Best Places To Kayak In Alaska

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As someone with a great love of the outdoors, kayaking in Alaska is certainly number one on my bucket list. Spending the day surrounded by unbelievable scenery while simultaneously partaking in my favorite watersport almost sounds too good to be true!

Alaska has several streams, rivers, and waterways in which you can kayak. The calm waters are enjoyed by kayakers of all skill levels, with no previous paddling experience needed. Kayaking in Alaska is certainly a unique experience. It Is also the safest way to tour Alaska due to its icy landscape.

With breathtaking vistas, extraordinary wildlife, plunging waterfalls, and phenomenal glacier views, kayaking in Alaska is a surefire way to kickstart your appreciation of the natural world. However, you should consider a few things before venturing on this extraordinary trip.

Is Kayaking In Alaska Safe For Beginners?

Alaska has numerous streams, rivers, and waterways to kayak. There is also sea kayaking available for those brave enough to venture into open water. Due to there being an abundance of areas to kayak, there is a river, lake, or waterway for all skill levels.

The International Scale of River Difficulty was established by the American Whitewater Association and is a measurement used to assess rivers throughout the world and grade them according to their different rapids and levels of difficulty.

The difficulty of a river’s rapids is graded and scored according to a scale with six different grades of difficulty. The grading system starts with Class I Rapids, which are simple, calm stretches of river with little to no rapids, and ends at Class VI Rapids. These rapids are so dangerous that they are known for causing severe injuries and even death.

Class A Rapids

Class A rapids describe Stillwater lakes, where there is no perceptible movement.

Class I Rapids

These are the smallest rapids on the scale. They have small waves that are manageable for people with little to no kayaking experience. There are seldom rough sections in these rivers, and they only require minor maneuvering. Class I rapids are perfect for beginners and kayakers of all skill levels.

Class II Rapids

Class II rapids incorporate a little more adventure and thrill into your trip. However, they are still completely safe and suitable for kayakers of all ages and skill levels. Class II rapids have a few rough patches of water with fast sections of the river. If you are uncomfortable attempting these rapids alone, it is recommended to bring a guide with you.

Class III Rapids

Class III rapids are where the real fun comes in. You may be subjected to much larger waves that come with faster currents. You could even experience a slight drop in some sections of the river.

However, you do not need to worry as there is no significant danger. You will need to have previous experience with kayaking when attempting these rapids, as they require a lot more paddling/steering.

Class IV Rapids

Only those with at least an intermediate experience in kayaking should attempt these rapids. With Class IV rapids, the waves are significantly larger, and along the river, you may encounter considerable vertical drops.

There might be many obstacles or rocks in certain sections of the river, and these will require a significant amount of paddling and sharp maneuvering. These rapids are pretty extreme, so you need to ensure that your fitness level is relatively high.

Class V Rapids

Class V rapids require extensive kayaking experience. You may encounter long drops and sections filled with large waves and rocks. These rapids are for experts only as they are incredibly technical and need precise maneuvering. You will need a high level of endurance to conquer these rapids.

With Class V rapids, it is usually considered good practice to go with a team of experienced kayakers and not attempt them on your own. You will need to hire a guide for uncharted water.

Class VI Rapids

Class VI rapids are considered extremely dangerous and are generally avoided by even the most experienced kayakers. Along this section of a river, there are massive waves, rocks, and obstacles accompanied by huge drops that could significantly damage or impact your equipment and kayak.

These rapids are the most hazardous and are known for causing severe injuries to kayakers and even death. Therefore, you should try avoid these rapids altogether, no matter your skill level in kayaking. Most guides will not agree to kayak through Class VI rapids.

Top Places To Kayak In Alaska

With multiple rivers, lakes, and waterways in Alaska, combined with the breathtaking scenery, almost anywhere you go, kayaking is sure to be a fantastic trip. With that said, there are still some places that many kayakers have stated are the best.

Kenai Fjords, AK

The Kenai Fjords are located in the Kenai National Park. The Park itself is relatively massive; however, what makes it truly unique is that it is the only place in the US where you can go kayaking and simultaneously see the gigantic fjords of frozen rock and ice.

You do not even have to worry about booking your trip at a particular time of year. These fjords are so large that they never fully melt, even in Spring! The Park is so vast you could spend years paddling on you kayaking and exploring all its waterways.

The rapid classification for the Kenai Fjords is Class A: Stillwater. This means it is perfect for beginners and kayakers of all ages and skill levels.

Sitka Sound

Sitka Sound is a waterway found between Mount Edgecumbe (a large, dormant volcano) and the snow-capped peaks of Baranof Island. Kayaking is said to be the best way to explore this wildlife-rich area.

From your kayak, you could experience the majesty of whale watching and see porpoise, seals, and even black-tailed deer. Depending on the time of year, you could watch the salmon getting ready to spawn, swimming around in masses under the surface of the water.

The water here is so clear; it is common to spot stretches of dense kelp forests under you as you kayak. Another attraction to the area is sea otters. You can find them in large groups, adorably floating on their backs while grooming themselves or eating clams for lunch.

The rapids classification for Sitka Sound is Class A: Stillwater, perfect for beginners and people of all ages.

Eklutna Lake

Eklutna Lake is a part of the Chugach State Park. It is a widely popular kayaking spot due to its close proximity to Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. It is the largest waterway in the Chugach State Park at seven miles long.

