November 16, 2022 10 min read

Kayaking the United States

kids riding an orange kayak in the lake

The United States is a paddler’s paradise, and with waterways all over the country, you’ll be sure to find perfect paddling conditions for all types of paddling. If you’re after waters that are ideal for recreational paddling, however, then you’ll want to head to one of the country's 250 lakes. 

Lakes, with their calm, tranquil, and still waters, are best explored by kayak or stand-up paddle board, and even if you’re new to the sport, you’ll have little to no trouble finding your balance and perfecting your kayaking paddling technique on these serene waters. 

Of course, narrowing down which lake to paddle in out of 250 can be difficult, so to help you along, we’ve put together a list of 13 of the best lakes for kayaking in the US, so you can simply grab your kayak, head down to the water, and get paddling. 

Bear Lake

Caribbean waters Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a natural freshwater lake that is situated on the border of Utah and Idaho. The lake, which is roughly 109 square miles in size, is split equally between the two states, and thanks to the calcium carbonates that turn the water a beautiful shade of turquoise-blue, Bear Lake has been dubbed the “Caribbean of the Rockies.”

It’s been estimated that Bear Lake was formed over 250,000 years ago, and if you’re into wildlife, nature, and vegetation, then you can explore the unique fauna species that have evolved over time because of the properties in the water.

Once you’ve finished paddling for the day, you can embark on one of the surrounding hiking trails, which give you incredible views of the lake and the wildlife in the area. And if hiking isn’t your thing, then you can also participate in golf, ATV rides, or simply just relax on the most pristine sand in Utah.

Boundary Waters Wilderness Area

Boundary water wilderness area

Granted, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area (BWWA) isn’t technically a single lake but instead a collection of over 1,100 lakes. In our defense, with over 1 million acres of wilderness and water to explore, we couldn’t exclude it from this list. 

The Boundary Waters Wilderness Area is found in the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota and has gained great popularity amongst paddlers, hikers, and fishermen. In total, there are over 1,500 miles of paddling routes in the BWWA that take you pasts forests, islands, and a range of wildlife species.

Something we particularly love about this kayaking destination is that the area contains over 2,000 backcountry campsites where you can set up a tent and rest before beginning a paddle bright and early the next morning. We’ve covered How to Go Camping With a Kayak if you’re interested in setting off on an extended kayaking trip. 

Flathead Lake

Flathead lake and river

Next up on our list of top lake kayaking destinations is Flathead Lake in Montana. Flathead Lake is a large natural lake roughly 30 miles southwest of Glacier National Park, and once you see the water, you’ll understand why it's one of the best places to kayak

When the glaciers were carving their way through the Glacier National Park millions of years ago, they also extended their way down into Flathead Valley, forming an ancient, massive glacial dammed lake. Because the lake was carved by a glacier, the waters are incredibly clear, and the paddling conditions are flawless.

And if the waters weren’t inviting enough, then the encompassing Swan and Mission mountain ranges, along with forests, grass areas, and beaches, will have you wishing you could spend longer at Flathead. 

Horseshoe Lake

Clean water of horseshoe lake

Now, there are a few Horseshoe Lakes in the US, with one in Arizona, one in Minnesota, and one in California, and although all of them are amazing destinations for kayaking trips, the one we want to highlight today is the Horseshoe Lake in California. 

What sets Horseshoe Lake in California apart from the others is the Mammoth Mountain backdrop, and during the summer months, when the water in Horseshoe Lake diminishes, beautiful sandy beaches begin to immerge all around the water

If you do visit Horseshoe Lake, you’ll notice that over 100 acres of trees have died, and that is due to the soil’s carbon dioxide levels. During 1989 and 1990, the area was hit by a series of small earthquakes which subsequently caused magma to cool and emit carbon dioxide into the ground. It’s not something you get to see every day, so we highly recommend checking it out, and what better way to do that than in a kayak?

Lady Bird Lake

Aerial view of Lady bird and sky scrappers

We’re slightly cheating here again, as Lady Bird Lake is actually a reservoir on the Colorado River in Austin, Texas. In our opinion, though, reservoirs and lakes are basically the same things, so we think Lady Bird Lake deserves a spot on the list. 

The city of Austin originally created Lady Bird Lake as a cooling pond for a new power plant in 1960, but now the lake is more commonly used for recreational purposes, including kayaking. Many people, both locals, and tourists, flock to Lady Bird Lake as the waters in the area are extremely calm, and they provide you with a nice break from the warm Austin weather.

