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 such an outdoorsy city that kayaking all around the Sounds is a normal activity.
Seattle is loaded with kayaking locations. Lakes, rivers, and the many bays await paddlers of all experience levels. The Seattle area is chocked full of paddle companies that can accommodate everything from beginner lessons to multi-night excursions. The views include downtown Seattle, far off Mount Rainer, salmon in the Ballard Locks, seals, and even whales sometimes. The diversity of Seattle kayaking opportunities makes it a must-visit for all paddlers. Just be sure to plan enough time to see it all!
If we haven’t included a Seattle kayaking spot you enjoy, feel free to leave a comment or send us a note. We’re happy to share more and include recommendations from others!
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 go paddling in Washington. Kayaking is just one of the many wonderful things to do in Seattle, WA!
Kayaking at Magnuson Park on Lake Washington
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. Stay out of the way of speed boaters though, because they love to make a wake.
Watching for great blue herons and bald eagles when you’re kayaking in the Seattle area, and especially at Magnuson Park. Lake Washington is huge and its shores are both the home to and the migratory stops for all sorts of birds.
Where to launch:
Foss Harbor in Tacoma
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:
Titlow Beach and Park
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. You’ll find that Tacoma is a really cool city and there’s lots to do, and kayaking is just one of the great summer activites.
Where to launch:
Alki Beach in West Seattle
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
As you head out from the city on your mission to find the best kayaking in Seattle and the surrounding Puget Sound area, you’ve got the option to head north up to the San Juan Islands or you can stay local. The challenge with some of these kayaking spots isn’t necessarily whitewater or having to portage, but it’s general safety and awareness, particularly for our picks for in-city kayaking. These places are AWESOME though!
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.
Kayaking Seattle’s 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.
I recommend doing this in segments throughout the summer. This paddling trail is long and actually pretty complex. It’s beautiful and you’ll love how different the view of Seattle and Mount Rainier are when you’re kayaking, but it’s quite the epic trek.
Bonus: if you’re kayaking from Seattle’s Ballard Locks into Lake Union, stay to the right and keep your eyes peeled for the Sleepless in Seattle house. It’s still there and it’s still perfect, but it’s privately owned, so don’t show up looking for Sam and Jonah (they’re fictional).
Ballard Kayaking Spots
Ballard can often be busy waters complicated by waves and wakes from other boats. Paddlers may find more accessible waters by staying close to shore in Shilshole Bay. One of the best spots for kayaking in Seattle, paddling from Golden Gardens to Carkeek Park is generally recommended for more experienced paddlers due to the shipping wakes and wind, but at both ends you can have some beach time, and you can even arrange to be picked up at either end by a friend with a kayak rack on their car.
If you want to be more urban, kayaking from just after the Ballard Locks through the Ship Canal is really cool. There are lots of recreational boats going through this channel, so be aware of the many different sorts of boaters. Watch for salmon heading for the fish ladder, sea lions looking for an easy meal (RIP, Herschel) and eagles, as there are several in nearby Discovery Park. I lived in Ballard through college at the University of Washington and came down here several days each week, and there was ALWAYS an eagle or two hanging out.
Kayaking Seattle’s Elliott Bay
Elliott Bay offers expansive views of downtown Seattle and Mt. Rainier National Park in the distance. The most common area to put in is Elliot Bay Marina. This bay does lead to the incredibly busy Puget Sound, therefore, paddlers need knowledge of basic boating rules to be prepared for the traffic. Don’t let this discourage you though! Kayaking on Elliott Bay and seeing the Seattle skyline from the water is so special and unique!
Wildlife viewing in Elliott Bay can be a bit more sparse than if you’re kayaking up in the Skagit Valley or along the Olympic Peninsula, but there are some beautiful creatures to watch for. Eagles, osprey, harbor porpoises, otters and sometimes orcas or rogue dolphins find their way into Elliott Bay. It’s part of what makes Seattle such a cool place for kayaking.
National / State Park Kayaking Spots near Seattle
There are plenty of state park options when kayaking the Seattle and Puget Sound area. We’ve shared a few of our favorites here, but there are so many more. Washington State Parks use the Discover Pass, so if you’re visiting any of them or many of the state lands launches, be sure you have a Discover Pass on display in your vehicle. And it’s the same with National Parks, but with the Interagency Pass for NPS and National Wildlife Refuge sites for kayaking or hiking.
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 bringing their own gear. One of the more challenging areas is the Cowlitz River flowing from the southwest side of the park, which features several paddling opportunities depending on where you put in and take out. There’s a part of the Cowlitz 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 after Packwood. 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. Yes, this is a ways outside of Seattle, but if you’re looking to see the waterfalls of Mount Rainier or just leave the city behind, there are some cool options for kayaking.
Olympic National Park Kayaking
Across the Puget Sound lies one of our favorite places for kayaking in the Seattle area. Olympic National Park features quiet, remote waters, and intermediate to advanced paddlers will find plenty to explore. Besides the beautiful Lakes Crescent, Quinault and Ozette, there are rivers and beach areas for kayaking.
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.
Lake Sammamish East of Seattle
Here, paddlers can explore any of the nine (9!)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. Lake Sammamish is about a half hour from Seattle, so hit it up on the way to Eastern Washington or Leavenworth!
Dash Point State Park in Federal Way
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 circling the whole Puget Sound. Despite being just off the shipping lane to Tacoma, the wakes here aren’t bad and the views are beautiful!
Recommended Kayaking Tours in Seattle
There are dozens of opportunities for kayak tours and rentals around Seattle. We’ve got suggestions for the north Puget Sound, directly in Seattle on Elliott Bay, on the lakes and more.
San Juan Kayak Expeditions
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. Book this Kayaking in Friday Harbor here!
Alki Kayak Tours
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.
Ballard Kayak & Paddleboard
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, summer will generally be the best time of year to visit if you plan to go kayaking in the Seattle area. This city 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. Kayaking in Seattle may be put on hold any time of year because of rain and wind. Yes, there are those beautiful moments in May and September, but between perpetual gray and then smoke season in the summer, Seattle weather is a mixed bag.
Need to Know for Seattle
Have we mentioned the rain in Seattle? Nearly every local in the city carries a tiny umbrella with them, even if you don’t automatically see them pull it out. 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 chilly 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 kayaking 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.
Are you ready to do some kayaking when you visit Seattle? If we haven’t included a Seattle kayaking spot you enjoy, feel free to leave a comment or send us a note. We’re happy to share more and include recommendations from others!