Kayaking In The Lake District | A Comprehensive Kayakers Guide

Kayaking in the Lake District

The Lake District in Cumbria offers some superb kayaking for the enthusiastic paddler with a varied selection of lakes to explore.

Beautiful scenery greets the avid kayaker from the water and whether you are kayaking in a group, or going solo, you’ll definitely find somewhere enjoyable to go Kayaking in the Lake District.

The other big plus of Kayaking in the Lake District, if you don’t have your own kayak, is that it is blessed with having a number of fantastic kayaking operators offering kayak lessons and guided tours!

With England’s tallest mountain and biggest lake, The Lake District really is an adventure playground for the outdoor enthusiast and kayaking is extremely popular in the area.

Our blog outlines our top picks for kayaking and will also provide some fantastic insights to ensure you enjoy your Lake District kayaking adventure.

NOW UPDATED for 2023!

Best Places for Kayaking in the Lake District

Lake Windermere in the lake district is perfect for Kayaking!
Windermere by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Kayaking Windermere

As Lake Windermere is the largest and longest natural lake in England, the warmer months mean Kayaking Windermere will find the waters quite crowded with keen water sports lovers.

Paddleboarders, Canoes and all manner of pleasure craft will be out on the water especially on days with lots of sunshine.

However its sheer size ensures you can still find some tranquil spots to paddle and at eleven miles long and a mile wide in places, there is plenty of water to enjoy.

FYI – We do have a couple of specific articles on Kayaking Bowness and Kayaking Ambleside which are a little more in-depth on those specific locations here on Windermere.

Whilst a couple of islands are off-limits there are still at least 15 to explore. Or maybe attempt part of the British Canoeing Three Lakes Challenge!

Whatever you decide or wherever you decide to launch from on Windermere you won’t be disappointed with the beautiful surroundings or with the level of wildlife that abounds in and about the lake.

Keep an eye out for the local legend of the lake: the elusive Tizzie Whizie!

As the access to Lake Windermere is administered by the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) a kayak or waterways licence to paddle on Lake Windermere is NOT actually required.

When Kayaking in the Lake District, especially at Windemere, you must carefully plan where you wish to launch or land your kayak, as a large portion of the shoreline is National Trust maintained (including all of Belle Isle).

To make certain you have all the correct information check out the LDNPA website which offers a fantastic Map of Lake Windermere for kayak access reference.

Kayak Hire Windermere

Windermere Canoe and Kayak hires out kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and boats from its base at Browness-On-Windermere and also offer a range of Kayaking Experiences.

Further north at Ambleside Low Wood Bay Watersports also has a great range of kayaks for hire along with other watercraft and expert instructors. Check out their brochure here.

Ullswater Kayaking

Can you Kayak on Ullswater?


Yes you can and at nine miles long Kayaking on the Ullswater presents the Lake District visitor with some brilliant paddling opportunities.

What to see Kayaking Ullswater

England’s second largest natural lake is considered the more beautiful of the larger lakes and boasts sandy beaches, a dramatic shoreline and several islands.

Kayaking Ullswater in the Lake District offers a breathtaking adventure amidst the stunning natural beauty of Cumbria.

As the second-largest lake in the district, Ullswater provides an ideal playground for kayakers of all skill levels.

Paddle across its crystal-clear waters, surrounded by majestic mountains and picturesque landscapes.

Explore hidden coves, tranquil bays, and the famous Aira Force waterfall.

With its serene atmosphere and captivating scenery, Ullswater is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike.

Rent a kayak from local providers and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of this awe-inspiring destination, where nature’s splendour unfolds at every stroke.

Kayaking Ullswater | Interesting Fact

It was on Ullswater than Donald Campbell set the world water speed record in 1955 piloting the “Bluebird K7” thanks to the geography of the lake providing a long straight stretch of water.

Kayaking the lake you’ll likely spot one of the famous historical Ullswater Steamers and you’ll certainly spot birdlife aplenty. And some fantastic scenery.

Do you need a licence to Kayak on the Ullswater?

I frequently was asked this question but like Windermere, Kayaking Ullswater requires no permit for paddling but has limited places to launch and land a kayak but again, the LDNPA provides a very handy reference Map of Lake Ullswater.

Kayaking In The Lake District featuring Ullswater Kayaking with Tall Boy Adventures

Ullswater Kayak Hire

Based at the stunning southern end of the Ullswater, the Glenridding Sailing Centre has kayaks, canoes and sailing boats for hire at very reasonable rates.   

