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Canoeing and Kayaking In Devon - 3 experiences

Read our guide for Canoeing and Kayaking In Devon and Find and Book experiences, courses, activities and tours! Browse through the list of experiences, either instantly book onto your dates or enquire to book. All you have to do is turn up and enjoy! If you’ve got any questions about any specific experience, send a message and the providers will aim to get back to you as soon as possible. Have a specific experience in mind that we don’t have listed? No problem, drop us a message and we’ll send your quote around to hundreds of the best experience providers nationwide and come back with you the best quote, making it easy for you to make the most of your spare time!

About Canoeing and Kayaking in Devon

Devon is a fantastic location for the outdoor enthusiast, comprising two contrasting coastlines and not one but two National Parks! For the canoeing and kayaking enthusiast it has an awful lot to offer. On the south coast at its border with Cornwall lies Plymouth, with the stunning natural harbour that is the Plymouth Sound and the River Tamar threading it’s way inland from here. Further along the coast there are numerous gorgeous coves and estuaries making for some fantastic day trips or family outings to explore some of the more remote sections of coastline. The north coast is more rugged and can tend to have more of a swell, but when calm offers some glorious coastline to explore from towns such as Ilfracombe and Combe Martin. Inland the Dartmoor National Park offers some of the best white water kayaking in the whole of the UK. Here the River Dart is the real star of the show, with great variety stemming from its location tumbling down through Dartmoor itself - where you’ll find white water rapids all the way up to Grade 5 - and then a more gentle winding route as it travels through woodland to the sea beyond Totnes.
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Kayaking and canoeing are a fantastic way to see the landscape from a different perspective, and get to experience locations - and see wildlife - you might not otherwise get to visit. For the experienced paddler there are plenty of options available, though please bear in mind the access restrictions below. For beginners or those wishing to improve their skills, there are plenty of adventure providers who can take you on the rivers safely. If you’re looking for something that little bit different too then you can always combine a paddle with a wine tour, or a campfire with storytelling - check out some of the other ideas below!
Alternatively browse through the list of canoeing and kayaking experiences in Devon, then either instantly book onto your dates or enquire to book. All you have to do is turn up and enjoy! If you’ve got any questions about any specific experience, send a message and the providers will aim to get back to you as soon as possible, so you can explore the best of Devon. Have a specific experience in mind that we don’t have listed? No problem, drop us a message and we’ll send your quote around to hundreds of the best experience providers nationwide and come back with you the best quote, making it easy for you to make the most of your spare time!

What are the best canoeing and kayaking locations in Devon?

  • The Plymouth Sound: surely one of the world’s most stunning natural harbours, there are of course some fantastic paddling opportunities here. Be wary of tides and currents, but the inlet around Wembury just further out into the sound from Plymouth provides some stunning views, and the Mew Stone - sitting proud out in the estuary - provides a great destination for a paddle. Heading inland from here the River Yealm provides a tranquil setting for a journey to Puzlinch Bridge.
  • The River Dart: the River Dart is split into three main sections when it comes to white water paddling. The Loop is the middle section, so named for the shape of its main meander, and is arguably the most popular section of white water in England. Either side of this are the Upper Dart and Lower Dart, with the Upper section also providing ample white water opportunities. More details on this below!
  • The Dart Estuary: much tamer than it’s upper reaches, the tidal section of the river makes for some fantastic and scenic canoeing, ideal for beginners, groups and families. This section is also ideal for combining a paddle with a wine tour, pub visit, or perhaps a wild camping trip.
  • The Tamar Valley: similar to the Dart Estuary, this beautiful river divides the counties of Cornwall and Devon, offering scenic paddles suitable for all. There are plenty of activity providers around to hire from, or to offer guided tours.Try heading off from the historic quay at Cotehele and paddle upriver past the pretty village of Calstock as it clings to the steep bank of the Tamar, and into the wilder sections towards the limit of the tidal section.
  • Bigbury/Burgh Island: one of the most iconic coastline features in the UK, Burgh Island provides a fantastic backdrop - and destination - for a paddle from the impressive blue flag beach at Bigbury-on-Sea, just a short drive from Plymouth.
  • Exmoor, The River Barle: the Barle is the largest river that flows through the National Park and is classed as a grade 2-3 river, meaning less experienced paddlers should only go out with supervision or under instruction. The Barle is one of the more scenic rivers you are likely to paddle, being also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its important wildlife that includes salmon, otters, kingfisher, dipper and the very rare river jelly lichen. This does mean that kayaking is only permitted downstream of Tarr Steps, and only between 15th October and 31st March when levels are high enough.
  • Torquay: with a stunning coastline to explore this is a great location to embark on a day trip, or even combine a multi-day trip with some wild camping and catching your own dinner! Paddling out from a variety of launch points discover the Orestone Rock or take a journey to St Mary’s Bay via Berry Head for a chance to spot dolphins!

