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Utah is not only home to five incredible national parks, but it is also a haven for paddlers thanks to its beautiful lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.
Whether you enjoy paddling down rapidly moving waters or kicking back, relaxing, and taking in the incredible scenery from the comfort of your kayak, Utah has it all. And, if the Beehive State hadn’t yet made its way onto your paddling bucket list, it definitely will by the end of this article as we are going to get into 12 of the most unforgettable kayaking destinations that Utah has to offer.
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The first paddling destination that is a must-visit in Utah is the freshwater Bear Lake which is split almost equally between Utah and Idaho. Bear Lake is so big that even just its Utah portion makes up the second-largest natural freshwater lake in Utah.
And after hearing that, you’d probably think that Bear Lake’s sheer size would be the reason why many people flock there, but the actual reason why so many people visit the state park is due to the intense turquoise-blue calm waters which often give the lake the name of the “Caribbean of the Rockies.”
If you’re new to paddling, then the water conditions at Bear Lake are ideal for practicing your paddling technique, and to make launching your SUP a breeze, you’ll also find gradual sloping shores that put a boat ramp to shame.
For all the kayak anglers out there, you’ll be happy to know that Bear Lake also boasts an abundance of fishing opportunities, so be sure to pack your fishing gear and try your luck catching trout, whitefish, and sculpin.
The Colorado River flows through southeastern Utah, and if you’re looking for somewhere to get your adrenaline pumping while paddling down whitewater rapids, you’ll find no place better.
Of course, as with many rivers, the Colorado River also has some calmer waters where you can relaxingly paddle along and take in the views of the surrounding canyons (we suggest the section of the river that flows past the Fisher Towers,) but for the most part, paddlers put their kayaks in the water to ride the rapids.
If you’re an experienced river runner, then the Cataract Canyon section of the Colorado River in the Canyonlands National Park provides you with intense Class V rapids that are guaranteed to challenge each and every one of your paddling skills. But, we must warn you that if you do plan on paddling the river, be sure to take adequate precautions, as Class V rapids can be deadly.
Head over to the Whitewater Rapids Classification System: Everything You Need to Know to give you a better understanding of the different types of waters and rapids.
If crowds aren’t really your thing, then a quiet and less populated paddling option is the Deer Creek reservoir, just a short drive from Provo and Salt Lake City. With beaches, calm waters, and numerous launching points, you can spend the entire day at Deer Creek before packing up your kayak and heading to one of the many campsites in the area.
During your time on the water, you’ll not only have uninterrupted views of the Timpanogos Mountains, but you can also even paddle over to the little Deer Creek Island that lies just off the lake’s eastern shore.
Approximately 450 miles of the Green River run through Utah and the Wind River Mountains. And whether you’re after delicious watermelons or a kayaking destination, the Green River should be quickly added to your kayaking adventure bucket list.
One of the most popular launching points on the Green River is in the Green River State Park, where you can park your car and set off paddling down towards Labyrinth Canyon. The trip from the Green River State Park to the Mineral Bottom in the Canyonlands National Park can take around a week, and you’ll cover 122 miles in total.
Of course, all of those 122 miles are accompanied by remote landscapes, scenic beauty, and some of the most interesting rock formations you’ll ever see, so in our opinion, the journey is totally worth it.
It is important to note, however, that some parts of the river have Class III rapids which aren’t suitable for beginner paddlers or inexperienced whitewater paddlers. So, if you’re heading down the Green River, be sure that you’re paddling in a section that is suited to your experience.
You will need to acquire a permit to paddle the Green River, and if you weren’t able to bring your own kayak, you can rent kayaks or head out on a kayak tour with several river outfitters in the Moab area.
Lake Powell is very well-known for its warm temperatures, incredible natural rock formations, and its abundance of activities both in and out of the water. One of those activities is kayaking, and once you’ve hopped in your kayak, you can paddle through canyons and caves, take in the beautiful red rock cliffs, and even pull up your kayak onto the shore and camp for a night or two.
We recommend launching your kayak from Glen Canyon, Lone Rock, or Stanton Creek, but with over 2,000 miles of shoreline, you’ll have no trouble finding a spot to set off from.
