Kayakers paddling near glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.
Getty/Jonathan Mauer

6 Best National Parks for Kayakers


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Add a challenging paddle into your hiking itinerary or plan a full week of floats at one of these National Parks with plenty of open water for exploring. If you love to explore with paddle in hand, these are the top six National Parks you should visit.

Everglades National Park - Florida

Whether you're looking for small freshwater marshes or the big open sea and whether you want a short, easy paddle or a challenging multi-day adventure, Everglades National Park has you covered. Several launches are available, and you can even rent a kayak if you don't want to bring your own.

Check out these spots for some of the best kayaking in Everglades National Park:

  • Nine Mile Pond: This peaceful kayak trail is just over five miles and offers great views of birds and wildlife.
  • Sandfly Loop: The five-mile loop offers the opportunity to dock on Sandfly Island for a hike and picnic.
  • Turner River: In and out will take you a full day, and you'll see a little bit of everything along the way.
  • Hell's Bay Canoe Trail: This challenging trail is great for experienced kayakers, and you can even camp along the way.

Between December and April is the best time to kayak in Everglades National Park, so it's a great wintertime activity when it's kayak season nowhere else!

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Kenai Fjords National Park - Alaska

Two Kayakers in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, looking at two bald eagles perched in tree on the shore of a bay.

Getty/Jonathan Mauer

If you're an experienced kayaker and up for a challenge, head north to Kenai Fjords National Park for your next adventure. Explore more than 750 miles of shoreline, caves, and coves. You'll witness scenery unlike anything in the Lower 48, with tidewater glaciers, monumental mountains, and diverse marine life.

These are a couple kayaker favorites:

  • Bear Glacier Lagoon: One of the most popular kayaking areas in Kenai Fjords National Park, Bear Glacier features giant icebergs you can examine from a safe distance.
  • Resurrection Bay: Take a day -- or several -- to explore recreation areas along the way sites such as Caines Head and Thumb Cove.

The National Park Service advises kayakers to take caution, as conditions can be rough and unpredictable, so be sure you're prepared for the difficult paddle. The best time to kayak Kenai Fjords National Park is in the summer.

Big Bend National Park - Texas

national parks for kayakers

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Enjoy plenty of opportunities to kayak, canoe, or raft the Rio Grande River and its many tributaries in Big Bend National Park. You'll pass through giant canyons and paddle by barren deserts while witnessing lots of wildlife.

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Probably the most popular route in Big Bend National Park is the 33-mile trip through Boquillas Canyon. It's a relatively easy paddle you can split between several days and camp along the river by the Mexico border.

It's a one-way trip, so you'll have to bring two cars between your group. Or you can use a shuttle service and rent all the gear you'll need. Note that this area requires a permit before you hit the water.

Plan to travel to Big Bend National Park between September and February for the best kayaking.

Acadia National Park - Maine

Kayaking in Acadia's Long Lake

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Situated along the Atlantic Coast, Acadia National Park provides opportunities for paddling both sea and freshwater as well as guided tours of the most scenic spots.

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Put these paddling spots at the top of your list:

  • Eagle Lake: At 436 acres, this is the largest lake in Acadia National Park and offers views of Cadillac Mountain -- and maybe even an eagle overhead!
  • Cranberry Islands: Bear, Sutton, Great Cranberry, Little Cranberry, and Baker Islands make up the collection of Cranberry Islands, where you can enjoy a relatively challenging all-day paddle.
  • Jordan Pond: Purchase a license and fish this 187-acre lake for salmon and trout while you float.
  • Frenchman's Bay: Hit the water for a stunning sunset view while you paddle around Frenchman's Bay, circle Sheep Porcupine Island, and take the tide back to Bar Harbor.

For a great paddle in perfect kayak weather, head to Acadia National Park between June and September.

Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota

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Boasting plenty of camping opportunities and over 200,000 acres of paddling waters, Voyageurs National Park is prime for overnight kayaking adventures. Keep an eye out for moose, bears, wolves, and otters along the way!

These are some of the best options for kayaking in Voyageurs National Park:

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  • Chain of Lakes: If you want to rent a canoe, you can take a backcountry hike through the park then paddle Quill, War Club, Locater, and Loten Lakes surrounded by wildlife.
  • Lost Bay: Access several campsites and fun hiking trails as you kayak through Lost Bay, a park of Kabetogama Lake.
  • Cranberry Bay and Lost Bay: You'll encounter several islands and campsites as you paddle through these bays on Rainy Lake.

For the best conditions, kayak in Voyageurs National Park in the summer months.

North Cascades National Park - Washington

View of sunset on Jack Mountain from Ross Lake in Hozomeen in the Northern border of North Cascades National Park.

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With Pacific Northwest wildlife and scenery, North Cascades National Park holds more than 300 glaciers, breathtaking waterfalls, and regional wildlife -- plus great kayaking waters.

Here's where to kayak in North Cascades National Park:

  • Diablo Lake: Start at Colonial Creek Campground and enjoy a day trip on the beautiful Diablo Lake.
  • Ross Lake: You can spend several days paddling and camping along the 23-mile lake, plus enjoy some great hikes when you stop.
  • Lake Chelan: This remote lake is 55 miles long, with more than a dozen boat-in campsites, beautiful wilderness areas, great hiking trails, and loads of wildlife.

Go to North Cascades National Park in the height of summer for the best kayaking conditions.

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READ MORE: MONTANA'S TWO NATIONAL PARKS ARE FISHING AND CAMPING HAVENS

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