With summer in full swing, weekend warriors are looking for ways to get outdoors and beat the crowds – a difficult task for the earthbound, but no sweat at all for the more ambitiously amphibious.
There's vast amounts of prime paddling water within a few hours drive of the country's major cities and plenty of space and quiet to go around.
And the barrier to entry is low. Becoming an excellent kayaker takes years of experience and a lot of upper body strength, but those looking to go for a quick paddle only need a little balance and an almost token amount of arm strength. This is not a race.
Here are a bunch of recommended paddling excursions near major cities. Remember: It isn't the size of the boat, but the motion of the ocean.
Because the trail is so vast, there are a number of different locations to tackle it from. Just check the Department of Parks and Recreation's website for a list of launch spots.
Tomales Bay is a gorgeous 15-mile strip of water just north of San Francisco in Marin County, California. There are several launching points along the bay, but an especially cheap option is Lawson's Landing, where you can get a boat for $10 and go clamming, fishing, or just splash around. Keep an eye peeled for wildlife — whales often migrate past the bay, which is home to no small number of sea lions. Other kayaking options are available on Marin County's website.
The Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers offer 5.6 and 9 miles, respectively, of pristine waters. The two rivers merge at the city of Dunnellon, a few hours drive from Orlando, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville.
Rainbow River is formed by a 10,000-year-old first magnitude spring that issues 400 to 600 million gallons of crystalline water daily. The Rainbow Springs State Park also runs along the river, offering picnicking and camping locations. Rainbow River Canoe and Kayak rents canoes and kayaks for trips of varying lengths.
Corpus Christi offers eight coastal paddling trails and ten inland paddling trails of differing lengths. The most well-known coastal trail is Lighthouse Lakes, named for the historic lighthouse on Lydia Ann Channel. The trail, which runs largely through shallow waters, has four different loops, ranging from 1.25 to 6.8 miles long. A beautiful inland option is Goliad Paddling Trail, which stretches about 5 miles. Wind and Waves Watersports offer a wide array of rentals.
Maine is an ideal place to paddle kayaking because it offers not only sea kayaking, but lake and whitewater kayaking, as well. Sea kayakers paddle among seals, ospreys, puffins, and whales, while lake paddlers quietly enjoy the scenery and the whitewater junkies try to stay afloat. Maine Kayak offers guided trips and rentals in a variety of locations and lengths — they even have a trip dedicated solely to finding the only remaining puffin population on the Maine coast. Pretty hard to resist.