Seattle Area Kayaking: Best Paddling Spots in the Puget Sound Region
Kayaking around the Seattle Area is a great way to experience the Pacific Northwest. Growing up in Seattle and on the Olympic Peninsula, I can say that the best way to get outdoors and fall in love with the Puget Sound area is from the water.
Seattle is teeming with kayaking locations. Lakes, Rivers, and the ocean await paddlers of all experience levels. This area is loaded with paddle companies that can accommodate everything from beginner lessons to multi-night excursions. The views encompass downtown Seattle, far off Mount Rainer, salmon in the Locks, seals, and whales. The diversity of Seattle paddling opportunities makes it a must-visit for all paddlers. Just be sure to plan enough time to see it all!
Easy Kayaking Spots in Seattle
Since Seattle is surrounded by water, it’s really easy to find places to kayak around Seattle and the rest of the Puget Sound area. Whether you want to kayak on Lake Union or Lake Washington, get out on Puget Sound or kayak in Olympic National Park, there are some wonderfully easy places to paddle all around the area. Kayaking is just one of the many wonderful things to do in Seattle!
Along the shores of Lake Washington, Magnuson Park provides an excellent place for beginner paddlers to enjoy their day. This area is a perfect opportunity for viewing birds and fish throughout the waters. For those looking to expand their paddling skills, REI offers lessons out of the Sail Sand Point boathouse within the park.
Where to launch:
- Magnuson Park Beach
A little below Seattle, Tacoma, is Foss Harbor. It’s an excellent paddle location for a leisurely afternoon. Based on Commencement Bay, these calm waters are void of larger ships and waves. Checking out the tide flats can provide an excellent opportunity for viewing wildlife.
If you want to plan a longer paddle, you can kayak all the way to Point Defiance, which is beautiful. Because this does get much closer to the shipping lane and even gets some ferry wake from the Vashon ferry, you’ll need to exercise extra safety/caution, and sea kayaks are recommended if you’re heading further out.
Where to launch:
Similar to the calmer waters in Foss Harbor, the clear sandy waters of Titlow Beach are also an excellent location for a relaxing paddle. Here paddlers can enter the water near the end of Titlow Park. A paddler will enjoy views of the Olympic Peninsula and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
This is a wonderful option for kayaking in the summer when you can pair beach time with a Seattle area kayaking trip.
Where to launch:
Alki beach is a great place for beginners to get a leisurely paddle in with excellent views. With open waters, this paddle makes for incredible sunset views. Here you can paddle around Elliot bay or out to the Alki Lighthouse.
While you can go out of Alki for kayaking around Seattle in winter, know that the breeze is FREEZING and even on a beautiful day, you’re gonna freeze. For a better winter paddle, head south around the corner toward the West Seattle Bridge for more sheltered areas and different views.
Where to launch:
Experienced Kayak Launches in the Seattle Area
San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are the number one place to whale watch from the water. Located between Washington and Vancouver Island, this area is recommended for strong paddlers. Kayaking in the San Juans should be approached keeping in mind that you’re doing a lot of open water kayaking.
Here, the ocean waves can quickly become overpowering for those unprepared. Paddlers can explore shorelines, Doughty State Park, or organize longer multi-day paddles. If you are lucky enough to see an Orca on your paddle, remember that legally, you are required to stay 300 yards away and not approach.
Lakes to Locks Trail
The Lakes to Locks trail is a day-use trail near Seattle. It covers Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Lake Sammamish and eventually meets the saltwater of Puget Sound. While much of this 100 miles of water is calm, paddlers must ensure that they are prepared to pass through the locks appropriately.
Ballard can often be busy waters complicated by waves. Paddlers may find more accessible waters by staying close to shore, but this area is generally recommended for more experienced paddlers. Here, paddlers can explore the ballad locks and Ship Canal. Wildlife viewing like Salmon and birds are also prevalent throughout this area.
