10 Picturesque Places to See in a Kayak

pair of kayakers in the crystal clear waters surrounded by rocks off the southern coast of Sardinia
Kayakers enjoy the crystal clear waters of Cape Carbonara, a marine protected area in South Sardinia.

Luca Sgualdini / Getty Images

Some travelers go to great lengths to get a unique view, whether climbing to the summit of a mountain to enjoy a sunrise panorama or hiking a rarely visited island. 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 provide.

If you're looking for this kind of paddle-powered experience, here are 10 picturesque places to see in a kayak.

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Nāpali Coast (Hawaii)

two pairs of kayakers in the waters off of Na Pali Coast, Kauai next to flat-topped rocks covered in green plants, blue sky, and white, billowy clouds

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The Nāpali  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 4,000-foot cliffs.

Kayaks are one of the best options for visitors to explore the entire coastline. Specialty tour companies offer 17-mile sea kayak tours that run between Haena Beach Park and Polihale State Park, which sit on opposite ends of the Nāpali Coast. In addition to the astonishing cliffs, paddlers will encounter waterfalls, sea caves, and secluded beaches.

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Fox Island, Alaska

kayakers in yellow and red kayaks in the water off of Kenai Fjords National Park with snow-capped mountains and blue sky in the distance

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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 is close to Kenai Fjords National Park, feels very remote. The pebble beaches, forests, and rugged mountains are all 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.

Inexperienced kayakers should travel with a guide due to the challenging conditions. 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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Sardinia, Italy

front of a red kayak floating in the blue-green waters heading toward the coves and caves of Gulf of Orosei on Eastern Sardinian coast with blue skies and light, white clouds above

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Sardinia's northern coast is a popular destination for all sorts of boaters, from sailors to stand-up paddlers to yacht owners. Kayaking opportunities in the waters surrounding Sardinia abound. From easier destinations like the Coghinas and Cedrino rivers to more challenging spots found in the coves and caves of the Gulf of Orosei and the Maddalena archipelago, the impossibly clear blue waters, picturesque rocky coastline, and historic seaside buildings make Sardinia a great place to paddle.

The colorful 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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Dalmatian Coast (Croatia)

a line of five kayaks paddling in the Adriatic Sea off the Dalmatian Coast in Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Croatia is another destination that draws kayakers who want to dip their paddles in the Mediterranean. In 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 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 Mediterranean 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 to the larger islands.

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Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)

Sea kayakers near an iceberg, in Grey Lake, surrounded by rock hills and a single tree with yellow leaves in Torres del Paine National Park

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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. Designated as a biosphere reserve due to its four unique ecological zones, this 700-square-mile park extends between the Andes Mountains and the Patagonian Steppe. Coastal glaciers, mountains, ice formations, and waterfalls as well as a feel of complete remoteness make this a 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 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 sites in under a week.

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Krabi, Thailand

Two people in a red kayak paddling in blue-green water toward a rock formation in Krabi, Thailand.

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Located on the west coast of southern Thailand, Krabi is mostly made up of offshore islands and archipelagos. This is a popular destination for a wide variety 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 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.

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Lake Malawi (Malawi)

Single kayaker on Lake Malawi with vivid orange and yellow sunset in the distance

Tristan Barrington Photography / Getty Images

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, the third largest in Africa.

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

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Queensland, Australia

Lone kayaker in the blue waters off the Whitsunday Islands off the coast of Queensland with clear blue sky and hills in the distance

Gary John Norman / Getty Images

Off the Queensland coast, Whitsunday Island National Park—a group of 74 tropical islands near the Great Barrier Reef—boasts pure white sand and clear, protected waters that are perfect for kayaking. Farther up the coast in northern Queensland, Daintree National Park 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 Cape Tribulation, which sits within Daintree, are part of the Great Barrier Reef, so paddlers here have several 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 stingrays, sharks, and whales.

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Fjords (Norway)

A single kayaker in a yellow kayak with paddles outstretched facing a snow covered fjord in Norway

Glenn Pettersen / Getty Images

Norway has some of the most ruggedly scenic coastlines in the world. It is possible to kayak its 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 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)

a group of kayakers in red, blue, and yellow kayaks in the calm waters of Doubtful Sound surrounded by rocks covered with foliage and a bright blue sky in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

New Zealand, a nation that is one of the world's best destinations for incredible outdoor adventure, is home to some stunning saltwater and freshwater kayak spots. One standout is Fiordland National Park, which covers nearly 3 million acres. Located in the South Island are the park's namesake fjords.

Many of the best natural sights here are accessible only by boat or by hiking trails. The farther 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 Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound areas.