Fancy a spot of kayaking in Scotland? Excellent choice! With its rugged coastlines, temptingly-close islands and a mere 30,000 lochs to explore, Scotland is the perfect place to hone your paddling skills.
I’ve been a keen kayaker from a young age. This might surprise you, given that I’m not exactly the sporty type. I’m going to hold my dad accountable for this one. He used to take my brothers and I out in the local harbour, so we could paddle to nearby islands and ride the waves as ships passed by. My mum still winces as she remembers watching us from the kitchen window. I was barely big enough to see over the top of my lifejacket.
I’ve been lucky enough to kayak through some beautiful locations in my time. Australia’s eastern rivers. The French Alps. The Dalmatian Coast… No matter how far I travel, I never fail to be blown away by Scotland’s beauty. Luckily, many of Scotland’s best sights can be explored from the water too!
In this post I’m going to guide you through ten great places to go kayaking in Scotland. I’ll also be recommending some top organisations where you can rent a boat or take part in guided trips. I should probably through in some safety tips for good measure too!
With so many beautiful stretches of water to explore this list is by no means exhaustive. It should, however, give you a great starting point to your adventure on ‘yon bonny banks. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations, so don’t shy away from commenting with your favourite kayaking destinations. Until then, happy paddling!
Let’s start with a nice gentle one. With its smattering of islands and mountainous backdrops, Loch Lomond is a must-do when kayaking in Scotland. The picturesque hamlet of Balmaha is the perfect place to base yourself while in the area. As well as the loch itself, the town is primely placed as a stopping ground for walkers taking on the West Highland Way. There’s also the nearby peaks of Ben Lomond, Ben A’an and Conic Hill to climb, and the fabulous Oak Tree Inn, with its expansive beer garden and cosy fire-lit pub.
Renting a kayak or canoe in Balmaha couldn’t be easier. Just head along to the waterfront and you’ll quickly spot Loch Lomond Leisure, where prices start as low as £20 for an hour’s hire. Kayaking on an inland loch such as this is a great idea for children or beginners, as you can easily stick to the shallows, and there’s little tide to contend with.
You can also paddle out to the nearby islet of Inchcailloch, or the “Isle of The Old Woman”. There’s a gorgeous beach to explore on the far side, and you can even take a walk through to the woods to the spooky ruins of an ancient graveyard!
#2 Rackwick Burn, Hoy
Another fab choice for beginners (albeit much further off the beaten track) lies on the second largest of Orkney’s islands, Hoy. You’ll hear me bang on about the beauty of Hoy a lot on this blog, but it really is spectacular. Head along to Rackwick Bay and you’ll really experience the island at its very best. Its long, sweeping beach, towering cliffs and characterful stone bothy all add a little magic to the picture.
Kayaking in the sea here is definitely not wise. There are some serious rip tides leading straight into the Pentland firth! Just a little inland, however, you can safely travel the length of the Rackwich Burn as it sweeps through the valley towards the shore. The channel is wide enough for a couple of kayaks at a time, and snakes through the landscape, giving plenty of variety. If you’re lucky you might even spot the resident otters or golden eagles!
You’ll need to bring your own kayaks for this one – it’s as rugged as they come!
#3 Loch Morlich, Aviemore
A personal favourite amongst my family, Aviemore’s Loch Morlich is perfectly placed right in the heart of Scotland’s Highlands. Sheltered by the snowcapped Cairngorm mountains and surrounding forest, this loch is as much popular for its scenery as it is its watersports. It’s particularly popular with families drawn to its calm waters.
It’s super easy to book a kayak or lesson with Loch Morlich Watersports. They also rent out canoes, stand up paddleboards, fishing equipment and mountain bikes! Whatever your vessel of choice, this is a stunning part of the country to explore, and the town itself has excellent amenities if you’ve worked a bit of an appetite with all that upper body work!
