5 Excellent Places for Beginners to Kayak in Iowa

5 Excellent Places for Beginners to Kayak in Iowa


If you are looking to start a new foray into the world of kayaking, the state of Iowa is a great place to begin. Not only is most of the water you’ll find catered towards first-time paddlers, but the scenery that surrounds each kayaking spot is worth remembering for years to come. You may want to consider a guided tour or safety course before hitting the water. To help you on your way, and to get you acquainted with the community that defines Iowa kayaking, a perfect place to start are these five excellent spots for beginners to kayak in Iowa.

1. Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, Iowa City, IA

Featuring 152 acres of natural scenery, the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area and Sand Lake can be found just south of the University of Iowa campus, and among many other things, can provide the perfect spot to practice your kayaking skills. The water at Sand Lake is nearly always calm, making for a great place to practice your stroke amongst the hikers, fishers, and bike riders that also frequent this park. What makes it even more enticing for a beginner is the kayak rentals provided by the local outdoor retail store Fin & Feather, which can allow you to get a feel for the sport before making a large investment into it.

2. Manchester Whitewater Park, Manchester, IA

While for much of its history Iowa has not had whitewater available, when environmentalist and community activist started replacing traditional dams across the state with low head dams, they also intentionally created whitewater parks for patrons to enjoy. A great example of this conservation-inspired recreation can be found in Manchester, at the Manchester Whitewater Park on the Maquoketa River. Featuring six different 18-inch drops spanning over 800 feet, this is a great place for some outdoor fun. Whether you tackle it with a kayak, canoe, inner tube or boogie board, the Manchester Whitewater Park is an excellent place for all levels of athletes to enjoy the water.

3. Elkader Whitewater Park, Elkader, IA

Established in 2013, the Elkader Whitewater Park is a community constructed project that encourages education, engagement and most of all recreation on the Turkey River. Appealing to anglers, explorers, and all kinds of boaters, the Elkader Whitewater Park is touted as the best whitewater mecca in Iowa. Whether you are just hopping in a kayak for the first time, or you’re an experienced paddler looking to sharpen some skills, the Elkader Whitewater Park can provide a great time throughout the year in and out of the water. 

4. Charles City Whitewater, Charles City, IA

Touted as Iowa’s first whitewater park, Charles City Whitewater has been in operation since 2011, and since then has seen hundreds of beginner and experienced kayakers go through its three distinct features. Alongside the many kayakers who explore the waters of the Cedar River via Charles City Whitewater, you can also expect to see canoeists, stand-up paddle boarders, tubers, and people fishing along the shore and celebrating the space. Rentals are available from various Charles City vendors if it’s truly your first time, and after you spend the day exploring the waves and water, it surely won’t be your last.

@hannah_rayj looking good on her home feature at Charles City WW park, IA. #famagogo @jackson.kayak @wernerpaddles

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5. Lake Red Rock, Knoxville, IA

Operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Red Rock in Marion County is Iowa’s largest lake containing over 15,000 acres of water. With all the abundant space, including 35,000 acres of land to explore, Lake Red Rock is the perfect place for all levels of kayakers to go out and practice their paddle strokes. With everything else that comes with a visit to Lake Red Rock, including scenic hiking and camping, and with its proximity to the state capital of Des Moines, Lake Red Rock is a popular place to visit during the summer. With so much room to spread out and explore though, you’ll find plenty of space to enjoy kayaking at your own pace.