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The 8 Absolute Best Locations to Kayak in Seattle (And Where to Rent Them)

The 8 Absolute Best Locations to Kayak in Seattle (And Where to Rent Them)

Post last updated August 9, 2023

The expansive and intertwined waterways in and around Seattle make the city a prime spot for all kinds of water activities. A large community has been built up in Seattle that allows locals and tourists alike to get exercise and see the sights of both the city and nature simply by kayaking.

The best part about the variety of waterways in Seattle is that they offer different options when it comes to things like difficulty or length. Even beginner kayakers can participate while more experienced kayakers can find new places to challenge themselves. Below are 8 of the best places to go kayaking in Seattle and places to rent kayaks.

The Best Places To Kayak In Seattle

Just within the city of Seattle are many lakes, bays, and beaches that provide great access points for water activities, kayaking included. Many also have kayak rentals either in the immediate vicinity or just a short drive away. If you already own a kayak, then these are great places to launch your own kayak and take advantage of the warm summer weather.

Elliott Bay

Seattle Water Taxi
Elliott Bay (Maxvis/iStockPhoto)

This is by far one of the most popular spots for all forms of watercraft in the city. Elliott Bay is a large area of open water, offering great views of the Olympics and Mount Rainier. It is also a fun spot to watch the ferries and other larger boats go by.

Since Elliott Bay is part of Puget Sound and is one of the largest waterways in the city, it is prone to heavy amounts of traffic. This does not make it a worse place to kayak. All that means is that visitors need to be mindful of other watercraft nearby. It is important to always yield to larger boats, especially ferries. This area is recommended for more advanced kayakers.

Warren G. Magnuson Park On Lake Washington

View of Lake Washington from Magnuson Park with sun setting in the background over a house filled shoreline.
(Shutterstock/ T.Dub Photography)

Located in the northeast part of Seattle, Warren G. Magnuson Park sits next to Lake Washington and is a prime location for launching kayaks. Due to its location and the fact that it does not connect directly to the ocean, Lake Washington has naturally calm waters. This area is great for beginner kayakers and families, especially younger children.

For those who are brand new to kayaking, REI even offers classes here so you can easily learn the ropes with the guidance of experienced staff. The direct connection to Warren G. Magnuson Park makes parking easier and provides a good area to prepare for either launching or landing your kayak. Guests can even dry off in the sun by lounging in the park afterward.

Alki Beach

This popular beach in West Seattle is a great spot for all things water. With waters reaching all the way up to Elliott Bay, Alki Beach has been a hotspot for sunbathing and water activities for many summers. The water closer to the shore is calmer, making it suitable for newcomers, while the waters further out make for a good challenge for the more experienced kayakers.

Due to the fact that Alki Beach is a public beach, visitors can access the water from any point along the shoreline. Guests can even paddle all the way to the Alki Lighthouse or Harbor Island from here. It is also possible to paddle into Elliott Bay from here, but it is important to watch for any other boats as that area tends to be heavily crowded.

Lake Union

Gasworks Park in Seattle
Gas Works Park on Lake Union (Image Credit: Always Wanderlust/Shutterstock)

With a whopping total of 580 acres of space, Lake Union is one of the most popular places to go kayaking in Seattle. Lake Union offers fabulous views of the city, including the Space Needle, Capitol Hill, and Wallingford. Experts and beginners alike have enjoyed kayaking on Lake Union throughout the years.

Lake Union is also a popular landing and takeoff spot for float planes, which can be viewed from the comfort of your kayak. Paddling north will lead toward Gas Works Park, which is a popular access point for launching and landing kayaks.

Union Bay Natural Area

View of Union Bay with Husky Stadium in the background.
View of Husky Stadium from Union Bay(Image Source: Seattle Travel)

Although most kayak spots are known for their views, the Union Bay Natural Area is known for its wildlife. Kayakers can spot all kinds of birds, like ducks and bald eagles. The Union Bay Natural Area also leads directly into the Washington Arboretum which has protected waterways for kayakers to enjoy.

The most popular launch point for the Union Bay Natural Area is located just outside of the Husky Stadium. Parking is easily readily available and the proximity to the University of Washington tram lines, light rails, and bus stops makes it a great place for college students to get exercise and soak up the sun after class.

Ballard Locks

Paddleboarding on Lake
(unit-d/iStock Photo)

Due to its location, Ballard is one of the most unique and challenging areas to kayak but it is well worth it for those with more experience. Access to ship canals and local boat traffic make it a good challenge while still offering great views of the city. During certain times of the year, you can even see salmon jumping through the water.

For those looking to explore the Ballard Locks but are not entirely familiar with the area, there are kayak tours available to help visitors learn about the area and how to navigate it. Tours can take guests through Puget Sound or to Discovery Point as well.

