Top 10 most beautiful paddle (canoe, kayak, SUP) destinations

10- Mondego River, Portugal (4 in the global 100 list)

The magnificent Mondego is the longest river in Portugal that doesn’t cross a border and runs only through the country itself. It weaves down from the Serra da Estrela mountains, through several districts of the Centro region to the funky Atlantic surf town of Figueira da Foz. A number of dams along its course have created wide expanses of tranquil water that are great for learning to paddle or for training at speed. The area north of the Aguiera dam where the river creates a border between the Coimbra and Viseu districts, and the beach at Praia Fluvial da Senhora da Ribeira are two gorgeous options. 

9- Durdle Door, Dorset, England, UK (19 in the global 100 list)

The iconic Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast is one of Dorset’s, and indeed, the United Kingdom’s, most celebrated coastal beauty spots, a perfect limestone arch rising above the waves next to a golden crescent beach. Paddling through the gap under the arch and getting a photo while doing it is a must-do for kayakers and SUPers coming to the area.

8- Futaleufú river and Rio Azul, Patagonia, Chile (11 in the global 100 list)

Called “Big River” in the local Mapuche dialect, the Futaleufú, in the north of Patagonia, is as wild and dramatic a river as you’ll find anywhere. Huge white waves, Class V rapids with intimidating names such as Terminator, a section called the “Wild Mile”, chunky boulders and a forested Alpine setting are the ingredients for an adrenalin-fuelled adventure for experienced paddlers. But there are some chill sections too, where paddlers can relax and admire the dazzling blue water, including on the calmer tributary, the Rio Azul.

11- Futaleufu & Rio Azul Basecamp, Chile @discover_patagonia #Paddle100 Canoe Kayak SUP 

7- Ilhabela, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil (21 in the global 100 list)

The translation of its name says it all: “Beautiful Island”. Serene water laps palm-fringed beaches backed by rainforest and volcanic peaks ribboned with waterfalls at this protected biosphere reserve off Brazil’s south-east coast. Novices can enjoy easy paddling here, while those with more experience might explore the island’s wilder east side, and float over shipwrecks to the south.

6- Okere Falls, North Island, New Zealand (12 in the global 100 list)

Emerald depths turn to rushing white water at the Okere Falls, a fun drop for progressing paddlers to tackle that’s tucked into the northern corner of Lake Rotoiti in the Bay of Plenty. This area of the North Island is a centre of rafting and kayaking, with awesome paddles to the natural Manupirua geothermal hot mineral pools on the other side of the lake, or to ride the rapids of nearby Kaituna River. Camping out here afterwards means seeing the Milky Way with spectacular clarity.

5- Antarctica (18 in the global 100 list)

Icebergs and silence. Glaciers calving into the sea. Whales and penguins dipping and diving close by. Kayaking in Antarctica is unfathomably epic.It may not be the most accessible, or affordable, place for a paddle, but all those who make it there are rewarded with a life-defining experience in a place of awe and wonder.

18- Antarctica @dhkireland #Paddle100 Canoe Kayak SUP

4- Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand (8 in the global 100 list)

Mesmerising scenery defines Lake Tekapo, where the snow-capped pyramids of the Southern Alps encircle the luminous lake, whose water is a delicious milky turquoise thanks to the fine “rock flour” ground down by glaciers and suspended in the water. 

Sunset admirers and after-dark paddlers can experience incomparable star-gazing here, in one of the world’s largest Unesco Dark Sky Reserves. Nature lovers should come in November and December, when a haze of pink and purple lupins are in bloom along the shore. And if that weren’t enough, there are natural hot springs at the southern end to bathe in once you’re all paddled out.

8- Lake Tekapo, New Zealand @msmartinawegman #Paddle100 Canoe Kayak SUP

3- Soca and Koritnica rivers, Slovenia (10 in the global 100 list)

Deep gullies in smooth white limestone, mint green water, forested banks and the mountainous backdrop of the Julian Alps make the River Soca and its tributary the River Koritnica set the scene for some of the most stunning paddling in Eastern Europe. 

Expert and progressing paddlers can tackle Grade 1 to Grade V rapids and the Koritnica’s 70-metre-deep Kluze Canyon, though even beginners can learn here too, on water that’s clean enough to fill your water bottle with. 

Multi-world champion Slovenian canoeist Nejc Znidarcic, recommended the Soca as his beloved local river; it’s where he trains and has won whitewater sprint events.

2- Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada (2 in the global 100 list)

The colour of the water is everything at this astonishing waterbody in the Canadian Rockies. Surrounded by the glaciated peaks of the President Range, Emerald Lake is tinted a vivid peacock blue-green, thanks to the silty glacial meltwater that refills it each summer. 

It’s the largest of 61 lakes in the Yoho National Park, famed for its vertical rock faces, waterfalls, rare pine tree species and as a habitat for grizzly bears and mountain goats. 

Around its fringes wild orchids grow, moose graze on surrounding meadows, and there are views of the important 508-million year-old Burgess Shale fossil beds. It’s a dreamy paddle spot for nature lovers and photographers, with calm, cool waters even beginners can try a session on. 

1- The Calanques National Park, Bouches-du-Rhone, France (5 in the global 100 list)

Fjord-like channels of turquoise water penetrate dramatic limestone karst rocks along the coastline between the fishing town of Cassis and the vibrant city of Marseille, forming one of Europe’s most stunning national parks, and a fantastic setting for paddle sports. Crystal clear and calm waters backed by white sand beaches, are towered over by cliffs that are as popular with nesting kestrels and eagles as they are with rock climbers. Dramatic enough to impress seasoned paddlers, yet water friendly enough for newbie paddlers and families, they are easily accessible, with the largest, Calanque Sormiou, connected by road. A popular suggestion from our contributors, and highly rated on all aspects by the judges.

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