8 Best Rivers for Kayaking in the U.S.

Whether you prefer a challenge, an easy paddle or you’re more focused on the scenery, there are some rivers that rise above the rest when it comes to kayaking. Some are for the more experienced kayaker, with rough whitewater sections and class V rapids, while others are perfect for the beginner. And all of them are just plain gorgeous.

Clackamas River - Oregon
Just outside of Portland near the Mt. Hood National Forest is the Clackamas River, a river perfect for more experience kayakers. While the rapids range from class II to class IV, the unpredictable Oregon weather can easily make your trip more difficult, and thus, more dangerous. Plan ahead when paddling out onto the Clackamas, though, and you’ll be sure to have an awesome time.

Allagash Wilderness Waterways - Maine
If you decide to paddle the entirety of the Allagash, prepare to spend 7 days out there. That said, it’s absolutely worth the time. Though the majority of the trip will be spend in lakes rather than the actual Allagash itself, this trip, through the north woods of Maine is full of excellent American scenery. Chances are you’ll see some moose, bald eagles and maybe a bear.

Upper Iowa River - Iowa
People flock to the Upper Iowa River not for a challenge—since most rapids are Class I—but for the gorgeous water, limestone cliffs and the likelihood of spotting a bald eagle. It’s a great choice for beginners and children.

Yellowstone River - Montana
Gorgeous scenery and family-accessible waters, the Yellowstone River makes for great kayaking. Most of the rapids are class II with a few class IIIs making it suitable for beginners. In the fall and winter, the rivers get a little higher, though, making the rapids more difficult, so head out in August for perfect conditions.

Everglades National Park - Florida
You have two paddling options here: inland or Gulf Coast. Both are gorgeous. Be prepared to meet some alligators and manatees along the way, as well as a variety of other marine life. While there aren’t really rapids, beware of the boats motoring through that can rock your kayak or canoe.

American River - California
The North Fork of the American River offers some of the best class IV and class V whitewater rapids in California. So head here if you’re up for a challenge. Also: lush vegetation and the canyon you’ll be paddling through make for a great backdrop while you navigate the rapids.

Green River - Utah
Whether you decide to paddle the entirety of the Green River (it’s long and will take several days) or you take it in sections, you’re going to have a lot of fun. At Dinosaur National Monument, you’ll ride through the Green River Gorge, comparable in depth to the Grand Canyon.

Kenai Peninsula - Alaska
Do you want to see a variety of wildlife on your canoe or kayak trip? Then head to the Kenai Peninsula, home to more than 200 species of amphibians, birds and mammals. You’ll see ospreys, bald eagles, mink, river otter, bats, bears, coyotes and more. Oh and the Kenai Canoe System is the only federally designated wilderness canoe area.

By Sarah Esterman