#4 Loch Shiel
Eagle-eyed Harry Potter fans might recognise this one! This 17 mile freshwater loch, a short distance from Fort William, is rumoured to have doubled up as the secret filming location of Hogwarts’ Black Lake. It would certainly make sense, given that the Glenfinnan Viaduct – also used in the films – is only a short distance away!
If its literary connections don’t cast a spell on the view certainly will, which makes it one of the top places for kayaking in Scotland. The brilliant Rockhopper even offer a shuttle service, where they can help you launch and then pick you up at your final destination, if you fancy heading a little further upstream towards Moidart.
For more of a challenge…
The isle of Arran is often described as ‘Scotland in miniature’ and it’s easy to see why! At just over 400 square kilometres, the 7th biggest of Scotland’s islands is a haven for outdoors enthusiasts. With its dramatic mountains, ever-changing coastlines and colourful forests, it’s a treasure trove to explore.
Fancy a seal’s eye view? Book yourself onto a day trip with the fantastic Kayak Arran.
#6 East Neuk, Fife
Fife’s East Neuk is fast becoming one of my favourite places to explore in Scotland – not least because it’s only a short drive away from Edinburgh! There are countless gorgeous towns to explore in the area, from the academically-renowned St Andrews to the quaint fishing village of Crail. In my view, they look even better from the water.
East Neuk Outdoors are based in the popular town of Anstruther, and offer kayaking and canoeing activities for all ages and abilities. For a gentler experience, you might want to try out the enclosed tidal pool. For a more challenging session, head out on a guided sea trip into the Firth of Forth.
#7 Applecross to the Crowlin Islands
The Crowlin Islands are a group of uninhabited islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. They lie between the Isle of Skye and the Applecross peninsula on the North West mainland. The islands were occupied until 1920 by a group of families evicted from Applecross. The remnants of their dwellings still stand to this day, and make for a curious day trip from the already beautiful village of Applecross.
Although you can explore this route on your own, I’d highly recommend going with Mountain and Sea Guides, who are based in Applecross. They offer fantastic kayaking holidays, which help guide you through the basics of sea kayaking. They’ll also lead you through some of the most beautiful and undiscovered coastal landscapes Scotland has to offer. You’re likely to meet plenty of seals on this route too!
#8 Loch Moidart
Another sea loch worth exploring is the beautiful yet slightly eerie Loch Moidart, home to the ruins of Castle Tioram. Again, with sea currents beginning to make themselves known, I would go with an expedition company for this one. Rockhopper offer fantastic half and full day tours, where you can island-hop all the way into Loch Ailort, passing Eigg, Muck and Rum along the way.
For the experienced and brave!
#9 The Sound of Arisaig
The Sound of Arisaig Lochaber is a stretch of water on in the North West Highlands. It separates the Arisaig peninsula to the north from the Moidart peninsula to the south. This is one of the most beautiful places to go kayaking in Scotland. It’s incredibly popular with seasoned water sports enthusiasts, looking to explore the network of islands and different challenges offered by the sea lochs.
It’s possible to explore the Sound as part of a half or full day trip with Rockhopper. If you’re looking for an unforgettable life experience however, you might want to consider a kayaking holiday with the Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre. Their 3-5 day experiences range up to £645 in price, but are worth every penny for the opportunity to hone your skills while exploring this beautiful winding coastline.
#10 River Etive
Beautiful though the area may be, with the dramatic Glen Etive looking on, this route is for experienced kayakers only. In places, it’s more of a white-water rafting experience, with sudden drops, rocky breakaways and fast-flowing currents to navigate. This one should only be tackled after some serious training, and with an accredited guide. Explore Highland offer lessons specifically in white water kayaking, and would be a great place to start! And for goodness sake – let someone know where you’re going, and when you’re due back!
And there you have it. Ten fantastic places to get to grips with kayaking in Scotland. Wherever your launch point, make sure to follow sensible precautions so that you can stay safe on the water. Check out this handy guide published by the RNLI for more information on how to keep your paddling adventure above board, so to speak!