You probably have an itch only a good kayaking session can scratch. I get it. If it were up to me, I’d go kayaking year-round – but Mother Nature usually has different plans for the winter months, so I’m forced to put my paddling gear away until spring rolls around.
On that note, when is the best time to go paddling? Is there an official kayaking season – and if so, when does it start and end?
Let’s get some answers!
Kayak Season – Key Takeaways
- Is there a kayaking season? There’s no official start and end of the kayaking season; it depends on your location, weather, and water conditions.
- When does kayaking season start? Early spring can be considered the start of the kayaking season because that is when the winter freeze ends, the snow starts to melt, and the days get warmer and longer.
- When does the kayaking season end? For most people, the season will end in the fall, usually around October.
- When’s the best time to go kayaking? It depends on where you live. The best time to go paddling is typically between early April and late September – or when the combined temperature of the water and air rises above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Can I kayak in the winter? Kayaking in the winter is possible – but hazardous. You need to be prepared and choose suitable clothing (including a dry suit with insulating layers for warmth, gloves, and a hood) and follow general safety guidelines.
Defining The Season – Is There A Kayaking Season?
Technically speaking, no; there is no official kayaking season. The conditions can vary based on your location, weather, and water conditions, making it practically impossible to provide an exact time frame.
That said, you’ll typically have a few months during the year when the conditions are “just right” for kayaking – and, in most cases, it’s from late spring to the beginning of autumn.
The actual “timing” varies from location to location, though, which is why the kayaking season is so hard to define:
If you live in a cold climate, the kayaking season will start later than usual – in late spring or early summer. And if you live above the “Arctic Circle,” you will only have a couple of weeks when you can actually kayak comfortably and safely.
Those who live in warm weather regions can, quite possibly, enjoy kayaking year-round. Hawaii is a fantastic example of that. Occasional tropical storms aside, the weather is perfect for paddling throughout the year, thanks to the mild tropical climate.
What Factors Determine The Start Of Kayaking Season?
Most paddlers would agree that early spring – or, more specifically, mid-March to early April – is the “unofficial” start of the season.
That’s not the case for everyone, of course:
You’ll find that many kayakers – especially seasoned paddlers and anglers – do not really stick to a “schedule” in this regard and start the season based on their own preferences.
Besides, it also depends on where you live:
You might need to wait longer for the weather to warm up in colder climates. In certain parts of the world, the ice thaw doesn’t occur until May; Siberia is a great example of that.
With that said, here are some factors that may dictate the start of the season:
If you are comfortable with chilly weather, you may head out as soon as the air temperature hits the 50-degree mark. That said, recreational kayakers will feel the most comfortable when the air temperature reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The warm air temperature should help offset the chill from the water. So, it’s best to wait until the air temperatures start to rise in spring – usually between early April and late May.
The air temperature is only part of the equation; taking water temperature into consideration is just as important. Make no mistake about it:
Exposure to cold water can be deadly.
If you fall into water that’s below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you will experience cold shock that can potentially be fatal. So, ideally, you should wait until the water temperature reaches 70 degrees before heading out.
Besides the pleasant weather conditions, you also won’t have to carry any additional equipment such as wetsuits, dry suits, and survival gear.
Alternatively, just use the 120-degree rule:
If the sum of water and air temperatures is greater than 120 degrees, the conditions for kayaking are ideal since there’s no risk of cold shock or hypothermia.
While flow rate isn’t that important for slow-moving rivers and lakes, it is crucial for whitewater kayaking. After all, there’s no point in running rapids if the water is as tame as a well-fed cat.
Flow rates start to pick up as the weather gets warmer – typically, in early to mid-spring – making it the prime time for whitewater kayaking. That said, the flow rate can sometimes be too much to handle – even for seasoned whitewater kayakers – so it is crucial to understand how it may affect river difficulty.
You can get up-to-date flow rate data here.
Another reason why people choose to go paddling during the warmer months is the daylight. As we move from winter to summer, the days get longer, which means you can spend more time on the water, too.
Unless you have a serious kayaking addiction, I’d recommend getting your ‘yak out of storage in mid-spring.
When Does Kayaking Season End?
