With its wealth of lakes and rivers, the Lake District lends itself perfectly to kayaking. Whether you’re a total beginner or expert, you can explore the islands, rivers and picturesque coastlines from your kayak. And the memories will last a lifetime. Here are the most incredible kayaking locations in the Lake District.
Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District, at 7.5 miles long, 0.75 mile wide and 205ft maximum depth.
It’s a perfect spot for kayaking, as it’s surrounded by breath-taking mountain scenery. But be careful on the water if the wind gets up – strong winds can come from the South or South West.
The lake consists of three areas. At the Southern end is Glenridding, where you can spot red deer. You can even stop for lunch at Silver Point or hop off your kayak on Aira Green and take a short detour to Aira Force Waterfall. In the centre of the lake, or The Middle Reaches, you can hire a kayak from Glenridding Sailing Centre. This section is brimming with wildlife, both on the lake and at Hallinhag Wood, a special area of conservation. If you want to spend more time here, Sandwick Bay is a lovely beach where you can enjoy some lunch. Pooley Bridge is at the North end of the lake, where you’ll find Ullswater Yacht Club.
You can hire kayaks from Glenridding Sailing Centre from £15.
While you’re there:
- You can purchase private kayaking tours, skills coaching and take part in other water activities with Ullswater Outdoor Adventures. On the lake, you can also try wild swimming or sailing, or even catch some fish for dinner (well… attempt to!). If you fancy a day away from the water, the nearby Reach Beyond Adventure Company offer a range of activities from rock climbing and abseiling to bushcraft and ghyll scrambling.
- If you’re going to Ullswater, you have to take a walk around the lake. It’s absolutely stunning. The Ullswater Way is the beautiful 20-mile walk that takes you around the entire lake. If you don’t want to walk that far, you can always take the bus (there are stops along the way) or go for a cruise on the lake. For a shorter walk, you can do the Aira Force Loop, a 1 mile walk that takes you to the base of the Lake District’s most popular waterfall at 70ft. If you want a strenuous walk, you could hike to Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England on this VERY challenging 8.5 mile walk with an elevation of 842m. You’ll have to use your hands and some people choose to shuffle on their bum.
- Dine at the Lake View Restaurant at the Inn on the Lake. Here, you’ll be served delicious local produce whilst enjoying the views of Lake Ullswater. There’s also a Lake View lounge with a bar and terrace open till 11pm for you to enjoy a cocktail whilst watching the sun go down. What more could you want after a day on the lake?
Lake Windermere is renowned for being England’s biggest lake, at 10.5 miles long, 1 mile wide and 220ft deep. This also makes it the most popular lake, so it can get quite crowded despite its size.
If you paddle the length of Windermere on your kayak, this is 11 miles. Therefore, it typically takes around 2-4 hours. You can start at either end, but you need to stay alert on this lake because it’s used by sailing boats, ferries and powered boats. It’s also popular among swimmers, so keep an eye out for the signalling flags.
The lake has an astounding 18 islands and you can see some fantastic wildlife from the water. You may even see otters if you’re lucky. At the North end, you can see Wray Castle, where Beatrix Potter once stayed on holiday, which is now owned by the National Trust. By the South East shoreline, you’ll come across Storrs Temple, a 1804 garden house built to pay homage to four British Naval Officers, whose names you’ll find on the walls. But, it's a private shoreline, so don’t land or launch here.
While you’re there:
- Windermere Canoe & Kayak is conveniently perched on the lakeshore, offering kayaking tours, tuition and sales. If you want to attempt something else, Mountain Journeys just a few miles from Lake Windermere offer abseiling, rock climbing, rock scrambling, mountaineering and more.
- There are plenty of walks you can go on around Lake Windermere. Orrest Head is a short walk (2.7 miles) that takes you slightly uphill to Orrest Head summit (238m). From here, you can look out onto the Southern lakes. Another walk (4 miles) takes you from Windermere, past Orrest Head to Townend. This traditional farmhouse is owned by the National Trust, so why not purchase a guided tour?
- Treat yourself to mouth-watering food at Cedar Manor’s restaurant in Windermere. Take your pick from the breakfast menu, afternoon tea and the evening lounge menu, but be sure to book because it’s a sought-after restaurant.
Bassenthwaite Lake is one of the largest and shallowest lakes in Cumbria. It’s 4 miles long, 0.75 miles wide and has a maximum depth of 70ft.
As such, it’s perfect if you want a peaceful paddle. It’s much quieter than other lakes in the Lake District because motor boats are unpermitted and you need a permit to use the lake, whether you’re kayaking or fishing.
