Best Kayaking Trips in the USA

Kayaking is an excellent way to slow down, appreciate the details of nature around you, and get some exercise. The United States and its territories are diverse, with slotted canyons, mangrove forests, emerald islands, and plenty of coastlines. The United States has many opportunities to paddle and explore and I want to share some of my favorites with my readers. Here is a list of traveler’s favorite US kayaking experiences.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

by Val of Voyages with Val

Kayak highlight: See Antelope Canyon with fewer crowds.

Length of paddle: 6 miles

kayaking in Antelope Valley, Arizona

Without a doubt, one of the best kayaking tours to take in the US is through Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. If you are ever taking a day trip to Page, this is not an activity you will want to skip!

The main part of Antelope Canyon is well-known and photographed, and accessible by land, with many tourists walking through it every day. You have likely seen photos of the curvy, red rock with light shining through.

However, a lesser-known portion is only accessible by several miles of kayaking, followed by a hike through this magnificent slot canyon. Seeing the canyon this way will allow you to escape the crowds, as well as have an amazing kayaking adventure through the towering, red cliffs of the canyon.

Several tour companies can guide you through this route, such as Lake Powell Adventure Company and Kayak Lake Powell. Most will budget several hours dedicated to this trip. This tour requires several miles of kayaking but is accessible for most beginner kayakers. Be sure to research the optimal time of day to go based on the season you will be visiting, as Page can get very hot in the summer, and a portion of the kayaking is quite exposed on Lake Powell.

Tavernier, Florida Keys, Florida

where to kayak with manatees

Paddle Highlights: Manatees, mangrove estuary, swim in a mangrove pool

Length of Paddle: 3 miles

Tour Duration: 2 hours

Read on about my experience kayaking in the Florida Keys.

Book your paddle with Paddle! the Florida Keys.

Virginia Keys, Miami, Florida

by Martin Soto of Travel Explorator

kayaking with manatees

Paddle highlights: sealife with a background of the city

A kayak tour in the Virginia Keys in Miami, Florida, is one of the top ones you can do in the U.S. You can easily rent out a kayak in the
Virginia Key Outdoor Center and start the tour right from there. Right away, you can enter Lamar Lake and check out some of the nearby mangrove lagoons. The area is quite famous for its abundance of manatees. Once you get out of the small lake, you can head to the ocean to try and find other marine life. If you’re lucky, you might run across some loggerhead sea turtles. Apart from seeing some beautiful wildlife, it also provides an amazing view of the Miami skyline. The Virginia Key Outdoor Center offers plenty of guided kayaking tours and paddleboarding tours if you’re looking to get an expert tour.

The water is relatively calm around the island, and it’s a good place for beginner kayakers. Just make sure you know where you’re going since it’s not too difficult to get lost with a wrong turn and venture into protected areas. Overall, you can make the kayak tour as long or as short as you want with miles around the island you can cover. Virginia Keys is only a 25-30 minute drive from downtown Miami.

Book your rental with the Virginia Key Outdoor Center.

Sanibel Island, Florida

by Lori of Travelin Mad

Kayak highlight: Explore mangroves even after your tour is finished.

Kayaking in Sanibel Island

If you’re heading to the lower Gulf coast of southwest Florida, there is plenty to see and do from a car, but with so much shallow water around, it’s best to go kayaking around Fort Myers and Sanibel Island and explore what this region is known for — outdoor adventure.

The small barrier islands around Fort Myers, Sanibel, and Captiva islands are perfect for kayaking through mangrove tunnels and along deserted beaches. And there’s no better kayak tour than with Tarpon Bay Explorers, the only licensed tour concession in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.
The Kayak Trail Tour at J.N. “Ding” Darling is a great introduction to paddling Tarpon Bay and experiencing the coastal environment. Surrounded by wading birds, manatees, the occasional alligator, and other native species, you’ll paddle with an experienced naturalist through the mangrove forest along Tarpon Bay’s Commodore Creek, which offers an up-close look at the red mangrove habitat.
The kayak tours last over an hour, after which paddlers are allowed the keep the kayak to explore the Refuge for the remainder of the day, free of charge.