If you didn’t bring your own kayak to Austin, you can rent a one from one of the many rental shops surrounding the lake, and once you’re all paddled out for the day, you can relax in the oldest swimming pool in Texas, the Deep Eddy Pool, set off on a hike-and-bike trail, or have a picnic in the nearby Zilker Park. 

Lake Champlain

Boat in lake champlain vermont

Lake Champlain stretches across Vermont, New York, and even into the Canadian province of Quebec, but no matter which state you launch your kayak from, you’re guaranteed breathtaking views, flat waters, and amazing sunsets (we highly suggest sticking around for one.) 

The lake itself has a number of islands that you can paddle over to, with the largest being Grand Isle, Isle La Motte, and North Hero. And if you’re really up for a challenge, you can even paddle the Lake Champlain Paddlers’ Trail, which has over 600 campsites that you can stop in at to turn your trip into a multi-day adventure.

Lake Estes

Reflection of a mountain on Lake Estes

Lake Estes in Colorado was created in 1949 when the 70-foot-high Olympus Dam was finally completed on the Big Thompson River. The Estes Park that surrounds the lake is a gateway to Rocky Mountain Park, and with an abundance of places to stay and eat close to the lake, I’m sure you can imagine it gets busy with locals and tourists, especially in summer. 

You can spend an entire weekend at Lake Estes, kayaking over the water, fishing for rainbow and brown trout, hiking the Lake Estes Trail, spotting wildlife both in and out of the water, and picnicking in the nearby picnic areas. If you have the time, then be sure to extend your stay at Lake Estes, as the views of the mountains, the sandy beaches, and the treelined shores are truly mesmerizing. 

We do just want to note that if you plan to fish on Lake Estes, you will need a license, and you will have a daily limit of four fish. 

Lake McDonald

Lake Mcdonald

Remember the Glacial National Park we mentioned earlier, along with the Flathead Lake that lies roughly 30 miles southwest of the park? Well, Lake McDonald just so happens to be the largest lake in said National Park, and its sheer size, reflective water, and views of the Livingstone Mountain Range make it a sought place to kayak. 

Something we particularly love about kayaking is the wildlife you can encounter during your trips. For example, while ocean paddling, you can come across sea lions, you can spot deers and otters on the banks of rivers, and in Lake McDonald’s case, you can witness grizzly bears, black bears, and moose, hopefully from a fair distance away. 

When the weather is particularly clear, you’ll have impeccable reflections from the water of the mountainous backdrop and your kayak. In our opinion, it makes for an incredible photo, so be sure to pack your camera or smartphone. 

Lake St. Clair

Aerial view of Lake saint clair

Lake St. Clair is yet another stunning freshwater lake, and although half of the lake is shared with Canada, you can still access the water from the U.S. state of Michigan. Since its creation, Lake St. Clair has been given many names, but the name that we refer to it as today was given to it by French explorer Robert de la Salle, who made his way to the lake’s shores on the feast day of Saint Claire, hence the name.

As with the other lakes on this list, Lake St. Clair has water conditions that are suitable for even beginner kayakers, so if you’re looking for a safe, calm, and beautiful place to perfect your paddling technique, then Lake St. Clair is the place for you. 

Lake Superior

Aerial view of Lake Superior

Lake Superior really is superior as it is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, and if that doesn’t make you want to hop in your kayak and paddle, then we don’t know what will.

As well as being absolutely enormous, Lake Superior is also incredibly beautiful, with clear blue waters and tree-lined shores. But, what makes this Great Lake so unique, is the fact that frequent swells can produce waves of 8 meters or higher. Of course, no SUP surfer would attempt to ride those waves, but on a day when the waves are smaller, you could definitely practice your SUP surfing skills. 

If you aren’t on the hunt for a prime SUP surfing location, then you’ll be happy to know that Lake Superior has calmer waters for beginner paddlers. Our personal favorite spot is the Keweenaw Peninsula which was the site of the first American copper boom. 

Lake Tahoe

Top view of a crystal clear water of Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of those postcard-worthy lakes that are on every paddler's bucket list, and if it isn’t yet on yours, it definitely should be. The color of the water in Lake Tahoe is truly mesmerizing, and although crystal clear waters are every paddler's dream, what really steals the show is the incredible backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

You’ll find that no matter what the season, many locals and tourists flock to Lake Tahoe to enjoy a range of winter and summer sports, with one of the most popular being kayaking. If you’re brave enough to layer up and hit the water in winter, you’ll get some incredible photos of you paddling amongst snow-capped trees and mountains.

