It’s National Parks Week and to celebrate we’re taking a look at some of the best and most beautiful national parks for paddlers of all sorts. If you've been craving kayak touring trips or some camping and canoeing, National Parks accessible AND bucket list-worthy.
While there has been plenty of debate in the past few years about the impact of paddling in certain parks-- especially Yellowstone and the Tetons-- there is no shortage of wild places under federal management where you are still welcome to explore by water.
Whether you’re looking to shoot Class V rapids in your kayak, go on a mellow canoe expedition, or SUP across spectacular water, we have a park for you.
Best National Parks For Canoers and Kayakers
Great Falls Park
When you think Washington D.C., you might be more inclined to picture that painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware than the opportunity to shoot some gnarly rapids. But the Potomac has no shortage of spectacular white water, especially in the Great Falls Park. The lines are for experienced kayakers only, and rate Class V or above. If you’re looking for a challenge, however, it’s hard to beat the promise of a world-class run so close to D.C. Once you get your ‘yak out of the water and back on your vehicle, you can head back into town for a frosty Virginia beer.
Big Bend National Park
There are few runs more classic than the mighty Rio Grande. Big Bend is one of the best places to put in. There are plenty of companies that offer raft or canoe tours, but you can also roll your own. This is a great place to plan a multi-day expedition, with plenty of opportunities to camp on the shore once you cut through the canyons.
You might have the chance to wave to a few real, live cowboys as you paddle this low, slow river, and catch sight of wildlife. But for the most part, Big Bend is quite secluded and peaceful and you should have a sense of being one with the landscape.
Voyageurs National Park
Few National Parks can boast that they are almost more water than land, but Voyageurs in Minnesota clocks in a 40% wet. Its lakes and rivers and interconnecting, giving you a veritable Venice of channels to explore. Once these waters were a highway system for fur trappers, but now they are a fantastic opportunity for kayak camping trips, canoe expeditions, and exploring the North Woods and Northern Boreal Forest.
Come for the walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike and stay to observe bald eagles and overheard wolves calling to each other at night. Voyageurs is off the beaten path, and offers fresh delights for new and experienced paddlers alike.
Everglades National Park
Any list of National Park paddles would be remiss to leave out the famous Everglades. This unique landscape will give you a glimpse of flora and fauna unlike anywhere else, and the chance to try a mix of both river kayaking and sea kayaking.
The park itself is a fragile, endangered ecosystem, however, one that’s well worth seeing while it still boasts such rich diversity from bald eagles to manatees to the occasional panther. Whether you go out for an afternoon or a multi-night trip, you can reward yourself with barbecued oysters and a good Cuban once you’re back Miami-way.
Buffalo National River
Call us biased, but there’s a reason the CreekKooler was born in Arkansas. We are home to some amazing lakes and rivers, and the Buffalo National River is one of the best. While dams have contributed to some amazing paddling opportunities-- just look at the Ocoee in Tennessee-- we’re proud to point out that the Buffalo River is one of the last rivers in the U.S. to flow freely.
It has both Class I and higher class rapids that suit all activity levels, as well as mellower sections where you can take your CreekKooler out for a spin. Either way, it’s pretty irresistible to enjoy the winding path through the gorgeous Ozarks.