You don’t have to leave town to get outside and have an adventure. These five major cities all have amazing urban paddling opportunities just out the front door.
The great thing about cities is that they’re usually placed as close as possible to water — a lot of it. New York City is an island, for example; it’s literally surrounded by water. San Francisco is built around a noticeably large bay (hence the Golden Gate Bridge). Seattle sits on the edge of the Puget Sound, the second largest estuary in the United States. If there’s not an ocean nearby, there’s typically at least a lake, or a river running through the middle of most cities—like the Mississippi in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, or the Colorado River in Austin, Texas. On account of it, most places that qualify as a “city” also tend to have a lot of good places to go paddling nearby. Here are just five of the best.
It’s hard to avoid the water in Seattle, even when it’s not raining (bring a jacket). Within the city limits, there are about 147 miles of fresh water shoreline between all the area’s rivers and lakes, and 53 miles of saltwater shoreline running along the east side of the Puget Sound. Paddle straight out from the Space Needle downtown, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the second largest estuary in the nation after Chesapeake Bay. On a clear day, you can see two different mountain ranges, the Cascades and the Olympics, as well 14,416-foot Mount Rainier, not to mention the entire Seattle skyline. If you want to avoid the shipping and ferry traffic on the sound, visit either Moss Bay or the Northwest Outdoor Center on Lake Union, just north of downtown. It’s one of the few places you can paddle on a lake beneath skyscrapers.
Northwest Outdoor Center, nwoc.com
Moss Bay, mossbay.com
Mountain 2 Sound Outfitters, m2soutfitters.com
Salmon Bay Paddle, salmonbaypaddle.com
Ballard Kayak, ballardkayak.com
Alki Kayak Tours, kayakalki.com
New York, New York
The highest population city in the country is also an island, surrounded on one side by the Hudson River, and the East River on the other. There’s approximately 520 miles of shoreline within the 5 boroughs of New York, so there’s no excuses for not being able to find a place to go paddling while you’re there; especially with the number of quality outfitters that have, not surprisingly, set up shop right in Manhattan. If you’re looking for a quick, inexpensive way to get on the water while you’re in the Big Apple, check out The Downtown Boathouse on Pier 26 for free kayaking on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from May to mid-October. During the summer, they’re also open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5:00-7:30 p.m. (Just be sure to bring a nice change of clothes, so you’re not walking around Manhattan in your paddling gear all day.)
Manhattan Kayak Company, manhattankayak.com
New York Kayak Company, nykayak.com
Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
As you might expect, the two largest cities in the Land of 10,000 Lakes — situated across the Mississippi River from one another — have a lot of paddling potential. Minneapolis has over 20 lakes within city limits. St. Paul has just about as many, and that’s not to mention the longest river in North America, which runs straight between them. Paddle through the Lower Saint Anthony Lock to the only gorge on the entire length of the Mississippi, beneath overhanging limestone cliffs; or hop on a rental kayak from the local Park and Recreation Board on Lake Calhoun. You simply won’t run out of places to go paddling until the water freezes in winter.
Midwest Mountaineering, midwestmtn.com
Above the Falls Sports, abovethefallssports.com
San Francisco, California
There’s a reason why the prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was thought to be inescapable, and it wasn’t because of the prison walls; it’s because of the 600 square miles of water surrounding it. The bridge that spans the Bay’s narrowest point (The Golden Gate. You may have heard of it.) is 8,981 feet long. That’s almost two miles. Just beneath the bridge is one of the best places on the West Coast to go sea kayaking, as it turns out. Just be aware of the tides: They get strong at the mouth of the bay, and can kick up standing waves over 10 feet tall at times. It’s recommended to go with a good, experienced guide if you’re not familiar with the area already. Fortunately, there are several paddling outfitters located conveniently in downtown San Francisco. You can also drive north of town and paddle into nearby Tomales Bay to escape the city without having to go too far. You’re likely to see elk grazing on the hillsides.
City Kayak, citykayak.com
Sea Trek, seatrek.com
Outback Adventures, outbackadventures.com
As Edward Abbey once wrote, “There is no shortage of water in the desert, but exactly the right amount.” This holds true for Austin, Texas, too — thanks to the Colorado River, which runs right through the heart of downtown. Granted, the city is technically in “The Texas Hill Country” (not quite desert, so to speak), but it’s still a spectacular paddlers’ oasis in the middle of the arid American Southwest. There’s really only one option for places to paddle (the Colorado River and its local tributaries), but what Austin lacks in variety it makes up for in stunning quality. Take Barton Creek in Zilker Park, for example: It’s at the heart of the downtown waterfront, and offers a calm paddle up turquoise blue water through dense green forest to the Barton Springs Pool, which is fed by a natural hot spring and stays consistently at 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
Zilker Park Boat Rentals, zilkerboats.com
Texas Rowing Center, texasrowingcenter.com
Don’t live in one of these cities? Don’t worry. There’s most likely water near you, and a great local outfitter more than willing to help get you out paddling on it. Tell us about some of your favorite kayaking spots in the comments!