If you love kayaking and rafting, National Parks are going to be high on your list. There are so many beautiful parks across the country and if you’re ever in the area for one of these ten great parks, you should definitely stop in.
National Parks offer some of the most stunning and unique scenery in the United States, making them perfect destinations for kayaking and rafting enthusiasts. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, there is no shortage of exhilarating waterways and rapids to explore. From the picturesque lakes and rivers of Glacier National Park to the roaring rapids of the Grand Canyon, the opportunities for adventure are endless.
Not only do these parks offer incredible kayaking and rafting experiences, but they also provide the chance to witness some of the most remarkable wildlife and landscapes in the world. Imagine paddling through the calm waters of Yellowstone National Park, surrounded by towering mountains and bubbling geysers. Or navigating the winding rivers of Acadia National Park, with stunning views of rocky coastlines and dense forests.
Whether you’re seeking a thrilling whitewater adventure or a peaceful paddle through serene waters, these ten national parks are some of the best places to experience the beauty of nature from a kayak or raft. So, pack your gear, bring your sense of adventure, and explore the best kayaking and rafting destinations the National Parks have to offer.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
The Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic places to go rafting in the world. With towering cliffs, thrilling rapids, and breathtaking scenery, this is a bucket list destination for many kayakers and rafters.
Grand Canyon National Park is located in Arizona and is famous for its stunningly beautiful, 277-mile-long canyon carved out by the Colorado River. The park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with activities such as hiking, camping, and of course, kayaking.
Kayaking through the Grand Canyon is a thrilling experience that takes you through some of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring landscapes in the world. The Colorado River runs through the canyon, offering paddlers the opportunity to navigate through narrow passages, deep gorges, and exhilarating rapids.
The park offers a range of kayaking experiences, from day trips to multi-day expeditions that allow paddlers to explore the canyon in-depth. Experienced kayakers can tackle the rapids on their own, while those new to the sport can join guided tours led by experienced outfitters.
Kayaking in the Grand Canyon also offers a unique opportunity to see the park’s diverse wildlife, including bald eagles, bighorn sheep, and even mountain lions. Paddlers can also explore the many side canyons, waterfalls, and hot springs that dot the canyon walls.
In addition to kayaking, visitors to the Grand Canyon can explore the park’s many hiking trails, go on ranger-led programs, or simply take in the stunning vistas from one of the many lookout points throughout the park.
2. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is famous for its geysers and hot springs, but it’s also home to some fantastic rivers and lakes for kayaking and rafting.
Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming and is known for its incredible geothermal features, such as the famous Old Faithful geyser. But the park is also home to a variety of rivers and lakes that offer fantastic opportunities for kayaking and other water activities.
The Yellowstone River is the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states and offers some fantastic kayaking opportunities. The river flows through the heart of the park and is surrounded by stunning scenery, including dramatic canyons and towering mountains. Kayakers can expect a mix of calm stretches and exhilarating rapids, making it a great spot for both beginners and experienced paddlers.
The Snake River is another popular spot for kayaking and rafting in Yellowstone. This river runs through Grand Teton National Park, which is adjacent to Yellowstone, and offers some of the most scenic kayaking experiences in the region. Paddlers can navigate through the river’s many twists and turns and take in stunning views of the Grand Tetons.
Yellowstone Lake is also a popular spot for kayaking, with crystal-clear waters and stunning mountain views. Paddlers can explore the lake’s many coves and bays, and even venture out to some of the lake’s many islands.
3. Glacier National Park
Located in Montana, Glacier National Park is known for its rugged wilderness and stunning scenery. The park is home to several rivers and lakes that are great for kayaking and rafting, including the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
Glacier National Park is a vast wilderness area located in the northern part of Montana, near the Canadian border. The park is known for its stunning landscape, with towering peaks, pristine lakes, and abundant wildlife.
One of the most popular activities in Glacier National Park is kayaking and rafting. The park is home to several rivers and lakes that offer a range of experiences for kayakers of all skill levels.
The Middle Fork of the Flathead River is one of the most popular spots for kayaking in the park. The river runs through the heart of Glacier and offers a mix of calm stretches and challenging rapids. Kayakers can take in stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests as they navigate the river.
Another popular spot for kayaking in Glacier National Park is Lake McDonald. This crystal-clear lake is surrounded by towering peaks and offers a serene paddling experience. Kayakers can explore the many bays and coves along the shoreline and even venture out to some of the lake’s many islands.
4. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park in Washington State is a kayaker’s paradise, with its rugged coastline, tranquil lakes, and rushing rivers. The Elwha River is a popular spot for rafting, while Lake Crescent is great for kayaking.
Olympic National Park is a diverse and stunningly beautiful park located in the state of Washington. The park offers a wide variety of activities for visitors, including hiking, camping, wildlife watching, and, of course, kayaking.
One of the most popular spots for kayaking in Olympic National Park is Lake Crescent. This crystal-clear lake is surrounded by towering peaks and lush forests, making for a serene and picturesque paddling experience. Kayakers can explore the many bays and coves along the shoreline and even venture out to some of the lake’s islands.
The park is also home to several rivers that are popular for kayaking and rafting. The Elwha River is a popular spot for both kayaking and rafting, with a range of rapids that offer a thrilling adventure. Kayakers can take in stunning views of the surrounding forests and mountains as they navigate the river.
