17 Beautiful Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking In Seattle
By Natalie Ringel
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Updated October 5, 2021
Between the lush forests of the Emerald City to the first Starbucks, Seattle has natural beauty and urban activities, making it a premier tourist destination. Whether you’re visiting Seattle or live there year-round, getting out on the water is truly the best way to see the city. A day kayaking in Seattle is a day well-spent; with views of rocky shorelines, the city skyline, and pine tree- covered islands, the Pacific Northwest’s natural landscape is truly awe-inspiring.
There are plenty of spots to go kayaking in and around Seattle, with many focused towards beginners and families. With opportunities for both lake and sea kayaking, there is no shortage of places to explore, and the best news is that most of them are free! We wrote this detailed guide on the most beautiful spots for canoeing and kayaking in Seattle to help you plan your next adventure on the water.
Best Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in Seattle
While you’re basking in the sun paddling in Lake Union, you may find some companions…baby turtles! Hidden among the lily pads, Lake Union is known to have tons of wildlife, including turtles, that make for great paddle buddies. Lake Union’s wide-open waters are great for families to carve out their own space on the water.
Whether you’re looking for a quick paddle after work, or planning a whole afternoon on the water, Lake Union is perfect for all ability levels, and is known for its views of the colorful house that line the shores. Avid kayakers especially love paddling around Portage Bay and across the Montlake Cut to the Washington Park Arboretum. Or, paddle the opposite direction and head to Gas Works Park for an unreal view of downtown Seattle.
Rentals at this location are provided by Agua Verde Paddle Club for $20/hour. This club has a perfect launch site if you’re renting from them or if you decide to bring your own boat. Either way, Lake Union is the perfect spots to see the sights of Seattle from the water.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 N to Lakeview Blvd E to Fairfield Ave E to the lake. If not driving, the Seattle Streetcar goes directly from downtown Seattle to Lake Union, and also connects to other Metro Transit.
Why go whale watching from a bulky boat when you can do it up close in a kayak?!San JuanIslandsis the premier kayaking spot for whale spotting and seeing harbor seal pups.
Pristine shorelines provide a great guide for paddling along the harbor, and visitors can even paddle to the beautiful Point Doughty State Park. Kayaking the San Juan Islands is great for all abilities, however, this sea kayaking can be bit more challenging than lake kayaking due to the waves.
There are TONS of guided tours to make your experience paddling the San Juan Islands unforgettable. Paddlers really enjoy Outer Island Excursions‘ trip out of Smuggler’s Villa Resort and San Juan Kayak Expeditions. Because there are so many tours in this area, it can get crowded. Make sure to get out there early to experience the beautiful scenery of Seattle!
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 N to the Burlington exit 230, then take Highway 20 until you reach Anacortes and the ferry. It is recommended to arrive at Anacortes Ferry Terminal at least 1 hour prior to ferry departure ($13). If not driving, airport shuttles from SeaTac will drop you off at the ferry terminal.
Conquer the waves at Alki Beach! With wide open waters, Alki Beach’s shoreline is great for novice paddlers and experts alike. Open pretty much all day, Alki Beach is the perfect spot for a sunset paddle.
Paddle all the way to the Alki Lighthouse or cruise through Elliott Bay- it’s your choice! With so much space, this beach provides a great oasis for those looking to get out of the city and connect with the surrounding nature.
Alki Kayak Tours offers guided tours and rentals on a first-come-first-served basis ($20/hour). As a public beach, visitors are always encouraged to bring their own boats and launch right off of the coast.
How to Get There: If driving, start on Hwy 99 S and take the exit for West Seattle Bridge, then take Harbor Ave to Alki Ave SW. If not driving, buses 50 and 775 or the C Line will bring you to the beach.
The smooth waters of Lake Washington make Magnuson Park the ideal spot for beginner paddlers looking to improve their skills. Because of the calm waters, Magnuson Park is also a great spot for families.
With birds swooping down to catch fish, paddling on Lake Washington is sure to be a thrill! Sailboats and kayaks constantly wander the lake, creating a community of paddlers on the water.
