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Top 10 places to kayak in the Lake District holiday cottages

Top 10 places to kayak in the Lake District

Kim Brough 09 October 2023

The Lake District is a mecca for those who love water sports, with the national park’s 16 lakes offering an array of water-based activities. One of the most popular of these is kayaking and a total of 12 lakes are navigable by kayak, although some require permits before you launch. 

There are also numerous rivers meandering through the landscape and tempting you to get out the paddles. Be aware, however, that many rivers are not suitable for kayaking at certain times of the year due to water levels and wildlife protection, so be sure to check what’s what beforehand. 

We’ve put together our pick of the best places to kayak in the Lake District to help you plan your next adventure. Where will you choose to visit first?


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When you take to the water...

Before you set off, make sure your equipment is in order, and be aware of other water users on the more popular lakes.

Whenever you’ve finished on the water, make sure to thoroughly check, clean and dry your equipment (and self) before going into the next body of water. This is to prevent the transfer of plants and animals that could upset the unique natural balance of each lake. Check the NNSS website for more information


Kayaking on Windermere

Two kayakers paddle on lake Windermere with a sailing boat in the background

Lake Windermere is the largest lake in England, so it’s a great place to start your kayaking adventure in the Lake District. As you paddle, you can spot Wray Castle as well as a whole host of wildlife including otters, crayfish and tufted duck. You can take your own kayak on Windermere or make use of local hires and guided kayak tours. Just be aware that launching is prohibited on some shores, which are privately owned, and you can’t land on Belle Isle.

If you’re new to kayaking, then enjoy splashing around close to the shore at popular points like Miller Ground and Fell Foot. If you’re more experienced and love a challenge, do you think you can paddle the whole 10.5-mile length of Windermere?

Highlights:

  • There’s lots of space to explore on England’s longest lake
  • Numerous wildlife areas dotted around the shores
  • Kayak up to the pub at The Waterhead Inn

Good to know


Kayaking on Ullswater

The tip of a kayak is visible close to the shore of Ullswater

The Lake District’s second largest lake has a lot of privately owned shoreline, so your best bet for launching a kayak on Ullswater is in the north east section, close to the lovely town of Glenridding and the popular Aira Force waterfall. There are also a handful of public jetties at other points around the lake.

Once you’ve found an appropriate spot, push off onto the water and discover why Ullswater is so commonly named the most beautiful lake in the national park. With mountains like the mighty Helvellyn and High Street towering on either side, and a ribbon shape to the water, the landscape truly is breathtaking.

Highlights

  • Paddle around some of the small, characterful islands
  • Stop for a picnic on the quieter southern shore
  • In spring, sail by the daffodils that inspired Wordsworth’s famous poem

Good to know


Coniston Water kayaking

Kayaks sit strapped together on a pebbly beach next to Coniston Water

With a view described by John Ruskin as 'the best in all England', there are few more picturesque spots for a kayak trip than Coniston. Paddle amidst high fells and within sight of the imposing Old Man of Coniston (check out the easy way up Coniston if you choose to climb it while you're there!) and make your way to the three small islands where you can rest and soak up the views. If you’re a fan of the books, you can even have your own Swallows and Amazons adventure: one of these islands was the inspiration for Arthur Ransome’s Wild Cat Island! You may not be in a sailing boat like the children in that story, but you can still enjoy the thrill of exploring the island.

As you paddle on by, look out for the Steam Yacht Gondola, a heritage steam-powered boat that floats serenely across the water. You’ll have to keep out if its way in your kayak, but can enjoy the glamorous sight as the Victorian boat makes its way across the lake.

Highlights

  • Coniston is the site of multiple world water speed records. You won’t be breaking any records in a kayak, but can learn more about them at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston
  • Stop off for refreshments at Brantwood House - you can’t miss the house as you paddle down the east shore, and there’s a shingle bank to land on

Good to know

  • Facilities: Parking at Coniston, Brown Howe, and multiple locations along the east shore. Toilets and refreshments in Coniston, Brantwood House, Monk Coniston and Brown Howe
  • Kayak hire: Coniston Boating Centre 
  • Guided kayaking: Joint Adventures

Kayaking on Derwentwater

Two people in a kayak paddle past a small island in Derwentwater, with hills in the background

There are lots of things to do around Derwentwater, and it's a great choice for a kayak trip if you’re staying in Keswick, as it’s very close to town. It’s a peaceful lake with minimal motorised traffic and serene views towards the Borrowdale fells, as well as other famous mountains such as Blencathra, Skiddaw and Catbells. Check out our guides for the easy way up Blencathra and all the walking routes up Skiddaw if you fancy a change from kayaking!

