My Favorite (and Best) Places for Kayaking in Washington State

sea kayaking san juan islands washington

Sea Kayaking with Orcas at the San Juan Islands, WA.

Washington State, located in the very northwestern corner of the US, is a great place for outdoor activities of all kinds. There are hiking and biking trails, both rugged and paved, winter sports resorts, and so much more. Kayakers will find no shortage of beautiful bodies of water to explore, although watch the weather – it rains quite a bit in the North West!

In Washington you will find a huge variety of rivers, lakes, and inlets. Whether you prefer a leisurely cruise through the sound or a white-knuckle dash down a rapid river, you will surely find the place for you in WA State! Below you will find a list of some of our favorite places to kayak in Washington State, along with some resources to help you do your own research!

Kayaking in the Seattle Area

Seattle is the largest and most densely populated city in Washington State. Generally you wouldn’t think of big cities as good places to kayak, but Seattle is different. To the west of the city you will find the immense and beautiful Puget Sound, and to the east you will find pristine Lake Washington. Both these bodies of water offer excellent kayaking opportunities. Plus, Seattle is a very interesting city, offering visitors lots of dining, entertainment, and activities to choose from. So, while the Seattle area is a great place to kayak, it’s also a great place to spend a weekend or more, which is one reason it comes highly recommended on this list. Below we will go over some specific areas of Seattle that are specifically worth checking out.

Alki Beach

Seattle At Night Washington state

Seattle at Night. Beautiful.

Alki beach, located in scenic West Seattle, spans several miles of Puget Sound coastline. This beautiful and affluent area is home to many amazing restaurants, museums, and shops, so it’s a great place to explore on foot or bicycle. But you’re here to read about kayaking, aren’t you?

Well, suffice it to say that Alki beach is a fantastic place for sea kayaking (just make sure you come well prepared). The surroundings are absolutely beautiful, especially on a clear day. Looking out over the water, you will be overwhelmed by the beauty of the Cascade Mountains. If you go far enough out into the sound you will be able to see downtown Seattle, complete with the Space Needle and skyscrapers that create a stark but beautiful contrast against the mountainous backdrop. Plus, the water in this area is surprisingly clean, and the city does an excellent job of keeping the beach itself clear of litter and waste.

Especially during the summer, Alki is a very popular hangout amongst Seattleites. The entire beach is public, and there are 2 walkways for pedestrians, as well as a huge bike lane that’s protected from the road by a parking lane. Kayaking along close to the shore is great fun because you can people watch and enjoy nature at the same time. Plus, it’s easy to hop out for a minute and grab a coffee or a bite to eat somewhere. There are also a number of guided tours available in the area, as well as several kayak rental companies. All in all, we recommend Alki beach as one of Washington’s top kayaking destinations.

Lake Washington

On the eastern side of Seattle lies Lake Washington, another excellent choice for your next kayaking adventure. Lake Washington is unique in that it’s surrounded by large cities (Seattle and Bellevue namely), but it still feels like you’re out in nature. It’s also a huge lake, so you could happily spend a whole day exploring it. Lake Washington is also home to many species of fish, so it’s a great place for kayak fishing! Just be sure to acquire the appropriate fishing licenses before setting out and the best fishing kayak for that matter.

One of the highlights of Lake Washington is the Mercer Slough nature preserve. This peaceful and pristine area, spanning roughly 320 acres of wetland, is home to a large array of wildlife – mostly birds such as herons, eagles, ospreys, and hawks. It’s also not uncommon to spot otters, turtles, and muskrats in the area. The best way to explore the Mercer Slough nature preserve is by joining the guided tour that takes place every Saturday and Sunday between May and September. More information is available here.

Kayaking in the San Juan Islands

san juan islands orca

A free range Orca, as it should be.

Located off the north western coast of Washington State, about 65 miles north of Seattle, the San Juan Islands have been a top tourist destination in Washington for many decades. This network of 400+ islands (128 of which are named) is as beautiful as it is diverse. Many people flock to the islands each year to snorkel, scuba dive, whale watch, and of course, kayak!

Sea kayaking is extremely popular here, and there are a large number of rental agencies and tour groups operating almost year-round. Despite being located in rainy Washington, the San Juan’s receive much less rainfall than most of the state, due to their location in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountain Range. From about May to September the weather is usually quite pleasant in the area, and there is a lot to see and do.

If you’re planning a kayaking excursion to the San Juan Islands, it’s best to start on one of the big islands – either Orcas Island or San Juan Island is a good place to start. On these larger, more populated islands you’ll find all the goods and services you need, but you’ll still be close to nature! It’s quite possible to go off on your own and do some island-hopping, but due to the size of this archipelago it’s best to get a tour guide, or better yet, befriend a local and ask them to show you around!

River Kayaking on the Wenatchee River

For thrill-seekers who would rather fly down a river than cruise lazily through the sound, the Wenatchee River is a great choice. Though the Wenatchee spans much of Washington, the best place to start from is generally in or around the town of Leavenworth.

Wenatchee River

Wenatchee River with all its glorious whitewaters

Located about 135 miles east of Seattle, the town of Leavenworth is quite an interesting place.  Modeled after a Bavarian village, every business in downtown Leavenworth is required to conform to certain standards and styles – which means that even the gas stations and grocery stores have an old-timey, Bavarian look to them. It’s a small town with a permanent population of around 2,000 people, but it comes alive in its two peak seasons – Christmas time, when they hold a huge festival every year, and summer time, when outdoor activities such as white water rafting, river kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking draw in thousands of visitors.

The Wenatchee is a cold river (I just shiver thinking about it, brrrrrr…), and Leavenworth is located up in the mountains. So, if you’re planning to enjoy the river, plan on a trip between late June and early September, or you’re gonna be cold! Also, be warned that at certain times of the year – depending on rainfall and snowmelt – the river can be quite rapid and is suitable only for advanced kayakers. Don’t underestimate it – if you are unsure of your abilities, go with a guide!

So there you have it! Hopefully after reading this you’re ready to go out and explore Washington and have some fun! Although we have listed what we believe are a few of the best kayaking destinations this state has to offer, keep in mind that this list is far from complete. Washington State has thousands of lakes and rivers, and the majority of them offer some pretty great kayaking opportunities! We encourage you to explore and research on your own, but we hope this article gave you a good place to start!