Last article update: September 15th, 2021 (11:05 pm)
Many Ohio natives will attest that kayaking is one of their favorite outdoor activities. You’ll find calm lakes to float along, as well as raging rapids for an adrenalin rush in Ohio.
Here are the best places to go kayaking in Ohio.
One of the longest rivers in both the Midwest and the whole US is the Ohio River. It originates from the west of Pennsylvania, just south of Lake Erie, and flowing southwesterly to its confluence on the Mississippi River. It’s known for gentle, clear waters and smooth blossoms, unbroken by rapids and rocks. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson called it the “most beautiful river on earth.”
Being a mighty river, many enthusiastic paddlers wonder whether it’s safe to kayak. The answer is yes because, for most of the year, the river flows slowly. It’s safe to paddle downstream and enjoy the beautiful flora and fauna along the way. The only exception is when it rains, and the waters become choppy and unsafe, but so do all rivers!
One of the most scenic spots to paddle on the Ohio River is in downtown Louisville. Put your kayak at the Louisville Community Boathouse, ride the waters down towards the 2nd street bridge, then across the Indiana side, and head back upstream. The best time for this kayak trip is sunset when the beautiful rays lite up downtown Louisville in majestic splendor.
Nighttime is also great, with the moon above and the lit street ways below. Watch out for other motorboats on the waters.
Try the Falls of Ohio, too; sometimes, even this National Wildlife Conservation Area provides experienced tour guides to share the area’s history and guide you through fossil beds. Other great kayaking spots on the Ohio River include Six Mile Island. Party Cove and Rose Island.
This is also where the annual Ohio River Paddlefest is held. It is the largest paddling celebration in the US, with 9000 participants from all over the US taking on a 9-mile trip on their kayak through downtown Cincinnati.
More info on paddling the Ohio River
The Great Miami River in Dayton
If you are ever in Dayton, head over to the Great Miami River for a 291-mile stretch of paddling, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities that includes three lovely rivers and many small tributaries.
The water trail boasts 117 public access points, 3 whitewater play parks, and 50+ urban and nature parks.
The Great Miami River begins at Indian Lake, a popular recreation destination for campers, boaters, and anglers. It then flows southwest for about 156 miles, joining with the Ohio River close to Cincinnati. This waterway trail is mostly Class I to Class II, making many of its sections enjoyable for armature paddlers. However, watch out for dams and small spillways along this trail.
The Great Miami is a beautiful water trail, teaming with beautiful flora and fauna, including Cedar Waxwings, Blue Herons, towering sycamore trees. You can begin the course at State Route 235 Bridge. The footing here is stone and gravel, allowing you to wade in the waters and hop in your kayak without any problems.
Alternatively, just put your kayak on the Stillwater River or Mad River downtown. These are the other major rivers that confluence with the Great Miami River in Dayton. The main tributaries with public access spots include Greenville Creek, Twin Creek, and Buck Creek. Greenville Creek is a designated scenic river, and Buck Creek offers a whitewater park for kayakers.
More info the Great Miami River
The Little Miami River near Cincinnati
Apart from the mighty Ohio River, there’s another river near Cincinnati, a gem among paddlers. Known for Class I rapids and a 111-mile stretch, this river will take you away from the city, near Dayton, and into a secluded water trail via the Caesar Creek and the John Bryan state park towards the Ft Ancient State Historic Site. Here, you’ll feel closer to the ancient Native American tribes that occupied the hill 2000 years ago.
You will also encounter rolling farm country, steep gorges, forests, and towering cliffs along the way. The steep valleys are evidence of glacial meltwater’s erosional forces.
You will see exposed dolomite and shale outcroppings.
Enormous sycamores flank the river on both sides and form a habitat for blue herons. You will also encounter a colorful array of warblers and various other songbirds. Wildflowers, too, populate the shaded slope, making for an enjoyable view.
As you approach the end, near Springfield in the north, the river starts flowing slowly as it meanders through the incredible hillside and drains into the Ohio River. You’ll have covered about 83 miles, with stops along the trail for overnight camping or picnic.
More info on the Little Miami River near Cincinnati
Known for its central location and Big Darby Creek in Ohio, this river meanders for 97 miles southeast of Columbus offering paddlers class II waters, a range of biodiversity, and scenic landscapes to enjoy in their watercraft. You can bring your own kayak or rent one from local outfitters for as low as $16 per person.
