7 Winter Paddle Destinations You Can Escape To Without A Passport

Why limit your kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing to the short summer months when you could get out on the water all year long?

There’s no need to gear up to be better prepared for colder weather in order to stretch out your summer season by a couple of months.

Instead, you can follow the sun and take your passion for paddling with you. The best part is this: there’s no passport required.

That’s right. Right here in the United States and its territories, you can find some of the best paddling opportunities anywhere. Whatever you want — from calm peaceful waters and beautiful landscapes to wild rivers and rapids that give you a rush of adrenaline — is all readily available to you. Oh yes, there is some traveling involved. But what better way is there to spend our time on Earth than to sample and savor the wondrous gifts of nature, doing what we love?

Following are our picks for seven of the most wicked and wonderful paddle destinations you can escape to, no passport required.

1) San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a special place. It’s a beautiful island with a certain Latin feel filled with the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere of the Caribbean. It’s also a US territory, so any American citizen can freely travel there anytime, without requiring a passport.

What many mainlanders may not know is that there are plenty of opportunities for kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing all around the island. Visiting Puerto Rico means you’ll probably land in San Juan, the capital city. And the good news is… you won’t have to go far to begin exploring your paddling options.

Make your way to the Condado Lagoon, which isn’t far from the airport. It’s a gorgeous location, one of most beautiful areas in all of San Juan. The lagoon is vast, yet calm, protected from the ocean on the outside. So it’s an ideal location for SUPing or kayaking – particularly for those who are new to the sport.

For the more adventurous, go ahead and explore outside of the lagoon and travel part of the Puerto Rican coastline. You can marvel at the great view of the 16th-century Spanish Fort, El Morro, or catch a glimpse of old San Juan.

Scenic view of tropical blue waters taken from inside a tunnel built into the wall of an old fortress
El Morro — Photo Source

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Start your Puerto Rico adventure at the Aqua Fitness Wellness Center. There you’ll find all the equipment you need to rent, in order to fully enjoy your time on the lagoon and beyond.

Other Must-Do Things While In The Area

San Juan is rich in history, with a mix of old and new. A variety of seafood is available in many coastal areas of Puerto Rico. But be sure to sample the Latin-infused meals served locally wherever you go. San Juan is the place to go for entertainment and dining. A variety of water sports are offered here – and elsewhere. But you need not travel far from your point of arrival to sample the paddling opportunities.

2) The US Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands is another US territory, so traveling to and from this tropical destination comes without the usual document requirements. The fact that these islands are nestled in the heart of the Caribbean gives it a certain mystique and appeal. And for paddling enthusiasts, this southern destination is loaded with opportunities for enjoyment, exploration and adventure.

Launch Point

Begin your Virgin Islands outing with a visit to the Henley Cay Adventure Tour company in St. John. Whatever equipment you need can easily be rented there. Once you gear up, your paddle across Caneel Bay to the quiet, tranquil and uninhabited Henley Cay, located within the Virgin Islands National Park.

A turquoise bay is surrounded by hilly landscapes in St. John, USVI

Here’s Something You Shouldn’t Miss

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of vacationing in the Caribbean, you’ve undoubtedly marveled at the beautiful color of the waters around these islands. But paddling here gives you something else. It unveils a whole new perspective of the gorgeous coastline.

As much as I love kayaking and paddle boarding, it’s not just about getting paddles in the water and moving around. It’s about being outside, breathing the freshest air and enjoying the beauty and perfection of nature. And the US Virgin Islands gives us an excellent opportunity to do all this – and then some.

If you love being in awe, wait until you discover the impressive coral reef and the bounty of fish that live there. You want to go snorkeling here for sure. It’s almost surreal. It’s like you’re swimming inside a giant aquarium with an incredible array of  marine life species that vary widely in size, shape, and color. As much as I enjoyed the kayaking, it was well worth the trip just for this experience alone.

A man and a woman snorkel underwater amongst a school of tropical fish
By Angelique800326 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

3) Walton County, Florida

Walton County is best known for its fishing and beaches. For fishing enthusiasts, there’s a full spectrum of freshwater and saltwater fish available. And the beautiful sandy beaches seems to be everywhere. But this area of Florida is also an excellent place to go kayaking or paddle boarding too.

This recommendation is quite different from the usual river paddling opportunities because here, you’ll be checking out one or more of the many coastal lakes along the Gulf of Mexico shore.


Indeed, Walton County, Florida provides a different paddling experience. But it’s something I suggest you try. Here you’ll find a series of small coastal lakes surrounded by sand dunes along the shore. Choose a lake, launch your watercraft = and enjoy. You’ll want to take it all in so you can fully enjoy the serenity and scenic beauty you don’t usually hear about when people tell you about their trips to Florida.

These small lakes are primarily fed by streams and rainwater. But with the storm surges common in hurricane season, these lakes naturally expand and connect directly to the Gulf of Mexico and creating a unique setting that’s both fascinating and peaceful.

