Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced paddler, out on a day trip or looking for a new kind of holiday, river kayaking is one the finest ways to take in your natural surroundings.
If you’re just getting started with kayaking, it may be worth checking out our article on everything you need to know about your new watery way of getting around. There’s also the matter of the waterways licence. It’s simple to sort, and will keep both yourself and the surrounding environment protected.
There are three important pieces of advice to remember:
- Always check the weather before setting off, as wind speed and rainfall can dramatically affect the difficulty of the route.
- Many of these stretches are also popular fishing spots, so remain respectful to fisherman whilst paddling.
- Don’t overstretch yourself. Kayaking can be demanding, and there will be enough time to tackle tougher courses once you are comfortable enough with the basics.
Now that’s covered, it’s time to check out our top river kayaking routes across the UK.
Best River Kayaking Routes in Scotland
1. River Teith
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Originating from ‘Uisge Theamhich’, the Scottish Gaelic words for ‘quiet and pleasant water’, this North-West stretch is perfect for kayakers of all abilities, although bad weather can make this particular route a l tougher on first-time paddlers. It’s an area renowned for the Deanston Malt Whiskey Distillery, along with an arched red stone bridge that was built during the time of Mary Queen o Scotts.
2. River Tweed
Distance: 156 km
A river famous for its history and its beautiful views, this stretch of water crosses the border into England and is perfect for a multi-day kayak trip. Named after the fabric, the River Tweed gives kayakers several superb opportunities to check out the Southern Uplands and moorland, along with the historic Neidpath castle. There is also the opportunity to take a break on the hillside at Dryburgh and visit the Wallace Monument, a 20ft sculpture of the Scottish hero William Wallace.
3. River Spey
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
The fastest flowing and one of the longest rivers in Scotland, this is a waterway perfect for a long weekend of high-speed kayaking. Known for both its booming salmon population and whiskey factories, it should only be attempted by experienced paddlers, due to its length and the varying range of currents.
Best River Kayaking routes in Wales
4. Monmouth to Whitebrook - River Wye, South Wales
One of the most beautiful welsh water routes, made all that more special by kayak. At 250 km, the River Wye is the fourth longest in the UK, coming from its source in Plynmion, all the way down through to the Severn. Our suggestion however is the much shorter 8km paddle from Monmouth to Whitebrook. It will only take a half-day journey, but with the combination of mini rapids, easy but regular paddling, and a chance to stop off at the popular Boat Inn, there’s more than enough to get your paddling fix.
5. Brecon to Talybont - River Usk, Brecon Beacons, South Wales
A superb way to explore the Beacons. Perfect for first-timers and families, this route begins at Brecon Promenade and takes you down towards Talybont bridge, and gives you a good deal of time to take in the beauty of the surrounding area. For those looking to take it up a notch, there is the opportunity to enjoy the gentle rapids from Sennybridge to Aberbran Bridge.
6. Pont Aber-Geirw to Eden Confluence - River Mawddach, Snowdonia, North Wales
A wild, remote route at the heart of Snowdonia. With three sneaky but major drops, quick rapids, and rocks to navigate, this is Welsh river kayaking at some of its most furious. It can be difficult to find a good put-in point, so it’s worth starting at the Trawsfynydd Ski Centre, and once you’ve endured everything the course has to offer, the best place to call it a day is at Lower Maddach and the nearby car park. One for seasoned paddlers, and one you won’t forget for a while.
Best River Kayaking Routes in Northern Ireland
7. Lough Erne Canoe Trail
Difficulty: Multiple routes for different ranges
One of the most popular kayak and canoe routes in the whole of the country, this is an area that suits a number of different abilities. For the families looking to make their first water adventure, the selection of channels of slow-moving water and stunning islands and peninsulas of Upper Lough Erne, is a perfect day out. For those looking for an easy paddle and end up at the lough of Enniskillen, it’s best to follow the River Erne Section. If you’re on the more experienced side, the Lower Lough Erne can become tricky when the strong winds come in.
