Best Kayaking in North Dakota

Young man wearing sunglasses kayaking on a river
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In our comprehensive guide to the best kayaking in North Dakota, you’ll discover the Peace Garden State’s diverse range of waterways, from serene lakes to meandering rivers. These paddling destinations offer opportunities to connect with nature, spot wildlife, and uncover the hidden beauty of this northern region. Join us as we take you on a journey through the top kayaking spots in North Dakota, each with its own unique charm and outdoor adventure opportunities. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced kayaker, North Dakota’s waters have something for everyone, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking memorable paddling adventures.



Lake Ashtabula

In eastern North Dakota, Lake Ashtabula offers kayakers a tranquil escape into the heart of nature. With its serene setting and breathtaking scenery, it’s an ideal spot for those seeking a peaceful paddle. The lake’s calm waters and abundant wildlife create a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Whether you’re a novice kayaker or an experienced one, Lake Ashtabula promises a memorable and picturesque experience.

Reasons to Kayak in Lake Ashtabula:

  • Tranquil Setting: Enjoy the peace and quiet of this serene reservoir, making it an ideal place for a relaxing paddle.
  • Scenic Beauty: The lake is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and wildlife, creating a picturesque kayaking experience.
  • Wildlife Viewing: You’ll have opportunities to spot various birds and animals while kayaking.
  • Calm Waters: The lake’s calm waters are perfect for beginners and those looking for a leisurely paddle.
  • Fishing: Lake Ashtabula is known for its fishing, so you can combine kayaking with angling for a day of outdoor fun.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


Missouri River

The Missouri River, coursing through North Dakota, invites kayakers to embark on a journey of diverse landscapes and captivating vistas. Stretching from Bismarck to Washburn, this section of the river beckons with its historical significance and natural beauty. As you paddle its gentle waters, you’ll have ample opportunities for wildlife sightings and exploration of historical sites along the banks. The Missouri River promises an enriching kayaking adventure that combines history, nature, and scenic wonder.

Reasons to Kayak in the Missouri River:

  • Scenic Variety: Kayak along the Missouri River to experience diverse landscapes, from rocky bluffs to lush riverbanks.
  • Wildlife Watching: The river is home to various bird species and sometimes even bald eagles, offering fantastic opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts.
  • Historical Sites: Paddle by historic sites like Fort Mandan, adding an educational aspect to your journey.
  • Camping: Many spots along the riverbanks are perfect for overnight camping, making it an exciting multi-day kayaking adventure.
  • River Towns: You can explore charming towns along the river, each with its own unique character and culture.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea, one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the U.S., beckons kayakers with its vast expanse and ever-changing scenery. This pristine water body provides an idyllic setting for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you’re into kayaking, fishing, or simply relishing serene moments on the water. With over 1,300 miles of shoreline, you’ll find countless inlets, bays, and coves to explore, each offering a unique kayaking experience. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, Lake Sakakawea has something special to offer.

Reasons to Kayak in Lake Sakakawea:

  • Vast Expanse: With over 1,300 miles of shoreline, Lake Sakakawea offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure.
  • Scenic Overlooks: The lake is surrounded by scenic overlooks, making it a photographer’s dream.
  • Fishing: This lake is renowned for walleye fishing, and kayakers can easily access great fishing spots.
  • Camping: Many campgrounds are available along the shoreline, allowing for extended kayaking and overnight stays.
  • Water Sports: In addition to kayaking, you can also enjoy other water activities like jet skiing and paddleboarding.

Recommended Gear: Extra Water, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Sheyenne River

Meandering through the eastern part of North Dakota, Sheyenne River offers kayakers a gentle and tranquil paddling experience. This slow-flowing river takes you through diverse landscapes, including lush forests and wetlands, creating an ideal habitat for wildlife watching. As you paddle along its meandering course, you’ll encounter historical sites, offering a glimpse into the area’s heritage. With its serene waters and opportunities for nature and history enthusiasts, Sheyenne River is a kayaking destination that caters to a variety of interests.

Reasons to Kayak in the Sheyenne River:

  • Gentle Flow: The Sheyenne River is known for its slow and peaceful flow, making it a perfect spot for novice kayakers.
  • Wildlife Habitat: Paddle through diverse habitats, including forests and wetlands, offering excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
  • Historical Sites: Explore remnants of early settler history and Native American culture along the riverbanks.
  • Picnicking: Many convenient picnic spots along the river provide a pleasant rest during your kayaking journey.
  • Fall Foliage: Kayaking here in the autumn offers breathtaking views of colorful foliage.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


Red River of the North

The Red River of the North, serving as the border between North Dakota and Minnesota, invites kayakers to explore its unique geography and rich natural beauty. The river’s slow and steady current makes it accessible to paddlers of all skill levels, providing a relaxed kayaking experience. Birdwatchers will delight in the diverse avian species along the riverbanks, and you can also immerse yourself in local culture by visiting the charming river towns. For those who enjoy angling, the Red River is famous for its catfish, offering fishing opportunities for kayak fishermen.

Reasons to Kayak in the Red River of the North:

  • Unique Geography: Experience the intriguing geography of the Red River Valley as you paddle the border between North Dakota and Minnesota.
  • Slow Current: The river’s slow current makes it suitable for all skill levels, including beginners.
  • Birdwatching: The riverbanks are a birdwatcher’s paradise, with a variety of avian species to spot.
  • Community Events: Several river towns host events and festivals, making your kayak trip an opportunity to enjoy local culture.
  • Fishing: The Red River is famous for catfish, providing angling opportunities for kayak fishing.

