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Canoeing and Kayaking In Lake District

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The Lake District

England’s largest National Park is arguably its most dramatic and stunning one, recognised by it’s recent awarding of World Heritage status. It is home to England’s highest mountain - Scafell Pike - and it’s deepest lake (Wastwater), as well as bustling local towns like Keswick (home to the Mountain Film Festival each year).
Covering an impressive 912 square miles it is the largest National Park in England, and also the most popular, boasting over 16 million visitors a year. And with very good reason! If you’re looking for things to do in beautiful surroundings you’d be hard pushed to beat the Lake District.
Lake District Activities

Canoeing and Kayaking in Lake District

As the largest National Park in England, and with 16 lakes in all there are plenty of opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. There are also opportunities for river canoeing and kayaking here, though as most activity companies and tours stick to the lakes we’ll also stick to these in our recommendations here. To give a mention to the some of the rivers that are accessible though, you are able to paddle on sections of the following: Brathay, Derwent, Eamont, Eden, Leven, Lune, Kent and Rothay. Please do always check if you need a licence to launch in any of the locations mentioned here.

What are the best canoeing and kayaking locations in the Lake District?

There are so many iconic and stunning lakes in the Lake District, and it seems an injustice to narrow it down to a few, but the list below are our top 10. For more choices, to find guides, book tours or discover more detail please use the filters on this page to see what’s nearby and available.

Where can I hire canoes and kayaks in the Lake District?

The following are the main lakes where activity providers will offer hire or guided sessions and courses. Other lakes may be possible upon request however, so if you have a burning desire for a particular location it’s always worth asking!
  • Coniston Water: spread out from the base of the Old Man of Coniston, the mountain offers a fantastic backdrop to a day’s paddling on the lake. It has three small islands, and look out for blue and white flags which indicate the possibility of swimmers! If you’re launching your own kit the LDNPA grants access but permits are not required here.
  • Derwentwater: with bustling Keswick just a stone’s throw away it’s no wonder that Derwentwater is one of the most well-known and busy lakes in the Lake District. It’s dramatic views and backdrop of Skiddaw to the north and Borrowdale to the south make for an impressive setting for a paddle. There are several island to explore (though Derwent Island is private land and no landing is permitted on this one), and there are several activity providers offering hire and guided trips on the lake.
  • Ullswater: the second largest lake has the might Helvellyn towering over it, making for an impressive backdrop to any paddle here. Most of the lake is surrounded by mountains, and yet it’s also one of the most accessible, which is perhaps why it is well catered for by activity providers should you want to take out a kayak or canoe either for hire or on a guided trip or course.
  • Wastwater: the deepest of all the lakes, and also with one of the most striking vistas, surrounded as it is by several mountains: Kirk Fell, Red Pike and the highest in England, Scafell Pike. The view from the area was voted the nation’s favourite in a program on ITV in 2007, and whilst there’s no kayak hire on the shoreline some local activity providers do use it as their main location.
  • Windermere: the largest lake in the Lake District, and the biggest in England. It's 10.5 miles long, one mile wide, 220ft deep and the busiest of all the lakes too. There are several activity providers offering kayaking and canoeing on the lake, and whilst no permit is needed much of the shoreline is forbidden to launch from or land on, including the largest of the islands, Belle Isle. The lake has several sizeable settlements along it’s eastern shore (Windermere and Ambleside being notable), and it’s also well known for being the source of much inspiration for Arthur Ransom’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books.

Lake District Watersports

Where can I take my own canoe or kayak in the Lake District?

  • Ennerdale Water: taking advantage of being the most westerly body of water in the Lake District and also the most remote, Ennerdale is the place to come for tranquility and calm. It’s a glacial lake and it’s 2.5 mile long and ¾ mile wide waters are exceptionally clear. Surrounded by wild peaks and dense forest provide an atmospheric backdrop to any paddle here. Permits are only needed if you are a large group or a commercial body and can be gained from the United Utilities website.
  • Crummock Water: Flanked by Grassmoor on the west and the fells of Mellbreak on the east, it offers fantastic views from either side. Notably the lake is fed by several streams, including the impressive Scale Force, the tallest in the Lake District with a drop of 170ft, which is well worth a short hike to whilst visiting. If you take a canoe or kayak out to Crummock Water, make sure you have a permit. The National Trust owns the land, and you can get permits in the nearby town of Buttermere.
  • Grasmere: despite it’s small size Grasmere is one of the more well-known and visited lakes, thanks in no small measure to its connections with William Wordsworth. The island in the middle is privately owned and landing is not permitted. It’s possible to join the River Rothay from the lake, which winds its way for 4 miles to Windermere if you wanted a lovely A to B paddle.
  • Thirlmere Reservoir: once two lakes but now a reservoir courtesy of a large dam, Thirlmere also hide two old settlements (Armboth and Wytburn) beneath its waters. It’s a lovely 7.5 mile paddle around the whole lake, so makes for a great day out with a nice stop for lunch on one of it’s many coves. Access is granted by United Utilities, but no permit is needed.
  • Bassenthwaite Lake: notable for being one of the better places to spot wildlife, Bassenthwaite is one of the larger lakes but also the shallowest at 70ft at it’s deepest part. It’s often busy with sailing boats from the thriving sailing club here, but canoes and kayaks are allowed with a permit, available from the Lake District National Park Association (LDNPA).

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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 Lake District?

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 Lake District 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 Lake District

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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