Canoeing In Scotland: Where To Go & What To Know

With vast wilderness spaces and accessible waterways, Canoeing in Scotland is certainly one of the best options of trips in the UK for outdoor enthusiasts.
Scotland boasts thousands of lochs, waterways, rivers, and coastal stretches. You even have the option to canoe across Scotland via multi-day trips (like those offered by Skyhook) that incorporate wild camping on the Scottish lochs.
Those with limited time can enjoy the stunning natural locations with a day trip out on the water. Whatever way you do it, canoeing in Scotland is always a rewarding experience. 
This guide will explore everything you need to know about canoeing in Scotland - including the best destinations and essential tips for your canoeing trip.

Where Can I Canoe in Scotland?

canoe scotland
Scottish lochs offer wide open spaces to explore.
Struggling to decide where to canoe in Scotland? With so many options available, deciding on the best places to canoe in Scotland can be a tricky decision.
Scotland offers a diverse and picturesque landscape for canoeing enthusiasts, catering to a wide range of preferences and skill levels.
Nothing says outdoor adventure quite like exploring the numerous lochs scattered across the country. Lochs, or Scottish lakes, are known for their serene beauty and tranquillity, providing paddlers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the stunning highland scenery.
Rivers in Scotland are another fantastic choice for canoeing, offering a mix of calm sections for beginners and more challenging, fast-flowing waters for experienced paddlers. These river journeys can take you through lush green valleys and scenic landscapes, providing a dynamic and thrilling adventure.
For those seeking coastal kayaking adventures, Scotland's rugged coastline provides numerous opportunities. Paddling along the dramatic shores, you can explore sea caves, and cliffs, and encounter diverse marine life. 
Additionally, Scotland's many islands, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides, offer a unique experience for kayakers. Island-hopping and exploring the pristine beaches and coastal waters of these remote islands add a sense of exploration and adventure to your canoeing trips in Scotland. 
Whether you prefer the calmness of lochs, the flow of rivers, the excitement of coastal kayaking, or the isolation of island exploration, Scotland's varied landscapes have something to offer every canoeing enthusiast.

Best Kayak Routes Scotland

From lochs to rivers, fast rapids to peaceful paddling, canoeing in Scotland really has it all. Here are some of the best canoe routes Scotland has to offer.

Great Glen Canoe Trail

caledonian canal
The Caledonian Canal on the Great Glen Way.
Stretching approximately 60 miles, the Great Glen Canoe Trail is an iconic Scottish paddle journey. If you’re after the best rivers to kayak in Scotland, then you’ll certainly want to check out this route.
Traversing the historic Caledonian Canal, it connects the coastal town of Fort William in the west to the bustling city of Inverness in the east. 
A defining highlight of this route is the opportunity to glide across the famous Loch Ness, shrouded in myth and legend. While skimming the waters of the Great Glen, kayakers are treated to breathtaking vistas of the rugged Scottish Highlands, characterized by majestic mountains and tranquil lochs. 
With its seamless blend of history and natural grandeur, the Great Glen Canoe Trail is an unmissable experience for those who seek kayaking adventures.

River Tay

River tay scotland
Waterfront homes on the River Tay.
Meandering its way through Scotland's picturesque landscapes, the River Tay, Scotland's longest river, offers an array of experiences for kayakers. 
With its numerous faces, the Tay caters to both novice and seasoned paddlers. Choose to navigate the calm and serene sections, providing a leisurely glide along the riverbanks, or take on the more spirited whitewater stretches, affording the thrill-seekers a heart-pounding adventure. 
The river winds through the Scottish heartland, making it a kayaking haven, teeming with exploration opportunities for all. It’s a versatile and always rewarding destination for canoeing in Scotland.

