Best Kayaking in North Carolina

North Carolina is full of great paddling spots, and plenty of guides and experts to help make your excursion a memorable one. To round up a list of the best kayaking in North Carolina, we turned to YOU - our Water Junky community on Instagram. Explore a list of the most frequently tagged locations for kayaking across the state.



Cape Lookout has an amazing chain of islands that lies just under three miles away from shore. Kayakers can spend the day paddling to and between various uninhabited islands as they spend a day out on the ocean. Under good conditions is it an easy trip between shore and the island chain, and the many marshes and inlets make for a breathtaking adventure. 


Down East Kayaks 




Jordan lake offers over 14,000 acres of water to kayak on, with several beaches and boating ramps to start your trip from. Perfect for a family flatwater tour, Jordan Lake is a relaxing day on the water. Ospreys flying overhead aren’t an uncommon sight for kayakers, and even the occasional bald eagle might join you as you paddle.

LOCAL OUTFITTERS: Crosswinds Boating Jordan Lake Watersports 




The centerpiece of Lake James State Park, kayaking Lake James features a backdrop of the Appalachian mountains. This beautiful lake offers over 150 miles of shoreline to explore and has picnic, camping, and backpacking facilities available. Make sure to check the weather beforehand, as high winds can cause sizable swells to deal with as you boat. 


State Park Camp Lake James Blue Ridge Outdoors 




Named after the striking resemblance to a horseshoe that the bay takes, Horseshoe Lake is one of the biggest bays in the North Carolina bay network. Kayakers will get to see very unique water vegetation, including rooted aquatic plants and cypress. Rounding the bend in the bay offers stunning views of these unique floating plants and cypress stands. In addition, the diverse waterfowl make this a beautiful site to break out your birding skills as you check out the lake. 




Cape Fear River offers an expanse of rocky downriver kayaking with several whitewater traversing opportunities. With several flatwater sections as well, Cape Fear River is great for experienced and new kayakers alike. Named after the Cape Fear shoals nearby, various islands in the Cape Fear River make for awesome exploration or picnic stops on your trip. 


Cape Fear Adventures Cape Fear Native Lighthouse Watersports 




Kerr Lake offers year round access to kayakers. High winds and rough waters are common and can make for a challenging day out on the water. While this a moderate trip, make sure you are ready and skilled enough to brave the waters if weather does hit. Several coves full of live tree stands and thick vegetation dot the lake to check out as you paddle. 850 miles of shore await to be discovered on this trip. Kerr lake does not offer any other facilities outside of their boat launch, but is a good fit for kayakers who want to avoid running into others on the water.


Frog Hollow Outdoors Clarksville Boats 




Eno river has three flatwater kayaking sites that are available year round. West Point, Dimmock’s Mill Dam, and Eno’s ramp at Neuse Reservoir are all easy day trips on relatively calm water. It also has six different whitewater sections, with difficulty ranging depending on season. Scenic sections pass by several old mills and other historic points of interest. Turtles and waterfowl are also a common sight.


Frog Hollow Outdoors 





Float under a canopy of hardwoods and pines as you explore the Neuse River. With most outfitters and treks starting in Raleigh, the Neuse River has popular runs ranging from three to ten miles. Whether you want to spend a few hours on the water or the entire day, the Neuse should be a fun kayaking experience. See beaver and deer as you check out the forested shore. There are also several picnic areas to stop at and relax if the urge hits. 

LOCAL OUTFITTERS: Paddle Creek NC Lake Johnson Park Lake Wheeler Park 





The French Broad river spans 117 miles of beautiful North Carolina country. The highwaters are narrow and flat, with kayakers passing many farms on the way down. More popularly, kayakers hit the river near asheville, where there are more rapids and technical whitewaters to check out. The Ledges offers great practice for kayakers to practice their whitewater skills while further down the river the Biltmore Run lets you kayak unsuspectingly through the middle of the city.

LOCAL OUTFITTERS: Headwaters Outfitters French Broad Drafting Asheville Adventure Rentals Asheville Outdoor Center Blue Heron Whitewater USA Raft 





HighRock Lake is known as an amazing spot to fish, having hosted several Master Classic Bass fishing tournaments in the past. A man made lake that has a populated shoreline, kayakers who prefer a day spent with a rod in their hand will thoroughly enjoy their trip. The lake is very easy to explore and beginner kayakers should have no problems navigating. There also are a few interesting marshes to check out as you scope out the best area to put your line in the water.


Highrock Lake Campground Tamarac Marina Visit Davidson County Highrock Outfitters 





Next time you're aimlessly scrolling on Instagram, check out these hashtags for paddling inspiration.

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