This park on Lake Washington is home to Sail Sand Point, Seattle’s Community Boathouse. Here, Sail Sand Point and REI offers paddle lessons for kayakers of all ages and boat rentals ($20/hour). If looking to launch your own boat, Magnuson Park is also the best spot on Lake Washington to do so.
How to Get There: If driving, start on I-5 N towards Kirkland, take the Montlake Blvd E exit to Sand Point Way NE. If not driving, you can take Bus 62, 75, or SCH-GOLD directly to the park, or take the tram from SeaTac ($3).
Location: North Bend
Rentals Available: Yes- at North Bend Outside
Providing over 80,000 people annually with spring-fed water, Rattlesnake Lake is owned and operated by Seattle Public Utilities and takes great pride in supplying Seattle with fresh water year-round.
Low water levels reveal intricate tree root systems and school of fish, and nearby Rattlesnake Trail is great hiking if looking for an after-paddle adventure. Since this lake is pretty shallow, it is ideal for beginners. The Cedar River Watershed Educational Center offers programs to learn about the lake and its history.
North Bend Outside is a brand new rental company that services Rattlesnake River and nearby Snoqualmie River. If interested in renting equipment, you can call (425) 652-7325. Of course, launching your own boat is an option at Rattlesnake River too.
How to Get There: If driving, start on I-5 S towards Spokane, then to I-90 E to Cedar Falls Rd. SE. If not driving, Bus lines 628 and 554 drop you about ten minutes outside of the park, the closest available drop off point ($7).
Lakes to Locks Trail
Location: Beacon Hill
Rentals Available: Yes- Click here for a full list of Outfitters.
With over 100 places to launch boats, Lakes to Locks Trail is the perfect day-trip for kayak enthusiasts. Here, the natural beauty of hidden coves transitions into an urban setting, and this waterway takes you through it all.
Lakes to Locks Trail cuts through Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Lake Sammamish. Eventually, the trail culminates at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks where the fresh water of the lakes meets the salt water of the Puget Sound. With so much to choose from, this spot caters to paddlers of all abilities.
With hundred of miles of water, Lakes to Locks has the unique characteristic of combining lake and sea kayaking in the same trip! Lakes to Locks is affiliated with many companies that offer rentals and tours of the area depending on where you are looking to paddle. Click here for a full list of Outfitters.
How to Get There: If driving, head southwest on Madison St toward 4th Ave, then to Emerson st. to W Commodore Way. If not driving, Bus lines 24, 44, and line D all bring you close to the water. Or, the Sounder Lakewood-Seattle train line also brings you to this area.
Kayaking in Seattle doesn’t get much better than Moss Bay– you can see the Seattle skyline, the Space Needle, and Gasworks Park all in an hour!
Located at the southern tip of Lake Union, Moss Bay’s sheltered area is perfect for beginners. Paddling around an extensive network of unique houseboats, Moss Bay will give you an urban paddling experience.
At only $15/hour, Moss Bay Rentals offers some of the most affordable kayaking in the area. Because of the houseboats, there is little motorized action in this area. Combined with the urban setting, Moss Bay is often seen as the most convenient and safest place to paddle in Seattle.
How to Get There: If driving, start on I-5 N and take exit 167 on the left for Mercer St toward Seattle Center, then to Fairview Ave N to Yale Ave. If not driving, there is a metro stop for Moss Bay from 3rd Ave & Marion St that operates throughout the day.
Residing on the shores of Ship Canal,Ballard creates a truly unique kayaking experience in Seattle, as the shores connect to the rugged Ballard Locks.
With jumping salmon all around, kayaking at Ballard is a high-energy experience, and meant for more experienced paddlers. Paddling near the shore is a safe bet for inexperienced paddlers, as paddling along the Ballard Locks can be tricky to navigate.
Offering a safe way to navigate Ballard Locks, Ballard Kayak has tours through the Locks, to Puget Sound, and Discovery Point. Kayak rentals are $20/hour, or you can bring your own boat and launch for free.
How to Get There: If driving, head southwest on Madison St toward 4th Ave to 15th Ave NW, then to Seaview Ave NW. If not driving, Buses 17, 44, and 45 all go to the marina. Or, take the tram from SeaTac airport.