If you’ve stuck with my ramblings, you might already know the answer to this one:
There’s no official end to the kayaking season.
That said, most recreational paddlers wrap up the season at the beginning of autumn or, more specifically, in late September or early October. That is when the water typically gets too cold for comfort, the weather becomes somewhat unpredictable, and the days get shorter.
Of course, you can still go kayaking during winter and cold weather – if you don’t mind the bone-chilling winds and near-freezing water, that is. Most people would rather wait till next year, though.
That reminds me:
What Time Of Year Is Best For Kayaking?
The best time to go out kayaking depends on where you live.
Generally speaking, the best time to go paddling is from early April to late September – and for obvious reasons:
That’s when the weather and water conditions tend to be in a perfect balance – well, as close to perfect as they can be, anyway. The air and water temperatures are pretty pleasant, and there is usually plenty of daylight.
Granted, the answer also depends on the type of activity you’re interested in:
If you want to soar down mountain rivers, the best time to do so is in early to mid-spring, when the spring run-off is at its highest, causing higher-than-usual river flow and making the rapids a bit more challenging – and a lot more fun.
On the flip side, if you intend on kayaking in the ocean, the best time to do it would be during the summer. Oceans tend to be unpredictable year-round – and the conditions only worsen in winter.
When in doubt, refer to the 120-degree rule to figure out whether going paddling is a good idea – or not.
The Best Time To Go Kayaking By US States
Talking about the best time to go kayaking for each specific area would likely take an eternity, so I’ve created a table that shows the times of the year preferred by most recreational paddlers due to favorable weather conditions.
Use it as a reference to figure out when ‘typically’ the kayaking season starts and ends in each US state:
Southern US states – such as New Mexico, Texas, California, or Arizona – are pretty warm, and the kayak season typically remains open year-round, with the small exception of monsoon season with its severe storms. Other places might require you to be extra careful during the winter months, though.
Can You Kayak All Year Round?
Of course, you can kayak year-round – with a bit of preparation, that is.
Sure, the best time to go kayaking is during the summer; most people do think of kayaking as a summer sport, after all. But you’d be surprised how stunning some places can be in the dead of winter.
Norway is a great example of what I mean. Besides crystal clear waters, you also get to witness the polar lights – which is truly a sight to behold.
But, again, the key word here is “preparation.”
That’s why the number one rule for kayakers – no matter the season – is:
You need to dress for the water – not the weather.
For one, just because the air is warm, that doesn’t mean the water is, too. That is especially true in the spring. The air gets warm pretty quickly, but water, due to its higher heat capacity, typically takes more time to warm up.
And two, you are bound to get wet while kayaking – and since water causes your temperature to drop faster than air, it makes cold water exposure that much more dangerous.
When I say “dangerous,” I mean it. The two main risks associated with cold water exposure are:
- Cold Shock – Never underestimate cold water. You might be comfortable in your cockpit, but if you capsize, you will soon discover the absolute horror that is cold shock. Sudden immersion in waters below 60 degrees Fahrenheit will render you breathless and unable to move – and if you don’t get to safety in time, hypothermia will kick in.
- Hypothermia – As your body temperature continues to drop, you will start shivering and lose feeling in your limbs, which progresses into the inability to think clearly and extreme exhaustion and drowsiness – all of which could be fatal in the water.
One way to minimize these risks is to choose the right clothes for kayaking, and your choice will, obviously, depend on the season:
Nothing beats kayaking on a summer afternoon. The weather is working in your favor, so there’s no need to overthink your outfit choices. Shorts and a T-shirt – or even a bathing suit – should be more than fine.
Prolonged sun exposure can be a serious issue here, though.
So, consider adding a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen into that mix – and be sure to stay hydrated. And for the love of God, avoid kayaking at the height of summer. Sitting in your ‘yak, out in the sun, with the temperature exceeding 90 degrees, is a recipe for heat stroke.
Cold-weather kayaking is a whole different level of extreme – and there’s a high chance you may meet your Maker if you don’t prepare for it:
- Wear a dry suit or a wet suit. If you are kayaking in frigid waters, and the temperature’s below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, a wet suit won’t be enough. The only way to keep the risk of cold shock and hypothermia at a minimum is to wear a dry suit.
