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12 Bucket List Kayaking Destinations in North America

Kayaking—it has ancient origins. Folks in the Arctic invented the highly mobile water transportation method ages ago. Today, it’s been adapted into a sport, meditation method, and overall unique craft with many techniques. Kayaks can whisp through tight mangroves, slim canyons and around giant icebergs with ease, and that’s exactly the type of places this bucket list will take you. From Mexico, Canada, and to the major kayaking origin locations themselves, these are the bucket list kayaking destinations in North America.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico Sea of Cortez
Credit: Sea of Cortez by Ron Reiring via Flickr

Baja Peninsula, Mexico

Mexico’s Baja Peninsula extends below California, separating two significant bodies of water, the Gulf of California (in Mexico), and the Pacific Ocean. Noted to be one of the best-preserved marine ecosystems, the gulf houses a wealth of whales, dolphins and fish that don’t seem to be very shy—wildlife sightings while on a tour are common. The gulf is gorgeously blue while providing peaceful terrain for easy paddling, although experts say adventurists do need some arm strength to propel through the waters.

Aialik Bay, Alaska Aialik Bay
Credit: Aialik Bay by Adam Mattessich via Flickr

Aialik Bay, Alaska

Alaska is an intricate state to explore even just by car or foot, and then you have kayaking. The sport adds a new perspective to the complex terrain, where you can see up close the icy features of the surrounding sea, and even the marine life. Lakes, bays, coves, where does one start? If one place had the edge of being ever so slightly more striking, it might be Aialik Bay, in Kenai Fjords National Park.

Salmon River, Idaho Salmon River near Stanley
Credit: Salmon River near Stanley by Katja Schulz via Flickr

Salmon River, Idaho

The Salmon River in Idaho originates from two mountain ranges, thanks to their trickling springs and snowmelt. Some of the first visible signs of the “River of No Return”, can be seen around breathtaking Stanley. Kayaking the river proves to be challenging but scenically rewarding. Redfish Lake, still in Stanley, offers peaceful paddling, movie-worthy views and quaint lodging nearby.

Buffalo River, Arkansas Buffalo River
Credit: Buffalo River by OakleyOriginals vis Flickr

Buffalo River, Arkansas

Buffalo River in Arkansas trails through the Ozark Mountain range. Protected by the National Park Service, the land hugging the un-dammed River (which is rare), protects the native animals, from deer to elk. Waterfalls, hikes and endearing towns are some things to dive into beyond kayaking the river, although that’s the true highlight.

Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park Waterfowl Lake in Banff
Credit: Waterfowl Lake in Banff by Nicola Horscroft via Flickr

Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park

Waterfowl Lake in Banff National Park is one of many eye-catching areas in this Canadian wonderland. This is one of those places you’d see in a magazine, where every photo snapped is worthy of a place on your wall. Hues of the water are indescribable and are met with an enveloping mountain backdrop.

Bio Bay, Cayman Islands Bio Bay
Credit: Bio Bay by Caymankayaks.com

Bio Bay, Cayman Islands

Bio Bay, short for Bioluminescent Bay, is a nook in the Cayman Islands, that’s home to a special kind of plankton, that gives off a colorful, glowing burst of energy when touched. Harmless to the skin, folks can trail their fingers through the water when kayaking at night, to reveal a spectacular show. If deemed safe by your guide, at times one can even swim in the bay for a full-body experience. Cayman Kayaks regularly operates tours.

Lake Powell, Utah Lake Powell
Credit: Lake Powell by Udo S via Flickr

Lake Powell, Utah

Lake Powell belongs to both Utah and Arizona, and a paddle through the reservoir means weaving through massive red rock, including the famed Antelope Canyon, with teal water beneath your kayak. Journeys can last anywhere from hours to days.

Manitoba, Canada Manitoba
Credit: Manitoba by Commons.wikimedia.org

Manitoba, Canada

Manitoba, Canada offers many variations of kayaking, whether paddling the lengthy Black River, Alberts Lake or a shorter, beautiful day trip through the Pinawa Channel. The region is diverse, and perfect for the traveler looking for options. Several “bucket list” paddle trips could happen right here.

Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin, Guadeloupe Islands Grand Cul De Sac Marin
Credit: Grand Cul De Sac Marin by Romain DECKER via Flickr

Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin, Guadeloupe Islands

Deemed a UNESCO Global Biosphere, Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin of the Guadeloupe Islands is a wonderland of marine life and natural foliage. Kayaking protects the vast lagoon, while still letting explorers get an up-close look at the beauty of the clear waters. Glide through mangroves, sweep over the open shallow stretches and look out for majestic manatees.

Three Sisters Springs, Florida  Three Sisters Springs - Crystal River
Credit: Three Sisters Springs - Crystal River by VisitCitrus via Flickr

Three Sisters Springs, Florida

Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River is one of the best places to go kayaking in Florida, as it’s bluer than anywhere else in the state. Manatees, fish and birds inhabit the wetland environment, making the site a wildlife haven. Kayaks can be launched at Hunter Springs Park and Kings Bay Park from April to November, then navigators can paddle into the springs for clear views to the bottom. Motorboats are permitted around, but not in the springs, which keeps that water clean and sparkling. Snorkeling is another popular way to explore.

Haida Gwaii, Canada Haida Gwaii
Credit: Haida Gwaii by M E A N D R E A via Flickr

Haida Gwaii, Canada

Haida Gwaii is an otherworldly group of volcanic islands off the coast of Canada, in the Pacific Ocean. Rainforest terrain and past heritage enrich the land with life and stories. Experts recommend traversing the southeastern side of the archipelago, as it’s more protected from the roughness of the exposed sea. One should be well versed and prepared before pushing off into the waters. Better yet, if you don’t know the area well, opt for a guide, and get excited to see whales, towering rock formations and some of the oldest signs of civilization.

Sermilik Fjord, Greenland Sermilik
Credit: Sermilik by Nat Wilson via Flickr

Sermilik Fjord, Greenland

All of Greenland is considered a kayaking paradise, as the arctic waters surrounding the island were where the small, agile vessel was actually invented. Natives of Greenland have been using kayaks for ages, as simply transportation or means of hunting. History enriches the iceberg and whale filled experiences available here. Sermilik Fjord can be navigated easily during the summer when the ice breaks apart, but stunning icebergs still float atop the salty sea. Locals today even rely heavily on kayaking, and young ones practice their skills in various places.

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