While hiking and camping are a great way to exercise and reconnect with nature, kayaking is perhaps the best way to capture unhindered views of wildlife and landscapes. See things that hikers cannot, paddle up close to wild animals, and leave nature completely undisturbed. Kayaking and other paddling activities are wonderful eco-adventures for the whole group. Here are our choices on the nine best places to kayak in the U.S.
Hawaii's Big Island
There are several amazing and wondrous areas in Hawaii to kayak but the Big Island is among the best. Calm waters, sea caves, vast cliffs, and an abundance of wildlife make this adventure truly spectacular. Start off the Kona coast where you'll kayak in the majestic shadows of volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa before you head into the open waters of the Pacific. Hug the coastline and see wildlife such as dolphins, manta rays, or even humpback whales breaking the surface. Travel along the Kealakekua coastline for a bit of history as this was where Captain Cooke was killed.
Na Pali Coastline - Kauai, Hawaii
This rugged coastline is nigh impassable by land but offers magical views by sea. These are demanding waters and are absolutely impassable from October to April but the views are best experienced from the water. Most companies offer a 17 mile paddle trail from Hanalei to Polihale Beach and along the way you will see cascading waterfalls, echoing sea caves, hanging valleys, hidden beaches, and you may even possibly sight the elusive and rare Hawaiian monk seal. Paddle through a waterfall into a sea cave, swim on the secret beaches inaccessible by land, visit volcanic tubes, and the famous arch of Honopu.
Yellowstone National Park
One of the best inland kayaking destinations, Yellowstone's wildlife and geothermal features make it a fabulous choice for any kayaker, novice or advanced. Yellowstone Lake is the country's largest freshwater lake above 7,500 feet and being in the caldera of a massive volcano, the lake also has several underwater thermal features. Paddle through the West Thumb or Potts Geyser Basins where heated water bubbles up from boiling pools, see boiling mud pits from a distance, and even see water shoot up from the lake's surface. See the snow-capped peaks of the Absaroka Range and observe the majestic wildlife as bison, grizzly bears, elk and caribou, moose, and more cross your path on the water's edge.
Acadia National Park
Maine's largest and oldest national park opens up the coastline and neighboring uninhabited islands for a supreme kayaking adventure. Travel to the Porcupine Islands via Frenchman Bay, one of the most popular kayaking trails in the park. Others include Blue Hill Bay, Western Bay, Seal Cove, and Hadley Point. Anywhere in the park you may sight bald eagles catching fish, porpoises surfacing the water, harbor seals or gray seals basking in the sun on the rocky shores, and a variety of birds flying overhead. For complete seclusion, pristine rocky vistas and the open water, Maine's coast may be perfect for you.
Everglades National Park
Kayaking and paddling in the Everglades opens up numerous venues and trails for visitors as many are inaccessible by land. View wildlife and plants up close as hikers cannot. Get closer to nature in shallow tidal zones, mangrove swamps, and the open sea of Florida Bay. See American alligators, a flamboyance of flamingos, and even manatees swimming the protected waters. A number of trails exist through the Flamingo area of the park. A few of the best include Nine Mile Pond and Mud Lake which are both great for novice paddlers and are perfect for sighting wildlife.
Kenai Fjords National Park
The Alaskan wilderness, as it is pure frontier and can be treacherous, is perhaps best experienced by water. Some of the best paddling in Alaska can be had at Kenai Fjords National Park where you can visit active glaciers such as those in Pedersen Lagoon and Bear Glacier. The wildlife is left undisturbed by kayakers who observe harbor seals, sea otters, bald eagles, orcas, and even whales within the glacial ice and icebergs that fill the frigid waters. The waters of this park can be difficult and inexperienced paddlers should travel with a guide.
Glacier Bay National Park
The waters of Glacier Bay are somewhat easier than those of Kenai Fjords but here you must watch for cruise lines and beware of strong riptides. That being said, there's something so pure and magical about silently paddling between ice flows and witnessing a falcon catching its prey from the water. As it is on the southwest side of Alaska, you can see wildflower covered hills and waterfalls from cliffsides. Start at Bartlett Cove or take a water taxi into open water and head to Point Adolphus where you can see humpback whales, orcas, dall porpoises, sea lions, seals, sea otters, and sometimes even gray or the rare fin whales.
Channel Islands National Park
Off the coast of Santa Barbara, California is a number of uninhabited islands and warm water coasts that make for perfect paddling. The abundance of wildlife is astonishing as there are over 22,000 species of animals, 145 of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Visit Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world and marvel at the colors of the ceiling and the light as it plays on the water and rocks. Go from there to the Arch of Anacapa Island, a wonderful picture opportunity and best seen from the waves.
San Juan Islands - Washington
The abundance of wildlife and views of the Washington coast and Canada beyond that make these islands among the best in the world for paddling adventures. The protected waters of Orcas Island make it an easy adventure for beginners while San Juan Island offers unobstructed views of the Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island. You may see orcas here along with seals and sea lions, porpoises, otters, and octopus. Come in May through September for your best chance of seeing orcas.