Washington Arboretum Loop

Lillypads in the water in Lake Washington
(Shutterstock/Beach Creatives)

Connecting directly into the Union Bay Natural Area, the Washington Arboretum Loop is a secluded and calm spot for brief kayaking excursions. Located just south of the Husky Stadium, it is common for visitors to combine a trip to the Washington Arboretum Loop with the Union Bay Natural Area to maximize the experience.

The Washington Arboretum Loop has a path lined with lily pads that circle around Foster Island, situated just between Lake Union and Lake Washington. The Washington Arboretum Loop also passes directly under the Hwy 520 bridge, truly connecting the city with nature.

Green Lake

Green Lake Seattle Aerial View
Green Lake Seattle aerial view (SEASTOCK/iStock Photo)

This smaller lake is great for casual kayakers and newcomers. The lake offers both gorgeous water and relaxing greenery for parkgoers. Green Lake is also popular for swimming, boating, and sunbathing, making it great for families to visit. It is pet friendly so even your furry friends can come along and enjoy the outdoors.

In addition to being a great park, Green Lake is a nature preserve and serves as the home to hundreds of different trees and plants. It is also home to many birds, both on land and water. The park also has athletic fields and walkways for biking, skating, and more, making it a great place for everyone to enjoy while also being home to the natural wildlife and greenery that Seattle has become known for.

Where To Rent Kayaks In Seattle

If you do not own your own kayak, Seattle is chock full of places to rent boats, kayaks, and other watercraft. Many of these are located quite close to the launching point for watercraft which makes it especially convenient for those looking to try kayaking for the first time. 

Elliott Bay Marina

Located next to Pier 91, the Elliott Bay Marina is a convenient place to rent kayaks, paddle boards, bicycles, and more. Parking is free and there are even showers and laundry facilities. The marina has direct access to the beach and nearby bike trails. There is a bar and grill at the marina and there is even free coffee available.

Sail Sand Point

Housed conveniently in Warren G. Magnuson Park, Sail Sand Point has kayak rentals available for walk-in guests only. They have rentals for all kinds of water sports, including single and double kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and multiple kinds of sailing boats. They even have youth camps, adult classes, and private lessons.

Alki Kayak Tours

With multiple types of kayak tours available, Alki Kayak Tours is the perfect place to learn the ropes of kayaking and see the sights that Seattle has to offer. From West Seattle to Elliott Bay and even the Duwamish River, there is so much to explore with Alki Kayak Tours. Classes are also available or you can reserve kayaks, paddleboards, and longboards for rent either on-site or off-site.

Agua Verde Paddle Club

This paddle club rents out both kayaks and paddleboards by the hour. They also have public and private tours and events and have been in operation since 1997. This trusty paddle club gives guests waterway access to Gas Works Park and more. They have free parking available and there is a cafe of the same name directly next to the paddle club.

Northwest Outdoor Center

Located on Lake Union, the Northwest Outdoor Center provides kayak and paddleboard rentals, classes, and sales. They do rentals for walk-ins and reservations, although it is best to call them in advance to ensure they are open for rentals as they may change their plans due to weather. They offer free 20-minute demos of all their watercraft and have season passes available for the more avid kayaker.

Ballard Kayak

With classes and rentals available for all kinds of difficulty levels, Ballard Kayak is a great place to rent from for kayakers with more experience and who are looking to challenge themselves. Ballard Kayak has whitewater kayaking and sea kayaking classes. Guests can also rent paddle boards and kayaks for free roaming. Ballard Kayak even hosts private events for groups as large as 200 people.

The Waterfront Activities Center at the University of Washington

Nestled against the shore of Union Bay, this activities center is located just south of the Husky Stadium and is officially run by the University of Washington. This center is easily accessible via bus, light rail, or tram. They rent out kayaks and canoes from spring to fall with sizes ranging from single rider to groups of four. Rental rates are hourly, although students and staff at the University of Washington do get a discount when renting here.

Green Lake Boathouse

Located at Green Lake, this boathouse offers kayaks, water bikes, stand-up paddle boards, row boats, and pedal boats. Life jackets and paddles are included in each rental. Renting is charged by the hour and is available from April to September. Just next door is their coffee house where visitors can find hot and cold beverages, healthy snacks, and even gear for boating or fishing.

Ashleigh on ferry Island hopping.

Hi, I'm Ashleigh! Welcome to Seattle Travel, my little piece of beautiful PNW. This is home and I'm here to share all my experiences so visitors and locals alike can find the best experiences this part of the country has to offer. I started Seattle Travel in 2012 as a way to journal my experiences and over the years have been encouraged by family and friends to open up my adventures to everyone. I actively seek out the best food, activities, and day trips and give you a local perspective.  The Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful areas in the world and my goal is to let you explore it to the fullest. 


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