Best places to go lake & river kayaking

Second only to your boat, where you go kayaking really impacts on the type of trip you have. For beginners, flat water is best and can be found in lazy, meandering rivers, fjords and sheltered lakes. Gentle flows and semi-rural landscapes are great for self guided holidays and can be very family-friendly. Faster flowing rivers, larger lakes and more remote locations require greater expertise, from either you or your guide. Kayaking is a great way to see a country while leaving very little impact on the local environment. In some places, where waterways are threatened by dams and development, your very presence on the rivers may even help to preserve them for other paddlers.

1. Croatia

Croatia’s many islands make it ideal for sea kayaking, but go a little further inland and you’ll find crystal clear rivers, vast canyons and wild woodland landscapes. If adventure kayaking sounds like something that would float your boat, Croatia is one of the best countries to try it, camping on riverbanks overnight. If pitching a tent after a day’s worth of paddling sounds too much, you can always swap the canvas for a comfortable hotel.

2. France

Ask anyone who kayaks and there’s a good chance they’ve paddled in France. The French Alps, in particular, are a playground for paddlers of all abilities, and a series of progressive sessions here will help you develop your white water skills. The Ardeche is also good for beginners and intermediates, with sections of the river ranging from grade one to three. But it’s the beautiful Dordogne that appeals to most travellers, offering outstanding scenery and easy flat water canoeing.

3. India

The serene Keralan backwaters in Southern India are made for kayaking. The paddling here is peaceful and meditative as you slowly make your way past riverside villages, picturesque canals and endless paddy fields. Long the preserve of traders and farms, transporting spice and other produce to Alleppey, the waterways will be a joy for all the senses; birdsong will be the soundtrack to your journey through these river communities and their unique regional cuisine.

4. Montenegro

Montenegrins say they live in the most beautiful country on the continent, and Europe’s last remaining wilderness. Kayaking isn’t big here – yet – meaning you won’t have to share the spectacular untouched landscapes with many other paddlers. Rivers that are flat and warm in the summer offer playful rapids in autumn for experienced kayakers – with the chance of spotting bears and other wildlife on the shore.

5. Rwanda

You won’t find keen kayakers rushing to paddle these waters, but exploring Rwanda by boat is the best way to see it from a different, more adventurous perspective. Kayaking around beautiful Lake Kivu – where there are no hippos or crocs – reveals a changing scenery of islands, villages, mountains and singing fishermen. Once you’re done on the water, your guide will take you inland to track chimpanzees and families of mountain gorillas.

6. Sweden

Sörmland, on Sweden’s eastern coast, is an idyllic region of lakes, pine-scented forests and small towns. Its ancient Viking waterways cut through castle-dotted countryside and are easily explored on your own by canoe, before stopping in Stockholm for some sightseeing. Self guided canoeing holidays on Swedish rivers are suitable for smaller paddlers, and an added day of camping is a family-friendly introduction to kayak adventures.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Lake and river kayaking or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Tips from our travellers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful tips for lake or river kayaking holidays that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday – and the space inside your suitcase.
Prepare for fantastic food.
– Steve Dickinson on a Dordogne canoeing holiday
“I would thoroughly recommend having some experience of paddling before this trip as there are long open crossings; here a good paddle technique is an advantage. I did find paddling with two novices in the group very frustrating. Be prepared for long periods of inactivity if the days are very hot as the itinerary may have to change. Remember to take waterproof sun cream so that you don’t have to reapply after every dip taken.” – Coral Morgan on a canoeing and kayaking holiday in Montenegro

“Arrive with a can-do positive attitude... things change.” – Kirstin Shirling on a canoeing and kayaking holiday in Montenegro

“Make sure you understand the length of the entire trip in the canoe. There is quite a bit of paddling each day and if the wind is blowing against you it’s tough.” – David Townsend on a self guided canoeing holiday in Sweden

“Take waterproof bags to put all your clothes and equipment into for the canoe trip. Make sure you have a good torch as electricity supplies in hotels are unpredictable. No need for water purifying tablets as bottled water is available everywhere even in the back of beyond!” – Rosemary Llewellin on a Madagascar river rafting holiday

“Leave yourself in Phil’s capable hands – go half-board because the hotel’s fantastic and take his kit list as your Bible.” – Adele Holt on white water kayaking in the Ardeche
You need cycling gloves to kayak that far!
– Martha Beardsworth on a Dordogne canoeing holiday
“The holiday provider was very patient at responding to our (many) emails. Clarify what kind of experiences you would like and they will do their best to create it for you. Our guide was young, fit and very experienced and we always felt safe and he went out of his way to mix it up for us and make changes when necessary which we appreciated. We appreciated the back-up vehicle although we didn’t use it often.” – Scott and San on a tailor made kayaking holiday in Kerala

“There is one guide per group and the group can be very small, even one person sometimes. Be prepared for bad Wi-Fi and no phone service and last-minute itinerary changes.” – Natalie Jacob on kayaking in Croatia and Bosnia

“If you have a waterproof case for your camera then take it. The times on the water are very generous – we were doing about 1km per 15 minutes without really trying. At Mariefred, the castle (Gripsholm) is definitely worth a visit, as was dinner at Gripsholm Värdshus – the hotel by the front. In Stockholm the Vasa Museum is outstanding.” – Ian Buckley on a self guided canoeing holiday in Sweden
Written by Bryony Cottam
Photo credits: [Page banner: Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington] [Croatia: Raftrek Adventure Travel Croatia] [France: Simon Hermans] [India: Anantha Krishnan] [Montenegro: Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie] [Rwanda: Rwanda Government] [Sweden: Karl Hornfeldt] [Food: Mike_fleming] [Kayak gloves: Thomas & Dianne Jones]