There is much more public access along the shore at Derwentwater than at some of its famous cousins in the South Lakes, so you have more opportunities for launching. As there are also lots of activity providers and not too much lake traffic here, it’s the perfect place to get some kayaking lessons.

Highlights

  • Land on St Herbert’s Island for a picnic and hunt out the old hermitage
  • Admire the glamorous house on Derwent Island as you paddle from town. Gorgeous gardens sprawl down to the water
  • Extend your trip with a longer paddle onto the River Derwent and to Bassenthwaite Lake (permit required)

Good to know


Ennerdale Water kayaking

The still water of Ennerdale water reflects a bright grey sky

For a more peaceful kayak adventure, head to Ennerdale Water which, as the most westerly lake in the national park, is more remote and therefore attracts fewer crowds. The water is fringed by conifers, creating a very pretty scene. If you’re in a larger group, you’ll need a permit before you paddle – these are available free of charge from United Utilities (01768 772334).

Use of Ennerdale Water is restricted to canoes, kayaks and rowing boats, so there are no loud motors to contend with, and minimal boat traffic in general. As a result, this is a beautifully isolated location to kayak in, surrounded by stunningly rugged scenery that’s part of an extensive rewilding project.

Highlights

  • Paddle to the south-east end of the lake for a wonderfully remote feel: there is no public road down here, so getting there under your own steam is extra special
  • Look out for zombies! Ennerdale was used in the closing scenes of 28 Days Later
  • When you’re done, pop into The Gather in nearby Ennerdale Bridge. The community-run shop and cafe serves excellent food

Good to know

  • Facilities: Limited. Parking at Bowness Knott and Bleach Green. Some facilities in nearby Ennerdale Bridge
  • Kayak hire: Not available
  • Guided kayaking: Not available

Kayaking on Grasmere lake

The sunset creates lovely colours on the surface of Lake Grasmere, viewed from the wooded shore

Wordsworth’s 'loveliest spot that man hath found' is all the lovelier when explored by kayak. Unfortunately, you can’t land on the poet’s beloved island in the middle of the lake, but Grasmere is well worth visiting anyway.

Grasmere is a small lake, sharing a name with the pretty nearby village. Despite its diminutive size, it’s brimming with character and surrounded by some of the most wonderful scenery that the Lake District has to offer. Kayaking on Grasmere gives you the opportunity to see all these delights from a different perspective to what you’d find on dry land.

Highlights

  • Pick up some Grasmere Gingerbread from the quaint village shop to keep up your energy up
  • Experienced kayakers can travel along the River Rothay, over Rydal Water and towards Ambleside and Windermere
  • Enjoy the landscape that inspired some of William Wordsworth’s best poetry
  • Good to know

  • Facilities: Parking, refreshments and toilets in nearby Grasmere village. Limited launching (with parking - charges apply) at Faeryland. Limited parking in laybys
  • Kayak hire: Not available
  • Guided kayaking: Not available

Thirlmere reservoir kayaking

The forested banks of Thirlmere Lake are illuminated in the sun and reflected in the still water

Head to Thirlmere for a unique day out, where you’ll be kayaking over villages that were submerged to make the reservoir. As well as this, you can soak up the views of the spectacular Helvellyn Ridge and the Borrowdale fells.

Despite relatively easy access from Keswick to the north and Ambleside to the south, and a reasonably busy road along its eastern shore, Thirlmere retains a feeling of remote wildness. The exposed waters are a good challenge for more experienced kayakers, and the austere conifer woodlands surrounding it provide an impressive backdrop.