Ullswater Kayaking Adventures

The team at Tall Bloke Adventures who operate out of Glenridding, offer top quality Kayaking Tours on the Ullswater that provide a fantastic scenic experience of the lakes islands, bays & beaches. 

Ullswater Outdoor Adventures also offer an array of tours, tuition, and experiences.

Both operators are highly experienced, and come are highly recommended. Ideal for your planned kayaking adventure on the Ullswater up here in the Lake District.

To get an idea of how amazing a kayaking paddle on Ullswater can be, check out the fantastic video footage captured by Scott Anderson on his Ullswater Kayak Camping trip in the Lake District.

Thirlmere Kayaking

Known locally as the “hidden lake” Thirlmere is far less known than other Lake District waterways making it the perfect kayaking destination to really get away from the crowds.

The dammed Thirlmere reservoir was once two separate lakes and now provides for a large amount of Northern Cumbria’s household water supply. There is a 7.5 mile shoreline with lots of inlets and coves supporting abundant wildlife. There are even two underwater “ghost towns” that were flooded in the creation of the damn the 1880’s. The names of the villages of Armboth and Wytburn which both now lie beneath the tranquil waters of Thirlmere can still be spotted on some local signposts pointing in the direction of the lake.

Administered by United Utilities there is no permit required in order to spend some leisurely water time kayaking on Thirlmere.

Thirlmere Kayak Hire

Hiring a kayak near Thirlmere is almost an impossibility which adds to the seclusion of the destination. You’ll definitely need to bring your own Kayak to enjoy this part of the Lake District.

The solitude and serenity of the Wastwater in the Lake District
The Wastwater by Matthew Daniels on Unsplash

Wastwater Kayaking

Kayaking the three-mile long Wastwater can be a real thrill with the imposing surrounding skyline dominated by England’s highest peak on Scafell Pike.

The Wastwater is England’s deepest lake at 258 feet and the geography here is actually the inspiration for the Lake District National Park Authorities logo.

Whilst there is a limit of how many boats can be on the water at any one time there is no launch or permit fee on this National Trust owned lake.

Photographers, ramblers and kayakers alike are drawn to the loneliness of the Wastwater and the solitude and serenity here see’s the Wastwater as a favoured solo kayaking destination in the Lake District.

Wastwater Kayak Hire

Again, like Thirlmere, lack of towns in the proximity means finding a kayak hire vendor close to the Wastwater is near on impossible. However, one operator, West Lakes Adventure, offer a range of adventure activities on the Wastwater so, if you’re interested, contacting their friendly staff should be your first port of call.

Coniston Water by Steve Taylor on Unsplash

Kayaking Coniston Water

Coniston Water provides yet more serene kayaking opportunities surrounded by yet more of the Lake Districts breath-taking scenery. The lake is largely surrounded by forested woodland and you can often spot deer drinking at the waters edge of this 6 mile long waterway.

The adventurous kayaker can actually Kayak from Coniston Water out to the sea via the River Crake at the South end of the lake however this is a more challenging piece of water and should only be attempted by competent paddlers.

No permit or licence is required but please consult the LDNPA map of Coniston Water that will provide you with all the details of launch areas and local facilities about the lake.

Also do check out the excellent Canoe Trails Leaflet put out by Canoe England which has great information on Coniston Water including all points of interest, kayak and canoe access points, parking and much more!

Coniston Water Kayak Hire

The Coniston Boating Centre is actually a not-for-profit run by the Lake District National Park Authority. Proceeds from all kayak hire (and other water craft hire) go towards the upkeep on the boating centre and the lake itself so it gets the nod as the preferred kayak supplier on Coniston Water.

Kayaking the River Crake

Kayaking in the Lake District is by no means limited to lakes only and there are a number of notable rivers that offer some challenging paddles, Kayaking the River Crake offers just one such experience among many.

With a name that literally means “rocky stream” you can certainly imagine that kayaking this particular waterway would be a challenge. The River Crake flows from the south end of Coniston Water and runs approximately 6 miles into the upper estuary of the River Leven and into Morecombe Bay.

The river offers challenging grade 2 and 3 rapids not suited to kayaking beginners so do be wary of this prior to setting off down river.

Being a noted Salmon River means it’s frowned upon to kayak the Crake in the spawning season. Also in the summer some of the sections get very shallow.

As always you should consult local advice from those in the know and the folk over at ukriversguidebook.co.uk always seem to be in the know! 

Overall Kayaking the Crake River can be an awesome and exhilarating experience but with plenty of narrow sections and lots of rocks, it’s not for the feint-hearted.

