Kayaking in National Parks

View of Glacier National Park with colorful kayaks on the shore, Montana, USA


Kayaking is an increasingly popular outdoor activity that allows enthusiasts to explore nature while also enjoying the benefits of physical exercise. National parks offer some of the most breathtaking kayaking experiences, with diverse landscapes and unique ecosystems. In this article, we’ll explore the appeal of kayaking in national parks, highlight a few top parks for paddling, and offer some safety tips and etiquette to keep in mind on your next adventure.

The Appeal of Kayaking in National Parks

Nature and Wildlife

National parks are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Kayaking provides an intimate way to experience these natural wonders up close. Paddling quietly through the water, you’re more likely to spot wildlife, such as birds, fish, and even larger mammals like otters or bears.

Scenic Beauty

From stunning mountain vistas to serene coastal waters, national parks boast some of the most breathtaking landscapes. Kayaking allows you to immerse yourself in these picturesque surroundings and see sights that may be inaccessible by land.

Health Benefits

Kayaking is a low-impact workout that strengthens your upper body, core, and even leg muscles. The combination of paddling and enjoying the great outdoors can also help reduce stress and improve mental well-being.

Top National Parks for Kayaking

Everglades National Park

Unique Ecosystem

Everglades National Park in Florida is home to a vast wetland ecosystem, teeming with a variety of plants, birds, and animals. It’s a must-visit destination for kayakers interested in exploring mangroves, sawgrass marshes, and the unique “River of Grass.”

Kayaking Trails

The park offers numerous paddling trails, ranging from short day trips to multi-day excursions. The 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, for example, takes you through the heart of the Everglades and offers a true backcountry experience.

Glacier Bay National Park

Stunning Scenery

Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska is a paradise for kayakers seeking dramatic landscapes. With towering glaciers, rugged mountains, and pristine fjords, the park offers a truly awe-inspiring paddling experience.

Wildlife Encounters

Glacier Bay is home to an abundance of marine life, including seals, sea lions, and whales. Paddling through these icy waters, you may have the chance to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

Channel Islands National Park

Secluded Beaches

Located off the coast of Southern California, Channel Islands National Park is made up of five stunning islands. The park’s remote location makes it an ideal destination for kayakers seeking solitude and unspoiled beauty.

Sea Caves

The islands are known for their remarkable sea caves, which can be explored by kayak. Paddling through these caves offers a thrilling and unique experience you won’t soon forget.

Acadia National Park

Diverse Paddling Experiences

Acadia National Park, located in Maine, offers a variety of paddling experiences from sheltered ponds to the rocky coastline. Kayakers can explore the park’s unique mix of freshwater and saltwater environments, as well as enjoy the stunning views of the rugged coastline and lush forests.

Popular Kayaking Spots

Some popular kayaking spots in Acadia include Long Pond, Seal Cove Pond, and Jordan Pond. Sea kayaking along the coastline provides the opportunity to explore the park’s numerous islands and observe marine wildlife, such as seals and seabirds.

Grand Teton National Park

Scenic Mountain Lakes

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is famous for its jagged mountain peaks and alpine lakes. Kayaking on these pristine lakes offers breathtaking views of the Teton Range and the chance to spot wildlife, such as moose, elk, and bears.

Popular Kayaking Destinations

Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake are two popular kayaking destinations within the park. Jackson Lake offers plenty of open water for exploring, while Jenny Lake provides a more intimate paddling experience surrounded by stunning mountain scenery.

Safety Tips for Kayaking in National Parks

Check Weather Conditions

Always check the weather forecast before embarking on a kayaking trip. Be prepared for changes in conditions and have a plan in case of unexpected weather events.

Follow Park Regulations

Each national park has its own rules and regulations for kayaking. Familiarize yourself with these guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Bring Appropriate Gear

Pack essential safety gear, such as a personal flotation device, whistle, and paddle float. Dress appropriately for the weather and water conditions, and consider bringing extra layers and a dry bag for your belongings.

Kayaking Etiquette in National Parks

Leave No Trace

Practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment. Dispose of waste properly, avoid disturbing wildlife, and respect the natural surroundings.

Respect Wildlife

Observe wildlife from a safe distance and avoid making loud noises or sudden movements that could disturb them.

Share the Space

Be courteous to other park visitors, whether they’re fellow kayakers, hikers, or campers. Yield to other watercraft and maintain a safe distance when passing.

Tips for Planning Your Kayaking Trip in National Parks

Research the Park and Paddling Routes

Before planning your trip, research the national park and its paddling routes to ensure they match your skill level and preferences. Look for information on difficulty, distance, and any special requirements or restrictions.

Make Reservations Early

Some national parks have limited availability for camping or lodging, especially during peak seasons. Book your accommodations and any necessary permits well in advance to secure your spot.

Prepare for Changing Conditions

Weather and water conditions can change rapidly in national parks. Be prepared for the unexpected by packing extra layers, rain gear, and a dry bag for your belongings.


Kayaking in national parks offers countless opportunities to connect with nature, enjoy stunning scenery, and improve your physical and mental well-being. By exploring the top destinations, following safety guidelines, and practicing proper etiquette, you can make the most of your kayaking adventures. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your paddle and embark on an unforgettable journey in the great outdoors.


Do I need a permit to kayak in national parks? Some national parks require permits for kayaking, especially for overnight trips or in certain areas. Check with the park you plan to visit for specific permit requirements.

Can I rent a kayak at the national parks? Many national parks have kayak rental facilities or concessionaires that offer guided tours. Research the park you plan to visit for available rental and tour options.

What should I pack for a kayaking trip in a national park? Bring appropriate safety gear, clothing, water, snacks, sun protection, a first aid kit, and any necessary permits or maps. Also, consider a dry bag to protect your belongings from water.

Is kayaking in national parks suitable for beginners? Some national parks offer beginner-friendly kayaking opportunities, while others may be more suitable for experienced paddlers. Research the park and paddling routes to find one that matches your skill level.

What is the best time of year to kayak in national parks? The ideal time for kayaking in national parks varies depending on the location and local climate. Generally, late spring through early fall offers the most favorable weather conditions for paddling. Be sure to check the specific park you plan to visit for the best time to kayak in that area.