West Coast Sea Kayaking

seal scotland west coast
Seals are often spotted on the West Coast of Scotland.
The western coast of Scotland, encompassing regions like Argyll and the Isles, is a treasure trove for sea kayaking enthusiasts. 
This enchanting area offers an exceptional sea kayaking experience, characterized by dramatic landscapes and a diverse array of marine life. Glide along the rugged coastline, weave through breathtaking sea caves, and drink in the mesmerising beauty of the Hebrides. 
The crystal-clear waters, towering cliffs, and rich marine biodiversity transform sea kayaking here into an unforgettable adventure for those who seek to be enthralled by the untamed beauty of Scotland's coastline.

Loch Awe

loch awe scotland castle
Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe
When you think about canoeing in Scotland, lochs are often the first things that come to mind. Well, if you’re interested in loch kayaking in Scotland, then this is one of the absolute best places to do it.
Situated in the heart of Argyll and Bute, Loch Awe reigns as one of Scotland's most enchanting freshwater lochs. Paddling on the serene waters of Loch Awe offers kayakers a unique blend of tranquillity and natural splendour. 
The loch is nestled amidst lush forests, offering paddlers the opportunity to commune with nature. Keep your eyes peeled for the regal ospreys that frequently grace the sky. 

Isle of Skye

Neist  point
Neist Point, Isle of Skye
Off the northwest coast, the Isle of Skye stands as a beacon for sea kayaking enthusiasts. 
Paddling around this captivating island and exploring its neighbouring islets provides an ultimate coastal adventure. The Isle of Skye boasts dramatic cliffs, crystal-clear waters, and a thriving marine ecosystem, inviting kayakers to engage with the untamed beauty of the ocean. 
Sea kayaking here provides an opportunity for unforgettable wildlife encounters and the exploration of secluded, rugged coastlines.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can combine canoeing on the Isle of Skye with wild camping, as this island boasts some of the best camping spots in Scotland.

River Spey

canoe river spey
Calm sections along Scotland's waterways are ideal for relaxing canoe outings.
The River Spey, celebrated for its gentle and meandering waters, is a serene haven for kayakers. 
It's a perfect destination for leisurely canoe or kayak trips, where you can immerse yourself in the tranquil surroundings.
Joining a canoe on the River Spey trip allows you to connect with the enchanting Scottish countryside and, if you're inclined, you can visit some of Scotland's renowned whisky distilleries that line the riverbanks. This is a truly original destination for canoeing in Scotland.

River Dee

river dee
A densely forested stretch of the River Dee.
Flowing through the magnificent Cairngorms National Park, the River Dee offers another enchanting kayaking opportunity. 
The river weaves its way through breathtaking landscapes, with the choice between gentle sections, ideal for novice paddlers, and the more challenging rapids that beckon the adrenaline junkies. 
The River Dee presents a symphony of Scottish natural beauty, where paddlers can experience the thrill of whitewater rapids amid the grandeur of the Highlands.

Loch Tay

Nestled in the heart of Scotland, Loch Tay is a tranquil freshwater loch bordered by imposing mountains. 
Kayaking on Loch Tay is a gentle and scenic experience, with kayakers gliding through its picturesque bays and having the opportunity to explore historical sites and charming villages dotting the shoreline. 
Loch Tay's tranquil waters and majestic surroundings make it an idyllic choice for a peaceful and rejuvenating paddling experience. This is also an ideal destination for loch camping in Scotland.

North Coast 500

For the ambitious kayaker seeking an epic journey, the North Coast 500 (NC500) route is an incredible option. Of all the places to go canoeing in Scotland, this route stands out as being truly epic.
This renowned scenic drive circles the northern Highlands, and along the way, it presents numerous opportunities for sea kayaking. 
Paddle across sea lochs, explore rugged coastlines, and immerse yourself in the untamed wilderness of Scotland's northern landscapes. The North Coast 500 is the ultimate adventure for those who seek to traverse Scotland's remote and captivating coastal areas.