Begin the kayak trip north of the city and follow the Olentangy as it travels south to join the Scioto River in downtown Columbus. This trail offers a good view of downtown Columbus including historic neighborhoods, several state parks, and the Ohio State University campus.
More info on the Olentangy River
Hocking hills hold a special place in Ohioans’ hearts. It’s a beautiful area, with towering trees, rushing waterfalls, and abundant wildlife, including white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, bobcats, and even barred owls.
You can catch all these while meandering slowly down Hocking River Class I waters. If you’ve come fishing, you can try your luck at underwater creatures such as white crappie, smallmouth bass, saugeye, and much, much more!
The best kayaking section on the river starts at Sugar Grove and ends at Canoe Livery. It’s a 15-mile water trail known for secluded isolation and natural beauty.
You’ll pass the spectacular Natural Rockbridge and the historic Hocking Canal. Bring your own kayak or rent one from local outfitters, where guided tours are also available!
Lake Erie in Akron
If you are ever in Akron-Cleveland, break out your yak and get in the vast open waters in Lake Erie.
Prepare for a great adventure with breathtaking lightning displays and fierce waves. The lake is shallow and small, with warm waters and carved by glacier ice.
Make sure to pass through Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve for bird watching, then stop at Edgewater Park for a beautiful sunset, excellent food, and live music with the locals.
More info on paddling Lake Erie in Akron
Ashtabula River or any other nearby rivers
For a relaxing ride down scenic water trails, the Ashtabula River can’t be beaten. It is definitely one of the best places to kayak in Ohio.
Known for its gentle currents, you can paddle at a desirable pace.
You can also try the Mohican River; it’s known for quiet flowing Class I waters that lead through forested valleys, making it a perfect escape for some alone time.
More info on the Ashtabula River
Upper Cuyahoga River
For an obstacle-free ride down a scenic river, try the Cuyahoga. It’s known for gentle rural waters with few obstacles for paddlers. But every crooked turn offers diverse opportunities such as fishing, wildlife viewing, swimming, and photography.
There are over 50 kinds of fish, including the northern hog sucker and the grass pickerel. Wildlife varieties include herons, deer, muskrats, and some snakes.
There’s also the whitewater kayaking competition if you’re up to it. It’s an intense 0.5-mile course through strong Class II to Class IV rapids. Come for fun, and give the waves your all!
More info on the Upper Cuyahoga River
Vermillion-Lorain Water Trail
Start at the shale cliffs in Brownhelm Township and continue down towards Lake Erie Shorefront to put your paddling skills on the lakefront or the gentle-flowing river. Follow the river as it meanders through Lorain and continues towards Bur Oak Picnic in Elyria.
This is a 27-mile-long stretch that offers scenic views within the Lorain County Metro Parks, together with cultural and historical opportunities such as the Black River Historical Society, the Inland Seas Maritime Museum, the Loraine Lighthouse, and the Lakeview Rose Garden.
This beginner-friendly trail is open to paddlers of all skill levels. Being without any industry along the banks, the water trail teams with diverse wildlife, including fish that turn bright-colored every mating season.
Common fish in the area include crappie, catfish, steelhead trout, and rock bass. Common birds include bald eagles, great blue heron, geese, and ducks. As you float down the river during spring, an array of bright-colored wildflower flanks you on both sides, making it a true escape into nature.
More info on the Vermillion-Lorain Water Trail
In Hinckley Township, an expansive park called Hinckley Reservation surrounds a massive lake, flanked by towering cliffs. Paddlers like to spend their time on this lake, just floating or exploring the beautiful scenery. The water is gentle and easy to paddle through, even for beginners, and big enough that a day may go by, with you on the lake just having a great time.
The overall park is lovely. It’s home to the buzzard roost; you can catch these Turkey vultures as they return to their habitat during spring. Indeed, there’s a springtime festival in honor of the event. These creatures have a 6-foot wingspan that makes for an incredible sight when they glide past; be careful not to fall out of your kayak.
Fish species in the lake include largemouth bass, white crappie, and rainbow trout. Indeed, it ranks as the best lake for largemouth bass in the Cleveland Metroparks, so bring your fishing tool along and try your luck.
I hope you get to travel to one of the locations on this list. If you know of any more interesting kayak trails in Ohio, please let me know in a comment below.
If you are a kayak tour operator and would like to be featured on this page, let’s get in touch.