Visitors love this spot for a quick paddle around the park, and enjoy its sheltered waters from big boats and waves. Therefore, Foss Harbor is great for beginners and those looking for a low-key setting to practice their skills. Pro tip- wildlife is usually spotted closer to the tide flats!
Rentals are available through the Foss Harbor Marina at $25 for 2 hours, making it one of the best deals on the market! Renting both single and double kayaks, Foss Harbor Marina is a great spot to explore alone or with a friend.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 S towards SeaTac Airport, then take the exit for the City Center to Dock St. If not driving, there is a tram that leaves from King Street Station to Commerce Street Station, with a 0.5 mile walk to the harbor (closest drop-off stop).
Just 15 miles east of Seattle, Lake Sammamish State Park is definitely a fan favorite among avid canoe-ers and kayakers. With a beautiful boardwalk, playgrounds, hiking, and more, spending the day at Lake Sammamish will never be boring.
Visitors can enjoy paddling down Sammamish River as well as the lake; both have plenty of space and have mostly calm waters. The lake is known to be great for beginners and families, though sometimes the waves can be bit challenging. With views of wildlife and houses along the shore, Sammamish is a perfect spot for kayaking in Seattle this summer.
Issaquah Paddle Sports provides boat rentals and lessons for paddlers throughout the summer, and is located on Sammamish’s Tibbetts Beach, a great launch site for personal boats too. Rentals are $18/hour.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 S towards Portland, then I-90 E to NW Sammamish Rd to E Lake Sammamish Pkwy SE. If not driving, Bus line 554 and 888 will take you to the lake.
A protected harbor next to the open ocean, Elliot Bay is the best of both worlds. With views of downtown Seattle and Mt. Rainer in the distance, there is a lot to take in while paddling Seattle’s Elliot Bay.
Because the bay opens into Puget Sound, there is constant boat traffic to be aware of. Therefore, kayaking Elliot Bay is best for experienced paddlers or those who understand basic boating rules.
That being said, the Elliot Bay Marina is a great starting point for kayaking around Seattle, and has boat and kayak rentals. Visitors can also spot dolphins and sea lions- go check it out!
How to Get There: If driving, head southwest on Madison St toward 4th Ave, then take Alaskan Way to Elliot Bay. If not driving, Buses lines 11, 2, and 49 will take you to the Bay or Light Rail LINK will also get you there.
Located in Point Defiance Park, Owen Beach provides great access to the ocean, with miles of sandy shoreline to follow. With picnic spots and grills, kayaking at Owen Beach is perfect for a relaxing day-trip to the beach.
Kayakers are encouraged to hug the shoreline when paddling, as ferries tend to cut across the water further out. Enjoy the views of cliffs and hills that appear right next to the water, and even paddle to Seattle’s Vashon Island.
With rentals available right on the beach at Point Defiance Marina, Owen Beach is super accessible, and great for kayakers of all abilities.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 S towards SeaTac Airport, then I-705 N Waterfront Dr to the beach. If not driving, either take Buses 10 or 11, or there is a tram line from King Street Station that drops you at Point Defiance Park.
Across from Narrows Bridge resides Gig Harbor, a nicely protected spot perfect for someone looking to experience the calmer waters of Puget Sound. Kayaking in Seattle’s outer limits of Puget Sound can be challenging, so Gig Harbor provides a great alternative closer to shore.
Visitors especially enjoy paddling to the Gig Harbor Lighthouse at the south end of the harbor where a sandbar provides the perfect spot for a snack and quick swim. Also make sure to look out for the Venetian Gondola near the Sound, as spotting it is considered good luck!
Free boat launching is available at the site located on Randell Dr. Rentals and tours can be purchased at Gig Harbor SUP & Kayak Rentals for $10/hour.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 S towards SeaTac Airport, then exit 132B towards Gig Harbor to Harborview Dr. If not driving, a bus departs from 2nd Ave & Cherry St. 4 times a day directly to Gig Harbor ($4).
Tug Boat Annie’s
Cost: $20 for kayaking
Rentals Available: No
Food and kayaking all in one- it seems too good to be true! Tug Boat Annie’s is diner right on the water that offers a 2-hour kayak tour including breakfast or lunch.
