Places to Kayak in Ohio

Welcome to the Buckeye State, the Birthplace of Aviation, the Mother of Presidents, and, of course, home to some of the best kayaking spots in the country!

People flock to Ohio from all around the U.S. because of just how much water there is available: over 3,000 named creeks and rivers, 60,000 lakes and reservoirs, and Lake Erie, one of the country’s largest lakes.

With all this water, Ohio is a dream destination where you’ll be absolutely spoiled for choices.

If you plan on kayaking in Ohio, you’ve come to the right place! In this post, we’ll talk about all the best kayaking spots, places to find great kayaking tours in Ohio, and the laws of the state you need to know before heading out on the water.

Read through to the end to find out everything you need to know about how to make the most of your next trip to kayak in Ohio!

15 Best Places to Go Kayaking in Ohio

1. Lake Erie

Lake Erie

It’s safe to say that this Great Lake is one of the most popular spots for kayaking in Ohio. Given its size, you’ll find there are plenty of options depending on how you want to kayak: relaxing, calm paddling near the shore, open-water kayaking across the lake, or even paddling around Kelley’s Island and seeing all the wildlife that makes it their home.

Be warned: the lake is large enough that it will have its own waves, which can grow fierce when the wind is up. The weather and water conditions can shift quickly and turn from pleasant to perilous in a matter of minutes. Beginners would do well to stick near the shore, and keep the expansive waters for more experienced kayakers.

2. Paint Creek Lake

Paint Creek Lake is one of the best angling spots for kayakers who are visiting the Ohio city of Columbus. It’s just a short drive south of the city, but you’ll find that once you’re in the Paint Creek State Park, you’ll be far removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life. It’s a truly amazing getaway from a fast-paced work trip or family vacation!

The lake does allow motorized vehicles, so be aware that you’re sharing the water. However, if you want a quieter paddle, head up Paint Creek and explore the shallower, narrower waterway for a bit of adventurous fun. Or, head to the western side of Paint Creek Lake to find Rattlesnake Creek, another small waterway where you can spend a quiet day relaxing, fishing, and paddling away from motor boats. 

3. Little Miami River

Little Miami River
Image: Great Parks

If you’re planning a multi-day trip, give the Little Miami River a try! It starts near Cincinnati and runs for 111 miles through five different counties. With such a long trail, you’ve got days and days to spend out exploring one of Ohio’s most beautiful waterways. You’ll find there are plenty of spots along the way to make camp, or to pull out if you’ve had enough paddling for one trip.

The river is beginner-friendly and home to some truly spectacular views, both of natural landscapes and wildlife. If you’re visiting Southwestern Ohio, it’s a place you’ll definitely want to visit. Even if you just want to paddle for a few miles/hours, there are enough put-in/pull-out spots that you’ll have no trouble planning a shorter trip.

4. Vermillion-Lorain Water Trail

Looking to tackle some easier rapids? Come on down to the Vermillion-Lorain Water Trail! It’s one of the 10 waterways designated a water trail by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and is beautifully well-preserved. There’s plenty along the 27-mile trail for newbies to explore, but be aware that the waterway is geared toward more experienced kayakers.

That’s because the trail is classified as Class I+ and Class II waterway (depending on water levels/weather conditions). There will be some rocks, rapids with regular waves, the occasional ledge, and medium-quick water. It’s a great place for first-time whitewater paddlers to try their hand at a challenge, and for intermediate-level kayakers to practice new skills before tackling one of the state’s more difficult waterways. 

5. Ohio River

Ohio River and bridge at night

If you’re in Ohio, you kind of have to paddle its namesake river! (Consider it a rite of passage for out-of-state kayakers.) As one of the longest water trails in the country, it has endless wonders to explore. Best of all, the river is gentle enough that even newbies will have no trouble paddling its waters. You’ll share the water with motorized boats, but the river’s breadth allows you plenty of space to avoid collisions by staying nearer the shore.

