Lake kayaking, the ultimate guide

Kayaking in Glacier Lake surrounded by the Canadian Rocky Mountains


Lake kayaking offers an exhilarating escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, allowing you to connect with nature, improve your paddling skills, and experience the serenity of calm waters. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned kayaker, there’s always something new to discover on a lake. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about lake kayaking, from safety tips and choosing the right kayak to popular destinations and essential gear.

Types of Lakes for Kayaking

When it comes to lake kayaking, there are three main types of lakes you can explore:

  • Natural Lakes: Formed by geological processes, these lakes provide picturesque settings and diverse ecosystems for kayaking adventures.
  • Reservoirs: Man-made lakes created by damming rivers or streams, reservoirs offer controlled environments for kayaking, often with facilities such as marinas and campgrounds nearby.
  • Glacial Lakes: Carved by glaciers, these stunning lakes are usually found at higher elevations and provide breathtaking views and unique paddling experiences.

Lake Kayaking Safety

Safety should always be a top priority when kayaking on any body of water. Here are some essential safety tips for lake kayaking:

  • Weather Conditions: Check the weather forecast before you head out, and be prepared to postpone or cancel your trip if necessary. Keep an eye on the sky for signs of changing weather.
  • Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs): Always wear a PFD while kayaking, even if you’re an experienced swimmer. Make sure it fits snugly and is appropriate for your body weight.
  • Communication Devices: Carry a waterproof VHF radio, a whistle, or a signaling device in case of emergencies.

Choosing the Right Kayak

Selecting the best kayak for lake paddling depends on your skill level, personal preferences, and the type of lake you’ll be exploring. Here are three popular types of kayaks:

  • Sit-on-Top Kayaks: Ideal for beginners, these kayaks are stable, easy to maneuver, and self-draining. They’re best suited for warm weather and calm waters.
  • Sit-in Kayaks: Offering better protection from the elements, sit-in kayaks are suitable for more experienced paddlers and cooler conditions. They provide better control and are faster than sit-on-top kayaks.
  • Inflatable Kayaks: Lightweight and portable, inflatable kayaks are perfect for those with limited storage space or who want an easily transportable option. They’re surprisingly durable and can handle various lake conditions.

Essential Kayaking Gear

Apart from your kayak and PFD, here are some essential pieces of gear to bring on your lake kayaking adventure:

  • Paddle: Choose a paddle suited to your height and paddling style, and consider investing in a lightweight, ergonomic design for increased comfort and efficiency.
  • Dry Bags: Keep your belongings safe and dry by storing them in waterproof dry bags. Choose bags of different sizes to accommodate your gear and maximize storage space.
  • Bilge Pump: A bilge pump is essential for removing water from your kayak, especially if you’re using a sit-in kayak. It helps maintain your kayak’s stability and keeps you dry during your journey.

Navigating on Lakes

Understanding how to navigate on lakes is crucial for a safe and enjoyable kayaking experience. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Reading the Wind: Pay attention to wind direction and speed, as they can significantly impact your paddling effort and route planning. Paddle into the wind at the start of your trip, so you have an easier return journey with the wind at your back.
  • Understanding Water Currents: Although lakes generally have less current than rivers, some areas may still experience water movement due to inflows, outflows, and wind. Be cautious in these areas and adjust your paddling accordingly.

Lake Kayaking Techniques

Mastering essential kayaking techniques will make your lake paddling experience more enjoyable and efficient. Here are some key skills to practice:

  • Paddling Strokes: Learn and perfect the forward, reverse, and sweep strokes to move efficiently and effectively on the water.
  • Turning and Maneuvering: Practice edging, leaning, and rudder strokes to control your kayak’s direction and respond to changing conditions.

Popular Lake Kayaking Destinations

There’s no shortage of stunning lake kayaking destinations around the world. Here are just a few to inspire your next adventure:

  • Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada, USA
  • Lake Bled, Slovenia
  • Lake Malawi, Malawi
  • Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada
  • Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

Wildlife Encounters and Respect

While kayaking on lakes, you may come across various wildlife species, both onshore and in the water. Keep these guidelines in mind to ensure a positive experience for you and the animals:

  • Maintain a Respectful Distance: Give wildlife plenty of space and avoid approaching them too closely. This ensures their safety and reduces the risk of stress or harm.
  • Stay Quiet: Keep noise levels low, as loud noises can disturb animals and disrupt their natural behaviors.
  • Leave No Trace: Always follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment and protect the habitats of local wildlife.

Photography Tips for Lake Kayaking

Capturing the beauty of your lake kayaking adventure can provide lasting memories and inspire others to explore nature. Here are some photography tips for your next trip:

  • Protect Your Camera: Use a waterproof case or dry bag to keep your camera safe from water damage.
  • Use a Stabilizing Device: Consider using a tripod, monopod, or other stabilizing devices to capture sharp, steady shots from your kayak.
  • Experiment with Perspectives: Play with different angles, such as low-angle shots close to the water or high-angle shots from a hill or cliff, to create unique and engaging images.

Solo vs. Group Kayaking

Whether to paddle solo or with a group is a personal choice, and both options have their pros and cons:

  • Solo Kayaking: Paddling alone allows you to set your own pace, explore at your leisure, and enjoy the solitude of nature. However, it’s essential to have a higher level of self-sufficiency, experience, and safety precautions when kayaking solo.
  • Group Kayaking: Group trips offer camaraderie, shared experiences, and increased safety through numbers. Paddling with others can also be a valuable learning opportunity, as more experienced kayakers can share their knowledge and tips.

Lake Kayaking with Kids

Introducing children to lake kayaking can foster a lifelong love of nature and outdoor activities. Keep these considerations in mind when planning a kayaking adventure with kids:

  • Choose Calm Waters: Opt for calm, shallow lakes with minimal boat traffic for a safer and more enjoyable experience.
  • Select an Appropriate Kayak: Tandem kayaks or kayaks with child-sized seats are great options for paddling with kids.
  • Teach Water Safety: Ensure children understand the importance of wearing a PFD, staying seated in the kayak, and following safety guidelines.

Kayak Camping on Lakes

For those looking to extend their lake kayaking adventure, kayak camping offers a unique and immersive experience. Plan ahead by researching suitable campsites, obtaining necessary permits, and packing appropriate gear for an overnight stay. Don’t forget to follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve the beauty and integrity of the environment.


Lake kayaking is a fantastic way to experience the great outdoors, offering a unique perspective on the beauty of our planet’s diverse ecosystems. By prioritizing safety, choosing the right kayak, and learning essential techniques, you’ll be well-prepared for a memorable adventure on the water. Don’t forget to explore some of the world’s most picturesque lakes for a truly unforgettable experience.


Is lake kayaking suitable for beginners?

Yes, lake kayaking is an excellent option for beginners, as the calm waters offer a more forgiving environment to learn and practice paddling skills.

Do I need a special permit or license to kayak on lakes?

It depends on the location. Some lakes require permits, while others do not. Always check the local regulations before heading out.

Can I kayak with my dog?

Yes, many people enjoy kayaking with their dogs. Ensure your dog is comfortable around water and has a well-fitting canine PFD for safety.

How do I transport my kayak to the lake?

There are several options for transporting your kayak, including car roof racks, trailers, and inflatable or modular kayaks that can fit in your vehicle.

What should I wear while kayaking on a lake?

Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Wear moisture-wicking, quick-drying layers, and avoid cotton. In colder conditions, consider wearing a wetsuit or dry suit for added protection.