11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

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If it’s off-the-grid and away from the crowds you’re looking for when it comes to a national park vacation, then grab a paddle. From unique kayaking and stand up paddleboarding opportunities to exhilarating whitewater rafting trips, here are just a few of the incredible national park paddling adventures you can experience across the country.

Paddle Off-the-Grid in Our National Parks

11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

1) Channel Islands National Park, California

Between Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands, two of the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park off of California’s southern coast, there are some 200 sea caves that can be explored by kayak. Depending on the dramatically-changing daily ocean conditions, it can be a calm paddle or quite the adventurous experience. Photo: Cari Morgan  

Stand up paddleboarding New River Gorge

2) New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, West Virginia

It was officially designated as a national park in 2020, but New River Gorge National Park and Preserve has long been a top-notch paddling destination. While the Lower Gorge is best-known for its wild Class IV-V whitewater, the New River also offers up plenty of mellow stretches perfect for exploring by stand up paddleboard.  Photo: National Park Service Northeast Region

11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

3) Everglades National Park, Florida

It’s the third largest wilderness area in the United States and with countless opportunities to snake through mangrove islands, grassy marshes, and incredible wildlife sanctuaries, Everglades National Park is a canoeing/kayaking paradise. Photo: Jack Liddon

11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

4) Dinosaur National Monument, Utah/Colorado

Green River rafting trips through Dinosaur National Monument wind through three distinct and breathtaking canyons: Lodore, Whirlpool and Split Mountain.  Here, rafters get fun paddling, plus stunning scenery, geological curiosities and rich human history. Photo: James Kaiser

Swiftcurrent Lake | Glacier National Park

5) Glacier National Park, Montana

While paddling is popular on Glacier National Park’s picturesque Swiftcurrent Lake,  you can have the waters of Lake Josephine all to yourself if you make a simple 200-yard portage. Photo: Jonathan C. Wheeler

Rafting in Canyonlands National Park

6) Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Not only is it considered the Grand Canyon’s little sister (or more like its punk rock uncle, if you ask us), but when you raft the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon you get incredible access to Canyonlands National Park’s remote Maze and Island in the Sky Districts.  Photo: James Kaiser

11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

7) Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

With its stunning rock formations and cool sea caves, Devils Island may be the most-visited of Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, but with 20 other islands (19 of which have camping), paddlers can find plenty of solitude. Photo: Royalbroil

11 Incredible National Park paddling spot

8) Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Why experience Congaree National Park’s impressive old-growth bottomland forest along the park’s popular Boardwalk Trail when you can opt to float through it instead? On the park’s 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, paddlers can spend anywhere from a few hours to two days exploring beneath some of the tallest trees in eastern North America. Photo: Sabrina Setaro

11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

9) Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

For a one-of-a-kind perspective of Margerie Glacier, paddlers can tackle the waters of Glacier Bay, part of Glacier Bay National Park & PreservePhoto: Raniel Diaz

11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

10) Voyageur National Park, Minnesota

With nearly 40 percent of Voyageur National Park covered by water, you know it must be prime for paddling.  Add to that hundreds of miles of shoreline via interconnected waterways, and guaranteed you’ll be able to find your very own piece of lakeside paradise. Photo: Jck_photos

11 Incredible National Park Paddling Spots

11) Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

We couldn’t leave Grand Canyon National Park off of a best paddling in the parks list. It takes a great deal of planning and consideration before you commit, but a Grand Canyon rafting or dory trip is one of the best paddling trips on the planet, period. Photo: James Kaiser

Grab a paddle and go off-the-grid in our national parks

Looking for more ideas? Check out National Parks Traveler’s Essential Guide to Paddling the Parks which has in-depth information on prime paddling spots throughout the National Park System.

*An earlier version of this post first appeared on the blog in 2014 and was last updated January 2021.

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