Sanibel Island may be known for its beaches and amazing shelling, but the wildlife and natural landscape at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a primordial and magical place to paddle and will be the highlight of your trip to southwest Florida.

Naples, Florida

by Ruma of TheHolidayStory

Kayak highlight: birds, mangroves, and sunset views.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Naples is a part of the Ten Thousand Islands in Naples, USA. This bay area is famous for its kayak tours. Both beginner and professional level kayakers are allowed to experience kayaking here. The unique estuarine ecosystem has always piqued tourist interest. As a result of which a lot of tourists flock to this area for relaxation. A lot of tour companies are established in the area offering kayaks to explore the area.

Passing through the mouth of Henderson Creek, you can proceed to the channel of Rookery Bay. One can observe Dolphins and Manatees moving around in this channel. Exotic birds like the bald eagle, herons, egrets, cormorant, anhinga, ibis, pelicans, and ospreys have made themselves home in the surrounding vegetation.

Most of the tour is winding narrow paths of water within the mangrove forests. The noiseless forests with just occasional bird sounds provide a sense of calm over the kayakers. The water is mostly still. After navigating through the endless narrow water corridors within the mangroves, you can spend some time in the opening. Amazing sunset views are observed from here.

Important facts:

  • It usually takes 2.5 – 3 hours to complete the tour
  • Prior registration is required
  • The ticket price starts from $65 for adults and $55 for children
  • Children below the age of three are not allowed
  • Most of the tours provide a guide and the kayaks who impart their knowledge about mangroves and the area in general.

 So on a lazy Sunday afternoon, this can be a relaxing yet learning experience for all.

Everglades, Florida

by Victoria of Guide Your Travel
Kayak highlight: alligators
kayaking in the everglades Florida
The Everglades is a beautiful place to explore by kayak. While most tourists choose to go on an airboat tour, a kayak is actually a much more environmentally friendly option. Airboats are very loud and disturb wildlife, while kayaks are quiet and let you observe the incredible nature reserve from a unique perspective. There are several operators to choose from, but Jenny’s Eco Everglades Wilderness Tours is one of the best choices. The company is a small family-run business, and their tours are very personal and small. You can decide the size of your group, and in most cases, it will just be you, and whoever you book with, so you won’t have to go with strangers. A guide will accompany you into the swamp and show you all the native wildlife and plants. The Everglades are like a maze, so it’s easy to get lost. Because of that, it’s not advisable to go by yourself; taking an experienced guide is highly recommended. You’ll get to see a lot of rare birds, plants, and maybe even alligators if you get lucky—no need to be scared, though. The alligators are peaceful and small in most cases, with no interest in the kayakers.

Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii

by Noel Morata of This Hawaii Life

Kayaking on Oahu

Being outdoors in Hawaii is where all the fun and adventure is, and kayaking in the ocean is one of the popular things to do in Kailua, Oahu, located on the east side of the island. The gorgeous beach at Kailua and Lanikai is a perfect place to be on the water and try some easy kayaking on the shallow and mostly calm waters on the windward side of the island. You can easily do your own self-tour or work with an outfitter like Kailua Beach Adventures, which will teach you all the basics to get started and then do a fun tour of the area. One of the most popular areas to hike is the Mokulua islands, called locally the Mokes and located just a short kayak paddle from the beach in relatively calm waters. You can also kayak to a closer island called Flat Island,, located just offshore from the beach areas. Another popular place to kayak is to the nearby beach of Lanikai, which is also spectacular with its aqua-colored water and so soft sandy beach that is always a top beach destination on the island.
The outfitters at Kailua allow you to rent by the hour, half-day, and whole day depending on how much time you want to be exploring and doing some fun water adventures. You’ll enjoy being on the water and enjoying the water scenes through the magnificent coastlines around the east side of the island. Once you are done with your beach day, don’t forget to enjoy the town and wandering around, grab a bite of some local food or just find a nice bar or coffee shop to hang out in. Kailua is the perfect beach town to enjoy the outdoors, adventure fun, and explore the island’s eastern side.