Highlights

  • For an energetic day, combine kayaking with a walk either around the reservoir or on a lesser-known route up popular Helvellyn
  • Paddle around the two islands (landing not permitted) and look out for protected birdlife
  • Stop off at Wythburn Church, the only remaining building from villages that were flooded to create the reservoir - you’ve just paddled over them!

Good to know

  • Facilities: Several small laybys on the west short and parking at Armboth car park. No toilets or refreshments
  • Kayak hire: Not available
  • Guided kayaking: Not available

Kayaking on Wastwater

A couple of colourful kayaks sit on the banks of Wastwater, with mountains in the distance and fluffy clouds in the sky

Experience the true scale of the Lake District with a kayak trip on Wastwater. The deepest lake in the national park, it’s also surrounded by a majestic array of mountains including the impressive Scafell Pike. It can be quite exposed, however, so make sure you dress for the conditions.

Wastwater is another quite lake offering a wonderful sense of remoteness. The dramatic screes rising out of the water are a breathtaking backdrop to your kayaking adventure, and the view towards England’s highest mountains is not to be missed.

Highlights

  • While you’re in the area, why not tackle Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain?
  • Enjoy the views towards Great Gable. If it looks familiar, that’s because this view is the logo of the Lake District National Park!

Good to know

  • Facilities: Parking at Overbeck Bridge and Wasdale Lake Head. No other facilities by the lake, though limited refreshments are available at the nearby village of Wasdale Head and Nether Wasdale
  • Kayak hire: Marra bikes and boards
  • Guided kayaking: West Lakes Adventure

Kayaking on Bassenthwaite lake

A perflect reflection of the banks of Bassenthwaite is seen in the exceptionally still water

This is one of four national park lakes that require a permit before you launch your kayak; for Bassenthwaite, these are available from Keswick Tourist Information Centre. One of the shallowest lakes in the national park, you can spot a wide range of wildlife including ospreys and Atlantic salmon here as you paddle.

The lake will be shared with the local sailing club, who often run races throughout the summer months. Look out for their buoys so you know which areas to avoid. Bassenthwaite is right next to a main road, but you would never guess it from its tranquillity under the shadow of mighty Blencathra.

Highlights

  • Bassenthwaite is home to two nature reserves so look out for unique wildlife
  • Extend your paddle down the River Derwent and onto Derwentwater. Permit required due to the nature reserve

Good to know

  • Facilities: Parking at Peel Wyke, along the dual carriageway, and in some small laybys at the northern end of the lake. Refreshments at Bassenthwaite Lake Station
  • Kayak hire: Not available
  • Guided kayaking: Not available

Kayaking on Buttermere lake

A dramatic reflection of the mountainous scenery around Buttermere is seen reflected in the lake

Purchase your permit from the National Trust car park in Buttermere before you set off and you can enjoy a paddle taking in the views towards Fleetwith Pike. The number of watercraft is limited to ten per party here to maintain the lake’s tranquil character.

Buttermere is a reasonably small lake but is hugely popular - and it’s easy to see why. The scenery surrounding this lake is second to none, with the gentle fields and forests of the valley quickly rising into characterful mountains towering ahead. The 360-degree views you get from your kayak are absolutely marvellous.

Highlights

  • If you’re lucky, the gentle Highland Cattle that roam here may join you for a dip in the water!
  • Gaze up at the knobbly mountain that is Haystacks. The ashes of author Alfred Wainwright are scattered at the top
  • Stop off on one of the shingle beaches to enjoy a relaxing picnic

Good to know

  • Facilities: Toilets, parking and refreshments in Buttermere village. Additional parking at Gatesgarth Farm
  • Kayak hire: Not available
  • Guided kayaking: Not available

Kayak hire in the Lake District

You’ll find kayak hire on most of the largest lakes in the Lake District, specifically Windermere, Coniston Water, Derwentwater and Ullswater. Other lakes don’t have any nearby kayak hire, though Marra Bikes and Boards offer a hire service that allows you to collect an inflatable kayak and take it where you want before returning it to their base in Nether Wasdale.


Self-catering accommodation

We have a wide range of cottages close to these tempting lakes, many with storage for kayaks and other water sports equipment. Start planning your next outdoor adventure by browsing our collection of Lake District cottages.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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