocean environment, river-running skills are certainly different. If you plan to head downriver in your kayak, make sure you acquire the necessary skills.
Kayak Camping in Lakes
The kayak is the perfect craft for big-lake fishing, cruising, and camping. For chains of lakes, where portages between lakes are required, the kayak seems less well suited.
That’s because loading and unloading a kayak is a cumbersome process compared with the open canoe, where you may have only two or three large packs.
Make sure you use the best fishing gears (ex. Best steelhead rod, reel, accessories) for fishing on the lake for different kinds of fishing.
Kayaking Vs Canoeing in Lakes
Moreover, a canoe is designed to be carried. Cruising big lakes is not much different from ocean and coastal cruising, without the tides, currents, and salt.
Except for very large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes or the Northwest Territories’ Great Slave Lake, swell is not normally a factor, but wind on a big lake can be just as much a concern as it is in any coastal environment.
In Violent Wave
Large shallow lakes-Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg, for example-are subject to violent wave action due to the buildup of wind energy over shallow water. Impoundments, where winds may be funneled up valleys or between canyon walls, can also create wild water to rival the roughest storm-driven ocean environment.
The arms of Yellowstone Lake, for example, are subject to fierce afternoon convection winds. But the kayak, due to its reduced windage, is undoubtedly a more suitable craft for big lakes paddling and troubled water than a canoe.
Rough water is also caused by lots of motorboat traffic; here again, most people are going to feel more comfortable in a kayak. The popularity of the sea kayak has opened up a whole range of long-overlooked camping opportunities on big lakes.
Lake Superior is a lake to be reckoned with no matter what kind of boat you are in, but such inland oceans have become much more attainable destinations with the advent of the modern kayak.
Places of Oceans for Kayaking
Unquestionably, this has been the focus of most of the action in sea kayaking, and it’s the emphasis of us. Oceans and coastlines may be the last wilderness.
If you use the volume of articles material as a measure, it is clear that North America’s inland waterways have been well cataloged compared with the availability of articles for coastal areas.
The phenomenon is like mountain biking: How many backroads and trails went to nowhere in obscurity before being “discovered” by the mountain bikers? Now, every mountain town and hamlet have its own mountain-bike guide.
Camping in Coastal Areas: Challenges
Herein lies the greatest challenge for the newcomer to coastal kayaking and camping. Those few areas that have been discovered and documented are in danger of being loved to death as kayakers flock to them.
At this writing, one of those areas—the Broken Island group on Vancouver Island, off British Columbia’s coast-is about to institute a permit system to control group size and campsite availability.
Those areas that have not been discovered and cataloged present problems of access and egress within the bounds of knowing what is public, what is private, and equally important, what the hazards for a particular route or area may be.
Who will Go for Ocean Kayaking?
Of course, there will be a certain number of you who, after mastering the paddling, navigation, and camping skills, will eschew the organized areas or the areas featured in guidebooks and magazine articles and undertake your own expedition planning.
The research required to plan such a trip will become as much a part of the challenge as the actual execution. Such a trip is probably the dream come true, more likely the unfulfilled fantasy, of most of us who venture forth in our kayaks.
Best Places to Kayak in the US
Here’s just a sampling of areas around the map. including Hawaii, Canada, Alaska, and Mexico. These are not recommendations so much as an indicator of the huge menu of possible kayak camping destinations. You’ll want to do more specific research: Charts, guidebooks, magazine articles, and state and provincial tourist bureaus can help pin down your own trip. (The entries in this section are courtesy of Kayak Touring magazine, 1994 edition.)
Eastern Penobscot Bay, Maine
Offering fairly protected waters, Penobscot Bay is an ideal touring spot for kayakers. The eastern end, with its numerous accessible islands and pink granite beaches, is picturesque. Historically, the granite has been used to build cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. A few of the quarries are still actively mined today. A number of small islands (mostly private but accessible by joining the Maine Island Trail Association) can be reached from the Muscle Ridge Channel. And Stonington, a real working village, makes a convenient put-in.
Best Places to Kayak in Florida
If you are thinking about where to go kayaking in Florida, then there are some spot we can talk about.
Casey Key, Florida
Part of the appeal of Casey Key, located in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Sarasota and Fort Myers, is a pair of resident dolphins. Most days before noon, the dolphins will circle boats, seeking handouts, about a quarter mile offshore, so the early kayaker has the best chance of witnessing their antics.
Every once in a while, migratory schools of dolphins will pass through, leaving behind the loyal two. Paddlers will also see osprey, eagles, and herons flitting among the mangrove shores and oyster bars.
Wilderness Waterway, Florida
This is a wilderness waterway, a one-hundred-mile-long route through the Ten Thousand Islands for self-propelled craft and small boats marked out by the National Park Service between Everglades City and Flamingo. You’ll paddle through a maze of channels, camp on sites two thousand years old, and see wildlife a paddle-length away.
The route, part of Everglades National Park, leads through mangrove jungles described by an early visitor as “so thick a rabbit could scarcely pass through.” Alligators shun the brackish waters, but expect hordes of wading birds, pelicans, and eagles. December through April is the best time to visit, and low bug season.
Best Places to Kayak in Wisconsin
To me Apostle Island is a great place for kayaking- top spot for kayaking in the united states. Check out the spot is short.
Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Trek to the northernmost point in Wisconsin, and launch into the twenty-two islands grouped off Bayfield Peninsula. Part of the mainland shore and twenty-one of the islands are within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Oak Island is the highest, with a
great view from the eastern sandstone heights, while Devil’s Island is pocked with sea caves. Take note: This is Lake Superior and weather conditions can be intimidating.
Kayaking Places in Minnesota
Here is the perfect place for kayakers in Minnesota.
Rainy Lake, Voyageurs National Park: Best Lakes to Kayak in Minnesota
The numbers are incredible: 2,500 miles of shoreline and 1,600 islands crammed into a lake 60 miles long and 12 miles wide at its widest. It is Rainy Lake, the heart of Voyageurs National Park on the Minnesota Ontario border just west of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Dozens of narrow coves and hidden bays are carved into the shoreline, and polished rock slabs smoothed by ancient glaciers lure sunbathers and offer prime picnic spots.
Rainy is aligned along the path of the prevailing north winds, so beware of waves building up along the length of the lake and crashing on unprotected shores.
About me: Hi, I’m Alex N. Ferroni, One of the creators of The Safariors blog and former camping trainer at Tripspot Magazine. I wish some other outdoor, hiking, hunting, fishing and camping enthusiasts have made this blog to share our thought. We are learning a lot through each trip, and we want you to learn that too!
Eric Jones says
The best one is Wilderness Waterway in Florida, it is exceptionally amazing and so pretty. That is one place everyone should visit.