- Add thermal layers for insulation. Dry suits keep you dry – but not warm. You still need insulating layers underneath to help maintain your body heat, preferably fleece and Merino wool – and a moisture-wicking base layer.
- Wear a hat. Some paddling jackets have a hood. If yours doesn’t, I recommend a beanie – or even a balaclava-type neoprene hat – for additional coverage.
- Consider wearing neoprene gloves. And for extra protection and warmth, you can also add pogies – mittens that attach to your paddle – to the mix.
- Don’t forget about footwear. Neoprene boots are highly recommended in cold weather – and harsh environments in general.
- Use a spray skirt. It’ll keep the water out and help keep your lower body nice and toasty by trapping the warm air inside.
Deciding what to wear is only part of the equation; here are a few more tips on how to stay safe out there:
- Never go kayaking alone. There’s safety in numbers; it’s better to have someone there to help you recover after a capsize.
- Inform someone about your plans – where you’re going and when you will be back – or create and file a float plan.
- Carry a communication device onboard. A smartphone will do – but I also recommend a VHF radio and a personal emergency beacon.
- Equip your kayak with navigational lights. The sun sets down early during winter; you must be able to see and be seen.
Kayaking In Mild Weather: Spring & Autumn
Yes, we’re talking about two completely different seasons – but one thing that spring and autumn have in common is the relatively mild weather and high chances of rain. The days often start out chilly but warm up as noon approaches, which is why I generally recommend layering up:
- Opt for a full-body wetsuit with a medium-level thickness (at least 4 millimeters), coupled with a swimsuit – or, better yet, neoprene shorts and a rash guard – as the base layer and a windproof jacket as your outer layer
- If the conditions aren’t that harsh and you don’t need to wear a dry suit, you can opt for a long-sleeve rash guard, with a fleece jacket as a protective mid-layer, and top it off with a waterproof paddling jacket or a windbreaker
- If the water temperature is still low, go with a dry suit coupled with quick-drying, synthetic materials for the base layers (long underwear and a form-fitting T-shirt) – and at least one layer of insulation (fleece or Merino wool) as your mid-layer
Choosing to wear several thinner layers – rather than a single, thick one – will allow you to adjust the level of insulation based on how the conditions may change throughout the day.
Frequently Asked Question On The Kayak Season
How Cold Is Too Cold For Kayaking?
Technically speaking, it’s never too cold for kayaking. However, the colder the water, the greater the danger. According to the National Center For Cold Water Safety’s recommendations, you should avoid water that’s below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but it also depends on how comfortable you are with the extreme cold. If you don’t think you can handle it, don’t even try; cold-weather kayaking is not something you should take lightly.
Are There Times Of Year When You Can’t Kayak?
There are certain occasions when kayaking might not be allowed. For instance, if you are using your ‘yak for fishing, there’s no point in going paddling if the fishing season is closed. The same goes for hunting. Moreover, some US national parks might ban recreational boating during peak mating and fish spawning seasons; you’ll have to contact local authorities for additional info. It’s also not uncommon for kayaks to be banned from certain waterways; that’s what happened with the Grand Canal of Venice, for example. It’s best to check these things before you head out to a specific location.
Can You Kayak In The Fall?
Yes, you can kayak in the fall – and many paddlers would argue that is the best time to enjoy this sport. The views are absolutely stunning, and, depending on where you live, you can even catch a glimpse of the local wildlife. You’ll need to dress for the weather, though. Wear a dry suit and a couple of layers of insulation – and add some light headwear and gloves to avoid getting too cold.
Can You Kayak In The Winter?
You can kayak in the winter; the crisp air and snow-covered landscape make it a truly wonderful experience. However, it’s imperative that you understand the risks associated with winter or cold-water paddling and prepare accordingly. Cold water safety is a must here, so dress for the weather and, more importantly, the water – a dry suit (with several thermal layers), booties, gloves, and a neoprene hood will be a must.
Conclusion: When Is Kayaking Season?
There’s no official start and end of the kayaking season. However, certain months are definitely better suited for kayaking – and on-the-water sports in general – than others. The best time to go kayaking is typically between early spring and early autumn – but it also depends on the weather conditions, the local climate, and the type of activity you’re interested in