Visitors have the option of eating first of paddling first, and get to see beautiful views of Olympia and then taste the well-known cuisine of the local diner (the clam chowder comes highly recommended).
Whether you’re visiting Seattle or you’re a local, making Tug Boat Annie’s a part of your day is a must! Perfect for families, this experience is guaranteed to satisfy your hunger for good kayaking and, well, your hunger for good food. Click here for more information.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 S towards SeaTac Airport, then take exit 105 towards Port of Olympia, then take Olympic Way to W Bay Dr. NW. If not driving, there is a bus that departs from 2nd Ave & Cherry St, that drops you 1 mile from Tugboat Annie’s.
Located in the heart of Puget Sound, Blake Island State Park feels like a world away, even though it’s only a mile from the Southworth and Vashon ferry terminals. Making this journey is not too laborious, but it’s recommended to bring a partner along.
Paddling distance to Blake Island is about a mile, depending upon where you launch your boat. The most popular launch sites (free) are Southworth, Voshen, and Manchester Ferry terminals (all 1-2 miles from Blake Island). Once there, you can enjoy the scenery and paddle back, or stay overnight on one of three camping sites on the island.
Kayak rentals are available near Southworth at Olympic Outdoor Rentals for $20/hour. Blake Island is certainly a hidden gem for kayakers looking for a convenient adventure near Seattle.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 S towards SeaTac Airport to West Seattle Bridge to SW Barton St/Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, then ferry to Port Orchard. If not driving, Downtown Seattle Fremont tram 62 will bring you to Port Orchard Ferry Terminal to catch the ferry to Blake Island.
Just south of Tacoma’s Narrows Bridge, Titlow Beach is all calm waters and sandy beaches. Perfect for a quick paddle and relaxing in the sun, Titlow Beach is a great destination for paddlers of all abilities.
With views of the Olympic Peninsula and Narrows Bridge, Titlow Beach offers some of the best sights when kayaking around Seattle. This smaller beach has a low-key feeling perfect for paddlers looking to unwind and enjoy the quiet.
Visitors can launch their own boats at a small site across from Steamer’s Seafood Cafe, or purchase rentals from Gig Harbor SUP & Kayak Rentals for only $10/hour.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-5 S towards SeaTac Airport, then take exit 132B towards Gig Harbor, to N Jackson Ave. If not driving, bus line 100 and 2 will take you to the beach.
Located at the head of Puget Sound, Port Townsend Bay offers sensational sea kayaking for all ability levels. The views of the Olympic Peninsula are exquisite, and kayaking around Port Townsend allows for a unique look at Fort Worden, Old Fort Townsend and Marrowstone Island.
Some popular parts of the bay include Mystery Island and Indian Bay, both which showcase the natural beauty of the Northeast. Rentals are available through Port Townsend Paddlesports for $17/hour, though the minimum age is 14. Free launch sites are also available around the bay.
How to Get There: If driving, head to the Seattle Ferry Terminal and take the Seattle – Bainbridge Ferry to Bainbridge Island, then continue to WA-20 E to Discovery Rd. If not driving, The Dungeness Bus Line has a two trips per day from Edmonds, Kingston, and SeaTac.
Additional Resources for Canoeing and Kayaking in Seattle
What to Pack for Kayaking and Canoeing in Seattle
Swimsuit: Wearing a swimsuit is essential for being out on the water! When canoeing and kayaking, chances are you are going to get wet, so best to be prepared! Click here to compare men’s and women’s styles and prices for our favorite swimsuits.
Sunglasses: Being out on the water is beautiful, but the water can really reflect light! Make sure to bring a pair ofsunglassesand croakies to keep them from falling off.
Hat: It’s best to keep the sun off of your head to keep you cool. Whether you prefer a nice bucket hat or a vintage baseball cap, keeping cool will ensure an awesome trip.
Water Bottle: Keeping hydrated is no joke! Paddling is a great way to exercise and relax, but that means it takes a lot of energy too! Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your trip withthese cool water bottles.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray: Don’t let the elements stop you from having an amazing paddle! I recommend bringingsunscreen and bug spray in the boat with you to ward off any pests and sunburns.
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