There is so much flora and fauna to see along the river, so bird-watchers, anglers, and wildlife-spotters will be absolutely ecstatic every hour they spend paddling this waterway. For those who prefer to stay nearer the city, you’ll be glad to know the Ohio River cuts through downtown Louisville. You can enjoy paddling through the city center and basking in the late-afternoon and sunset glow—a truly memorable experience! Just be aware that when the water levels are high after heavy rains, the river can be a bit rough and unpredictable.

6. Scioto River

The Scioto River in downtown Columbus
Image: Wikipedia

If you’ve come to Ohio for a bit of paddling and camping, the Scioto River has exactly what you need. There are plenty of campgrounds along the river’s 231-mile length, places you can stop at the end of a long day of paddling to pitch your tent and spend a night under the stars. Come sunrise, hop back into your kayak and keep paddling downstream. Whether you’re doing an overnight trip or a week-long expedition, the river has a lot to offer.

The river also flows through the city of Columbus, letting you get in and out of the water without ever having to drive out of town. You’ll love taking in the cityscape and skyline, and the river is gentle enough that even first-time paddlers will have no problem handling their ‘yaks. Prepare for a paddling experience you’ll remember for a lifetime!

7. Hocking River

Hocking River and  Rockbridge

The Hocking River is the perfect spot to come with the whole family. It’s calm, gentle, and slow-paced, with just enough currents that you and your kids can practice your beginner and intermediate-level paddling skills. However, you’ll never be in any real danger while out on the water, and even if your kids have never stepped foot into a kayak before, they’ll enjoy their visit to the river.

There are also plenty of campgrounds where you can stop to pitch your tent, even a few unofficial camping spots along the river’s length. Hiking enthusiasts will be excited to get out of the water and explore some well-known trails, especially the one leading to the breathtaking Rockbridge, a stone arch that stands 10-20 feet wide and spans 100 feet long, including 50 feet across a steep ravine. Now that’s an adventure!

8. Lake Vesuvius

Lake Vesuvius is located a couple hours south of Columbus, just close enough to the city that you can make it a day-trip. The lake spans an impressive 143 acres, offering plenty of space for you and your fellow paddlers to spend time alone out on the water, casting your line or just enjoying the bright sunshine and warm breezes. 

Lake Vesuvius
Image: Ohio Climbers Coalition

You’ll be glad to know there’s a ban on motorized vessels on this lake, so only boats with electric trolling motors will be permitted on the waters. This means the lake will be calm and quiet, with no currents or wakes to worry about. Beginners will find this a great place to practice new skills or take their first paddling trips. With access to campgrounds, picnic areas, a beach, boat ramp, and (very important) bathrooms, it’s a family-friendly destination for sure. 

9. Hinckley Lake

Hinckley Lake

Bird-watching kayakers, get ready for an experience like no other. Hinckley Lake is home to buzzard roasts (also known as turkey vultures) during the spring months, and it’s a great place to spot these large birds in their natural habitat. You can even join in the spring-time festival celebrating the birds as they return from their winter roosts. 

Of course, even if you’re not a bird-watcher, you can still enjoy the lake. There’s plenty of fish in the water to make it worth the trek, and the water is calm and serene, great for families and newbies alike. Hikers will love exploring the trails around the lake, and climbers will find the surrounding mountains a challenge worth tackling. Best of all, the 90-acre lake is more than large enough to accommodate all the kayakers, canoers, and boaters who come here, so you’ll never have to worry about crowding or collisions.

10. Maumee River

The Maumee River makes for another excellent multi-day paddling trip, one that you can start on the border with Indiana but end in the city of Toledo. There are up to 39 access points along the 107-mile water trail, giving you plenty of spots to put in and take out if you want to extend or shorten your kayaking trip.

Maumee River
Image: Wikipedia

The entire length of the water trail is fully navigable (except when the water level is very low), so you can enjoy a long-distance trip paddling down this beginner-friendly river. Along the way, you’ll have access to campgrounds in two state parks, the perfect places to rest after a long day of paddling. Pay close attention to the section between Antwerp and Defiance—it’s rated as the “scenic” section of the river. Finally, at the end of the trip, you’ll flow out into Lake Erie (near Toledo) for a final day of exploring the Great Lake. 

