Embrace the Cold: Winter Kayaking

Don’t run south this winter

winter kayaking

Photo: Skip Brown

We paddlers look forward all year to ample spring flows. We savor those long summer days on the water, and welcome fall’s crisp air and colorful foliage.

But when winter’s frozen grip closes on New England and the Upper Midwest, when cold rains of biblical endurance lay siege to the Pacific Northwest, and snow drifts high in the mountains—what then?
We take to winter kayaking, of course.

With proper clothing and equipment, and due respect for the season’s cold water and shortened days, winter can be the best paddling season of them all. So bundle up, and boat one of these eight classics this winter.

winter kayaking Pennsylvania Winter Creeking

“Pennsylvania winter paddling is a beast of its own nature,” says local photographer Regina Nicolardi. “Our winters get pretty bitter and stormy.” But that’s when a handful of other Class IV-V tributaries to the Lehigh River, tend to run.

winter kayaking Blue River, Indiana

Flowing through the hardwood forests of southern Indiana’s Hill Country, the Blue—the most spring-fed of all Indiana’s streams—was the first river selected for inclusion in Indiana’s Natural and Scenic Rivers System.

winter kayaking Lake Superior, Michigan

Just because the bustling, outdoorsy, Upper Peninsula city of Marquette, Mich., is buried in an average of 10 feet of lake-effect snowfall each winter doesn’t exclude it from being a stellar location for cold-weather sea kayaking.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Pacific Northwest-based sea kayak instructors Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin’s idea of a perfect winter retreat is found right in their watery backyard.

winter kayaking Upper Arkansas River, Colorado

Slicing through Colorado’s Upper Arkansas River Valley is the Arkansas River, the most popular whitewater paddling destination in the United States.

winter kayaking Potomac River, Washington, D.C.

Congress may recess for much of the winter, but boaters in the nation’s capital paddle year-round on the nearby Potomac River’s Class V Great Falls and Class III Mather Gorge.

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