Chicago, Illinois

by Clare from I Live 4 Travel
Kayak Highlights: See the city of Chicago from a new perspective.
When I visited Chicago, I decided to get to know the city a different way. Instead of doing a walking tour of the city, I decided to do a
historic tour of Chicago by kayak. The tour with Urban Kayaks lasts around 90 minutes once you are in the water and you kayak through the heart of Chicago along the river that runs through its center.  We stopped at many points and gathered to learn about the history of the buildings around us and learn the history of Chicago from when it was first founded in 1833.It is a great way to get to see the city from a different perspective and to get some exercise. You can see the buildings up close and learn
about how the city was built around the river.You start close to McClurg court, where you get to see the fountain sending an arc of water over the river before heading downtown to see
pioneer court where the founder of Chicago had his home and the site of a former fort on the south bank.

During this kayak tour, you can see all the main buildings in Chicago, 333 Wacker Drive, Wrigley Building, and Marina City. I would definitely recommend this tour as a great alternative way to see the city.

Acadia National Park, Maine

by James Ian from Parks Collecting

Paddle Highlights: wildlife along Maine’s wooded coast

Paddle Length: 5-6 miles

kayaking in maine

Acadia National Park in Maine is a great place to go kayaking.  The park is surrounded by water, and there are miles of beautiful shorelines to explore. With crystal clear seas, wooded hills that go right down to rocky beaches, and islands dotted around. You can spend hours paddling around and never get bored. There are also great chances of seeing birds and marine life. Keep an eye out for porpoises and seals, and look up, and you may see ospreys, bald eagles, or blue herons.

Typical kayak tours in Acadia are half-day / four-hour trips that give about 2.5 –3 hours on the water. The exact location varies with weather conditions, but they always try to arrange trips so that you don’t need to paddle against the wind and current.  This way, you can enjoy yourself without too much exertion. In total, you will paddle about 5 or 6 miles, but they also give you a quick lesson on how to paddle without straining yourself.

You will also have a chance to take a break and get out to explore a remote beach accessible only by water. On a sunny day, with wildlife all around, the sun sparkling on the water, the beautiful Acadia scenery in view wherever you look, and the experience of paddling around, this is a kayaking experience you will remember forever.

Chowan River, North Carolina

by Krystee of Vacation Geeks

Kayak highlight: calm waters.

Best US Kayak spots

The Chowan River in North Carolina is a quiet and calm blackwater river formed from the merging of Virginia’s Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers. It has several other small rivers that are tributaries. The river is a highlight for people who love to fish due to the largemouth bass and catfish in abundance.

The cities on the Chowan are located in primarily rural parts of North Carolina. They are one of the few parts of the Southeastern Virginia/Northeastern North Carolina areas that you can find affordable waterfront housing. There are several canal-style neighborhoods where you can pull your boat right up to your deck, making launching your kayak easy. Public boat launches are also all up and down the river that can be used to enter the water.

What we love about this river is the calmness that is ideal for kayaking and its beautiful natural setting. At times, the water can be as smooth as glass, making for some beautiful sunsets, stability in small watercraft, and ideal for nature watching. You can paddle for many, many miles before it gets rougher as it enters the Albemarle Sound. For nature lovers and bird watchers, this river is fantastic to nature watch. When you are kayaking, you aren’t just looking at riverfront house after house, but nature at its best. Also, this is not a crowded river, so you do not have to dodge boat wakes, and you can feel like you are the only one out there.

Bio Bay, Puerto Rico

Paddle Highlights: Bioluminescent Organisms

Length of Paddle: 2 miles

Tour Duration: 2 hours

Read more about one of my favorite kayaking tours, paddling in Bio Bay, Fajardo.