River Nith

Located in southern Scotland, the River Nith offers an enchanting kayaking experience.
This river is a lesser explored paddling destination of Scotland. If you choose to kayak or canoe here, it is usually very peaceful. The approximately 10 miles of river between Thornhill and Auldgirth meanders through beautiful wooded countryside
The River Nith estuary is an important breeding ground for waterfowl and supports almost all the existing population of barnacle geese over the cold months.

Tips for Canoeing in Scotland

Scotland
Proper preparation is important for any Scotland Canoe trip.
Canoeing in Scotland is a magnificent experience for anyone visiting the country. However, you must be well-prepared for your canoeing adventure. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

Check the Weather

Scotland's weather can be unpredictable, so always check the forecast before your trip. Be prepared for rain, wind, and rapid changes in weather.
Dress in layers and pack waterproof clothing to stay warm and dry. Even if you’re paddling in the middle of summer, being prepared for wet, cold, and rainy conditions is always a good idea.

Understand Tides and Currents

If you're planning coastal kayaking or river trips, be aware of tidal patterns and strong currents, especially in areas like the Scottish islands. Plan your paddling times to work with the tides, not against them.

Map and Navigation

Carry detailed maps, charts, and a GPS device if possible. Scotland's waterways can be complex, so having navigation tools is essential for safety and to avoid getting lost.
Remember that many of the far-out canoeing destinations do not have any signal, so bear this in mind when planning your trip.

Safety Equipment

canoe scotland
Life jackets are important safety-wear while on the water.
Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket. Additionally, carry essential safety equipment like a whistle, a first-aid kit, and a throw rope for water rescues.

Permissions and Regulations

Check if you need permits or permission to access specific waterways or launch sites, as regulations can vary. Respect local guidelines and wildlife protection areas.
Yes, Scotland’s right-to-roam camping laws do mean everyone can access the great outdoors. However, certain regions and rivers might have their regulations, so always check this before you go. 

Wildlife and Environment

Scotland is home to a variety of wildlife, from seals to otters and eagles. Keep a respectful distance and do not disturb the animals. Follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.

Emergency Plan

Always inform someone about your trip plans, including your expected return time. In case of an emergency, they will know your whereabouts and when to alert authorities.
Keep a list of emergency contacts, including the Coastguard and local authorities, handy in case you need assistance.

Skill Level

guided canoe trip
If you are not confident in your canoeing skills, a guided trip is the way to go.
Choose a route that matches your skill level. Scotland offers options for both beginners and experienced paddlers, so assess your abilities honestly and select a suitable location.
If you’re unsure about what you can manage, then it’s best to book a guided canoe tour in Scotland.

Equipment and Gear

Ensure your canoe or kayak is in good condition. Carry essential equipment like paddles, a bilge pump, a repair kit, and dry bags to protect your gear.
Again, booking a guided canoeing trip means you get access to quality equipment that you don't have to lug around and travel with.

Camping and Accommodation

camping on the North Coast 500
You can find some epic spots for wild camping on Scotlands coast.
If planning multi-day trips, research camping options and accommodations in advance. Summer camping in Scotland is always one of the best ways to experience the country for outdoor enthusiasts, so consider bringing along your camping gear!

Food and Water

Stock up on food and fresh water supplies for longer journeys, as you may not have access to stores or potable water sources along the way.

Leave No Trace

Practice responsible outdoor ethics by carrying out all your waste and litter. Leave the environment as you found it to preserve Scotland's natural beauty.

Conclusion

Scotland's kayaking diversity caters to a wide range of tastes, skill levels, and adventure preferences. Whether you're drawn to the serenity of lochs, the adrenaline of whitewater rivers, the fascination of coastal exploration, or the desire to soak in Scotland's unique cultural and natural heritage, you'll find a kayaking experience that resonates with your spirit. 
By being well-prepared and adhering to these guidelines, you can make the most of your canoeing adventure in Scotland while ensuring your safety and respecting the environment and local communities. 
What are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the spectacular landscapes and diverse waterways that Scotland has to offer!