Paddling enthusiasts, ornithologists and those in search of reflective and serene landscapes—welcome to North Carolina. From rapids to floodplains, North Carolina has some incredible views to be seen from the water. We’ll go over some of the top kayaking spots—whether you’re looking to paddle river, lake or sea—as well as some general information about kayaking in the state to help you craft the perfect trip.
River kayaking in North Carolina
If you’re heading to Asheville, NC, consider a day trip through the majestic Biltmore Estate on the French Broad River. There are a few outfitters in the area that rent out canoes or kayaks for self-guided excursions down the river. Check out the 50-foot waterfall that marks the confluence of the west and north forks of the French Broad River before you head out for a day trip or on one of the many tours offered by Headwaters Outfitters.
- Single or tandem kayaks: $25 per trip (takes approximately two hours)
- Kayaks: $35 per day
- Canoes: $50 per day
- Fishing kayaks available for rental as well
- Canoes and tandem kayaks: $60 per day, $300 for five to seven days
- Single kayaks: $45 per day, $225 for five to seven days
In the Charlotte area, make your way to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. This spot is an outdoor adventurer’s wonderland, with 1,300 acres of land on the Catawba River, where you can kayak, canoe, whitewater raft, deep water solo rock climb, cycle and more. There is definitely something here for the whole family!
If you’re looking for a wilderness adventure in Charlotte, you can’t go wrong on the Catawba River. There are plenty of spots to put in for a quieter float day, or hit the rapids farther downriver. Lake Wylie Dam to River Walk is another Charlotte option, and there are several rental companies in the area.
- Single kayaks: $35 per day
- Tandem kayaks: $45 per day
Prices include dropoff and shuttle.
- Single kayaks: $29 for two hours, $39 for four hours, $79 for three days
- Double kayaks: $49 for two hours, $59 for four hours, $99 for three days
About 50 minutes southwest of Raleigh is a popular spot to kayak in North Carolina: Cape Fear River. Despite its ominous name (and cinematic namesake), Cape Fear River is home to beautiful and exciting paddling.
- Single kayaks: $44 per day
- Double kayaks: $59 per day
Slightly farther west of Raleigh, about a 1.5-hour drive away, you’ll find Greenville, NC and canoe and kayaking opportunities on the Tar River. The Tar-Pamlico River System has some truly unique scenery—paddling forested areas into serene swampland and down the wide Pamlico River to the coast is some of the best canoeing and kayaking in North Carolina.
- Single kayaks: $35 for four hours, $50 for eight hours
- Tandem kayaks: $50 for four hours, $65 for eight hours
- Single kayaks: $20 for two hours, $40 for four hours, $80 for eight hours
- Tandem kayaks: $25 for two hours, $50 for four hours, $100 for eight hours
Farther north, close to the Virginia border, you’ll find Danbury, NC. Danbury has a number of paddling trip options on the Dan River, including in Hanging Rock State Park. You are only allowed to paddle on the lake that’s located in the park using boats rented from the park; however, private boats are allowed on the river.
- Offer tours and rentals. But are currently building a new website so check back for prices.
Lake kayaking North Carolina
If you’re looking for a lake kayaking spot within a short drive from Asheville, check out Lake Lure. A 45-minute drive from downtown Asheville, The Town of Lake Lure has plenty of options for a full day of paddling, sightseeing and great food.
- Single kayaks: $20 per hour, $35 per two hours, $60 per day
- Tandem kayaks: $25 per hour, $45 per two hours, $80 per day
- Dropoff anywhere on Lake Lure for an extra $20
Brevard is also a quick drive from Asheville. Brevard is an awesome option for a family-friendly day on the river. Next Venture Outdoors is a local gear store and rental outfitter—they have a retail section with new and used gear in addition to kayak and canoe rentals.
Charlotte has an abundance of flatwater paddling opportunities. The Catawba River is large and open, providing many sections that make for great day trips for paddlers of all experience levels. Landsford Canal has some very interesting flatland scenery—lots of opportunity for birdwatching here!
Cedar Creek in Congaree National Park is definitely worth considering if you’re in the Charlotte area. Miles of floodplain provides great photo ops, and plenty of wildlife to see. Congaree is part of the National Parks Service Canoe Trail, and is an ideal spot to embark on single and multi-day paddling trips in this area.
Sea kayaking North Carolina
Sea kayaking in North Carolina is plentiful all the way along the coast from Virginia to South Carolina.
In the north, check out the town of Kitty Hawk—there are some beautiful areas there with calm, reflective water.
Nags Head is home to an incredible natural ecosystem. Check out bioluminescent kayaking, alligator kayaking trips and Roanoke Island tours.
Beaufort, NC offers an array of scenery and wildlife to see while kayaking. Find out why they call this area of North Carolina the Crystal Coast!
If you’re further south, kayak fishing in Wilmington, NC provides anglers with an array of options. Check out the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association—a community run forum that has plenty of firsthand information on kayak fishing in North Carolina.
- Single kayak: $20 per hour, $55 per half day, $65 per full day, $45 per day for additional days
- Tandem kayak: $25 per hour, $65 per half day, $75 per full day, $45 per day for additional days
- Single kayak: $20 per half day (on site only), $55 per three days, $75 per seven days
- Tandem kayak: $30 per half day (on site only), $75 per three days, $95 per seven days
- Single sit-on-top kayak: $25 per hour, $40 per two hours
- Tandem sit-on-top kayak: $40 per hour, $60 per two hours
- Single kayak: $50 per four hours, $65 per day, $100 per two days, $130 per three days, $180 per week
- Tandem kayak: $70 per four hours, $85 per day, $125 per two days, $165 per three days, $210 per week
Kayak camping in North Carolina
French Broad Camping Trail
See some of the best scenery kayaking in North Carolina has to offer on the French Broad Camping Trail. 140 miles of breathtaking natural beauty beginning in Rosman, NC. The river connects many campsites and has a variety of flatwater and rapids. Check out the FAQ page French Broad Paddling for some great trip planning information.
Merchants Millpond State Park
Merchants Millpond State Park has a camping paddling trail that’s home to beautiful flatwater paddling along the camping trail. Keep an eye out for wetland wildlife like frogs, turtles, snakes, many species of birds, otters, beavers and deer.
North Carolina kayak laws
North Carolina does not require a boat licence or registration for non-motorized vessels. Life jackets/PFDs are a requirement, and if you’re going to be searching out a bioluminescent kayaking adventure, there are night boating requirements. Check out North Carolina Wildlife for all of the kayaking guidelines.