Kayaking, Canoeing & Rafting

Canoeing & Kayaking in Scotland | The Best Places for Whitewater Kayaking, Cruisey Canoeing & Sea Kayaking

From canoeing the Caledonian canal to running the Grandtully Rapids, it's all here

Kayaking in Scotland on Loch Earn, Perthshire. Photo: iStock

The kayaking and canoeing in Scotland is some of the best in the UK. The country boasts some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery, with large wilderness areas and lots of National Parks. It’s also home to several major rivers and some of Britain’s best rapids, making it one of the best places to go whitewater kayaking – or indeed whitewater rafting – in the UK.

The highlands are especially great for whitewater enthusiasts, providing rapids of all grades and some exhilarating waterfall drops.

If you enjoy being out at sea, there are great sea kayaking expeditions off the West Coast and in the Hebrides.

Needless to say Scotland is also famous for its jaw-droppingly stunning lochs, which boast views of impressive castles and the tallest mountains in the UK. So as a beginner kayaker or canoeist you can have fun just cruising and lapping up the scenery.

If exploring Caledonia from the water tickles your fancy, check out this guide to kayaking and canoeing in Scotland.

Kayaking & Canoeing in Scotland: Lochs & Rivers

1) Loch Lochy

Cutting right across the country from Inverness to Fort William, the Caledonian Canal is one of the most well-known waterways in Scotland. At approximately 60 miles long the entire thing might be a stretch for beginner kayakers but if you dip in and out there’s plenty to see.

The canal passes through “The Great Glen” taking in a lot of individual lochs along the way including Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour. As well as being great for canoeing, it’s a popular attraction for all kinds of tourism, fuelled by 22 miles of scenic mountain views, wildlife and of course, monster legends.

Loch Lochy, a great place for a scenic canoe trip in Scotland.. Photo: iStock

If paddling the full 60 mile length sounds too overwhelming to you, we recommend you aim for Loch Lochy (16km southwest of Loch Ness). Its fjord-like feel and the surrounding mountains make it a stunning place to go for a paddle whatever level you are.

The loch also has an interesting history. It was the location of the 1544 Battle of Shirts (named after the fact that the two rival clans duking it out took off their plaids and fought in their shirts because it was such a hot day) and is also said to be visited by a ghostly horse who emerges from the river to feed from the banks and entice mares into the depths. He also has a habit of overturning boats while he’s at it, so proceed with caution!

You can hire kayaks, canoes and guides from Great Glen Canoe Hire (

2) Loch Lomond

It’s little wonder that songs have been written about the stunning Loch Lomond. Canoeing round it is a great place to see one of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes. Photo: iStock

The ‘bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond’ (as the folk song has it) are on the Highland Boundary Fault. Part of the Trossachs National Park, the first national park established by the Scottish government, it features woodland valleys known as the Trossachs and beautiful ranges of hills.

The water is calm and there is a string of around 30 islands to explore, including Inchmurrin which is the largest island in a freshwater lake in the British Isles.

You can hire canoes and kayaks from the Balmaha House (

3) Loch Shiel

Loch Shiel in Scotland is a great place for kayaking and canoeing. Photo: iStock

Harry Potter fans (Potterheads? Potheads?) will relish the chance to get canoeing on Loch Shiel. The instantly-recognisable lake is used as a backdrop in the Harry Potter films when the Hogwarts Express makes its way along the nearby railway.

Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the magical setting – paddle out and you’ll find mountains and the historic ruins of castles. The water is calm and is suitable for beginners accompanied by instructors and family trips.

You can hire kayaks and guides from Rock Hopper Sea Kayaking (

4) Loch Morlich

Morlich, Scotland

Loch Morlich sits in the Caingorms National Park just outside Aviemore, a town that’s something of an action sports Mecca. Looking up from the water you can see the Cairngorm Mountain ski area – the UK’s largest – and the mountains are frequently capped with snow even outside of the skiing season.