If you finish up with your kayaking adventure and you aren’t yet ready to leave the lake, you can kick back and relax on one of the many sandy beaches, or you can even head up on a gondola to see the lake in all its glory. 

Lake Powell

Woman paddle boarding on lake powell

Lake Powell is another artificial reservoir on the Colorado River, which was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon in 1963. Due to the lake’s location in the Arizonian desert, the water is fully encompassed by magnificent red rock canyons, which you can paddle through and explore from the comfort of your kayak.

In total, It’s estimated that every year over 2 million people visit Lake Powell, and although the waters can get fairly crowded, there will always be a quiet spot for you to pull up your kayak and enjoy the scenery around you. If you do happen to visit the lake, we recommend visiting the Rainbow Bridge, one of the world’s largest natural bridges, and the Hite Crossing Bridge which spans the length of Lake Powell.

Utah Lake

Glacier of Utah Lake

The final lake on our top kayaking destinations list is Utah Lake in the state of Utah. Utah Lake is considered a shallow freshwater lake, and its flat expansive waters are perfect for new paddlers or for those who wish to participate in kayak touring. 

If views of mountains are what you’re after, then it doesn’t get much better than the uninterrupted views of the Lake Mountains mountain range that sit just behind Utah Lake. For us, the mountain range makes Utah Lake even more spectacular, but you’ll have to head there to find out for yourself. 

Interactive Map


🏆 Is it safe to kayak on a Lake?

Yes, it is safe to kayak on a lake, as lake kayaking is probably one of the safest forms of kayaking there. Unlike paddling down rivers and oceans, lakes don’t have currents, waves, or rapids that could potentially pull you and your kayak too far out to sea or tip you over completely. 

With that being said, however, it is important to take adequate safety precautions, such as telling someone where you’ll be paddling and how long you’re paddling for. Most importantly, though, you should always wear a life jacket. If you don’t yet have a life jacket or if you’re in need of an upgrade, we have an article reviewing numerous life jackets for kayaking that you should check out, they might just save your life: Best Kayak Life Jackets Reviewed

👍 What lakes in America are good for kayaking?

Lakes in America are amazing for kayaking, all with their own unique features that make them stand out from one another. Some of our favorite lakes for kayaking in America include the following:

  • Bear Lake
  • Boundary Waters Wilderness Area
  • Flathead Lake
  • Horseshoe Lake
  • Lady Bird Lake
  • Lake Champlain
  • Lake Estes
  • Lake McDonald
  • Lake St. Clair
  • Lake Superior
  • Lake Tahoe
  • Lake Powell
  • Utah Lake

🏝️ What rivers in America are good for kayaking?

Along with lakes for kayaking, America is also home to some amazing rivers that offer a slightly more challenging paddle. Some of the top American rivers for kayaking include:

  • Colorado River
  • Arkansas River
  • Salmon River
  • Snake River 
  • Missouri River
  • Point National Scenic River
  • Tyger River Canoe Trail in the Sumter National Forest
  • Ocala National Forest Juniper Run
  • Eleven Point National Scenic River in the Mark Twain National Forest
  • Mulberry River in the Ozark National Forest, Southern Missouri

❓ What type of kayak Is best for paddling on Lakes?

The best type of kayak for paddling on lakes depends on the type of paddling you wish to participate in. For example, if you want to reach fast speeds and cover vast distances, then a longer and narrower touring kayak will come out on top. For those wanting a stable kayak that is suitable for a leisurely recreational paddle, then a kayak mid-range in size would provide optimum stability on the water. And if you want to fish from your kayak, then a dedicated fishing kayak with increased storage and a high weight capacity would work in your favor.

As well as length and width, you’d also have to choose between a sit-on-top kayak or a sit-inside kayak. Many recreational paddlers and fishermen prefer sit-on-top kayaks as their open decks allow the paddler to move around more freely and give you the option to store excess gear. Paddlers who prioritize speed, on the other hand, may prefer a sit-inside kayak as these models are some of the fastest on the market.

Finally, once you’ve narrowed down what you’ll be using your kayak for and whether you want a sit-inside or a sit-on-top kayak, you’ll then need to decide on whether you want a hard shell kayak or an inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks are great for people with limited storage space and small cars, for those who are shopping on a budget, or for those who want to take their kayak to remote waterways. Hard shell kayaks, however, perform slightly better on the water, and some would say they provide a more stable deck.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.

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