Mirror Lake is nestled high up in the Uinta mountains, and in our opinion, it has truly earnt its name due to the perfect reflection it provides of the neighboring mountains and forests. (We highly recommend taking your camera for this one.)
Along with its sheer beauty, Mirror Lake is also a popular spot for fishermen as it is home to unique trout species such as tiger, rainbow, and brook. You can even transform your fishing trip into a two or three-day trip as there are numerous campgrounds dotted throughout the area.
The Provo River has two main forks which meet and flow through one of Utah’s prettiest canyons before emptying into Utah Lake. If you’re looking for calm and manageable waters, then head to the North Fork Provo stretch of the river. Alternatively, if you want to test your paddling skills and tackle some whitewater, then you’ll want to launch your kayak on the South Fork Provo as it features 17.5 miles of rapids and more challenging paddling conditions.
Along with having water conditions to suit all paddling preferences, the Provo River is also a haven for fishing as the levels of rainbow trout, brown trout, and mountain whitefish are extremely high. If you do intend to fish the Provo, be sure to check if you need a permit as some sections of the river are private.
The Red Fleet Reservoir in the Red Fleet State Park is a stunning place to kayak, and with over 520 acres of water, inlets, and natural sandstone rock formations to explore, you can spend the entire day here taking in natural beauty from both your kayak and the nearby hiking trail.
And, although the paddling conditions at Red Fleet are superb, they aren’t actually the reason why so many people visit the state park. What draws many tourists in are the 200 million-year-old dinosaur tracks that run along the eastern shore of the lake.
You can access the tracks by the Dinosaur Trackway hiking trail, or alternatively, you can paddle across the reservoir and see the footprints up close to your kayak. If you’re adventuring with children, then we suggest paddling your way to the dino tracks as the hike is fairly strenuous and not recommended for children.
Silver Lake Flat Reservoir is one of the quieter paddling destinations in Utah, and although it doesn’t draw in the crowds like some other locations on our list, it doesn’t mean it is any less beautiful.
If you’re after calm clear water, a beautiful mountain backdrop, or even secluded fishing spots then the challenge of driving down a dirt road to reach the reservoir will be more than worth it. We will note, however, that the road does get challenging at times, so be sure to bring a vehicle that can handle a little off-road adventure.
Tibble Fork Reservoir is roughly 30 minutes south of Silver Lake Flat Reservoir making it another excellent kayaking spot if you’re staying in the area, or if your vehicle can’t hack the dirt road trail to Silver Lake.
As the lake is relatively small and not overly affected by wind, the waters and paddling conditions are perfect for beginner paddlers who aren’t yet confident in their kayaks. You can cover the entire Tibble Fork Reservoir in a day, taking in the soaring mountain peak backdrop as you go.
Utah Lake is Utah’s largest freshwater lake and with incredible views of the Wasatch mountains, it’s no wonder why so many people visit the lake and the surrounding state park every year.
As I’m sure you know, Utah is a landlocked state, but if you enjoy sea kayaking and covering vast stretches of water, then Utah Lake is going to be the next best thing. The waters won’t be challenging you with any waves, but the extortionate size will make you feel like you’re paddling in the ocean.
With five incredible National Parks, I’m sure you can imagine that there are some magnificent places to kayak in the American state of Utah. From whitewater rapids in the Colorado River to turquoise-blue flat waters in Bear Lake, Utah has it all, and some of our favorite kayaking waterways in the state include the following:
There is kayaking in the Zion National Park, however, a permit is required, and these permits are only issued if the flow of the Virgin River that runs through the canyons has stayed between 150 and 600 cubic feet per second for a consecutive 24 hours.
Alternatively, if you want to kayak in the area surrounding Zion National Park, you can head to the nearby Quail Creek State Park, Sand Hollow State Park, and Gunlock Reservoir. All three kayaking destinations feature that beautiful red rock that runs its way through Zion, and they have calm relaxing waters that’ll suit paddlers of all abilities.
It is completely safe for paddlers of all experience levels to paddle at Utah Lake as the water is extremely calm, and there are numerous shallow launching points. As with any paddling destination, however, it is important that you wear a life jacket as accidents do happen and it could, as the name suggests, save your life.
You can kayak on the Provo River, and in some places, there are Class I to Class II rapids that’ll challenge your paddling skills and get your adrenaline (slightly) pumping.
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