Kayaking in Oklahoma State: 9 of the Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

With rolling hills and flowing rivers, the possibilities for kayaking are endless in Oklahoma. Known as the Sooner State, this blanket of boundless outdoors is calling for adventure. 

When it comes to kayaking, you want variety and, of course, gorgeous scenery. You get both in the many lakes and rivers of Oklahoma. Though land-locked, this state is full of opportunities for water adventure. 

In this post, we’re going to look at 9 of the best places to kayak in Oklahoma to help inspire you as you plan your next kayaking trip. 

1. The Illinois River, OK

For beginners, the Illinois River is a great option that is full of all that Oklahoma has to offer in terms of nature and wildlife. There are reportedly over 250 species of birds that you can see as you paddle down the Illinois River. If you watch carefully, you may even see a bald eagle. 

Running through Cookson Hills of Northeastern Oklahoma, this kayaking spot is nothing short of picturesque. In the spring and fall, you can see blooming redbuds. But, no matter what season you visit the Illinois River, you’ll enjoy tons of gorgeous, bright trees and a variety of wildlife. 

There are more than ten resorts and launching locations, and the Illinois River features various water types. So whether you are looking for an easier, calmer route or trying to get an adrenaline rush on Type II rapids, the Illinois River has it. 

For launching, there are a number spots you can try: Illinois River at Tahlequah on the southern side of Tahlequah; No Head Hollow Public Access north of Tahlequah along State Highway 10; Edmonson Public Access on State Highway 10 north of Ellerville; Peavine Hollow Public Access on State Highway 10 north of Edmonson Public Access; and Chewey Road Public Access east of State Highway 10 from the intersection of Chewey Road and State Highway 10.

2. Mountain Fork River, Broken Bow, OK

Mountain Fork River by Robert Nunnally (CC BY 2.0)

Near the city of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, lies Mountain Fork River. It feeds into Broken Bow Lake and rests in southeastern Oklahoma, reaching south to Arkansas. To locals, the part of the river that lies below the lake is called Lower Mountain Fork River, and it’s a hugely popular kayaking spot. 

Particularly in the summer, you’ll see people flocking to Mountain Fork River and Lower Mountain Fork River for water sports and recreation. A trendy spot is a two-mile loop in Beaver Bend State Park north of the Re-Regulation Dam. 

This is another decent option for beginners, as the water tends to remain calm in the summer. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t the chance of some adventure. After rainstorms or dam releases, Mountain Fork River can quickly achieve Type II rapids. In fact, some areas of Mountain Fork River are well known as some of the best white water streams in Oklahoma. 

When planning a trip to Mountain Fork River, your best bet is to contact a local outfitter to find out the paddling conditions. There are around 15 rental companies along Lower Mountain Fork River, so no need to bring your own kayak. To access Mountain Fork River, try at the Highway 70 bridge south along the river. 

3. Lake Eufala, Eufala, OK

Lake Eufala by Cityofeufaulaok (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Coming in at 41,000 hectares, Lake Eufala is the largest lake in all of Oklahoma. It spreads out through three counties and also includes over 600 miles of shoreline. Along with that picturesque shoreline, there are many marinas, campgrounds, and accommodations if you want to extend your trip a couple of days. 

One reason for Lake Eufala’s size is the fact that three different rivers feed it. As you move north to south in the lake, you’ll notice the terrain changing. With that changing terrain comes a wide range of wildlife and vegetation. If you’re new to kayaking, consider waiting until the water level rises. Some say that makes it an easier route. Plan on spring when the rains flood the lake. 

There are several launch sites; however, it might be easier to use any one of the many boat ramps to access Lake Eufala. 

4. Boathouse District, Oklahoma City, OK

If you’re looking to visit a spot with a unique personality, try the Boathouse District of Oklahoma City. Not only does it provide views of scenic wilderness, but it’s also home to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for the rowing and canoeing/kayaking teams. 

As you plan a trip to the Boathouse District, make sure you check out OKC Riversport. They offer several classes and trips, including wildlife paddling on Lake Overhulser, flatwater kayaking, and full moon kayaking. 

OKC Riversport also offers a membership for those who plan on kayaking the Boathouse District regularly. You get extended access to various activities like cycling, rowing, and stand-up paddleboarding with that membership. The Boathouse District is truly a watersport playground. 

5. Skiatook Lake, OK

Skiatook Lake is more accurately described as a reservoir. Measuring at 4,200 hectares, this picture-perfect spot is surrounded by rolling hills, providing a serenity that many of us are craving lately. 