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Best canoeing and kayaking trips for beginners, groups and families in Devon

The two best options are the tidal sections of the River Dart and the River Tamar, though for gentle summer paddling in calm conditions many places on the coast, such as Bigbury on Sea mentioned above, make for a lovely setting to get out onto the azure seas of the coastline either side of Plymouth:
  • The Dart: there are some lovely options available here. Paddle to the pub and back (options include the villages of Stoke Gabriel, Dittisham and Tuckenhay), maybe stop off at the Sharpham Estate for some wine tasting, or maybe even wild camp overnight for a proper family adventure! There are various activity providers offering trips here, so check out our listings for further details.
  • The Tamar: there are few better ways to experience the stunning scenery and wildlife of the Tamar Valley than by canoe or kayak. Often launching from Cotehele Quay the route upriver contains many points of interest beside the natural beauty, including the Cotehele estate and the chapel built there by Sir Richard Edgcumbe after his escape from the Roundheads. You’ll paddle underneath the impressive Calstock viaduct, built in 1907, and see many signs of the thriving copper mining industry that once occupied this stretch of the river.
  • Grand Western Canal, Tiverton: born of an idea to link the Bristol and English Channels it was of course never completed, but now offers an opportunity to explore the gorgeous Devon countryside by canoe or kayak. Hire a canoe in Tiverton for a great family day out, rounded off of course with a Devon cream tea when back on terra firma!

What are the best canoeing and kayaking locations on the River Dart?

  • The Loop is considered the prime location on the Dart (and in England!), running from Newbridge to Holne Bridge and graded 2-3.
  • The Upper Dart is considered grade 3-4 depending on the water levels, making it more suitable for advanced paddlers.
  • The Lower section is grade 2 and generally more suitable for beginners and those getting to grips with white water.
  • The estuary section is a great location for canoeing and more gentle paddling but take note of the tides.

You should also be aware of when you are able to paddle. During dry weather and in low water the upper sections should be avoided to avoid any damage to the environment, and similarly there are many sensitive spawning grounds for fish, so care should be taken. Canoeing and kayaking on the River Dart can only take place within the following dates: the Dart Fisheries Association and the BCU have an agreement permitting access to the river from Newbridge from 1st October to 15th March, and from Dartmeet from 15th October to 15th March. No canoeing or paddling is permitted during the summer months.
Access Points There are limited permitted access and egress points within the National Park, at Dartmeet, Newbridge, Holne Weir and the Dartbridge cafe. Do not disembark at other points unless in an emergency.
Car parking is available at:
  • Newbridge (Pay and Display)
  • Dartmeet (Pay and Display)
  • River Dart Country Park (entrance fee applies)

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Best white water kayaking in Devon

Across the Upper Dart and the Loop section, the following are some of the most iconic and well known sections for white water paddling in England:
  • Top Wave (Loop section): within about 50m after departing Newbridge is a river-wide wave, very popular with playboaters with its eddy service on both sides and an easy walk back to the car park.
  • Lover's Leap (Loop section): a 100m grade III rapid requiring some rock evasion and a final wave pushing into the leap itself; a large undercut cliff-face. The drop is easily avoided in most conditions (high flows may cause more problems), and it has the potential to pin less experienced paddlers so take precautions.
  • Triple-drop / Triple-falls (Loop section): meriting inclusion as the most difficult grade III rapid on this section of the Dart, and as such precautions should be taken. Inspection and portage are both possible here if necessary. The first drop is a small ledge, followed by a bigger wave/stopper into a pool. The third is the hardest, and a centre line is recommended followed by a move to either side to avoid a tricky stopper. There is a flat pool after this allowing for rescue if needed!
  • Holne weir (Loop section): with higher water this is a highly retentive stopper and should be treated with caution. There are two chutes which should not be missed, though the approach is flat and relatively easy.
  • Boulder Garden (Upper Dart): a fairly steep rapid made up of numerous boulders. The lead in is relatively simple, though the twisting path makes for the first Class IV whitewater of this stretch, with a long pool waiting below.
  • Board Ledge (Upper Dart): A fun section follows a long straight, as the river bends river and drops over 3 wide bedrock ledges. Approach with more caution as the water level rises and the more significant stoppers form.
  • Mad Mile (Upper Dart): closer to half a mile in reality, this section features a series of river-wide ledges and slides with a large pool - Mel Pool - at the halfway mark. Caution is advised in high waters with the stoppers holding swimmers. If in doubt use the sneak routes here. A series of ledges finish in a diagonal ramp at Mel Pool, which in high water produces a huge cushion wave and is particularly dangerous when in flood. Mel Pool Steps has a number of routes with a series of small slides that leads to easier water.

