Paddling Washington’s scenic rivers and bays is a cherished pastime, and thanks to the state’s eight water trails, it’s also incredibly easy. These Washington water trails are specifically designated and equipped for kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, and small sailboats and can be found across the state, from northeastern Pend Oreille County to the southwest coast.

The nonprofit Washington Water Trails Association has been working for years to protect local waterways for public use by human-powered watercraft, and in 2024 the Kitsap Peninsula National Water Trail celebrates its 10th anniversary as a National Water Trail. Paddlers can mark the occasion during the Ride the Tide: Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails Anniversary Rendezvous from Silverdale to Port Orchard in June.

Washington Water Trails

Experience rugged coastlines, sparkling urban bays, high desert canyons, forest-lined rivers, and saltwater canals. With so much diversity, there’s something for every taste and skill level.

Lakes-to-Locks Water Trail

Photo Credit: Rachael Jones for Visit Seattle

Length: 130 shore miles

The Lakes-To-Locks Water Trail, a network of over 100 day-use water access points, provides one of the most unique and beautiful ways to explore the greater Seattle area. Paddlers adventure along the handsome shorelines of King County, from Lake Washington and Mercer Island to the Sammamish River that connects to Lake Sammamish with its forested shores and beaches. While tranquil coves, sloughs, and natural areas can be found along the trail, suburban enclaves, urban industry, and towering skylines also mark the route, allowing trail users to experience the many facets of Washington’s urban core.

Rent paddle boards and kayaks from Aqua Verde Paddle Club on Lake Union, or take one of their guided tours, like the Moon Tour, which is a night paddle, or the Arboretum Tour, which explores the flora and fauna along both the Washington Park Arboretum and the Union Bay Natural Area.

Also See: Best Places for Kayaking in Washington

Cascadia Marine Trail

Length: 2,500 shore miles

The Cascadia Marine Trail, a national recreation trail, is one of only 16 National Millennium Trails designated by the White House. The trail navigates some of the most spectacular scenery in the Salish Sea as it weaves through the interconnected waterways of Puget Sound, the Hood Canal, and around the San Juan Islands. As the largest Washington water trail, the options for single or multi-day trips are almost limitless. With snow-capped peaks on the horizon, rugged forested coastline, and sheltered estuaries rich with wildlife, it’s hard to go wrong. While paddling, keep an eye out for pods of orca whales.

For a guided adventure, Discovery Sea Kayaks leads multiple types of kayak trips, from bioluminescence tours in the evenings to multi-day camping paddles around San Juan Island.

If you’re choosing your own adventure, check out this virtual map to find more than 200 camping and day-use areas designed to accommodate non-motorized, beachable boats. Fees vary and reservations are not required at the majority of the sites.

Also See: Guide to Whale Watching

Kitsap Peninsula National Water Trail

Photo Credit: Hood Canal Adventures

Length: 341 shore miles

The Kitsap Peninsula National Water Trail is the only Washington water trail in the National Water Trails System and explores the peninsula’s passages, islands, inlets, bays, and canals. Visit charming waterfront towns like Port Orchard, Gig Harbor, and Port Gamble on the peninsula’s ferry-connected eastern shores or explore oyster-obsessed Hood Canal and Case Inlet to the west. Maps – both interactive online and printable PDF – detail the launch sites, state parks, camping areas, and other watercraft-specific amenities.

For a guided adventure, Hood Canal Adventures based in Brinnon offers fantastic kayak tours themed around oyster shucking, crabbing, tidepooling, wildlife watching, bioluminescence viewing, and estuary habitats.

Willapa Bay Water Trail

Size: 140 square miles

Located in southwest Washington, the Willapa Bay Water Trail tours one of the largest river estuaries on the Pacific Coast, fed by the North, Willapa, and Nasella rivers. Willapa Bay is protected from the ocean by the 28-mile Long Beach Peninsula and makes for spectacular paddling. Cruise past grasslands, pine forests, scenic beaches, tidelands, and Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

This Washington water trail is a stopover region for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds; watch for the endangered western snowy plover and marbled murrelet. There are only two camping options: Long Island in Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the Tokeland Marina.  With two-weeks advance notice, Willapa Paddle Adventures will guide paddlers to boat-access-only Long Island, which is an uninhabited, 5,500 acre swath of land with a forest of old-growth Western red cedars, sandy beaches, meadows, and a network of trails. For a DIY adventure, Willapa Paddle Adventures also rents watercraft.

