Paddling Our National Shores

Best Places Along our National Seashores and Lakeshores
Pictured Rocks National Seashore
Peaceful waters at Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Paddlers with a few miles in their wake know there are some landscapes best appreciated from the water. Wave sculptured bedrock, sand barrier beaches, swamp bayous, extensive deltas, collections of islands—all these are well suited to boat travel.

Peaceful waters at Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Of course, it goes without saying that canoes or kayaks are the best boats to hop into for the exploration. Over the years, the National Park Service has also recognized a big handful of places that are outstanding precisely because of the nature of their shorelines: miles of beach, rugged headlands, extensive wetland habitat, wave-eroded sea caves, historic significance, or spectacular scenery.

Fourteen sites have been designated as either National Seashores or National Lakeshores in the lower 48 states. Geographically, they are weighted heavily toward the East Coast and Midwest. The only two seashores west of the Mississippi are Padre Island, Texas, and Point Reyes, California. All four National Lakeshores are clustered in two of the Great Lakes—Superior and Michigan.

Most of the"shores" offer some paddling appeal, and a number are organized to accommodate paddling forays, with developed boat launches, waterside campsites, good maps, and boating literature. In many cases, the areas nearby and surrounding the parks are a continuation of the same quality of shoreline, and paddlers can often extend or vary their journeys by exploring adjacent country. Park personnel can point you toward other good paddling water in the region or to outfitters with rental gear, guided tours, and more detailed information.

Surprisingly, a number of these parks are not well suited for paddlers. This doesn't mean that boating isn't possible, but don't assume that, simply because a park has been developed to extol its shoreline, it will be paddler-friendly.

That aside, there's a bucketful of terrific paddling to be had at our national seashores and lakeshores. Stay tuned for some of my favorite destinations …


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