Elliott bay offers expansive views of downtown Seattle and far off Mt. Rainier. The most common area to put in is Elliot Bay Marina. This bay does lead to the incredibly popular Puget Sound; therefore, paddlers need knowledge of basic boating rules to be prepared for the traffic. Wildlife viewing in this area could include Dolphins and Sea Lions if exploring during the quieter hours.
National / State Park Kayaking Spots near Seattle
This Area of Washington has an expansive coverage of state parks and options to paddle. We’ve shared a few of our favorites here, but check out this interactive map for even more paddling opportunities.
Mount Rainier National Park
Not far outside of Seattle is Mount Rainier, National Park. Here, there are several paddling opportunities. Lake Mowich in the northwest corner of the park is a popular place for beginner paddlers. One of the more popular areas is the Cowlitz River. This river features several paddling opportunities depending on where you put in and take out. One portion of the river offers a 7.5 mile run with class II rapids.
Further on is a more family-friendly section that allows for a float down calmer waters for nearly ten miles. This section also offers opportunities for overnight camping for those looking to extend their stay on the River. The Mount Rainier Visitor Association has more about these paddles and other favorites to visit.
Olympic National Park
Nearby Olympic National Park features more remote waters, and intermediate to advanced paddlers will find plenty to explore. The Hoh and Queets Rivers offer adventures with Class II and III sections of rapids. Lake Crescent, Washington’s’ second deepest lake, is also a popular destination. Olympic National Park’s remoteness is the perfect opportunity for paddlers to step into the backcountry and explore. However, it should be noted that much of the Olympic National Park Lakes are big, windy, and very cold. Many paddlers wear dry suits year-round for protection.
Here, paddlers can explore any of the nine put-ins that Lake Sammamish State Park has. This park is an excellent place for families to spend time hiking, paddling, and camping. It should be noted that visitors looking to boat here will need a launch permit or discover pass for entry.
Dash Point State Park is an excellent place to hike, camp, and paddle in southern Puget Sound. A perfect place for paddlers looking for a quiet experience, this state park only allows for non-motorized boats to put in. Some paddlers use Dash Point as a stop-over to spend the night on more oversized multi-day paddles.
Recommended Kayaking Tours in Seattle
There are nearly dozens of opportunities for kayak tours and rentals around Seattle. A few places to check out are:
This Touring Company offers everything from sunset tours to complete or half-day trips and multi-day excursions. Those who don’t enjoy camping but enjoy extended paddles offer an Inn to Inn tour that allows participants to sleep each night indoors. Their most popular, two-night Orca Quest, while it’s not guaranteed to see whales, this area is most known for sightings.
Paddling around the famous Elliot Bay has plenty to offer. Alki Kayak Tours has a lighthouse paddle, full moon paddles, orca month guided paddles, etc. This touring company is also famous for beginner classes for SUP and Kayaks and rentals for those looking to venture on their own.
Join Ballard Kayaks to paddle through the locks, sunset tours, etc. Ballard Kayak & Paddleboard also offers classes and rentals for those looking to learn more. Ballard is also the top provider for group paddle events; contact them to plan and schedule custom group events.
When to Visit Seattle
Because of its location on the Northwest coast, summers will generally be the best time of year to visit when planning a paddling trip. Seattle is a very, very rainy city. July and August are the driest months and likely the best times to visit.
Weather in Seattle
Seattle has temperate weather, with summers averaging in the 60-and 70s. It rains 50% of the time in Seattle, which is an essential factor to consider when planning a paddle trip.
Need to Know for Seattle
Have we mentioned the rain in Seattle? Nearly every local in the city carries an umbrella with them. Additionally, while July and August are the warmer, dryer months, it is essential to be still prepared for cooler temperatures. Paddling on the open sea is often much more relaxed than the temperatures on land at the same time. Being equipped with multiple layers will be necessary for comfortable paddling.
While the rain and cooler weather can complicate paddling plans, Seattle is a must for every avid paddler. The opportunities for wildlife viewing are endless, and the views of the city and surrounding area are indeed one of a kind.