Recommended Gear: Sun Hat, Insect Spray, Cup Holder, Water Bottle, Paddle Holder, Water Shoe, Snorkel


Turtle River State Park

Turtle River State Park near Grand Forks is a serene escape for kayakers, where you can paddle through scenic woodlands surrounded by lush greenery. The river’s tranquil flow offers a peaceful atmosphere for paddlers of all levels. Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the encounters with deer, raccoons, and various bird species that call the park home. Additionally, the park often provides kayaking classes, making it an ideal spot for beginners to embark on their kayaking journey.

Reasons to Kayak in the Turtle River State Park:

  • Scenic Woodlands: Kayak through the park’s dense forests and experience the peaceful ambiance of the Turtle River.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Look out for deer, raccoons, and a variety of birds as you paddle.
  • Paddling Classes: The park often offers paddling classes for beginners, making it an ideal place to start your kayaking journey.
  • Hiking Trails: Explore hiking trails and scenic viewpoints within the park.
  • Family Friendly: The calm waters and family-friendly atmosphere make it a great destination for kayaking with kids.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


Little Missouri River

Within the rugged Badlands of North Dakota, the Little Missouri River offers kayakers a unique and captivating paddling experience. In this remote and wild corner of the state, paddlers embark on an adventure filled with breathtaking scenery and natural wonder. The meandering river reveals the striking geological formations and rugged canyons of the Badlands, creating a backdrop that’s both rugged and beautiful. Amidst the solitude of the river, you’ll have the opportunity to encounter diverse wildlife, all while navigating the pristine and crystal-clear waters. Whether you seek the thrill of challenging currents or a serene escape into nature, the Little Missouri River promises a kayaking journey like no other in the Peace Garden State.

Reasons to Kayak in the Little Missouri River:

  • Calm Waters: Enjoy the tranquility of the rivers calm waters, perfect for a leisurely kayaking experience.
  • Pristine Waters: The Little Missouri River is known for its clear and clean waters, perfect for those who appreciate clean paddling conditions
  • Birdwatching: Bird enthusiasts will appreciate the variety of waterfowl and songbirds in the area.
  • Recreational Activities: The river offers opportunities for swimming, fishing, and picnicking.
  • Adventure and Solitude: The river’s remote location ensures a sense of adventure and solitude.

Recommended Gear: Kayak Wheels, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Stump Lake

In the tranquil northeastern reaches of North Dakota, Stump Lake beckons kayakers to embark on a peaceful and idyllic aquatic adventure. This expansive, shallow lake is a hidden gem, offering a serene escape for those seeking a leisurely paddle on its calm, mirror-like waters. The placid ambiance is perfect for kayakers of all levels, providing a scenic backdrop that includes lush vegetation and opportunities for birdwatching. Stump Lake is not just a kayaker’s haven; it’s also known for its prolific fishing, allowing you to cast a line while relishing the serenity of this picturesque water body.

Reasons to Kayak in Stump Lake:

  • Peaceful Environment: Stump Lake is known for its quiet and relaxed atmosphere, ideal for a serene kayak outing.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Cast a line from your kayak and enjoy the lake’s abundant fish populations.
  • Camping: Several campgrounds are available nearby, allowing you to extend your kayaking adventure into a camping trip.
  • Sunset Views: The lake offers stunning sunset views, making for a romantic or picturesque evening paddle.
  • Family Fun: It’s a family-friendly destination, providing a great day out for all ages.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


Lake Metigoshe

Lake Metigoshe, with its crystal-clear waters, is a kayaker’s dream, allowing you to see the lake’s bottom as you paddle. In addition to kayaking, you can partake in water activities like swimming and stand-up paddleboarding. The surrounding Turtle Mountains offer hiking trails and various opportunities for land exploration. With opportunities for picnicking and abundant wildlife, Lake Metigoshe combines natural beauty and outdoor recreation.

Reasons to Kayak in Lake Metigoshe:

  • Crystal Clear Waters: Experience the clarity of Lake Metigoshe’s waters, allowing you to see to the lake bottom as you paddle.
  • Water Activities: In addition to kayaking, you can enjoy activities like swimming and stand-up paddleboarding.
  • Hiking Trails: The Turtle Mountains surrounding the lake offer various hiking trails, combining your kayaking adventure with land exploration.
  • Picnicking Areas: Enjoy a picnic on the shores or at designated areas around the lake.
  • Wildlife Spotting: Keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife that inhabits this area, including deer, moose, and various bird species.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Knife River

Within the tranquil northeastern reaches of North Dakota, Stump Lake beckons kayakers to embark on a peaceful and idyllic aquatic adventure. This expansive, shallow lake is a hidden gem, offering a serene escape for those seeking a leisurely paddle on its calm, mirror-like waters. The placid ambiance is perfect for kayakers of all levels, providing a scenic backdrop that includes lush vegetation and opportunities for birdwatching. Stump Lake is not just a kayaker’s haven; it’s also known for its prolific fishing, allowing you to cast a line while relishing the serenity of this picturesque water body

Reasons to Kayak in Knife River:

  • Diverse Water Bodies: Explore various spots along this scenic river, providing a wide range of kayaking opportunities.
  • Spectacular Views: Knife river offers stunning scenic spots, perfect for taking in the breathtaking landscapes.
  • Historical Significance: The Knife River is steeped in history, having served as a vital trade route for Native American tribes and early European explorers.
  • Birdwatching: The riverbanks are teeming with birdlife, making it a paradise for birdwatchers.
  • Outdoor Exploration: Beyond kayaking, the surrounding area offers opportunities for hiking, picnicking.

Recommended Gear: Spray Skirt, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


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