The Best Places to Kayak in the Lake District: Paddling Paradise
The Lake District, renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, crystal-clear lakes, and dramatic fells, is a kayaker’s dream. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, the tranquil waters of the Lake District offer an unforgettable kayaking experience. Here are some of my favourite places to explore by kayak, each providing a unique perspective on the stunning natural beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Navigating the Waters: Understanding the Rules
Before setting out on your kayaking journey, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the local regulations and guidelines. Here are some of the key ones to keep in mind:
- Permits and Permissions: Some bodies of water may require a permit for kayaking. It’s worth checking with the Lake District National Park Authority.
- Environmental Protection: Many areas within the Lake District are protected due to their unique wildlife and habitats. Be sure to follow the Countryside Code.
- Water Safety: wear a buoyancy aid and the use of helmets is recommended for river kayaking. Have an exit route planned at all times incase something goes wrong, and kayak in a group.
Skill Levels and Suitable Locations
The Lake District caters to kayakers of all abilities, from serene lakes ideal for beginners to rivers and larger lakes that present challenges for more experienced paddlers.
- Beginner: For those new to kayaking, calm and sheltered lakes such as Derwentwater and Coniston Water offer a safe environment to learn basic paddling techniques. These locations provide gentle conditions and the opportunity to build confidence on the water without the concern of strong winds or significant waves.
- Intermediate: Paddlers with a bit more experience, comfortable with basic maneuvers and looking to test their skills a little further, might explore larger lakes like Windermere or Ullswater. These areas can experience variable conditions, including wind and waves, making them suitable for those ready to handle slightly more challenging situations. Intermediate paddlers can also enjoy river kayaking on gentler sections of the River Derwent or River Eden, where moving water provides a new set of challenges.
- Advanced: For the seasoned kayaker, the Lake District’s rivers offer exhilarating white-water experiences, particularly after heavy rain. The River Duddon and the Upper Derwent are popular choices, featuring rapids and technical passages that require advanced skills and knowledge of river navigation. Additionally, kayaking on Wastwater or the western part of Windermere can offer the challenges of open water conditions, including significant wave action and wind.
Conditions: Derwentwater is known for its calm waters, making it an ideal spot for kayakers of all skill levels. The lake’s sheltered bays and islands create protected areas perfect for beginners.
Sights: Paddle around the lake’s four main islands and along its wooded shores, enjoying views of Skiddaw and Catbells, some of the Lake District’s most famous fells. Keep an eye out for local wildlife, including otters and ospreys.
Parking and Starting Point: The National Trust provides parking at Kettlewell car park, which is close to a popular launching spot near the Keswick shore. You can easily access the water from here, with kayak rentals available nearby for those who need equipment.
Conditions: As England’s largest lake, Windermere offers more open conditions and can be a bit windier, especially in the wider sections. It’s still suitable for beginners, but those new to kayaking might prefer the quieter northern end.
Sights: Windermere’s 10.5-mile length is lined with picturesque villages, historic estates, and wooded islands. Highlights include the secluded Blelham Tarn and the enchanting Wray Castle.
Parking and Starting Point: A good starting point is at Waterhead near Ambleside, where you’ll find parking and a gentle shore for launching. The area offers amenities and equipment hire for visitors.
3. Coniston Water
Conditions: Coniston Water provides a serene kayaking environment, with less boat traffic than Windermere. The waters are generally calm, especially in the mornings and late afternoons.
Sights: The lake is famous for its association with Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons” and Donald Campbell’s water speed records. Paddlers can enjoy views of the Old Man of Coniston and the lake’s wooded shores.
Parking and Starting Point: Coniston Boating Centre offers convenient parking, equipment hire, and easy lake access. Launch from here to explore the lake’s southern end or venture further to discover secluded bays and inlets.
Conditions: Ullswater’s clear waters are generally calm, with the surrounding fells offering protection from the wind. The lake’s shape, with three distinct bends, provides varied scenery and sheltered spots.
Sights: Ullswater is renowned for its stunning scenery, including the dramatic backdrop of Helvellyn, one of England’s highest peaks. Paddle past the iconic Aira Force waterfall and the quaint village of Glenridding.
Parking and Starting Point: Glenridding is a great place to start, with parking available at the Glenridding Public Hall. The village’s shoreline offers a gentle entry point into the lake, with kayak rentals nearby.
5. Bassenthwaite Lake
Conditions: As one of the quieter lakes, Bassenthwaite offers peaceful conditions for kayaking, away from the crowds. The lake is subject to natural protection measures, so it remains relatively undisturbed.
Sights: The lake is a wildlife haven, home to the osprey. Paddling here, you’re surrounded by the beauty of the Skiddaw range and the chance to spot rare birds and flora.
Parking and Starting Point: Use the car park at Dodd Wood, north of the lake. Although there’s no direct lake access from the car park, a short journey to the eastern shore provides suitable launching spots near Mirehouse & Gardens.
6. Ennerdale Water
Conditions: Ennerdale Water, being the most westerly of the lakes, offers a wild and remote kayaking experience. The lack of motorboats preserves its tranquility.
Sights: Surrounded by high fells, the lake’s crystal-clear waters reflect the rugged landscape of the Western Lakes. It’s a perfect spot for those seeking solitude and a connection with nature.
Parking and Starting Point: Bowness Knott car park provides the closest access to Ennerdale Water. From here, you can easily carry your kayak to the water’s edge and set off to explore the untouched beauty of the lake.
Conditions: Wastwater, England’s deepest lake, sits in a dramatic glacial valley. The lake’s remote location means it’s less frequented, offering calm waters for paddlers.
Sights: The lake offers unparalleled views of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, and the screes that dramatically descend into the lake. Its wild, rugged beauty is unmatched in the Lake District.
Parking and Starting Point: There’s a small car park at Wasdale Head, from which you can access the lake. The remoteness of Wastwater means you’ll need to carry your kayak a short distance, but the effort is well rewarded with breathtaking scenery.
Kayaking in the Lake District: Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Journey
- Check the Weather: Conditions can change quickly in the Lake District. Always check the forecast before heading out.
- Safety Gear: Wear a buoyancy aid, and carry a waterproof bag with essentials, including a map, snacks, and a whistle.
- Respect the Environment: The Lake District’s beauty is preserved through respect for nature. Follow the Countryside Code and avoid disturbing wildlife.
The Lake District offers a diverse range of kayaking experiences, from serene lake paddles to exploring rugged, secluded valleys. Each lake has its own character and charm, providing endless opportunities for adventure on the water. Whether you’re seeking tranquility, wildlife, or dramatic landscapes, kayaking in the Lake District delivers an unforgettable experience with every stroke.
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I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.
For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.