While you are paddling this large body of water, it is common to see elk and moose that will come out to drink at the edge of the water. There are also many Alaskan wild birds in the area for those who have a fascination with bird watching.

The rapid classification for Eklutna Lake is Class A: Stillwater. It is an easy and calm paddle with little to no waves, which is perfect for beginners.

Yukon Island, AK

Yukon Island is located seven miles out from the city of Homer. We highly recommend making the trip to Yukon Island, as it is overflowing with marine wildlife. It certainly gives you the out-in-nature experience, as dense woods accompany an overgrowth of heavy vegetation.

This is an excellent place to camp out either from your kayak or on the shores and catch some salmon if you are into fishing. An ideal time for fishing would be during the salmon run. Yukon Islands’ rapid classification is Class A: Stillwater. Smooth and calm, flat water with little to no waves. Perfect for beginners or kayakers with little experience.

Tebay River, AK

For those looking for some real excitement, the Tebay river is an excellent place to conquer some serious rapids. The rapid classification is either Class IV or Class V depending on the water levels.

Beginners should not attempt to kayak this river, as the rapid classification indicates only experienced kayakers with lots of paddling skills can maneuver these rapids. If you feel that you are up for the challenge, the Tebay river offers not only exciting adventures but beautiful scenery as well.

The rapid classification for the Tebay River is Class IV – V rapids. Only experienced kayakers should attempt this river.  

Rules And Regulations For Kayaking In Alaska

Many States in the US have different boating laws, rules, and regulations regarding water vessels. To ensure you do not break any laws while you are kayaking, it is recommended that you familiarize yourself with the local law before your trip.

PFD Laws In Alaska

A PFD (Personal Floatation Device) will ensure that you are safe while out on the water. In Alaska, it is required that you have one PFD per person onboard any water vessel, motorized or human-powered.

This means you will need to have a life jacket on board your kayak at all times. As an adult, you aren’t required to wear your lifejacket. However, children who are below 13 years of age are required to wear their PFDs at all times while kayaking.

There is a fine of $100 for children under 13 years of age who are not wearing their PFDs or are not wearing their PFDs correctly. Similarly, adults without a lifejacket face a fine of $100, and adults with only one lifejacket but with two people on board one kayak face an additional $50 fine.

Kayaking Registration And Education Laws In Alaska

Non-motorized paddle crafts are not required to be registered or titled under Alaska Statute. However, in the event of theft, damage, or loss to your kayak, registering your water vessel can come in use.

Alaska does not require you to have a license or complete a boating education course to operate a kayak. Alaska doesn’t have a minimum age requirement for boat operators.

Alcohol And Drug Use While Kayaking In Alaska

The State of Alaska has a BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) law. It is illegal in Alaska for anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol to operate a water vessel. Any person shall be considered intoxicated if they have a BAL (Blood Alcohol Level) of 0.08% or more. Furthermore, by kayaking in Alaska, you consent to a field sobriety test at any given time.

Kayaking Clubs In Alaska

Do you sometimes feel as if you have a passion for kayaking that no one else seems to share? A simple solution to your loneliness would be to join a kayaking club filled with watersport enthusiasts the same as you!

Knik Canoers And Kayakers (KCK)

Knik Canoers and Kayakers is a paddle sports club based in Anchorage, Alaska. They have monthly meetings which are very informative and include some entertaining presentations. During the summer, they host BBQs and have a Thanksgiving Potluck.

They provide annual safety meetings, and kayaking, canoeing, and rafting classes are held each Spring. As a club member, you receive discounts for rentals, lodging, etc. in the area.

Volunteers run KCK, so it is a non-profit organization. Any income the club receives goes back into the community and benefits them directly. By joining their club, you will also be supporting conservation for waterways and gaining access to rights issues.

Fairbanks Paddlers

Fairbanks Paddlers is a group of non-motorized boaters. By joining their club, you are committing to their stance of having fun and staying safe while paddling Alaskan waters.

The Fairbanks Paddlers Club was formed to protect access to and navigation of water bodies, rivers, and waterways in Alaska from water vessels of any kind. They support the conservation of water quality, shoreline environment, and instream flow reservations in Alaska.

Their club encourages water safety on all lakes and rivers by providing training, instruction, and assimilation of information regarding Alaskan waters. They encourage all boaters to practice so that they may improve on their skill levels to help others progress as well.

They hope to maintain a sufficient pool of available and eager paddlers to ensure that any member could have the opportunity to go paddling with others at any given time. They are a group of committed and enthusiastic boaters who want to have fun!

Entry Fees For Alaskan Parks

While you’ve probably prepared for your trip, overnight stay, and kayak rentals, some people forget that many waterways are located inside National and State Parks, which could charge you an entrance or vehicle parking fee.

National/State ParkKayaking AreaEntry Fee
Kenai National ParkKenai FjordsNo Entry/Camping Fee
Sitka State ParkSitka SoundsNo Entry Fee
Chugach State ParkEklutna Lake$5
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife ReserveYukon IslandNo Entry Fee
St, Elias National ParkTebay RiverNo Entry Fee


Kayaking in Alaska is truly a unique experience that anyone can enjoy. From beginners to paddling enthusiasts, there is a waterway for all. With some of the most breathtaking, startling scenery and an abundance of natural wildlife, kayaking in Alaska is any nature lover’s dream come true.