5 Water Trails Perfect for Paddling in the National Park System

Protected waterways around the country that go above and beyond a simple body of water

When it comes to the national park system, people typically think of the protected lands and major parks that they visit (or hope to visit). While those parks are definitely incredible, there are some other protected parts of the system that people overlook—namely, the National Water Trails System.

These protected waterways have trails for paddlers of all abilities and they span more than 2,500 miles. Of the 18 total trails around the country, we chose five to highlight.

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail—New York
Perfect for day-long paddlers and long-distance adventurers alike, the Hudson River Greenway Water Trail spans 256 miles of the infamous New York river. With access to historic sites, wildlife marches, islands, towns and more, this trail has the infrastructure and add-ons to please any paddler.

Red Rock Water Trail—Iowa
Spot eagle nests, sea caves and wildlife on this 36-mile water trail in Iowa. The trail can be broken up into sections or paddled all at once and there are eight access points and a few campgrounds to make your trip even easier.

Willamette River Water Trail—Oregon 

Photo of the Willamette River Water Trail from the National Park Service.

This 217-mile-long water trail is a treat for paddlers looking for a little bit of everything. The trail winds through lush greenery and urban cityscapes like Portland, on mostly flat water. Flowing north from the Oregon Coastal Range, the waterway passes historical sites, places to camp and more.

Black Canyon Water Trail—Nevada and Arizona
Set along a scenic portion of the Colorado River, within Lake Mead National Recreation Area, this 30-mile water trail has much to offer. From hot springs sitting in canyons on the side of the trail to historical sites, every paddler will find something to love on the Black Canyon Water Trail.

Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail—Washington

Photo of a paddler in Puget Sound from Ingrid Taylar.

With 371 miles of pristine coastline on the incredibly beautiful Puget Sound, what more is there to say about this water trail? Well, it also winds among some of the most remarkable marine environments on earth. This trail attracts paddlers from around the world with its scenic beauty, incredible marine life and access to coastal towns.


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