Seattle is surrounded by water; from the Puget Sound to Lake Washington to Lake Union to waterways farther afoot, there is water everywhere. So it makes complete sense that getting out on the water is a popular activity in the area. One of the easiest ways to get out on the water for cheap is kayaking. Kayaking is not only affordable (usually about $20 plus or minus per hour), but it also gets you up close and personal with the water as you’re essentially sitting right on the surface. It’s a great way to commune with nature, enjoy scenic views and get some exercise too. You can go kayaking just about everywhere in and around Seattle but read on for some of the best spots.
Be aware if you’re renting a kayak, most rental places close during the winter and some may close on weekdays or because of bad weather. Always call ahead or ask about reservations if timing is important.
Located right in the heart of Seattle, Lake Union is one of the best places to go kayaking in Seattle. The lake offers views of the Space Needle, mountains in the distance, and other Seattle sights. Padding around the lake is perfect for beginners. But if you want to explore farther afoot, Lake Union is also a great jumping off (paddling off?) point as you can access the much larger Lake Washington, the ship canal, and even the Puget Sound if you’re more experienced (you’ll have to go through the Ballard Locks). There are two places that rent kayaks on the lake — Northwest Outdoor Center (NWOK) at 2100 Westlake Avenue N Suite 1, and Moss Bay at 1001 Fairview Avenue N. Both offer kayak rentals with hourly rates. NWOK takes reservations, while Moss Bay is first-come, first-served.
Other Area Lakes
Pretty much if there’s a body of water near Seattle with any kind of infrastructure around it, you can probably get a kayak into it. Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish are both much larger than Lake Union and offer lots of room to kayak your heart out. Brush up on your watercraft rules and regulations as faster boats can and do make their way through both lakes so you’ll need to understand what to do if your path is about to intersect with another’s. On Lake Washington, you can launch your own kayak from Magnuson Park at 7400 Sand Point Way NE or rent from Sail Sand Point, also located at Magnuson Point. Lake Sammamish is another area lake between Bellevue and the city of Sammamish and you can launch at Lake Sammamish State Park (so you will need a Discover Pass to park here as it’s a state park). Issaquah Paddle Sports is also located at Sammamish State Park and has rentals available.
Union Bay Natural Area
The Waterfront Activities Center (WAC) at the University of Washington has kayak rentals, and launches you straight into the Union Bay Natural Area. This is the perfect place to kayak if you’re more in the journey for what you’ll see rather than where you’ll go. The natural area is home to various birds from bald eagles to ducks. You can also paddle to the Washington Arboretum and make your way around the protected waterways there.
Alki Beach is part of what makes West Seattle one of the best neighborhoods in Seattle — this expansive stretch of seashore is sandy, has a walking trail with incredible views, and it also offers access to the Puget Sound. One perk of this side of town is that you can enjoy one of the best views of the Seattle skyline. Alki Kayak Tours located at 1660 Harbor Avenue SW offers both sea kayak rentals (you must be experienced in self rescue to rent) and guided kayak tours. Guided tours are a great way to not only get out on the water, but also learn some local history or see specific sights. For instance, you can join in on a tour to the Alki Lighthouse, around Elliott Bay, a sunset tour, moonlight tour, or even an overnight tour to Blake Island.
Ballard is uniquely perched on the shores of the Ship Canal, which creates an equally unique place to kayak. Watch the local boat traffic go by or even spot jumping salmon in the late summer and early fall. You can go it on your own, or rent or go on tour with Ballard Kayak, based at 7901 Seaview Avenue NW. Ballard Kayak offers a tour of the Ballard Locks (which might be a little intimidating to go through on your own if you haven’t done it before), as well as tours of the Puget Sound, Discovery Point and a sunset tour. Or if you’re ready to go out on your own, you can also rent single and double kayaks as well as stand up paddleboards.
Elliott Bay is the part of the Puget Sound that snuggles up next to Seattle, meaning it’s open water with some pretty major boat traffic. If you kayak here, you need to understand the general rules of boating and it probably wouldn’t hurt to look up where there might be ferries or other large boats passing through as shipping lanes pass through this area. Kayakers and paddlers must always yield to ferries and larger boats, for one. There may also be more currents to paddle against so this isn’t the place you want to go for your first time out on a kayak. However, that being said, few things compare to the wide-open scenery of Elliott Bay. Admire the Seattle skyline, the Olympics and Mount Rainier in the distance, and watch for sea life all around you. If you don’t have your own kayak, you can rent from the dock store at Elliott Bay Marina, located at 2601 W Marina Place.
South of Seattle in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park, Owen Beach is the perfect launch point whether you have your own kayak or need to rent. There are kayak rentals available right on the beach. From there, you’ll be out on the open water so you’ll need to be aware of boating traffic and there’s a ferry that leaves from nearby, or you can hug the shore. While there aren’t a lot of nooks and crannies to explore, you can follow the shoreline northwest of the beach and explore the hills and cliffs that lead up from the water, or go southeast and paddle past Anthony’s and toward the Vashon Island ferry dock.
Across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma, Gig Harbor has an enclosed harbor where you can rent from Gig Harbor Yachts Kayaks & SUP Rentals at 3419 Harborview Drive. The harbor is lovely to explore and you’ll pass sailboats and even the local Venetian gondola out and about. The Gig Harbor Lighthouse is on a tip of land at the entrance of the harbor to the south, and if you go past that, you’ll be out on open water in the Puget Sound.
Tug Boat Annie’s in Olympia
Even farther south of Seattle is Olympia, which has a unique place to launch a kayak adventure. Tugboat Annie’s at 2100 Westbay Drive is a restaurant where you can sit down and enjoy some tasty fish and chips, a burger, or even breakfast on the weekends. And then before or after that, you can rent kayaks right from the restaurant and head out onto the Budd Inlet, which provides a much quieter place to explore than most of the areas north where you’ll be up against ferries and shipping traffic or even just other recreational boats. The Budd Inlet does have other boats on it, but count on more serenity in general.