10 Gorgeous Places to See in a Kayak

Kayakers in the water near a mountainside

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Some travelers go to great lengths to get a unique view, like trekkers who climb to the summit of a mountain in the pre-dawn hours to enjoy a sunrise panorama.

You could argue that an amazing visual experience is one of the main reasons for traveling. Sure, many people talk about travel in terms of accomplishments: they reached the top of some mountain or walked the entire length of a hiking path or set foot on some rarely visited island. But what they are really doing — at least in part — is seeking out unique views and scenery.

One way to find stunning views of the coastal variety is to trek via sea kayaks and canoes. Not only is the vantage point unique, but paddlers also enjoy the quietness and freedom that these small, motorless watercraft can provide. Want to have this kind of paddle-powered travel experience? Here’s a list of picturesque places to get your imagination started.

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Na Pali Coast, Kauai

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The Na Pali Coast, which covers part of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, is often referred to as one of the most beautiful coastline landscapes in the world. This 17-mile stretch of oceanside land features towering four-thousand-foot cliffs (Na Pali actually means “The Cliffs” in Hawaiian).

Since this part of the island is inaccessible by car, boat is actually the best option for visitors (unless they want to spring for a sightseeing plane ride or a helicopter flight). Specialty tour companies offer 17-mile sea kayak tours that run between the Haena Beach Park and Polihale State Park, which sit on opposite ends of the Na Pali Coast. In addition to the astonishing cliffs, paddlers will encounter waterfalls, sea caves and secluded beaches.

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Fox Island, Alaska

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Fox Island sits in the Eastern Aleutians, only a short distance from the hub of Seward. Despite its proximity to civilization, the area, which sits in the Kenai Fjords National Park area, feels very remote. Yes, the pebble beaches, forests and rugged mountains are alluring sights, but the main reason to paddle through the waters around Fox Island is to have up-close encounters with marine wildlife. People who take a kayak excursion here will see whales, porpoises, sea lions, otters, and many varieties of birds, including bald eagles and falcons.

Nature resorts like the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge offer kayak tours for people of all skill levels. The Wilderness Lodge is a good choice for green-minded tourists because it derives much of its power from on-site solar panels.

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Photo: Heather Cowper/flickr

Sardinia's northern coast is a popular destination for all sorts of boaters, from sailors to stand-up-paddlers to yacht owners. Given the prevalence of $1,000-per-night hotels and the high number of vacationing celebrities in places like Costa Smeralda, this is not the most accessible destination for a nature-themed budget vacation. However, the impossibly clear blue waters, picturesque rocky coastline and historic seaside buildings make Sardinia a great place to paddle (if you can avoid the resort areas favored by the jet-set).

The blue waters and rock formations are the headlining sights of a sea kayak expedition, but the atmospheric small coastal towns, many of which have changed very little over the centuries, will prove an equally attractive highlight for many paddlers.

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Croatia's Dalmatian Coast

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Croatia is another destination that draws kayakers who want to dip their paddles in the Mediterranean. Historic cities like Dubrovnik and Split, coastal cliffs and picture-worthy pine forests sit along the mainland's seashore.

Many kayakers, however, choose to paddle through the hundreds of islands off of the Dalmatian Coast. These islands are characterized by unique rock formations made from limestone and almost-perfect beaches that see very few visitors.

Of course, the stereotypical clear-blue waters of the Med are here as well. Tours range from day-long paddles near Dubrovnik to week-long expeditions through the Adriatic Sea, complete with beach camping and treks into the larger islands.

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Chilean Patagonia

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Located in Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park features a number of rivers and lakes, as well as one of the world's most unique shoreline landscapes. Coastal glaciers, mountains, ice formations, and waterfalls, as well as a feel of complete remoteness, really make this an attractive (and visually stunning) place for a paddling expedition.

The type of scenery here is just not found in many other destinations, so people seeking something utterly unique will surely enjoy a trip to this part of Patagonia. Paddlers can head along the coast or to inland waterways, with some tours hitting the most scenic freshwater and saltwater sights in under a week.

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Krabi, Thailand

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Krabi, a Thai province made up mostly of islands and archipelagos, is a popular destination for different types of tourists. Beach-lovers, scuba-divers, rock climbing enthusiasts and people who are interested in jungle treks all flock to these easily accessible islands.

Limestone cliffs, idyllic beaches and warm waters certainly make this an attractive region of Southeast Asia for kayakers as well. Mangrove forests, sea caves and hidden lagoons are best appreciated as part of a paddling excursion. Tours cover various parts of the province, though most can be booked in the main tourist center of Ao Nang.

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Lake Malawi, Malawi

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Sea kayaking doesn't always have to take place along ocean coastlines. Some of the best freshwater “sea” kayaking can be found on Southern Africa's Lake Malawi. Secluded beaches, deserted islands and exotic wildlife can be experienced during a paddle expedition on this freshwater lake, which is the third largest in Africa.

Much of the lake is protected as part of a national park, meaning that waters are relatively clean and the land mostly untouched. Specialty outfitters like Kayak Africa lead days-long tours around the lake, stopping at deserted islands and camping in basic safari camps or on nearly deserted beaches.

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Northern Queensland, Australia

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Daintree National Park, in far northern Queensland, contains some of the oldest rainforests on Earth. Seeing this tropical landscape from the water is certainly an attractive option for nature and adventure lovers. The waters off of Cape Tribulation, which sits within Daintree, are part of the Great Barrier Reef, so paddlers here actually have two world-class eco-attractions to explore.

The reef starts about 12 miles from the coastline. Paddlers who venture here can see sea turtles, dolphins, various species of schooling fish and even sting rays, sharks and whales.

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Norway's Fjords

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Norway has some of the most ruggedly scenic coastline in the world. It is possible to kayak is open waters between the thousands of islands and small peninsulas that characterize the western Scandinavian coastline. The real charm of Norway's paddling scene, however, is found in its stunning fjords. The impossibly-steep cliffs are impressive, and some places are completely inaccessible, except by boat.

Waterfalls, steep riverside slopes, and completely untouched terrain really make this a dream destination for people who are in search of pure, raw nature. Some expedition-like guided kayak excursions last for more than a week. These tours travel down rivers that are inaccessible by any other means of transportation.

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Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

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New Zealand, a nation that could easily be called the best destination for outdoor adventure in the world, is home to some stunning saltwater and freshwater kayak spots. One standout is Fiordland National Park, which covers more than 1 million acres. Located in the South Island, the park's namesake fjords are made from granite.

Many of the best natural sights here are accessible only by boat or by hiking trail. The further inside this visually impressive park visitors get, the denser the jungles and the more spectacular the waterways. Kayak tours explore these scenic waters in depth, with many focusing their journey on the Milford Sound area.