Paddleboarders at Lake Tahoe

Although it has been practiced for many years—from its Polynesian surfing origins to a form of longboard conditioning when waves were down for big-wave surfers like Laird Hamilton—paddleboarding has really gained in popularity in the past several years. Indeed, the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 Outdoor Participation Report reports the number of Americans ages six and up who’ve enjoyed paddleboarding—also known as stand-up paddling, or SUP—doubled from 1.5 million in 2012 to over 3.2 million annual participants in 2016.

Why the dramatic increase? Well, the health benefits are obvious, from the intensity of the SUP calorie burn to the pleasure it brings as a group activity for participants of varying skills and ages. Other workout gains paddleboarders can enjoy include improved balance, core and strength conditioning and stress relief.

Better yet, and this perhaps best explains paddleboarding’s ever-growing popularity, is the sport’s accessibility. Practiced on lakes, oceans, rivers and wherever else you can float a board, you don’t need waves or the right wind conditions to get you out on the water.

Don’t have the right equipment? No problem, you can rent before you buy from any number of resorts or local outfitters, or even buy your own inflatable stand-up paddleboard for less money than a hardboard that you can both stow away and transport more easily.

Talking of travel, paddleboarding opens up new places to explore that go beyond those you can reach just on foot or by bike or vehicle. One of the best ways to experience your surroundings is by admiring them from the water, where you will see more of the landscape without being impeded by trees, slopes or other obstacles.

Got an inflatable board? Then pack it in on your next backcountry hike to take in the sights from a new vantage point on the nearest lake, stream or ocean cove.

To get you inspired for your next SUP  adventure, here are my picks for the best paddleboarding destinations in the U.S. Chances are you may even be close to one of them—or if you aren’t and have your own local favorite spot to share, please let us know in the comments section below!

paddleboarder with dog on Lake Tahoe
At 191 square miles and a maximum depth of 1,645 feet, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the U.S. For surface paddlers, the islands, beaches and hidden coves are a joy to explore. (Shutterstock)

#1 Lake Tahoe, California

With its crystal-clear waters and encircling backdrop of snow-covered mountains, how could you not want to paddle here? You can see anything from huge granite boulders to little fish swimming about—even better if you are a fisherman as you can actually spot the fish you hope to catch!

image of Colorado River and Black Canyon in Nevada
The Black Canyon Water Trail, flowing down the Lower Colorado River beneath Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, is the first National Water Trail in the Southwest and the first to flow through a desert. The 30-mile course is popular with kayakers and paddleboarders. (Shutterstock)

#2 Black Canyon, Nevada

Paddling under sun-kissed skies surrounded by caves and an ancient canyon stretching 12 miles down the Colorado River, the Black Canyon has long been a kayaking hot spot thanks to its flat water. Well, now you can add paddleboarding to that list!

image of island in the Florida Keys
From open water to mangrove swamps where Caribbean rum-runners once hid their illegal stashes, the Florida Keys are perfect for paddlers. (Shutterstock)

#3 Florida Keys, Florida

The most tropical destination on this list, the Florida Keys comprise over 800 islands strung along the archipelago that intersects the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Here you can paddle a wide array of different landscapes including flooded mangroves and tidal creeks, paddling over a diverse array of species like octopus, manta rays, barracuda as well as small sharks and even giant mammals such as manatees.

SUP paddleboarder at Alki Beach near Seattle, Washington
SUP paddleboarder at Alki Beach in the Puget Sound, Washington (Shutterstock.com)

#4 Seattle, Washington

An outdoor-obsessed town even amidst all that rain, Seattle gives you a wide berth of different landscapes to explore, from scattered lakes to coastal waterfront paddling. Some popular destinations include Lake Washington, Elliot Bay, Alki Beach and, of course, the ever-popular Lake Union where you can paddle right by the Space Needle.

image of sea caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Sea kayaks and paddleboards are both great ways to discover the many quiet coves and unique sea caves throughout Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, located toward the northern tip of Wisconsin. (courtesy, National Park Service)

#5 Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, Wisconsin

I may be a tad biased given my Great Lakes background, but I sincerely believe that Lake Superior is one of the best places in the U.S. for paddleboarding. The 21-island archipelago that forms Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is one of the best places to start discovering this diverse marine habitat, with scenery and sights that range from sandy beaches, picturesque lighthouses, shipwrecks as well the seasonal colors of the surrounding forests.

Bonus: Other great paddleboarding destinations in the U.S.

  • Coronado Island, California
  • San Francisco, California
  • Redondo Beach, California
  • Hood River, Oregon
  • Clear Lake, Houston
  • Manhattan, New York
  • Arkansas River, Colorado

image of Derek Lenze on paddleboardDerek Lenze is an avid fisherman and floating enthusiast who hails from White Rock, British Columbia. He is originally from Ontario, where he spent many a summer learning to cast a line. Some of his fondest memories as a kid were looking for that elusive northern pike in lakes scattered across Ontario and Quebec. While he does not get as much of a chance to fish these days, he still brings his trusty rod and tackle box anytime he travels to Shuswap Lake. Derek can be found in his spare time tinkering with his kayaks and inflatable paddleboard anytime he gets a chance. Lately he can be found working on his website, FloatingAuthority.com, where you can find reviews for fishing gear, kayaks, paddleboards and anything that floats!

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  • Show Comments

  • John F. Miller

    A flat bottom recreational kayak can be very easy to paddle even for a beginner, especially on calm waters. Kayaking is generally regarded as being moderately hard considering the amount of arm and shoulder strength that goes into paddling to propel the kayak forward more info

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