8. River Blackwater
Distance: 91.3 km
Difficulty: Different sections suitable for varying abilities
Meandering through the countryside of Co. Armagh and Tyrone, and snaking lazily into Lough Neagh this is very much a river of two speeds. The section that begins downstream of Blackwatertown is a slow idyllic paddle, and great for anyone who is looking to learn the basics of kayaking. The second half, between Maydown Bridge and Blackwatertown, is totally dependent on the weather. If there has been little rainfall, paddlers will be in for a bumpy, scrappy ride, and if there has been a downpour, they will have to negotiate quick rapids and numerous overhanging trees and branches. A great day out, but one which requires you to be honest about your kayaking abilities.
9. Foyle Canoe Trail
Difficulty: All abilities
Weaving in and out of the neighbouring Republic of Ireland, this is a route that starts at the River Foyle and finishes up in the Atlantic Ocean. During your journey there is the opportunity to check out the old city of Derry~Londonderry, paddle through rural countryside scenes, and end up looking out sea views of Lough Foyle and checking out the coastal town of Moville. It’s a route that due to varying water conditions, has something for every kind of paddler.
Best River kayaking routes in the North of England
10. Farndon Bridge to Chester - The River Dee
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Although this is a river that is usually talked about as the furious white water that flows from Snowdonia through the Welsh town of Llangollen, this is a far more serene adventure (calm weather permitting of course). During this journey you can take in several highlights, from the stately home of Eaton hall, to Eccleston Village, as well as a chance for fishing at Chester Weir, which is famous for its associated Salmon Leap. There’s also the opportunity to even stop off at the Red House, a pub that’s welcoming to all watercraft riders.
11. Hebden Bridge to Sowerby Bridge, River Calder, West Yorkshire
An excellent route for those who have been kayaking for a while, are confident in their technique and are now looking to push their paddling skills to the next level. Starting at the Bohemian town of Hebden Bridge and finishing up at Sowerby Bridge, a place packed with excellent eating and drinking spots. Although it’s mainly flat, there are several weirs to navigate alongside a slalom style course as kayakers come to the end of their journey.
12. Seathwaite to Derwentwater River Derwent, Lake District
Starting at the mountain views of Seathwaite and finishing up at the ‘Queen of the lakes’ Derwentwater this is a beautiful way of cutting through the centre of the Lake District. The river itself is classed as both a Special Area of Conservation and popular angling, so it’s important to take care to not disturb the surroundings whilst kayaking. For the final two months of the year, special white lines are painted on the markers at the Portinscale FootBridge, to show when it is environmentally safe to paddle.
Best River Kayaking Routes in Southern England
13. Fal-Ruan Upper Creeks, River Fal, West Cornwall
Difficulty: All abilities
One of the most remote areas of the tidal river in the whole of Cornwall, this calming kayak ride is a superb way to take in the area’s woodland fringed creeks and tranquill birdsong. Experience an array of plants and wildlife as you travel along the Fal-Ruan nature reserve. It’s also worth making a stop at the village of Ruan Lanihorne before heading back to your starting point.
14. Battersea to Greenwich, River Thames
Difficulty: All abilities
Looking for a new way to see England’s capital city? Although this one-way trip is only a snippet of the great River Thames, by starting off in West London and paddling your way up towards Cutty Sark in Greenwich, you’ll head past, Lambeth Palace, MI6 Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Shakespeares Globe, St Pauls, Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, but to name a few. What’s more, the tidal flow means this journey can be enjoyed by a whole range of abilities.
15. Watersmeet to the Sea at Lynmouth, East Lyn River, North Devon
Distance: 3.2km (with a 110-foot drop)
Difficulties: Experienced white water kayakers only
Here’s one for those that like the extreme side of river kayaking. Either go alone or hire the services of a guide and take on the ravine fringed rocky downstream challenge that is the East Lyn River. Starting high up on Exmoor at Watersmeet and travelling to the Bristol Channel at Lynmouth, kayakers will experience a fast and lively course that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. It is important to note that due to the low water level, summertime kayaking can lead to disturbance of the river’s natural environment, so the best time to paddle is between the 1st October and 31st March.