Travel Tip: When planning a visit to this water trail, it’s essential to be aware of the tides. Half of the water in the bay retreats at low tide, leaving mudflats that can strand paddlers if they are caught by surprise.

Also See: Things to do in Long Beach with Kids

Pend Oreille River Water Trail 

Photo Credit: Pend Oreille County Parks and Recreation

Length: 70 shore miles

The Pend Oreille River Water Trail follows the river from Oldtown, Idaho, into northeastern Washington, stopping just short of British Columbia at the Boundary Dam. The Pend Oreille River, one of few U.S. rivers that flows northward, is punctuated with dams and snakes through remote and spectacular country past wild forests, waterfalls, and rocky outcrops. Paddle through the LeClerc Wildlife Area and watch for raptors, owls, otters, and elk. Even wolves and grizzlies are found in these far-flung parts. Anglers can turn this Washington water trail adventure into a multi-day trip with overnights at fishing-focused resorts like Eagle’s Landing RV Resort and Ruby Creek Resort.

Travel Tip: View or download these handy maps from Pend Oreille County. The maps divide the water trail into three sections and outline access points and amenities like campsites and restrooms. A waterproof map is also available for purchase.

Tapteal Water Trail

Kayaking in Washington

Length: 31 shore miles

A treasured destination in the Tri-Cities area, the Tapteal Water Trail follows the Yakima River, beginning at Kiona Bend in Benton City and ending at Bateman Island in Richland. Although this is the shortest Washington water trail, this section of the Yakima River is known as one of the most diverse, scenic, and biologically productive water systems in the Pacific Northwest. The watershed ribbons through shrub-steppe and wildlife-rich marshlands that are home to bird species such as great blue herons and pelicans.

Rent watercraft from Bateman Kayak and Canoe. They’ll drop off and pick up rentals from the Bateman Island launch for a half-day adventure, or for longer rentals, they drop off and pick up at any of 10 launches along the water trail.

Also See: 3 Days in the Tri-Cities

Northwest Discovery Water Trail

Length: 367 shore miles

The Northwest Discovery Water Trail is a great choice for history buffs, as it follows the path of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and tours important Native American homelands and waterways. Along the route, paddlers have the opportunity to stop at museums and visitor centers to enrich their journey. In Stevenson, the Columbia Gorge Museum has exhibits on everything from Native American culture and history to the early steam industry and the region’s geography. Find the Sacajawea Interpretive Center in Pasco and learn about Sacajawea’s pivotal role in history.

Though the first 40 miles of this trail are in Idaho, most of the trail is along Washington shores –  touring the Snake and Columbia rivers and ending at Bonneville Dam (the starting point for the Lower Columbia River Water Trail).

The route has 150 sites for launching, relaxing, and camping, as well as wildlife refuges and parks. The coves, islands, and wetlands of the Umatilla Wildlife Refuge are a birdwatcher’s dream. On the whole, expect spectacular scenery, from the basalt cliffs of the mighty Columbia River Gorge to the tawny desert hills of Eastern Washington.

As with the Tapteal Water Trail, head to Bateman Island Kayak and Canoe in Richland near the junction of the Snake and Columbia rivers to rent kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, and more.

Lower Columbia River Water Trail

Photo Credit: Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership

Length: 146 shore miles

Heading west from the Bonneville Dam (the terminus for the Northwest Discovery Water Trail), the Lower Columbia River Water Trail passes wetlands, beaches, industrial marine parks, and river islands on its epic journey to the Pacific Ocean. As the Columbia collides with the sea, it forms the massive Columbia River Estuary, home to abundant wildlife and an essential site for migratory shorebirds.

To rent kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards along the trail, check out Next Adventure Scappoose Bay Paddle Sports Center on the Scappoose Bay off of the Columbia River. Those looking for trip inspiration can find suggested water trail itineraries here.

Also See: Gorge to Coast Road Trip Itinerary

About the Author

Ellee Thalheimer is a freelance writer and guidebook author based in the Pacific Northwest who has contributed to publications like Lonely Planet Guidebooks, Alaska Airlines Magazine, and Adventure Cyclist Magazine. When she can’t get outside, she writes fiction, drinks local IPAs, and perfects her handstands.

Featured Image Credit: Moondance Sea Kayak Adventures