The 15th largest lake in Oklahoma, Skiatook Lake is located in the Osage Reservation northwest of Tulsa. With over 160 miles of shoreline, there is no shortage of places to stop and take a break during your kayaking trip. There you can enjoy the view of the deep green bluffs mirrored in the deep, crystal water. 

For a launch site, you can try Crystal Bay Marina and Resort, Zink Ranch Road Lake Access, Crosstimbers Marina, Highway 20 Lake Access, or North Access.

6. Arcadia Lake, Edmond, OK

Located just east of Edmonton, Arcadia Lake is the place to be if you love a good time. It has a reputation for being social and loud, though you can still find some peace and quiet in the small coves around the lake. 

Because it’s a no-pull lake, you won’t have to worry about fighting skiers for space on the lake. Instead, you can paddle around and enjoy the views of coves and hills, as well as the uniquely stunning orange sands along the shoreline. 

To access the lake, try the boat ramp on the south side of the lake of the bay on the north side. For a more private experience, turn to UCO. They offer a small boathouse off one of the small coves so you can go exploring in peace away from any of the motorboats. 

7. Grand Lake of the Cherokees, OK

Nestled in the rolling slopes of the Ozark Mountain Range, sitting comfortably in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, is Grand Lake of the Cherokees. It’s not only a large reservoir by Oklahoma standards; it’s actually one of the biggest reservoirs in the country. Measuring 36,000 hectares, it’s also the most developed lake in the region. 

Lying at the confluence of Washita and Red Rivers along the border of Oklahoma and Texas, Grand Lake of the Cherokees is also one of the most popular lakes in the region. More than 6 million people visit the lake every year. 

Grand Lake of the Cherokees also provides incredible scenery. It flows through two state parks and two wildlife refuges, meaning you’ll get some of the best views of Oklahoma as you paddle around the large reservoir. 

It’s described as quite open yet remarkably shallow. It also has a significant number of small inlets and coves, perfect for side tripos, though you’ll need to watch out for larger craft. 

8. Lake Hefner, OKC, OK

Located on the northeast side of Oklahoma City and northeast of Lake Overholser is Lake Hefner. Though it’s bordered by a dam on one side and residential areas around the rest of it, it provides many opportunities for recreation, including kayaking. Aside from that, you can enjoy golfing, boating, fishing, and hiking. 

When Lake Hefner was built, in 1947, it was intended to provide water for the nearby city. Today, it’s not only a great kayaking spot but also well-known for its fishing. There is a wide variety of gamefish in the lake, like walleye, channel catfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass.

As rich as the wildlife is on Lake Hefner, it’s also a popular spot for motorboats, so keep a watchful eye as you explore the 1,000-hectare lake. On the entire north end is Lake Hefner Dam. Your best bet for a launch site is on the south side of the lake near the northwest expressway. There’s a sandy beach area called Lake Hefner River Sport Sailing Center. It’ll be the most accessible launch you’ve ever had. 

9. Lake of the Arbuckles, Sulphur, OK

Just south of Sulphur, Oklahoma is Lake of the Arbuckles. Built-in 1966, it boasts 36 miles of incredibly scenic shoreline that includes camping spots, boat docks, boat ramps, and picnic areas. 

Lake of the Arbuckles in the pretty girl at the dance: it’s known for being gorgeous. Chickasaw National Recreation Area lies on the north side, while the rest of it takes you through prairie and woodlands. If you need a break from kayaking, try any one of the many hiking trails nearby. You could also try your hand at fishing. You might catch a catfish, perch, crappie, or bass. 

Connected to Lake of the Arbuckles is another popular kayaking spot: Washita River. It’s closer to Davis, Oklahoma, and known more for tubing, but it’s still worth visiting. The best stretch of the river for kayaking is near Turner Falls, where there are Class II and III white water rapids. Your best bet will be to visit during early summer. 

Another side trip to take when visiting Lake of the Arbuckles is Veteran’s Lake. It’s north of Lake of the Arbuckle’s and smaller, but it’s ideal for new kayakers and families. It features well-kept walkways and even has a fully equipped playground for the kids. 

To access Lake of the Arbuckles, try the east side of the lake, one of the most popular launch areas. You can also launch along Buckhorn Road, from Buckhorn Campground Loops C and D, or Buckhorn Boat Landing.

Summing up the Best Places to Kayak in Oklahoma

As you can see, Oklahoma has plenty of places to kayak and paddle, no matter what you’re looking for. Whether you want a serene stretch of water with just the wildlife as your company or an adrenaline-fueled adventure through whitewater rapids, there is something out there for every level of experience and interest.

We hope this list has helped you find someplace new that will inspire you to get outside and go exploring! Have any favorite spots we didn’t mention? Get in touch and let us know.