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Visit These 4 Popular Kayak Getaways in North America

North America is a big place with countless waterways navigable by small craft. No single list can list them all, let alone do them justice.

Think of this as a North American kayaking cheat sheet, not any sort of attempt at a comprehensive list of the continent’s top kayaking destinations. Though all feel like the edge of the world, most of these locales lie within a half-day drive — or less — of a major airport.

1. Lakes Area, New Hampshire

Between its rolling, verdant mountains, central New Hampshire is dotted with lakes, ponds, and navigable rivers. The Lakes Area, as it’s known, stretches from Concord in the south to the White Mountains in the north. The largest contiguous body of water is Lake Winnipesaukee, whose inlets and bays provide endless entertainment for enterprising paddlers. Start at Ellacoya State Park in Gifford, one of many quaint little villages in the area.

2. Hecla Island, Manitoba

About two hours north of Winnipeg lies otherworldly Hecla Island, a popular summer destination for watersports enthusiasts and history buffs alike. You’ll want to spend more than an afternoon here, and for such a remote outpost — the island’s sole connection to the mainland is a two-lane causeway — there’s a surprising range of places to hunker down. Choose from rustic Gull Harbour Marina, a small resort co-owned by local kayak enthusiast Lori Janeson (a great source of local advice); camping at Gull Harbour Campground; or full-service resort life at Lakeview Hecla Resort.

3. Door County, Wisconsin

Look at a map of Wisconsin and you’ll see what looks like a pinky finger extending out into Lake Michigan, northeast of the city of Green Bay. Door County comprises most of that projection. While the county has plenty of inland waterways, the main attraction is Lake Michigan itself — inclusive of much calmer Green Bay, to Door County’s west, and the open lake, to the east. Don’t miss Washington Island, an impossibly pastoral year-round community that grows substantially in summer.

4. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness & Quetico Provincial Park, Minnesota and Ontario

These two protected areas straddle the Minnesota-Ontario border. They’re covered with the remnants of the most recent glaciation: deep lakes, wild rivers, rugged cliffs, rounded hills covered mixed forests. Motorized boats are prohibited on the Minnesota side, making the Boundary Waters one of the most pristine kayaking destinations anywhere in the Lower 48. The Canadian side is no less remote. Plan to spend at least three days in the region, and remember to keep your weight low for comfort (and safety) during those inevitable portages.

Stay Safe Out There

Kayaking is super fun — until it’s not. Do your part to keep safe out there by reviewing basic safety tips before you leave:

  • Watch the weather forecast beginning several days in advance

  • Learn basic bail-out maneuvers

  • Wear an approved flotation device

  • Never paddle alone

  • Share your planned route with others not in attendance

  • Avoid alcohol and other intoxicants before or during your paddle

And remember that ocean and open water kayaking — including on large lakes like Lake Michigan — presents a host of additional challenges. The only thing better than a pleasant day out on the water is returning home safely at its end.