For those looking for a more rugged and adventurous kayaking experience, Olympic National Park’s coastline offers plenty of options. The park’s rugged and rocky shoreline is home to sea stacks, sea caves, and other natural features that make for an exciting and challenging kayaking experience. Visitors can explore the many hidden coves and beaches along the coast and even spot wildlife such as sea otters and seals.
5. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park in Maine is known for its rocky coastlines and stunning views. Kayakers can explore the park’s many coves and inlets, while rafters can tackle the rapids on the nearby Penobscot River.
Just to clarify, rafting is not a common activity in Acadia National Park, as the Penobscot River is located several hours away from the park. However, there are several lakes and waterways within the park that are perfect for kayaking, including Eagle Lake and Somes Sound. Visitors can also take a guided sea kayaking tour to explore the rugged coastline and spot wildlife such as harbor seals, porpoises, and seabirds.
Kayaking in Acadia National Park is a unique and memorable experience. With its rocky coastline, numerous islands, and crystal-clear waters, there is no shortage of places to explore.
One popular spot for kayaking is Somes Sound, a fjord-like inlet that cuts deep into Mount Desert Island. Paddling through the calm waters of the sound, kayakers can take in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
Another popular area for kayaking is the Western Bay, where kayakers can explore the numerous coves, inlets, and islands of the park’s rugged coastline. Along the way, they may encounter a variety of marine life, including harbor seals, porpoises, and seabirds.
For those looking for a more challenging adventure, kayaking around the numerous islands of the park’s Cranberry Isles can be a thrilling experience. With strong currents and changing tides, this area requires some kayaking experience and skill.
Guided kayaking tours are also available within the park, providing visitors with an opportunity to learn about the area’s natural and cultural history while exploring the park’s waterways.
6. Zion National Park
While Zion National Park in Utah is known for its hiking trails, it’s also a great place to go kayaking and rafting. The Virgin River runs through the park and offers some exciting rapids.
In addition to the Virgin River, Zion National Park also has a few reservoirs and streams that are great for kayaking. Kolob Reservoir is a popular spot for kayaking, surrounded by beautiful red rock cliffs and stunning views. The park also offers guided kayaking tours that take visitors through narrow canyons and past towering sandstone formations.
Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, attracting millions of visitors each year. The park is known for its towering sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and breathtaking views.
Kayaking in the park can be a thrilling experience, with the Virgin River offering some exciting rapids for more experienced paddlers. There are also several reservoirs within the park that are great for kayaking, including Kolob Reservoir and Quail Creek Reservoir.
For those looking for a more relaxed kayaking experience, there are several guided tours available that take visitors through some of the park’s most stunning areas, such as the Narrows, a narrow canyon with towering walls that rise up to 2,000 feet.
7. Everglades National Park
The Everglades in Florida is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and is home to a vast network of waterways that are perfect for kayaking and canoeing. The park also offers guided tours for those who want to learn about the unique ecosystem.
In addition to its waterways, the Everglades is also known for its diverse wildlife. Visitors can see alligators, manatees, dolphins, and a variety of bird species while kayaking through the park’s mangrove forests, freshwater marshes, and cypress swamps. The park is also home to the endangered Florida panther and several species of snakes, including the Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake and the Burmese python.
There are several popular kayaking routes in the Everglades, including the Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile trail that takes kayakers through the heart of the park. Visitors can also paddle through the Ten Thousand Islands area, where they can see a variety of marine life, including sea turtles and sharks. The park also offers ranger-led paddling tours and rentals for those who don’t have their own kayaks.
8. Big Bend National Park
Located in Texas, Big Bend National Park is home to the Rio Grande, which offers some incredible rafting opportunities. The river runs through towering canyons and offers some exciting rapids.
Kayaking in Big Bend National Park is also a popular activity, especially on the Rio Grande’s calmer sections. Paddling along the river provides a unique perspective of the park’s scenic beauty, with views of the Chisos Mountains and the surrounding desert landscape. Kayakers can also see a variety of wildlife, including javelinas, coyotes, and even the occasional black bear. The park offers guided tours and kayak rentals for visitors who want to experience this unique adventure.
9. Denali National Park
Denali National Park in Alaska is known for its vast wilderness and stunning landscapes. The park’s rivers offer some great rafting opportunities, including the Nenana River, which features rapids up to Class IV.
In addition to rafting, kayaking is also a popular activity in Denali National Park. Kayakers can explore the park’s many lakes and rivers, including Wonder Lake and the Teklanika River. The Teklanika River is a popular spot for experienced kayakers and offers a challenging paddle through the park’s rugged wilderness. The park also offers guided kayaking trips for those who want to learn more about the area and its wildlife.
10. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is home to the Snake River, which offers some excellent kayaking and rafting opportunities. The river runs through the park’s stunning mountain scenery and features some exciting rapids.
In addition to the Snake River, there are also several lakes in Grand Teton National Park that are great for kayaking, including Jackson Lake and Leigh Lake. Kayakers can paddle through crystal-clear waters while enjoying views of the towering Teton Range. The lakes also offer opportunities for fishing, swimming, and wildlife viewing. Rafting trips on the Snake River typically last for several hours and are led by experienced guides who are familiar with the river’s rapids and wildlife. These trips can be customized to suit different skill levels, from beginner to advanced, and offer a unique way to explore the park’s natural beauty.