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, North Carolina, 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 this stretch of river, which is all flatwater.

Kayak rentals

Tours & lessons


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 adjacent to the Catawba River, where you can kayak, canoe, whitewater raft, deep water solo rock climb, bike and more. There is definitely something here for the whole family!

Manmade whitewater river
The U.S. National Whitewater Center is an adventurer’s wonderland. | Photo: Fritz at USNWC

For self-guided adventures, there are plenty of places to put on and take off the Catawba River. Try the boat ramp just south of Lake Norman, off Hwy 73, the Lucia Access Area, Mountain Island Kayak Access, the Riverbend Boat Ramp, or the Mt Holly Boat Landing. The section of river downstream of Normal Lake offers miles and miles of flatwater, flowing through various wide “lakes” as the rivers snakes over the border and into South Carolina.

Kayak rentals


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. Choose from sections of flatwater to stretches of class I and II rapids. Cape Fear Adventures offers rentals, lessons and tours.

Slightly farther west of Raleigh, about a 1.5-hour drive away, you’ll find Greenville, North Carolina 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. Knee Deep Adventures and Riverside Recreation are great options for local kayak rentals.

Northern NC

Farther north, close to the Virginia border, you’ll find Danbury, North Carolina. 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. Look to Dan River Company for rentals down the river.



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. Kayak rentals are available from Lake Lure Adventures.


Charlotte has an abundance of flatwater paddling opportunities. There are several lakes along the Catawba River that offer miles and miles of beautiful scenery, including Mountain Island Lake, Lake Wylie and Lake Norman.

Head to nearby Crowders Mountain State Park and paddle the serene Lake, accessibly at Sparrow Springs near the visitor center. There are no boat rentals at the park and swimming is prohibited.



View from back of tandem kayak with small boy in front.
Take a leisurely paddle in Kitty Hawk Maritime Forest. | Photo: Will Fisher

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, North Carolina 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 farther south, kayak fishing in Wilmington, North Carolina 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.

Kayak rentals & tours


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, North Carolina. 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 760-acre millpond with surrounding trails and paddle-in campsites. Enjoy a relaxing base camping experience that will allow you to explore the lake and the park’s other fun activities and sights.


North Carolina kayak laws

North Carolina does not require a boat licence or registration for non-motorized vessels. PFDs are a requirement to have on board and children younger than 13 must be wearing them. “Vessels under oars” should carry an electric torch or lighted lantern with a white light that must be shone “in sufficient time to prevent collision.”


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