Book your paddle trip in Bio Bay.

San Juan Islands, Washington

by Utkarsh of Journeys From Heart

The San Juan Islands are among the most popular destinations in Washington state for kayaking, especially in the summers. The islands lie among the Puget Sound and straddle the Washington-Canada border. Hundreds of lined-up islands with rocky reefs create an adventurous shoreline perfectly suited for Kayaking.

Sea Quest Expedition is one of the most experienced agencies to hire and give you a memorable kayak tour for life. They have highly trained guides who convert the whole experience into a learning one, keeping the activity’s safety the topmost priority. One of the most dramatic parts of the kayak tour was orca whales(also known as killer whales). The whale family is as huge as 50, and the kayak route provides a splendid view of these whales playfully in full spirits. Other remarkable landmarks that one may witness in the way would be National Monument, National Wildlife Refuge, National Historical Park, & State & County Parks. The picturesque sea cliff and lighthouses make the experience quite unique. You can also opt for camping along with it on a nearby island to absorb the lovely vibe of the place a little more.

Book a kayaking tour in the San Juan Islands now.

Cave Point County Park, Door County, Wisconsin

Paddle highlights: kayaking into a cave on Lake Michigan

Length of paddle: 4 miles round trip

Read more about my time kayaking in Door County

Book a Cave Point County Park kayak tour.

St Thomas, US Virgin Island

by Anna of Stuck On The Go

Kayak highlights: marine creatures

You’ll find one of the best kayaking tours in the US in St. Thomas, led by Virgin Island Ecotours. The guides here know so much about the history of the island and the plants and animals that inhabit it.

Their longest tour is the Best of Mangrove Kayak, Hike, Snorkel, & Lunch Tour, where you kayak through mangrove lagoons to the island of Cas Cay. You may even see some stingrays on the paddle over.

You’ll also make a stop at a geological blowhole before your final destination of Cas Cay. Once you make it to Cas Cay, you’ll have lunch which on our trip consisted of a great sub sandwich. On a short hike, you’ll learn more about the island and even a poisonous tree there.

Finally, you’ll snorkel in the mangrove lagoon and see all kinds of marine life! Tons of colorful fish, lobster, sea urchins, and so much more. The paddle back is very tiring as you’ll have had a long day, but it’s so worth it.

Between everything you learn and the gorgeous coastline of the island that you get to explore all day, this is a fantastic day trip. Don’t make dinner plans though; you’ll be sure to collapse into bed after this is over. It should definitely be part of your St. Thomas itinerary.

Which of these tours would you like to try first? Where have you taken the best kayaking tour in the US?

 

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6 thoughts on “Best Kayaking Trips in the USA”

  1. I would really enjoy a kayak in Antelope canyon with a follow on hike through the narrow passage area. The kayak in Florida with the possibility of seeing manatees sounds awesome.

    Reply
  2. We do love to kayak in great spots around the world. This list gives us some new ones to try in the US. We were sorry we missed Antelope Canyon in Page although we did get out on the water in Navajo Canyon in a speedboat. My concern in Florida has always been running into an aligator. But a kayak trip in Hawaii may be higher on our list.

    Reply
  3. I love to kayak as well! As a novice, I do like calm waters, so I see some of your suggestions would be perfect for that.
    I think my favourite would be Chicago actually, to gaze upon the architecture and definitely would steer clear of Florida with the gators!

    Reply
  4. I’ve seen some photos of Antelope Canyon, but had no idea where it was. Now it all makes sense! And wow, I did not know that you could kayak the Chicago river. What a different way to explore and view the city. That would be cool

    Reply
  5. OOhhh I LOVE kayaking!! It’s such a fun way to get a different perspective on places. I bet kayaking in Antelope canyon would be AMAZING!! But I bet seeing Chicago from the water would be pretty cool too.

    Reply

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