A spring-fed lake surrounded by mangroves in Walton County, FL
Morrison Spring (Walton County, FL)

Launch Point

Take scenic highway 30A along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Most lakes are accessible by kayak or canoe. Some rentals are available in the area. But if you’re driving to Florida, it’s probably best to take your own equipment.

4) La Jolla, California

Whenever you make your way to California, be sure to visit the La Jolla Cove. With near perfect weather, exceptional scenery, crystal-clear waters, and a diversity of marine life that rivals the best you can find anywhere – it’s all here for you. While there are plenty of opportunities statewide, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better (at least, from my perspective) than what is offered at the La Jolla Cove. But it always boils down to personal preference.

Launch Point

You can start your journey right at the Cove. Bikeandkayaktours.com offers a full complement of rental equipment, including single, double, and triple kayaks, snorkeling gear, bikes and more. Plan on spending at least a few days here, if you can, and indulge in a true mainland paradise.

La Jolla is part of San Diego, where you can find all the attractions, entertainment and dining options available in any major city. But it’s the climate, the coast and the opportunity to enjoy being on the water that attracts a large number of visitors to La Jolla every year.

5) Lake Tahoe California

Thankfully, the appeal of California for paddlers isn’t limited to the southern tip and the San Diego area in particular. Another terrific location to indulge in paddle sports is the Lake Tahoe area. It’s a large lake located along the state border between California and Nevada. Exploring even a small part of lake Tahoe from the water is well worth the trip it might take to get here.

Large, smooth rocks dot the bottom of a shallow shore with snowy mountaintops in the distance at Lake Tahoe, California
Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe (Photo Source)

Launch Point

Although there are numerous locations that allow you access to the lake for what should be a relatively easy launch, one spot you might want to check out is Lakeview Commons on Highway 50. You can bring your own equipment or rent from a vendor like South Tahoe Stand Up Paddle Boards.

Another option is to take a guided tour. Lake Tahoe Kayak Tours from the Tahoe Adventure Company offers a variety of tours and instruction, plus in depth knowledge of the recommended areas for kayaking. Whatever you choose, one thing is certain: you’re going to witness an impressive display of the spectacular scenery that surrounds Lake Tahoe.

6) Lake Powell, Arizona

Okay seriously, who among us would have chosen Arizona as a paddlers paradise? I can tell you, it wasn’t on my original list. But one visit to Lake Powell soon changed everything. And now I’m in total awe of its sensational, natural beauty.

Sensational jewel tone sunset off of Lake Powell, Arizona

A big part of the paddling experience is being able to enjoy the local scenery. And it’s different – sometimes staggeringly so – wherever you go. But there’s something that’s totally unique about the Lake Powell scenery that it needs to be experienced first hand. If this isn’t on your list of future destinations, you might want to add it in soon. What Lake Powell offers is impressive to say the least with its naturally carved, layered sandstone formations. Go forth and experience it by kayak and I dare say that you too will be moved by what you’re about to see. Incredible.

Launch Point

Begin your outing at Lake Powell Paddle Boards and Kayaks. The owners are passionate paddlers themselves and they offer expert assistance plus all the equipment you could possibly need. It’s well worth stopping here – even if you’re hauling all of your own gear.

7) Rio Chama, New Mexico

Let me first state that this selection is definitely not for the novice kayaker. But it’s a trip to aspire to for true enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. It’s another opportunity that’s right here on the US mainland and it’s one to behold.

The Rio Chama river is a tributary of the mighty Rio Grande and the impressive vistas on display through your run will leave you in absolute awe of the beauty of nature and power that created it.

Winter kayaking destinations Rio Chama in New Mexico
Rio Chama

This trip will be a true adventure and you’ll be traveling where few others have gone before. It’s a full two to three day trip to cover the route and that means you’ll also be camping, hiking, observing wildlife and the raw natural beauty few places on earth can offer. You may choose to do a little fishing as well and you’ll have no trouble in these uninhabited lands.

Launch Point

Your journey begins at the El Vado Ranch. You’ll get there via NM112 from US 84, near Tierra Amarilla. Travel is by permit only and is available for groups of up to 16 people.

You’ll need to prepare for this kind of a trip – no doubt about it. But this Once In A Lifetime experience is so worth it and the memories are sure to last a lifetime. Add this one to your bucket list. It’s not just another day of kayaking. It’s a 2 or 3-day adventure that will stir your soul in such a way that you’ll emerge with a new sense of wonder and appreciation.

To Sum It Up

If you’ve decided to ditch the solo ski holiday this year in favor of sticking to sunnier climes, there’s no better way to do so than by going on a grand paddling adventure.

There’s something for every paddler – novice or experienced – here in the United States of America and so much more to explore in this vast country of ours. Don’t be afraid to venture out with visions of paddling on your mind. And leave the passport behind.

7 Winter Paddle Destinations You Can Escape to Without a Passport
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7 Winter Paddle Destinations You Can Escape to Without a Passport
Beat the winter blues and get your paddling fix all in one stop! Best part: no passport required! Check out our picks for wicked winter paddle places here.
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Board and Kayak Life
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