Due to the escalation of the coronavirus outbreak, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for more information.

Springtime Paddling: 8 Idyllic Destinations for Kayaking

With parts of the U.S. thawing out, it's time to hit the water. 

By Trent Jonas

Springtime Paddling: 8 Idyllic Destinations for Kayaking

When spring weather arrives, paddlers across many parts of the United States rejoice. As the colder parts of the country begin to thaw out and the more temperate climates start to warm, kayaking opportunities abound. Between Florida's sprawling tropical lakes and Utah's awe-inspiring, canyon-wrapped oases, there's something out there to please every paddler. Here are eight idyllic destinations to explore for some beautiful springtime kayaking. 

DISCLAIMER: Please note that due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many areas of national parks and recreation areas are closed. At the time of writing, the following destinations were still open to paddlers. Please consult official websites for updated closure and accessibility information. 

Everglades National Park, FL

Everglades National Park, in southern Florida, is defined, and best explored, by water. The park offers fresh, brackish, and saltwater paddling options, including a paddling trail, to kayakers looking for a subtropical adventure. The park’s waters are accessible from any number of points. If you need them, you can find rentals at both Everglades City and Flamingo. During park closures, the park’s waters are open and accessible from points outside the park—you’ll just have to paddle a little farther.

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St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, MN/WI

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is actually comprised of two rivers: The St. Croix, which runs along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border; and the Namekagon, which flows entirely within the Badger State until its confluence with the St. Croix. Together, the two rivers offer more than 200 miles of forested, near-pristine wilderness paddling. There are put-ins and landings throughout the Riverway, which remain open even when park facilities are closed. Check the National Park Service website for current water conditions.

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Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, AR

Ground zero for birders still hoping to catch a glimpse of the presumed-extinct ivory billed woodpecker, the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, in Arkansas, also happens to be a paradise for paddlers. The waters of the refuge, including the Cache River itself, wind their way through and among large swaths of bottomland hardwood and swamp forests. You can put in at any of the public launches within the refuge, even if offices or other facilities are closed.

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Big Bend National Park, TX

Some of the most rugged and scenic paddling you can experience is on the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park and the adjacent Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. Between the two National Park Service Facilities, you could spend anywhere from an hour to a month floating the river. During closures, overnight river trips may be prohibited. A permit may be required for river use. Check the park’s website for river conditions, permit information, and closures—as well as river distances between points—before you go.

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Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, UT

Home to Lake Powell, miles of the Colorado River, and the eponymous canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a perfect place for paddlers who love both river and flatwater kayaking while taking in the stunning scenery of southern Utah. With many ramps and put-in locations from which to choose, you’re sure to find the perfect spot for a paddle. Public access ramps and landings tend to remain open even if other facilities within the recreation area are closed.

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Congaree National Park, SC

Congaree National Park, in South Carolina, is home to the largest, intact expanse of old growth bottomland, hardwood forest that remains in the southeastern part of the country. With swamps, creeks, lakes and the courses of both the Congaree and Wateree Rivers in the park, you’ll find plenty of paddling opportunities among the majestic trees. At times when the park’s front-country areas—visitor center, campgrounds, boardwalk and paved trails, etc.—are closed, the park’s backcountry areas, which includes the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail and the Congaree River Blue Trail, remain open.

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Lower Columbia River Water Trail, OR/WA

The Lower Columbia River Trail on the border of Washington and Oregon offers several incredible trips in the spectacular Columbia River Gorge for paddlers of all levels. The trail is accessible from any number of public landings and launch points on both sides of the river. Be sure to check water and flow levels before you go.

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Juniper Prairie Wilderness, Ocala National Forest, FL

The waters of central Florida are renowned for their clarity and the abundant wildlife they attract. In many places this has resulted in overcrowded parks and attractions. But there are still places where you can paddle unpeopled backcountry and experience this incredible landscape. Head to the Juniper Prairie Wilderness in the Ocala National Forest, where you can explore swamps, lakes, sinkholes and Juniper Creek from the seat of your kayak. If the Juniper Springs Recreation Area put-in is closed, put in at the Juniper Wayside, where highway 19 (Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway) crosses Juniper Creek.

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Due to the escalation of the coronavirus outbreak, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for more information.

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