You also need to be wary of where you can kayak on Bassenthwaite. The lake is protected as a National Nature Reserve because it’s an important place for wildlife with fish and osprey, which were introduced in 2001.
The South side of the lake is a wildlife sanctuary zone which is excellent for spotting all kinds of creatures. The North end is used by the sailing club for races and the East shore is private, so remember to keep an eye out for where you’re allowed to paddle.
You can purchase permits for kayaking, fishing, sailing and other water activities here.
While you’re there:
- Go for a dip in the shallower (and hence warmer) water of Bassenthwaite. Alternatively, you can visit The Lakes Distillery just North of the lake, where you can enjoy a whisky, vodka or gin or go on a tour of the grounds. In the summer, you can take the infamous family alpacas for a stroll. For a fun day out with the whole family, visit the Lake District Wildlife Park just 0.8 miles from the lake, where you’ll find monkeys, zebras, reptiles and more.
- Walk 6.3 miles on this return trip to the Skiddaw summit, often labelled a friendly giant because it looks more intimidating than it is. From the top, you have unrivalled panoramic views – you can see the Isle of Wight in one direction and the Galloway hills in Scotland in the other. Or, set foot on one of the trails through Whinlatter Forest, England’s only true mountain forest with dramatic views across Bassenthwaite Lake, Derwentwater and Keswick. Here, you can take part in activities such as horse riding and segwaying.
- Our restaurant of choice is, once again, the Lakes Distillery. The bistro, located in an old Victorian farmstead’s cattle parlour, provides local and delicious food as well as drink. You can even dine al-fresco if you get lucky with the weather.
Coniston Water is the fifth largest lake in the Lake District, at 5 miles long and with a maximum depth of 184ft.
On the West side, you can see the mountain of the Old Man of Coniston looming over the lake and village, offering a terrific backdrop for a day’s kayaking. It also has 3 small islands and people can swim there, so keep an eye out for blue and white flags.
You can hire kayaks online or in person from Coniston Boating Centre. Prices start from £20 for 2 hours.
While you’re there:
- At Coniston Boating Centre, you can hire paddle boards, canoes, rowing boats, motor boats and bicycles. Or, you can visit Adventure 21 in Coniston to experience a world of adventure, from paintballing and archery to abseiling and axe throwing. It’s got the lot.
- Take a walk down the cobbled streets of tiny Hawkshead village, once enjoyed by William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Cars aren’t allowed in the village, but you’ll find quaint shops and cafes.
- You could also do the 4.3 mile walk from Coniston to Torver Jetty around Coniston water. If that doesn’t float your boat, the Old Man of Coniston Circuit is a tricky 4.9 mile walk with a steep incline, but it’s worth it for the views. Pick your day carefully to make sure you get the stunning views at the top and the clouds don’t cover everything.
- The Blue Bird Café is perched right by the lake and is open for breakfast and lunch until 5:30pm. It has a relaxed atmosphere and is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat after some morning kayaking. Or, go for a drink with a view – it serves alcohol and warm drinks.
Grasmere lake is small and charming at 1 mile long, half a mile wide and 75ft deep. As such, it usually offers a more tranquil kayaking experience compared to lakes such as Windermere.
Although a small lake, it’s extremely popular due to its ties with William Wordsworth, a distinguished British poet. Wordsworth famously described the area as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found” – and we’re sure many others would agree with him.
His favourite place to stay was the small island in the middle of the lake, but this is now privately owned so you can’t land there. However, you can join the River Rothay from the lake and meander down the river for 4 miles to reach Windermere.
You can hire kayaks from the kiosk on the south-west shore.
While you’re there:
- Probably top on everyone’s list is to visit Dove Cottage. This is where Wordsworth lived for 9 years and where he got much of his writing inspiration from.
- Grasmere is home to quaint shops and charming cafés if you feel like shopping or going for a stroll.
- The popular walk around Grasmere lake is beautiful, mostly flat and straightforward with breath-taking views of the hills throughout the entire walk. Or, you could try the Easedale Tarn walk, which takes you out of Grasmere up to Tarn Crag. It’s fairly hilly and steep in places, but you’ll experience unforgettable views.
- If you’re looking for sublime food with excellent hospitality and glowing reviews, the Grasmere Hotel Restaurant is ideal. It offers a fixed price menu with plenty of choices.