Safety Advice for Canoeing and Kayaking

A license is just one small part of the puzzle when it comes to working out where and when to paddle. See our list below on things to consider before going canoeing or kayaking:
  • Weather, flow, tides and visibility: Attention should be paid to the flow of the river by checking the environment agency website and others. A significant flow on the river can be caused by excessive rain, often hundreds of miles away, that over a number of days, pour into the river can cause significant currents. Whilst its often hard to see ‘flow’ just by looking at the river the National River Flow Archive can provide specific information on the flow to enable you to decide if it’s worth the outing. Often, it’s much nicer to paddle in calmer waters, rather than battling a surging river and having greater risk around meanders, bridges and other boat vessels, so this is something to consider. Likewise, wind, tide, weather and visibility should be taken into consideration when planning your canoeing or kayaking trip.
  • Conditions within your level of capability Always err on the side of caution when going out in your canoe or kayak and make sure you’re comfortable with the conditions of the water
  • Tell your friends: Let people know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Ideally go with a group of people so if someone falls in, you’ll have others to help or raise the alarm
  • Get training: Book in a canoeing or kayaking instructor course or experience days on Beyonk
  • Practice falling in drills: In calmer waters and with the supervision of an instructor, practice how to fall in and what to do when you do fall in, so you’re prepared on what to do
  • Consider wearing safety equipment such as buoyancy aids, which can be life-savers in many scenarios even if you’re a strong swimmer. The water temperature, flow or taking a knock to the head can all present risks that will make your swimming skills useless and a buoyancy aid life-saving
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions of your paddle. Don’t risk getting soaking wet and cold in the rain if you’re going out for prolonged periods
  • Be aware of waterway restrictions, from boating lanes, military operations and more, to avoid any dangers
  • Make sure to get stacked up on nutrition and water to maintain energy levels if you’re going for over an hour's paddle.
  • Take a communication device, mobile or radio in case of emergency and call 999 if needed.

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Where can I go canoeing or kayaking in Devon?

Unfortunately there are all sorts of restrictions on where you can go canoeing or kayaking in Wales, as many bodies of water are owned by different organisations and there are more specific protections in place. It’s not quite as simple as just rocking up to your closest river and going for a paddle. There have been stories of authorities asking to see licenses and being able to fine those canoeing and kayaking without a license.
There are some places where licenses aren’t required, like paddling in the sea, estuaries or most tidal water (which can often travel quite far up many rivers). However, these are the areas that require skill and experience to go paddling. Nevertheless, estuary and sea kayaking can offer some of the most rewarding experiences with sightings of seals, a wealth of other animals and stunning coastal scenes.
Canals and inland rivers can be great places to kayak and canoe as waters can be easier to navigate and manage than tidal waters. However, for many inland rivers in the UK you’ll need to work out whether you are able to canoe or kayak there due to both private restrictions and licensing restrictions. In Wales, check out the Canoe Wales website for the rivers where you can canoe or kayak under their membership. If there are any questions, you’re best off sending them a message to see what license is required (if any) for your stretch of river. Restrictions also exist for where land is privately owned (e.g. beaches), where there are environmental protection schemes such as Nature reserves, where there are military bases or activity happening or where there are restrictions due to safety such as avoiding shipping lanes, waste disposal or dangerous wrecks.

Canoe and Kayak Clubs, Hire and Lessons in Devon near me

Search through our map of hundreds of canoe and kayak clubs, places to hire equipment or find lessons. If you’re looking for something specific, drop us a message and we’ll find it for you.

Canoeing and Kayaking for Families and Kids in Devon

Canoeing and Kayaking are great family friendly sports. Canoes are more of the stable and spacious choice that allow for gentle and calm paddling experiences. Kayaking also offers the option for two-seaters that are a great way to bond with a friend or family member. Sea Kayaks and Touring Kayaks are incredibly stable, like Canoes, so it's more difficult to fall in or get wet. When it comes to the types of water to look out for, calmer water makes for a more enjoyable experience with kids. Look out for local lakes or canals for safer and more tranquil paddling. The beauty of canoeing and kayaking are that they are 'sit down' sports. The level of fitness required for both - at entry level - is relatively low, so most people can get involved with the sport.

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