The 12 Best National Parks for Paddling

The 12 Best National Parks for Paddling

This article originally appeared in Canoe & Kayak Magazine. Words by Charli Kerns

National Park Week was recently celebrated with outdoor enthusiasts flocking to our country's 59 pristine parks. So which ones are best for paddlers? We put together an alphabetized list of the top national parks for dipping a blade.

Photographer Sean Murphy and company taste the serenity of Everglades National Park on a 100-mile expedition profiled in our 2015 Gear Guide. Photo: Murphy

Everglades National Park

The Everglades offers a never-ending option of paddling. Hotspots include Flamingo, Florida Bay, the Turner River and Halfway Creek for canoeing and sea kayaking through mangrove swamps, and the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail is a great outing for canoeists. Expect to see everything from alligators and crocodiles to dolphins and manatees.

An expedition team takes refuge in one of the Rio Grande’s many nooks and crannies in Big Bend National Park. Photo: Questor Sapnu

Big Bend National Park

Forming the border of the U.S. and Mexico, the Rio Grande is a SUP trip you'll never forget, with a variety of different wilderness sections for different uses.

The paddler’s paradise of the Channel Islands. Photo: Chuck Graham

Channel Islands National Park

This California gem offers hundreds of sea caves to explore on the north side of Santa Cruz Island, complete with grottoes, blowholes, arches and more (Hint: bring a helmet and headlamp). Popular paddles include a 4-mile jaunt from Potato Harbor to Cavern Point.

 

Threading rapids on the Grand Canyon. Photo: Zach Mahone

Grand Canyon National Park

Put the Grand Canyon on your bucket list, now. You can run it privately with a permit, or commercially with an outfitter. While many shorten the trip by hiking in or out of Phantom Ranch, try to do the entire 226-mile stretch. You'll be glad you did.

Watch: Pro River SUP Athlete Spencer Lacy In The Grand Canyon

 

A lone paddler enjoys the view of Half Dome from the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. Photo: Lorenzo Menendez

Yosemite National Park

Marvel at cascading waterfalls and the geologic wonders of Yosemite's massive cliffs from a SUP in the Merced River, which takes you through the heart of Yosemite Valley. Another paddling option is Tenaya Lake off the Tioga Road.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Cape Cod's inland waterways offer prime paddling on a variety of sloughs, ponds and marshes. Paddleboarders can also tackle Cape Cod Bay. Other popular paddling areas include Salt Pond, Gut of Great Island and the Pamet River.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands offers multi-day SUP or canoe or trips through the heart of canyon country on both the Colorado and Green rivers, which meet right before Class IV (V at high water) Cataract Canyon. Flatwater paddlers often paddle one arm and then get zipped back upstream by a jetboat meeting them at the confluence.

Glacier Bay National Park

While this one takes some travel time to get to (reach it from Gustavus, Alaska), Glacier Bay offers some of the best tidewater glacier paddling in the world. Most parties shuttle up the West Arm via boat from Glacier Bay Lodge and get picked up whenever they want to after exploring the park's 16 tidewater glaciers, including the granddaddy Muir.

Grand Teton National Park

Standup paddle against the grandeur of the Teton range on either the winding Oxbow Bend section of Snake River, or such SUP-friendly lakes as Jackson, Jenny, String or Leigh. On each you're likely to see moose, elk, bear, bison, eagles, osprey and more. Hint: beware afternoon winds, and pack a fishing rod.

Point Reyes National Seashore

For a dose of paddling Pacific-style, head here with your SUP. Hotspots include Tomales Bay, as well as Drakes and Limantour Estuaries. Expect kelp beds, seals, and more.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Michigan's Pictured Rocks along the Hiawatha Water Trail serve up a 15-mile-long swath of 200-foot-high, 500-million-year-old lakeside cliffs painted a variety of pastels by seeping water. The view doesn't get any better than from the deck of your SUP. For extended stays, access it from one of five put-ins that have seven backcountry campsites along the 40-mile water trail.

Yellowstone National Park

While Teton National Park to the south offers Jackson and Jenny lakes, Yellowstone offers its own paddling options on Lewis, Shoshone and Yellowstone lakes. Hint: get your paddle out of the way early as high winds often whip up in the afternoons.

 

More great SUP destinations.