- Hotel – The Daffodil Hotel & Spa
- Camping – YHA Grasmere Butharlyp Howe (hostel, camping, tipis, landpods)
- B&B – Heidi’s Grasmere Lodge
Another relatively large lake, Derwentwater is the third largest of the Cumbrian lakes. It’s 3 miles long, 1 mile wide and 72ft deep and boasts dramatic, panoramic views of the surrounding fells. It’s just around the corner from Keswick, so it’s perhaps the busiest lake in the Lake District.
But you’re not short of options here – it has four islands which are great to explore in a kayak. Why not take a picnic with you to discover Lord’s Island, St Herbert’s Island or Rampsholme?
The biggest of them, Derwent Island, is open to the public for just five days a year. So, you need to book your place well in advance of when you plan to visit.
While you’re there:
- Around the lake, you can hire canoes, stand up paddle boards, sailing boats and more to have fun on the water. However, bear in mind if you want to go fishing you need a permit and rod licence.
- If you want a change of scenery, take a cultured trip to the Theatre By The Lake. Situated on the edge of Keswick, this is the perfect place to watch a play or festival. If you have the kids in tow (and if not!), you can visit the Puzzling Place museum for a trip to topsy turvy land.
- There are plenty of beautiful walks in the area, but the 10-mile circular path around the lake is a must-do. Plus, there are places along the route to get a boat or bus back if your legs start to feel like jelly. Another popular walk known for its stunning views is the Catbells 7 mile walk. It’s steep and rocky at times, but mostly enjoyable with rewarding sights.
- If you’ve been kayaking all day and all you want is a beverage and a good time, The Round in Keswick’s Market Square is the place to be. It also has veggie and vegan burgers, so everyone is covered.
- Hotel – The Leathes Head
- Camping – Derwentwater Camping and Caravanning Club Site
- B&B – Swinside Farmhouse
Other lakes to kayak on:
- Ennerdale Water (permit required)
Ennerdale is undoubtedly the most secluded lake in the Lake District. It’s 2.5 miles long, 0.75 miles wide and encircled by peaks and thick forest, so it makes for a serene paddle.
- Crummock Water (permit required)
Crummock Water is sat in the middle of Grassmoor on the West and Mellbreak on the East. So, to say the views are extraordinary is an understatement. It’s 2.5 miles long, 0.75 miles wide and 140 ft deep and is fed by many streams including Scale Force.
- Thirlmere Reservoir (no permit required)
Thirmere Reservoir was originally two smaller lakes, before it was dammed to provide water to Manchester. It’s now 3.5 miles long, 1.2 miles wide and 158 feet deep. It’s 7.5 miles to paddle around the lake and there are plenty of coves where you can stop off for some lunch. You might spot some red squirrels too, as it’s a red squirrel reserve.
- Wastwater (no permit required but boats limited)
Wastwater is the deepest lake in the Lake District with the most dramatic backdrop. It’s surrounded by Kirk Fell, Red Pike and Scarfell Pike. However, you’ll find it tricky to hire a kayak on the shoreline, so this might be one for those with their own kayak.
There are many different rivers to kayak on in the Lake District, each with different conditions and challenges.
Below are our picks, but make sure to check the river gauge levels and the latest river updates on sites such as UK Whitewater Kayak Guides. And remember, you should only paddle on certain rivers if you’re an experienced kayaker.
Distance: 5 miles
Grade: 2, or 3 in high water
There are many popular routes on the river Eden, but Lazonby to Armathwaite is a great route for less experienced kayakers. It’s mostly long and flat but it has a few ‘surprises’ in the form of rapids along the way.
Distance: 5 miles
Grade: 2 and 3
The energetic river has a lot of different features to keep you entertained. It flows through a steep valley before flattening off near Keswick.
Distance: 4 miles
This river takes you from Grasmere through Rydal, which has some pleasant grade 2 rapids, to Ambleside which is great for beginners. The wildest and rockiest section is when leaving Rydal Water, so you might need to assess the area beforehand. There are also a lot of tree hazards to avoid.
Distance: 5 miles
This route stretches from the Eastern Lake District towards Lancaster. The Lune is great because it usually runs when other rivers are too low. Some parts of the river are wide and effortless, others are tight and gorge-like.
Distance: 4 miles
Grade: 1 or 2
This is a lovely, easy-going route as it’s fast flowing but lacks exciting rapids. But remember – a permit is required for Bassenthwaite.
Specialist kayaking insurance from Insure4Boats
If you’re thinking of kayaking on these lakes and river, you need specialist kayaking insurance. This protects you if you suffer an injury while kayaking and require compensation, or if your kayak is lost, damaged or stolen.
At Insure4Boats, we offer bespoke, easy to buy cover which protects you from a whole range of scenarios. Find out more by clicking the link above and get an online quote within minutes.