15 Amazing National Parks to Kayak in the US & Canada

kayaking glacier national park

2020 isn’t the best summer to travel to faraway national parks because of social distancing and limited services. But it doesn’t hurt to dream a little!

Maybe you live close enough to one of these to make it a day or weekend trip, or maybe you’re already making plans for next year.

If that’s you, here are some of the most amazing national parks to kayak, canoe, packraft or SUP in the US and Canada…

1. Banff National Park, Alberta CA

Banff, nestled in the Canadian Rockies, is famous worldwide for its turquoise-blue waters and soaring peaks. Its most famous lakes are Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, both of which are wonderful for kayaking or canoeing.

lake moraine, banff national park
Moraine Lake in Banff is world famous (photo courtesy of David Schalla)

It’s best to plan your trip for mid-June or later to be sure the ice is off the lakes. You’ll have great paddling well into fall, assuming the mountain passes don’t close due to heavy snowfall.

2. Big Bend National Park, Texas USA

There’s excellent rafting, kayaking and canoeing on the Rio Grande River and its tributaries in Big Bend, in southwest Texas right along the Mexico border. You’ll paddle through majestic canyons and deserts in this protected area that’s home to hundreds of animal and plant species.

canoeist at big bend national park
Canoeing in Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park (photo courtesy of Brad J.)

Plan your trip here in the spring or fall to take advantage of cool nights and warm days without chance of snow in the higher altitudes or 100+ temps on the water.

3. Everglades National Park, Florida USA

Everglades comprises 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitat in southern Florida, much of which is covered by water. Kayaking through the swamps and along the coast is a super way to see the vast array of plant life and wildlife, including the American alligator.

kayaking everglades national park
Kayakers in the Everglades (photo courtesy of Keith & Becky U.)

Plan your trip to the Everglades between December and April for the best weather and fewer bugs. Summers bring high humidity, high temps and lots of rain.

4. Glacier National Park, Montana USA

Glacier is known for its stunning mountains, Going-to-the-Sun Road and also it’s pristine alpine lakes fed by glacial runoff. There are many wonderful lakes to kayak in the park including Two Medicine, St. Mary’s, McDonald and Sherburne.

kayaking glacier national park
Kayaking on Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park (photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

To ensure the ice is gone and you can cross the park over the Sun Road, plan for the third week of June and later, up into the fall.

(Read: Kayaking in Glacier National Park)

5. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona USA

One of the most-visited parks in the world, the Grand Canyon is a mind-boggling natural wonder. It’s mostly known for rafting down the Colorado River, but kayaking is an option in places, too.

kayaking grand canyon national park
Kayaking on Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon (photo courtesy of Marcel Bieg)

Summer is the busiest season, but temps can easily be 100+ on the canyon floor. Spring and fall are other options, too, if you keep an eye on the unpredictable weather.

There are several other canyon areas open to kayaking in the American Southwest as well including Lake Powell (Arizone/Utah), Ruby and Horsethief Canyon (Colorado/Utah) and Canyonlands National Park (Utah).

6. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming USA

The Tetons has majestic mountains and plenty of river and lake water to kayak. The scenery is some of the best in the world and the water is ultra-clear. You can take on 15-mile Jackson Lake or head to smaller ones like Lake Jenny, Leigh Lake or teeny String Lake. The Snake River is also very popular.

kayaker grand teton national park
Kayaker on String Lake, Grand Teton National Park (photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

Mid-May into fall is great for kayaking. You’ll have cool nights and warm days with plenty of sun.

(See: Paddling in Grand Teton National Park)

7. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan USA

Isle Royale is actually an archipelago—the main island and 450 smaller  islands make up the National Park. That makes it an amazing sea kayaking destination on Lake Superior. There are also dozens of inland lakes you can paddle.

kayaker lake superior
Kayaking on the inland sea of Lake Superior (photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

The best time to kayak Isle Royale is late June through September. It’s closed completely from November to mid-April each year. Even though this park is officially part of Michigan, the closest ferry leaves from Grand Portage, Minnesota.