As well as the stunning surroundings, the loch boasts sandy beaches and a lovely sheltered camping and caravan site if you want to stay over.

You can hire kayaks and book lessons from Loch Morlich Watersports (

Kayaking & Canoeing in Scotland: Sea Kayaking

1) Loch Moidart

Castle Tioram is just one of the gems you can see when kayaking on Loch Miodart. Photo:

This sea loch (ie. one that’s open to the sea), is one of the many gems of Scotland’s West Coast and is ideal for exploring by sea kayak. The stunning ruins of Castle Tioram sit on the shores of the lake and while you can’t actually explore them (there are signs warning of the danger of falling masonry) just looking at the exterior will leave you open mouthed.

There’s also the Isle of Shona to explore and there’s an abundance of wildlife to see too – keep your eyes peeled for seals! As with all sea kayaking, you’ll need to be aware of the tides so unless you’re experienced, you may well want to hire a guide.

You can hire kayaks and guides from Rock Hopper Sea Kayaking (

2) Arisaig

Camusdarach Beach, near Arisaig in the north west of Scotland is one of the stunning locations you can reach by sea kayak

The West Coast around Arisaig, just south of the Isle of Skye, is stunning and a great place to go exploring by sea kayak. The well-established Arisaig Sea Kayaking Centre can organise guided itineraries for half days, full days, or even multi-day excursions.

Their guided day trip to the Isle of Skye is a popular one. If you’re more experienced, they’ll also rent you kayaks and let you head off on your own to explore the coastline by yourself.

You can hire kayaks and guides from Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre (

3) Isle of Skye

Neist point lighthouse on cloudy day, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

It’s not hard to see why the Isle of Skye is one of the most celebrated – and popular – holiday destinations on the West Coast of Scotland. Its mountains are incredible and the rugged cliffs and coves of the coastline are no less breath taking.

A sea kayak is an excellent way to explore the area, giving you access to secret beaches and incredible views. If you’re lucky you may well encounter otters, seals, dolphins and even whales! Minke whales are common visitors but humpbacks, fin whales and even sperm whales have been spotted on occasion.

You can hire kayaks and guides from Skyak Adventures (

Kayaking & Canoeing in Scotland: Whitewater Kayaking

1) The River Tay

The River Tay, Scotland

Scotland’s longest river, the River Tay, offers plenty of scope for canoeing and kayaking but if its proper white water you’re after, head for Grandtully. The place takes its name from the gaelic term “garan tullach” or “rough mound” – and it’s certainly rough.

The Grandtully rapids include the “boat breaker” and are some of the trickiest on the River Tay (they’re rated at grade 3 out of 5) so you want to have a reasonable amount of experience under your belt before heading there.

You can rent kayaks from Canoe Hire Scotland and even have them delivered (

2) River Etive

River Etive, Scotland

Stemming from the peak of the Rannoch Moor, the River Etive was used as a Hollywood backdrop for Skyfall, and while you don’t have to be James Bond himself to tackle the river, a reasonable amount of experience is probably a good idea.

This river is one of the most challenging whitewater runs in Scotland with grade 4 rapids and several waterfall drops. If you’ve got what it takes though, it’s a lot of fun!

You can rent kayaks from Canoe Hire Scotland and even have them delivered (

3) River Findhorn

River Findhorn, Scotland

Rated between grades 2 and 4, the rapids on the River Findhorn near Inverness are interspersed with gentler stretches so you can catch your breath between moments of white-knuckle excitement.

The scenery round here – as in so much of Scotland – is absolutely stunning too. Ace Adventures offer guided tours on the river in kayaks or “funyaks” – inflatable kayaks also known as duckies – that are suitable for beginners.

You can book tours and rent kayaks from Ace Adventures (

You may also like:

Everything You Need to Know About Kayaking | A Beginner’s Guide

Canoeing & Kayaking in the UK | 7 of the Best Places to Paddle in Britain

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