11. Big Darby Creek

For wildlife lovers, you’ll get few chances to experience biodiversity like you can when paddling Big Darby Creek. Countless bird species make their homes in the trees and bushes along the river banks, and you’ll have a blast spotting the myriad turtle species that like to sun themselves on the rocks and fallen logs along the way. With gorgeous trees, a twisting and turning waterway, and beautiful skies above, it’s a magical trip for sure!

The river is rated Class II, so beginners beware. You’ll have plenty of sections along the 84-mile waterway to put your paddling skills to the test, but make sure to paddle in the company of an experienced local who knows the challenges you’ll face. And definitely be aware of the water level; when it’s high, the river can turn dangerous. Make sure to come during the low-water summer months when the flow is calmer and more manageable.

12. Cowan Lake

Located in Cowan Lake State Park, this 700-acre lake is an amazing place to spend a weekend exploring both land and water. The water is calm and relatively free of currents, and because there are no motorboats (with motors above 10 hp) permitted on the water, you won’t have to worry about wakes or swells. It’s a relaxing place to go for a paddle with kids, friends, or your spouse. 

At the end of the day, you can enjoy the campgrounds, which offer all the amenities found in State Parks around the country. The State Park is also home to myriad hiking trails, so you can spend a day on land exploring the wildlife. However, you’ll want to take the time to search for the American Lotus water lilies that make their home in the lake. If you’re an angler, make sure to bring your rod and tacklebox, because there’s fish aplenty in these waters. 

13. Put-In-Bay

Put-In-Bay

If you want to explore one of Lake Erie’s best-kept secrets, pay a visit to Put-In-Bay. It’s accessible only via the water—either you ride the ferry out to the island, or you paddle your kayaks out. Though the island is small (just around 8 square miles), the old-fashioned village that calls it home is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon (or a full day!) exploring on foot. There are plenty of places to grab a meal, a drink, a snack, or some curios before heading back out onto the water.

Be warned: the journey to Put-In-Bay isn’t the most beginner-friendly. You will be paddling for a few hours across the open waters of Lake Erie, which will have some currents, waves, and wakes. Beginners attempting the journey should be aware of the potential dangers and prepare accordingly. (Note: Lake Erie may be better-suited to sea kayaks rather than recreational kayaks, due to water conditions and currents.) 

14. Mohican River

Mohican River
Image: Wikipedia

Looking for a family-friendly river to kayak? Give the Mohican River a try! This Class I river stretches for 40 miles, with slow-moving waters that will keep you floating along downstream so you can cover distance all day long even if you don’t want to push your pace. You can turn it into a multi-day trip or just paddle for a few hours; with plenty of places to put in and take out of the water, you’ll find it’s incredibly easy to plan your route.

Along the river, you’ll encounter campgrounds, hiking trails, and picnic spots. Anglers will be right at home on these waters, where there are plenty of fish to catch.

15. Great Miami River

Not to be confused with the Little Miami River, the Great Miami River flows from Indian Lake through the Dayton area on its 158-mile journey toward the Ohio River. The waterway is Class I and Class II, with plenty of stretches where newbies will feel comfortable on their first paddling trips and a few spots where intermediate-level kayakers can test their skills.

Fair warning: there are a few dams, spillways, and other small obstacles along the waterway, so it’s smart to check maps of the region or consult with a local who can advise you on the best, safest places to portage around obstacles.

Kayaking Tours in Ohio

Ohio is home to some truly amazing kayaking spots, gorgeous rivers and breathtaking lakes—including one of the Great Lakes! It’s clear why the state has become one of the most popular kayaking destinations in the country.

Whether you’re a first-time kayaker or an experienced paddler looking for someplace new, it’s often a good idea to consult with locals. That way, you can learn about any dangers or obstacles you may face, get recommendations on where to go, and even learn some secrets known only to people who have spent their lives paddling Ohio waterways.

Or, if you don’t have the opportunity to bring your own paddling equipment from home (on a business trip, for example), you can rent a kayak from local outfitters. Rather than paddling alone, it’s advisable to sign up for a tour so you can paddle in the company of others. It’s just the safer, smarter way to go! 