8. Jacques-Cartier National Park, Quebec CA

Just 30 minutes from Quebec City, Jacques-Cartier offers magnificent kayaking on the Jacques Cartier River as it runs down a glacial valley 2,000 feet below the rounded peaks of the Laurentian Mountains. You’ll encounter some mild rapids, along the way, which you’ll be able to paddle in a sea kayak

kayakers jacques-cartier national park
Kayakers in Jacques-Cartier, just 30 minutes from Quebec City (photo courtesy of Paddle Tales)

Mid-June through October is a great time to plan your kayak trip, especially during the warmer summer months.

9. Jasper National Park, Alberta CA

Jasper is another of western Canada’s famous parks in the Rockies with its turquoise, clear-as-glass water and snow-capped mountains. Favorite kayaking destinations there are Pyramid Lake, Lac Beauvert and Malign Lake, with its iconic landmark, Spirit Island.

Like Banff, wait to go until after the ice is off these lakes—late June through September. These mountain lakes will be cold always, even in mid-summer.

10. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska USA

A once-in-a-lifetime sea kayaking experience, Kenai Fjords is not for beginners or the faint of heart! But you’ll be richly rewarded with the marine wildlife, the spectacular mountains and the tidewater glaciers. Bear Glacier Lagoon is especially popular.

kayaking alaska
Kayakers in Alaska get amazing views of the glaciers (photo courtesy of Kevin E.)

Late May through early September is kayak season in the Kenai Fjords region. The weather is extremely changeable, conditions can be harsh and the water is frigid!

11. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia CA

Pacific Rim is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It offers splendid sea kayaking, especially in the Broken Group Islands sector of Barkley Sound. Ucluelet Inlet is also protected from the open ocean with water access. Marine sea life abounds, including seals and orcas.

June through September are the best months to kayak this beautiful and diverse area.

12. Saquenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, Quebec CA

Saguenay Fjord is one of the longest fjords in the world and attracts sea kayakers from all over the world. It’s surrounded by mile upon mile of rugged wilderness, yet is just a 2-1/2 hour drive from Quebec City.

kayakers Saquenay-St Lawrence Marine ParkSea kayakers in Saguenay Fjord, Saquenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park (photo courtesy of Paddles Tales)

The best time to kayak is from mid-June to October, although the salt water of the St. Lawrence is generally only iced-over for about three months.

13. Voyageurs National Park & Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota USA

Voyageurs and the Boundary Waters are separate federal areas (and the BWCAW isn't a national park), but very similar in character. Both border Canada and are primarily water-based, with millions of acres of lakes, forests and rivers. Canoe and kayak backcountry camping is the mainstay in the BWCA, while voyageurs also offers front-country camping.

kayaking boundary waters
Voyageurs and the Boundary Waters are a paddler’s paradise with boreal forest, bluffs, rivers and backcountry campsites. (photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

Late May through October are possible for kayaking in the northwoods before the lakes freeze over for the long winter. The most popular months are June through August.

14. Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta CA

Part of Waterton Glacier International Peace Park with Glacier National Park in the US, Waterton has several lakes open to paddling. Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes are the most accessible and, therefore, most busy. Emerald Bay is protected from the frequent winds and especially inviting.

As with the other alpine lakes, there can be ice into late spring. July and August are the most popular months to visit.

15. Yoho National Park, British Columbia CA

Just across the Continental Divide from Banff and Lake Louise, Yoho isn’t as well known, but is every bit as beautiful. Emerald Lake is a prime kayaking and canoeing lake with its stunning turquoise color and surrounding mountain peaks.

As with the others parks here, ice can remain on the lake into late May and even June. Plan your trip a bit later in the season.

(Thanks to these helpful sources: National Park Foundation; World Atlas; ETA Canada; Paddle Tales; Parks Canada; Jasper Canada)

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