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15 Of The Most Beautiful Places To Paddle In The World

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The question we faced in curating this article was simple: how to list the most beautiful places to paddle in the world without playing favorites?

To create a more objective tally, we focused on both beauty and diversity. In just about every example, our 15 greatest destinations have a variety of types of scenery and paddling opportunities for canoeists, kayakers and rafters—as well as options for a wide range of skill levels. There’s always room for improvement, but we feel like the results come close to the ultimate paddler’s bucket list.

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canoeists paddle on a misty Ontario lake in Algonquin Park
Photo: Simone Wessels-Bloom/Unsplash

1 Ontario

Call us biased, but we believe Rapid Media’s home province easily ranks among the most beautiful places to paddle in the world. From the vast horizons of the Great Lakes to wilderness rivers and immense networks of freshwater lakes, there’s something for every paddler in Ontario.

Lake Superior is a world-class destination for sea kayaking, with Pukaskwa National Park and surroundings boasting over 200 kilometers of wilderness coastline. Similarly, Georgian Bay is a sea kayaker’s dream with 30,000 islands to explore. History comes alive on canoe tripping rivers like the Missinaibi and French. The powerful Ottawa River has been a training ground for the world’s best whitewater paddlers—with exciting opportunities for whitewater rafting, too. Finally, Killarney, Quetico, Algonquin, Wabakimi and more feature incredible lake-to-lake canoe and portage routes that it would take a lifetime to explore. Have we said enough?

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a rocky plateau island off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador
Photo: Erik McLean/Unsplash

2 Newfoundland and Labrador

“The Rock” is truly a world apart, rich in cultural heritage and blessed with a unique geography that’s perfect for paddling. Located in eastern Canada, the island of Newfoundland is known for its rugged coastline and maritime traditions, which are best experienced in a sea kayak. Newfoundland’s rugged and remote southwest coast is one of the planet’s finest sea kayak destinations for expert paddlers, while incredible sea caves near the provincial capital of St. John’s make great day paddling for novices and families on guided trips.

Newfoundland canoeing is underappreciated yet equally spectacular, with several free-flowing waterways, including the Main River, offering options for multiday trips in the lush boreal forests and sparse taiga of the island’s interior. Meanwhile, mainland Labrador is a true frontier for long-distance wilderness paddlers.

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overhead view of a turquoise river with sandy, forested banks in the Yukon
Photo: Kristina Delp/Unsplash

3 Yukon

Canada’s Yukon Territory offers a wide range of superlative adventures for all types of paddlers. For starters, the Yukon’s namesake river is one of North America’s longest, with a captivating gold rush history revealed in the legacies of Jack London and Robert Service. You don’t need to be an expert to paddle the Yukon River, and guided trips are available for families and novices alike. Some of the river’s headwater lakes make for good kayaking, too.

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Countless wild rivers spill off the northern Rockies in the Yukon, including the spectacular Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers, which are bucket list destinations for whitewater canoe trippers. Meanwhile, the Firth and Wind rivers can be navigated by canoe or raft alike, and each offer unique northern landscapes of tundra and mountains. The Yukon is a place where time stands still, and it’s still possible to experience the lands and waters of your dreams.

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clouds reflected in water with hills rising from either side in Alaska
Photo: John Thomas/Unsplash

4 Alaska

Just across the border from the Yukon Territory, Alaska features similar attractions and geography—with the addition of coastal fjords and glaciers. In Alaska you’ll find the world’s best wilderness whitewater rafting on the the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers; incredible canoeing on Wild and Scenic rivers like the Noatak and Kobuk; whitewater creeking around the city of Anchorage and beyond; and incredible sea kayaking amidst the islands and glaciers of Prince William Sound, at the north end of the Inside Passage.

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a view of Glacier National Park in Montana
Photo: David Morris/Unsplash

5 Montana

If you’ve watched A River Runs Through It you’ve got a good sense of just how spectacular Montana rivers can be. In particular, the Wild and Scenic Missouri River takes canoeists into the landscape of Lewis and Clark, with austere white rock landforms set between the Great Plains and the foothills. Meanwhile, the Yellowstone, Gallatin, Flathead and Madison rivers all offer outstanding whitewater rafting. Brennan’s Wave on the Clark Fork River offers fantastic freestyle kayaking in the heart of Missoula, one of America’s greatest outdoor cities.

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Utah's Green River runs between towering cliffs at sunrise
Photo: Trac Vu/Unsplash

6 Four Corners States

All the Four Corners states of Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico offer a range of experiences for paddlers. The magnificent Colorado River lives up to its reputation as a bucket list destination for whitewater rafting and kayaking. The Green River in Utah offers exposure to similar geology and arid landscapes, yet includes flatwater sections suitable for sea kayakers and canoeists. Meanwhile, you’ll find plenty of shoreline to explore on Lake Mead. Colorado is known for its expert-only class V Front Range rivers, and Arizona is home to numerous lakes and rivers for recreational paddling.

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overhead view of a Boundary Waters campsite in Minnesota
Photo: Joe Pohle/Unsplash

7 Minnesota

There’s a lot of beautiful paddling in Minnesota. For starters, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is the most popular canoe tripping destination in the world—for good reason. This 1.1-million-acre wilderness contains thousands of miles of canoe routes and connects to Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park.

Minnesota also marks the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul offer some of America’s best urban canoeing and kayaking, living up to the state’s moniker as the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Northeastern Minnesota pushes up against Lake Superior, and communities like Duluth and Grand Marais provide access to world-class sea kayaking on an inland sea.