Here is a list of some of the most popular, best-rated kayaking tours in Ohio to consider on your next visit to the Buckeye State:

Other resources that can help you find kayaking tours in Ohio include:

  • Trip Advisor – If you’re already planning a trip to Ohio and want to add some paddling into your itinerary, use Trip Advisor to help you find destinations near the city where you’ll be visiting. 
  • Google Maps Google Maps lets you search a specific city or county, or even a waterway you plan to paddle. It will then display all the tours and outfitters in the area so you can choose the one that suits you best. 
  • Yelp Yelp lets you choose the city where you’ll be staying, then displays all the tours and kayaking activities in the area, along with real-life user reviews to help you make the right choice of outfitter and tour guide.  

Ohio Kayaking Laws

Flag of Ohio State

Kayaks are non-motor powered vessels

Kayaks are manually powered (using paddles), so any kayak that doesn’t include a trolling motor is legally allowed to operate on waters that are restricted to motorized vessels. All kayaks (and canoes) must be registered in Ohio, but no title is required. 

There is no minimum age for operating a kayak

Children under the age of 12 must be supervised by an adult over the age of 18 in order to operate a motorized vessel (including kayak with trolling motor). However, kayaks without trolling motors can be operated by anyone of any age.

Kayakers must have one lifejacket on board per person

The PFD must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved. Children under the age of 12 are required to wear the PFD.

Kayakers must display lights at “low visibility times”

All vessels must display running lights (at least a white light) between sunset and sunrise, whether they’re underway or at anchor.

Kayakers aren’t required carry a sound-producing device

It’s still a good idea, though, especially if you plan on paddling someplace you might get lost or find yourself in trouble. 

Kayaks need to carry visual distress signals (VDS)

However, this only applies to vessels on the Muskingum River, the Ohio River, and Lake Erie. On other waterways, VDS aren’t required. 

Kayakers absolutely can get a OUI 

In Ohio, operating a boat—be it motorized or manually powered (like kayaks or canoes)—under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. Anyone caught visibly impaired or who registers a Blood Alcohol Level above 0.08% will receive an OUI (Operating Under the Infuence).

The consequences for an OUI is the same as for a DUI:

  • On your first offense, 3 days to 6 months of jail time, fines from $375 to $1075, and a license suspension of 1 to 3 years
  • On your second offense, 10 days to 6 months of jail time, $525 to $1,625 in fines, and a license suspension of 1 to 7 years
  • On your third offense, 30 days to 1 year in jail, $850 to $2,750 in fines, and a license suspension of 2 to 12 years

The judge may also sentence you to complete a treatment program, participate in a driver’s intervention program, or even submit you to alcohol electric monitoring (in your vehicle).  

Kayaking in Ohio FAQs

Caesar Creek lake in Ohio

Can I kayak anywhere in Ohio?

As long as you are not trespassing on private property, all Ohio waterways are available for kayaking. However, be aware that on Lake Erie, you are sharing the waters with large commercial and cargo vessels, as well as fellow kayakers, boaters, canoers, and paddleboarders.  

Do you need a permit to kayak in Ohio?

You do not need a permit to kayak in Ohio. However, you must register your kayak (and any other recreational boat, including canoes and inflatable boats) with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

The registration is good for 3 years, expiring on March 1st of the final year. The Ohio DNR website has all the information you need to know about registering your kayak. 

How much is a kayak license in Ohio?

According to the Ohio DNR website, the fee for registering a kayak without a trolling motor is $20 (including a $3 writing fee). Registering a kayak with a trolling motor costs $33 (including the $3 writing fee). 

Andy Peloquin avatar

Andrew is a sports enthusiast, fitness nut, and avid kayaker and paddleboarder who loves nothing more than spending his free time out on the water. He spends his winters snowshoeing, snowboarding, and dreaming of summer days when he can take his beloved 14-footer fishing kayak out to explore the 1,000+ lakes and rivers within driving distance of his home in central British Columbia, Canada.

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