There are so many different places you can go kayaking. Everything from placid lakes and streams, to insane raging white water rivers. But where should you go as a beginner and more importantly what should you avoid? In this guide, we’ll cover all the best places to kayak for beginners plus we’ll suggest some of the spots you’ll want to seek out first and some other things to think about before hitting the water.
Finding a suitable location
When you’re just starting out you’re going to want to look for calm, still water. This is the perfect place to practice and get used to controlling the kayak and different paddling techniques that you’ll need to practice.
Depending on where you live though finding flat water can be surprisingly hard! The best spots to look for are:
- non tidal rivers
- reservoirs that allow public access
When choosing a location be sure that you can access the shoreline and that there aren’t any steep banks in case you have to swim back.
You could also try the sea as long as the waves aren’t too big and there isn’t much wind. You also need to be aware of strong currents and tides so make sure you do your research before going in the sea with your kayak.
Where NOT to kayak as a beginner
There are lots of places you should steer clear of when deciding where to paddle as a beginner.
Some places you’ll be able to visit eventually like white water rivers once you’ve built up your skills but others are very dangerous and shouldn’t be paddled in even by the most experienced kayakers.
Avoid fast currents
As I said earlier, avoid locations that have a strong current such as tidal rivers. As an inexperienced kayaker you don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t get back to shore.
You need to watch out for very windy locations. Kayaking is very strenuous sport and you can quickly become exhausted fighting against a strong current.
Make sure you can get out easily
You also need to make sure you can get out of the water easily. If you were to capsize and had to swim to the shore you need to be able to get out and may be cold and tired with a boat full of water.
Watch out for very high banks and muddy areas that would stop you from getting out of the water.
Avoid rivers with lots of obstacles in
It’s not recommended when you’re starting out to tackle rivers with lots of obstacles in. Things like rocks, mud and low bridges can cause a lot of trouble to the inexperienced kayaker.
It’s very easy to get stuck under a low bridge even in very slow moving water and find yourself in a lot of trouble very quickly.
Avoid weirs, locks and sluices
You should never attempt to go over weirs as a beginner in a kayak. They can be very dangerous to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
You should always avoid them and give them a wide berth both up and downstream.
It’s the same with locks and sluices (which is a gate for controlling the flow of water). A filling or emptying lock can be very dangerous and you should never be aboard your kayak.
When you need to pass through a lock carry it around and if it’s too heavy hold on to it with ropes from the side.
The same with sluices, avoid them at all costs when in the water.
Serious hazards on the water
There are some things that you must be aware of when on the water as some of these can be life threatening and are the cause of many kayaking accidents every year.
Watch out for changing river levels
It doesn’t take very long at all for river levels to rise very dramatically.
What was a very pleasant paddle can turn into a fast moving torrent in a matter of hours. Heavy rain or melting snow in mountain rivers can seriously affect the height of the water and a very short space of time so be prepared by researching your location before you set out.
Dams are also another potential hazard. Often at certain times of the day they will be opened and a huge amount of water can be let loose down the river.
It’s not recommended to kayak in these rivers, especially if there has been a lot of rainfall or flooding.
Strainers and siphons
A very dangerous river hazard to look out for is a strainer. A strainer is the name given to any barrier or obstacle that water can flow through but will stop anything solid.
Things like fallen trees or a build up of logs can create strainers that will cause you to get stuck.
The other thing to watch out for is a siphon. A siphon is where the water in a river goes underground. These can be deadly as they can suck you underwater and cause you to get stuck.
The video below shows a siphon at a river dam and you can see the speed at which the water is getting sucked down.
Planning your trip in advance
As a beginner you should always plan in advance where you’re going to go.
Ideally as someone brand new you shouldn’t attempt any sort of journey and should just find an open body of water like a lake to practice in. Then as you become more experienced at the basics of getting in and out of the kayak and the manoeuvres you need to know you can explore more.
But once you’re ready to attempt a longer journey you should have a realistic idea of what sort of distance you can cover.
Kayaking is a very physical sport and you can become tired very quickly. Build up your stamina slowly over multiple outings and always be aware of you limitations and also that of others in your group. Your route should take account of the weakest member.
Checking the weather
Make sure to check the weather forecast for your outing.
Strong winds and heavy rain can affect the condition of the water dramatically. If it looks like it’s going to be too severe then have a contingency plan or reschedule your trip for when they weather is going to be more favourable.
Considering the weather is a very important part of planning your kayak trip. Let’s take a look at the different weather conditions you need to think about.
Wind is going to affect you a lot when you’re in a kayak. It’s a lot more pronounced on the water and what is normally a light breeze on land can cause wind chill when you’re soaking wet and cold.
It pays to dress appropriately with a windproof top even if it’s sunny and hot.
If you’re going to a long trip you’ll want to take a range of clothes with you to allow you to change into different clothes as the weather changes throughout the day.
In extreme wind such as a gale or storm you should never go paddling. Very high winds make controlling a kayak near impossible and you’re likely to lose your paddle. It’s not worth the risk so don’t attempt it.
There’s nothing better than heading out on the water on a lovely sunny day. Make sure that you take sunscreen with you as the effects of the sun are magnified in water.
It can take 30 minutes before you get sun burnt and quickly get sunstroke if you’re not careful. Make sure you wear a hat when it’s sunny and take a lot of drinking water with you to keep well hydrated.
Lots of people enjoying kayaking when it’s raining and if you’re dressed for the occasion then it can be good fun. But, there are a few things you’ll need to keep it a pleasurable experience.
The first and most obviously think you’ll need is good waterproof coat. There’s nothing worse than being out on the water and soaking wet for hours.
Make sure you’ve got enough layers on underneath and take a hat, preferably one that keeps the rain from dripping down your face.
Watch out for lightning
If there is a storm DO NOT go kayaking.
Getting struck by lightning is very rare on land but when you’re in a large open body of water you are much more likely to be struck. There are 6000 people killed a year by lightening and doing water-sports puts you in the high risk category.
Lightning usually strikes the highest object and so when you’re on the water it’s most likely going to be you and your paddle so don’t do it!
Keep an eye on the temperature
Make sure you’re dressed for the right temperature, especially if you’re heading out in extreme temperatures.
Getting too cold can lead to Hyperthermia which is deadly and the cause of a lot of deaths in water.
Make sure you wrap up warm and take a change of clothes incase you capsize. I recommend getting a drysuit for kayaking in extremely cold temperatures. This stops you from getting wet even if you go under.
Gloves are also an essential item of clothing for kayaking in the cold.
Extreme heat is also something you need to watch out for.
As I said earlier, kayaking is very strenuous and you’ll sweat a lot. You’ll sweat even more in hot and humid temperatures and you can quickly become dehydrated.
Take plenty of drinking water with you on trips and take lots of breaks to cool down in the shade.
That’s it for our recommendations of where and when to go kayaking. The most important thing to think about when choosing where and when to go is planning.
You should always know:
- Exactly where you’re going to go and for how long
- What the weather is going to be like
- how you will get out of the water if you have to swim
If you know those three things you’ll be safe and have a successful first kayaking trip.
If you have any questions leave a comment below.