When we look at international kayaking destinations around the world, it’s becoming easier to forget about the United States – and in fact, it can almost seem as if the U.S. wants it this way.
We’re not in the habit of getting political on this site, but when it impacts travel philosophy it’s worth touching on. From an international perspective, the U.S. looks increasingly like an isolated nation charting its own path. Attempts have been made over the course of 2017 to limit immigration from several countries around the world, and even in universally agreed upon policies, America is swimming upstream, so to speak. For instance, when Syria recently agreed to sign the Paris climate accords, it left the U.S. alone on climate change, as literally the only country not officially adhering to the agreement’s terms.
Within the U.S., as you may know if you have much interest in geopolitics, there is an unusual amount of political uncertainty. Despite being entirely under one party’s control, the congress has struggled to mount a legislative accomplishment since Barack Obama left office. Donald Trump’s approval ratings are at near-historic lows, to the point that everyone from the average citizen, to the news pundit, to the bookmaker is regularly asking the question: how likely is his impeachment? In a way, following American politics can make it feel as if the infamously contentious 2016 election never stopped.
So what does all of this have to do with travel? Nothing, practically speaking. But it is worth noting that the U.S. – once viewed as a uniquely accepting country, a place of peace, and a land overflowing with interesting tourist destinations – can now look a bit less friendly and a bit less fun. I wrote about those stories first because they’re the stories that come up first when we think of the U.S. these days. But what’s important to remember if you’re an adventure traveler is that most of these are surface issues. America, “on the ground” so to speak (or in the water, for our purposes), is still a beautiful country with all kinds of interesting opportunities.
This is vital to keep in mind if you’re planning an overseas kayaking trip. And now that we’ve covered it, let’s get down to business. This is my look at the best kayaking destinations the U.S. has to offer as we head toward 2018.
The Colorado River (Arizona/Utah)
If you’re looking for a uniquely American place to go kayaking, the Colorado River has to be near the top of your list. It’s a calm river, so it’s not generally the most challenging ride, so to speak, but the scenery is gorgeous. Depending on where you start, you can actually kayak through the Grand Canyon. Farther to the north, just across the Arizona border and into Utah, you can also enjoy the vast and picturesque Lake Powell, which the Colorado River runs directly into.
Arkansas River (Colorado/Kansas/Oklahoma/Arkansas)
Arkansas doesn’t usually come up when you think about the most beautiful or popular states in the U.S. (though it may gain some more fame thanks to the Netflix original show ‘Ozark,’ which takes place partially in Arkansas and has already been renewed for a second season). But this river actually takes you through a diverse range of American scenery, and through some class IV (and lower) rapids in the process. It’s a great river to take for a long kayaking journey, starting in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and ending in Arkansas (camping along the way).
Prince William Sound (Alaska)
If you’re looking for a more tranquil experience, don’t forget that America also has a sort of cold weather paradise of its own. Alaska has some of the country’s most amazing scenery, and you can enjoy it up close by kayaking around Prince William Sound in the Chugach National Forest. It’s cold, of course, but there’s a wild, relaxing beauty to staying in a nearby cabin and spending the days out on the water. You may even see an orca, if you’re lucky.
Chesapeake Bay (East Coast)
The Chesapeake Bay is one of the most consequential bodies of water in America, at least from an historical standpoint. It’s quite close to where many of the first successful colonies in the “New World” were established, and it remains an interesting and beautiful area today. Lying between Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. and Delaware, it’s a very large bay that ultimately spills into the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia Beach and the North Carolina border. It’s not a place to find rapids, but it can make for a challenging kayaking experience given the uneven shoreline. Best of all is that there are pretty little towns (with excellent seafood restaurants) to stop in for evenings if you’re kayaking the bay for a few days.
Gauley River (West Virginia)
This is a nice challenge if you’re interested in rapids and a more strenuous experience. With class IV-V rapids, and surprisingly beautiful forest scenery (many people don’t realize just how much exquisite nature West Virginia has to offer), it’s got a little bit of everything to enjoy.
Now you see the point. The U.S. may put out a less desirable image than it once did – but once you start reading into these destinations, you hardly remember politics exist. It’s still an incredible country to visit for a kayaking getaway.