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a view of the Maine coast
Photo: Miro Vrlik/Unsplash

8 Maine

Legendary American nature writer Henry David Thoreau celebrated canoeing in Maine’s North Woods. Not much has changed along the canoe routes of the Allagash and Penobscot rivers in the century and a half since Thoreau traced these waters with Indigenous guides. Maine beckons with pristine forests, tall hills, vast lakes and Wild and Scenic rivers—some of which fall along the epic 740-mile-long Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

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The coastline of Acadia National Park tempts expedition sea kayakers with deep bays, countless islands and rugged bedrock coastline to explore. From easy day trips to wilderness sojourns, Maine easily serves up some of the most beautiful paddling in America.

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pillars of rock at a beautiful, popular paddling destination in Baja Mexico
Photo: Christopher Kuzman/Unsplash

9 Mexico

Mexico is a place of stark contrasts for paddlers: aquamarine rivers tumble through moist, dense jungles, serving up some of the finest whitewater on the planet; meanwhile, stark desert landscapes, rocky, treeless mountains, and spectacular beaches line the warm azure waters of the Sea of Cortez. It’s hard to imagine better destinations for winter whitewater and sea kayaking to ignite your sense of wonder and keep you sharp in the offseason.

Mexico whitewater kayaking and canoeing is best for expert boaters. Most vacations are based out of small, friendly communities where an adventurous spirit is beneficial for visitors—though some guided packages are available. There’s a huge range of Baja sea kayak trips, including family-friendly and beginner guided tours to more advanced expeditions, including open water crossings and exposed coastlines.

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scenic view of water and mountains on a cloudy day in Patagonia
Photo: Andrew Svk/Unsplash

10 Patagonia

Located at the southern tip of South America, the mountain wilderness of Chile and Argentina feature equal parts world-class whitewater and jaw-dropping coastal fjords. As you can imagine, Patagonia is one of the most beautiful places to go paddling—especially when combined with rich and friendly South American culture.

Big rivers like the Futaleufu are renowned proving grounds for the world’s best whitewater paddlers. However, you don’t have to be an expert to go on a Patagonia whitewater rafting trip. Similarly, there are guided sea kayak trips where you can experience the fjords and glaciers of Chile’s Pacific coast up close.

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dramatic iceberg in front of rocky cliff in Antarctica
Photo: James Eades/Unsplash

11 Antarctica

The paddling options in Antarctica are limited, yet it still ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful places to paddle for its icebergs, mountains and wildlife-covered shores. Most Antarctica kayak trips are based from adventure cruise ships, where guides and naturalists will take you out on the Southern Ocean for close encounters with otherworldly seascapes. Short, all-inclusive tours make these experiences of a lifetime available to novice kayakers.

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scenic view of the Scottish highlands
Photo: Murilo Gomes/Unsplash

12 Scotland

With a mind-blowing coastline of islands and tide-washed channels on the North Sea, Scotland is a proven ground for expert sea kayakers. Places like the Isle of Skye and the Hebrides are world-renowned for outstanding scenery and challenging paddling conditions, with plenty of routes for day trips and overnight expeditions. The Scottish Highlands make for great canoeing, too, with tall peaks and harsh landscapes setting the backdrop for excellent paddling on rivers and lakes.

Blue waters and yellow hills in New Zealand
Feature photo: Benjamin Kraus/Unsplash

13 New Zealand

New Zealand routinely tops the list of most beautiful adventure destinations in the world, so it makes sense the country would also feature fantastic paddling. Abel Tasman National Park, located at the north end of the South Island, showcases New Zealand’s best kayaking, with expansive beaches, incredible coastlines and impressive biodiversity—even blue penguins. The area’s well-developed ecotourism industry includes guided tour operators, outfitters and water taxis to allow paddlers of all levels the opportunity to customize their own kayak trips, ranging from hours to days on the water.

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What’s more, there are a multitude of whitewater rafting and kayaking options available on both the North and South Islands. Crystal clear, wild waterways like the Tongariro and Wairoa rivers cascade from New Zealand’s mountainous interior. Indigenous people coordinate much of New Zealand’s tourism and conservation, and efforts of the Maori community led to the Whanganui River being granted legal “personhood” in 2017.

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overhead view of a rushing river surrounded by dense forest in Sweden
Photo: Henrik Morkel/Unsplash

14 Sweden

Scandinavia includes some of the world’s most beautiful places to paddle, with Sweden offering a huge variety. For starters, the Swedish backcountry offers multitudes of canoe routes amidst a classic landscape of lakes, rivers and boreal forest. The country also boasts plenty of coastline, and the Baltic Sea near Stockholm provides thousands of islands to explore by sea kayak. Come summer, the whole country basks beneath the midnight sun. Great public access to wilderness areas makes it easy to plan the paddling trip of a lifetime in Sweden.

beautiful view of turquoise waters and dramatic rocky shoreline in Portugal
Photo: Tristan Mimet/Unsplash

15 Portugal

Of Mediterranean paddling destinations, Portugal offers the greatest diversity of trips by kayak or canoe. The historic Douro and Mondego rivers flow peacefully through sweeping pastoral landscapes, complete with ancient vineyards and historic farms. Combined with a pleasant climate and friendly people, there’s no better place to paddle into Old World culture.

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Feature photo: Benjamin Kraus/Unsplash