Some great video here on the River Crake from some keen kayakers visiting the Lake District from the West Yorkshire Canoe Club. The video was shot toward the end of winter so there was plenty of water at the time.

Kayaking the River Derwent

Meandering through farmland, woodland and over gentle rapids, kayaking the section of water between the Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake can be a compelling experience.

Known as the Middle Derwent this is probably the best river based section of water in the Lake District for those looking for a less strenuous river paddling option. Don’t for one minute believe that this means the river is flat and slow moving though, as there are plenty of Grade 1 Rapids to negotiate on this short 4 mile section of the river.

Check out the British Canoeing website in regards to access arrangements for the Derwent River and whilst no permit or kayaking licence is required for this part of the river a permit IS required to paddle in Bassenthwaite Lake and you can research that again on the LDNPA website.

Lake District Kayak Safety and Environmental Info

Check, Clean, Dry: Always support this initiative to ensure that you minimise the spread of invasive aquatic species into the habitats of the Lake District. Making certain your kayak has been checked for contaminants then cleaned and dried before launching in any of the Lake District waters should be mandatory.

Life Jackets: The lakes are deep and very cold here in this part of northern England. Wearing a life-jacket should be a no-brainer for all kayakers as hypothermia or even drowning could be a real risk should you capsize your craft without one.

Weather: The Met Office provides the most comprehensive weather updates for the Lake District so you can plan your Cumbrian adventures with confidence.

Shoreline Access: Unless you know otherwise always assume that the shorelines of all the Lake District lakes are private. As pointed out previously, the absolute best resource for reference in regards to any shoreline access, including kayaking launch and landing points, is the LDNPA.

Lake District Kayaking: Helpful Links

Getting a feel for the Lake District without having ever visited can be a challenge, but one view of Michael Allenby’s drone film of the lakes and surrounds and you’ll surely be hooked and wanting to get a kayak on the water before the films conclusion!

Lake District Kayaking: Always Plan Ahead

The sheer scope of the Lake District and the number of tourists the area attracts means you’ll need to plan you kayaking jaunt rather than just “winging it”.

Accommodation, parking, lake access, kayak permits/licencing, what to bring, and many more things need to be considered when planning a kayaking trip to the Lake District in Cumbria.

Kayaking is a brilliant way to experience nature up close and the lakes here are overflowing with marvellous destinations to paddle.

We hope you enjoyed reading our guide to Kayaking in the Lake District. Please do check back from time-to-time, as this is going to be an ongoing project with more information on other lakes, tarns and rivers coming, watch this space!

Let us know in the comments below if you enjoyed the blog and if there are any Lake District kayaking topics you’d like us to add to this guide.

How about some other kayaking adventures – Have You Thought about Somerset?

Happy paddling everyone!

Are Kayak Permits Required for Kayaking in the Lake District?

No. Permits are not generally required for kayaking in the Lake District. However, it’s essential to check the specific guidelines and regulations of the lakes you plan to kayak in, as some restrictions may apply in certain areas. It is recommended to follow any local rules, respect the environment, and prioritise safety while enjoying kayaking in the Lake District.

What are the Best Lakes for kayaking in the Lake District?

The Lake District offers several beautiful lakes for kayaking but which are the best will be a subjective answer.
We think the Ullswater is the best personally but honestly, they’re all good and offer differing perspectives and landscapes!

What are the Top Attractions and landmarks to explore while kayaking in the Lake District?"

The Lake district is all about scenery and landscapes but there is more to see such as the following.

Wildlife: Keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife that calls the Lake District home. You might spot birds such as swans, ducks, herons, and even ospreys. If you’re lucky, you may catch glimpses of otters, deer, or red squirrels along the shores or in the surrounding woodlands.

Historic Sites: As you paddle, you can explore historic sites from a unique perspective. Discover ancient stone circles, remnants of old boathouses, or even submerged remains of mining activity. These hidden gems offer glimpses into the region’s rich history and heritage.

Islands and Bays: The lakes of the Lake District are dotted with islands and secluded bays waiting to be explored. Take the opportunity to navigate around these picturesque spots, where you can find peace and tranquility away from the busier areas.

Waterfalls and Rivers: Some lakes in the Lake District are connected to rivers or have nearby waterfalls. Consider exploring these areas by kayak to witness the beauty of cascading water and experience the gentle currents of the rivers.

Can Beginners go Kayaking in the Lake District?

Yes, beginners can go kayaking in the Lake District in fact it is a great place to learn. The region offers fantastic opportunities for people of all skill levels to experience kayaking on its beautiful lakes. Whether you are a novice or have little experience, there are plenty of kayaking options available.

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