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5 Outstanding National Parks for Paddling

NPSCentennialLogo.RGBThere is something about being on the waters of America’s national parks that nourishes the soul. On the water, the wilderness and your boat meld into one, letting you connect to nature in ways not possible in the city. So, it’s no surprise that paddling in national parks is quickly gaining popularity, from sea to shining sea. From the sea stacks and crashing waves on both coasts, to marshes and lakes around the nation, the wonders of the waters are stunning millions of visitors each year. And why not? With each dip of the oar, new memories are created, and fresh images of the great outdoors replace unwanted stress. Paddling in the national parks is unique and special, and an activity you will want to repeat every weekend.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royal
Photo by: Ray Dumas

Isolated, rugged, and accessible only by boat, Isle Royale National Park gives unmatched access to the largest wilderness area in Michigan. Only open April to November, Isle Royale is the perfect paddling destination. Home to dozens of small lakes, wilderness-lined bays, small islands, and the waters of Lake Superior, the park provides miles of impressive waterways, perfect for experienced canoeists and kayakers.

Paddling next to the timeless, rocky outcroppings on the edges of the islands, it’s easy to forget the details of the day-to-day, and truly enjoy the here and now. Stunning sunrises and sunsets highlight each day of exploration, and moose and rare wolf sightings make exploring Isle Royale full of adventure. If you are looking for a wild and rugged paddling trip, then this is the perfect spot.  

Acadia National Park

Photo by: Patti Simmons

As you work your way across the swells of the Atlantic, darting in and out of harbors and bays, the majestic beauty of Maine’s Acadia National Park comes alive. Watching seals, dolphins, whales, and other marine wildlife in the waters off the coast of Mount Desert Island, and smiling as shorebirds swoop overhead, you can’t imagine a day on the water getting better than this. 
Add to your experience by taking a short break from your kayak or canoe and exploring the nearby tide pools where troves of deep-sea treasures are sure to be found.

Whether you are with your family on easier routes, heading overnight with your significant other, or exploring solo, the beauty of nature and the stunning coastline will become the location of your daydreams for years to come. 

Everglades National Park

Photo by: C-Monster.net

As you slide your canoe or kayak into the murky waters of the Everglades, small ripples extend out from your boat, disturbing an otherwise still day in this swampy, marshy wonderland. Once overlooked by the kayaking community, Florida’s Everglades National Park has now become a mecca of sorts for paddling enthusiasts. The third-largest national park in the lower 48, the Everglades offers endless possibilities for water exploration.

For lifelong memories of the majesty of the Everglades, paddle out of the Chokoloskee entrance and head toward Jewel Key and Kingston Key in the Ten Thousand Islands region. This region is known for being full of unique wildlife, but might be just as famous for its stunning sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico. Ten Thousand Islands is also great for shorter day trips and an introduction for kids or beginners to the waterways of the park.

Olympic National Park

Photo by: Ralph Arvesen

Paddling in Washington’s Olympic National Park is considered by many to be the nirvana of sea kayaking. Passing between giant sea stacks and rain-forested hills abutting driftwood-filled beaches, Olympic’s coastal wilderness paints a perfect portrait of Pacific Coast beauty. Home to the best natural coastal stretches on the West Coast, the park’s sea kayaking is second to none. Where else can you see seals, porpoises, and whales during the day, and then retreat to the dense rainforest or glaciated summits elsewhere in the park? Once you dip your paddle in that first time, you’ll want to come back year after year.

If you are looking for calm paddling, Olympic also has incredible opportunities on numerous freshwater lakes around the Olympic Peninsula. Many paddlers will head to Lake Crescent near Port Angeles, but if you are looking for a unique experience, you should head to Lake Cushman or Lake Quinault for a truly amazing trip.   

Voyageurs National Park

Photo by: J. Stephen Conn

There are few places left in the world that give you the beauty, solitude, and isolation of Voyageurs National Park. Located along the Minnesota/Ontario border, Voyageurs is quietly becoming known as one of the best paddling locations in North America, with adventures for every level of kayaker or canoe enthusiast. Paddlers have access to hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, which is nothing short of incredible.

There are more than 200 campsites, the majority of which are spread throughout the hundreds of miles of waterways. Voyageurs is perfect for those looking for remoteness and it’s not unusual for you to have an island to yourself for a while. There’s nothing better than spending a day watching wildlife from your boat, relaxing in wilderness wonder, and then camping on an isolated island beneath the stars.

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