4 International Kayaking Destinations to Add to Your Bucket List

From beginner to expert, there's a spot for every type of paddler.

Mexico has some epic paddling destinations. Photo: Andy Cochrane

As domestic hotbeds like the Colorado River, Boundary Waters, Acadia National Park, and the San Juan Islands approach saturation in numbers, many paddlers have started to look elsewhere in search of solitude, novelty and adventure.

However, when one thinks internationally, options quickly become nearly limitless, from tropical rivers to vast and remote Arctic expanses.

We’ve compiled our top four paddling adventures and arranged in experience level them from beginner to expert, so you can pick the one that’s best fit for you.

Lofoten, Norway

Paddling with Hattvika Lodge guides in Lofoten, Norway. Photo: Andy Cochrane

Paddling Experience: Beginner

On the northern coast of Norway lies the Lofoten Islands, known for their steep peaks, long fjords, northern lights, and cod and dried fish exports. Lofoten is well above the Arctic Circle and for weeks during the summer the sun never sets, leaving you plenty of time to paddle, hike and explore one of the most unique landscapes in the world.

The archipelago offers endless sheltered bays for calm water paddling, stunning views of nearby peaks and small fishing villages that feel stuck in time. We'd recommend staying at Hattvika Lodge, near the end of the chain of islands. Hattvika offers sea kayak rentals, complete with paddles and safety equipment. For inspiration, take a look at photos from Tomasz Furmanek.

Whanganui River, New Zealand

The natural beauty of New Zealand is tough to beat. Photo: Courtesy of
Jens Hilligsøe/Flickr

Paddling Experience: Intermediate

After more than a century of negotiation between the New Zealand government and the native Maori people, Whanganui became the first river in the world to be granted the same legal rights as a human being in 2017. When you begin a trip down the river, it won't take long to figure out why.

The Whanganui is New Zealand’s third longest river and one of the country’s nine Great Walks. It can be found on the southern end of the north island.

Most paddlers spend 3 to 5 days on the river, following the current up to 145 km in either canoes and kayaks, which can be rented from a handful of nearby shops.

The sections of the river that most paddle are relatively mellow, with some sections of whitewater that add excitement. Upper sections get more gnarly, great for those looking to try whitewater rafting.

La Venta, Chiapas, Mexico

Paddling whitewater on La Venta, Chiapas. Photo: Andy Cochrane

Paddling Experience: Advanced

Known by locals as the Sacred Canyon, La Venta flows south to north and empties into La Garaza, a large lake near the border of Veracruz.

Information about La Venta is hard to come by – which means very few paddle the river. We didn't see a soul for over four days. The navigable section starts at El Aguacero, a well-known waterfall about an hour from Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas, and takes you 80 km downstream past hundreds of whitewater sets.

The route down La Venta has a handful of Class IV rapids, including a must-run IV called “Complicado.” It more than lives up to its name, weaving in and out of boulders in a small canyon no more than thirty meters wide.

We would recommend a raft in high water and a packraft when the CFS dip later in the season. We used an Alpacka Raft Gnarwal and was impressed with how well it held up. October is the premier time to visit – cooler temps with ample water to paddle.

South Nahanni River, Northwest Territories, Canada

A birds eye of paddling Arctic Rivers. Photo: Andy Cochrane

Paddling Experience: Variable

The South Nahanni is a bucket list river for any expedition paddler, known for its world-class whitewater, wildlife, hot springs, and centerpiece Virginia Falls, which (at 315 feet) is twice the height of Niagara.

The South Nahanni runs over 560 km from its headwaters in the Mackenzie Mountains near the Alaskan border and all the way to Liard River, and eventually empties into the Arctic Ocean.

There are many guiding services that help lead less-experienced paddlers along the Nahanni, on trips ranging from a week to a month in length.

For those looking to self-guide, folding boats like the Trak Kayak are the best way to go. They offer incredible portability without sacrificing much on performance. The Nahanni sits in the expansive Canadian tundra and if you decide to visit in late summer, you have a chance to see one of the most unique animal migrations in the world – hundreds of thousands of caribou heading towards their winter feeding grounds.

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