The United States is a beautiful country with endless opportunities for paddleboarders. From iconic beach breaks to rushing rivers and calm lakes, the land of the free has something for every type of paddler.
Whether you’re landlocked or on the coast, each city has its own unique waterways on which to paddle. Powerful whitewater rivers, meandering creeks, massive flatwater lakes, and more. While there are countless stunning cities to choose from (we’ll delve into cities abroad another time), here are 10 of our favorites.
The 10 Best US Cities for Standup Paddling
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a port city located in coastal southeastern North Carolina that offers surf, flatwater, history, and wildlife. Surrounded by the Cape Fear Coast, Wilmington is a series of barrier beaches and inlets with the Cape Fear River emptying into the Atlantic.
Wrightsville Beach is the most frequented water sports destination in the region and is home to the Carolina Cup, the largest SUP race on the east coast.
“Wilmington is great because you have so many options for conditions,” says pro standup paddler April Zilg. “You have the river downtown, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Atlantic Ocean. So no matter how easy or extreme you want your paddle to be, you’ve got options and amazing scenery for all types of paddling: touring, racing/fitness, or surfing. Not to mention the amazing choices for after a session.”
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is an ideal location for skiing and snowboarding in the winter and hiking and water sports in the summer. Situated at 6,225 feet, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the world and lies on the border between Nevada and California.
There are a number of SUP shops located nearby, and the Tahoe Cup race series takes place throughout the summer. When you’re not paddling the 122,160,280 acres of the lake, you can explore the surrounding national forest or head to the Nevada side for some gambling.
“The water in Lake Tahoe really makes the spot special,” says pro standup paddler Tyler Bashor. “You can paddle out for miles and all you see is crystal clear water and deep blues like nowhere else. The glassy lake with the mountains as a backdrop makes Tahoe one of my favorite places to paddle in the world.”
Hood River, Oregon
Located at the base of Mount Hood and the intersection of the Columbia and Hood Rivers, Hood River is a standup paddler’s dream. The Columbia River is a hub for whitewater connoisseurs and also offers some of the best downwind runs on the planet.
SUP superstars Fiona Wylde and Dan Gavare call the Hood their home, confirming the area to be the ideal training ground for paddlers. The Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge takes place on the river each summer and has become one of the most prestigious downwind races in the sport.
“Whatever kind of standup paddling you want to do, Hood River can facilitate it,” says world champion standup paddler Fiona Wylde. “If you’re into paddling on lakes with gorgeous mountain views, that can happen.
“Or, If you’re into whitewater standup paddling, that can happen. If you want to enjoy flat water paddling with your pup and family, that can happen too. And the biggest draw for Hood River SUP is the Viento Run: the Viento Run is a 7-mile downwinder with some of the best downwind conditions on the planet.”
Located on the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is often recognized for gloomy weather and booming tech companies. But despite its dreary connotations, the Emerald City has a lot to offer in the way of standup paddling.
The Puget Sound has fun downwind conditions in the winter and spring, Lake Washington is a great spot for a flatwater paddle. And if you find yourself behind a freighter or tugboat at the right time on the right tide, there are some pretty solid waves to be had.
Key West, Florida
A glance at a postcard or a quick Google image search is all you need to understand why Key West made our list. Known for its tropical climate, laid-back vibes, and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Florida’s southernmost point is a SUP hot spot.
Part of the Florida Keys archipelago, Key West provides opportunities to paddle under the shade of Florida’s mangroves or paddle out to a reef in search of manatees and tropical fish. While Key West isn’t famous for surf, there is decent surf at Sombrero Reef on occasion.
Manhattan, New York
The most densely populated of New York City’s five boroughs, Manhattan probably isn’t the first location that comes to mind when you’re brainstorming places to paddle. However, the heart of the Big Apple is surrounded by the Hudson, East, and Harlem rivers, making it one of the best urban paddling destinations in the states.
The majority of tourists will take to the bustling streets to drink in the sights. But from your perch atop a paddleboard on the Hudson, you will find views of the city skyline, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the World Trade Center, and even the Statue of Liberty.
Durango, Colorado, is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Located in southwestern Colorado, near the New Mexico border, Durango provides the ideal setting for hiking, biking, running, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, kayaking, and standup paddling.
There are a number of small lakes dispersed throughout the area, but the biggest draw for paddlers is the Animas River. Each June, Durango hosts the Animas River Days where paddlers come to compete in racing and surf competitions on the picturesque river.
From Durango, you can also road trip 3.5 hours (one-way) north to Gunnison, Colorado, home to Blue Mesa Reservoir, the state’s largest body of water. (Editor’s note: Extensive road work is scheduled until November 2022 on U.S. 50, west of the reservoir, so plan according to closures.) Blue Mesa boasts 96 miles of shoreline and plenty of flatwater and technical paddling, plus nearby camping and hiking opportunities too.
Located between the Kenai Mountains and the Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward is as scenic a paddling destination as they come — you’ll have to bundle up and wear a wetsuit or drysuit for the majority of your paddling, but it’ll be well worth the effort.
Resurrection Bay offers a calm waterfront for paddling and the chance to see sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, and eagles. Kenai Fjords National Park is home to some amazing wildlife and stunning glaciers.
Bear Glacier is the largest in the park and wildlife sightings include killer, minke, gray, humpback, and sei whales, as well as sea otters, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and harbor seals.
Dana Point, California
Once home to Salt Life’s Pacific Paddle Games, our list would be incomplete without Dana Point. Named after American author and lawyer Richard Henry Dana, the southern California hotspot is home to one of the few harbors along the Orange County coast.
Doheny State Beach and San Onofre State Beach (about 10 miles apart) are popular SUP destinations. The city is also home to Infinity Surfboard Co. as well as some of the top pro paddlers in the sport.
“Growing up paddling, surfing, and doing outrigger, Dana Point was a mecca for all watersports for me,” said 2018 APP World Champion Shae Foudy. “All the best local standup paddle brands are located in southern California, and the harbor provides a perfect landscape for training.”
Our list would not be complete without an appearance from the Aloha State. While Hawaii offers amazing SUP opportunities at every corner of the islands, Kona is one of our favorites. Located on the Big Island, Kona covers roughly two-thirds of the island’s west side and has endless choices for flatwater and SUP surfing.
Keauhou Bay is the birthplace of King Kamehameha Ill. It’s a harbor surrounded by lava beds, sea caves, and plenty of cliffs nearby.
Kealakekua Bay, the only underwater state park — yes, underwater — on the island, offers a chance to paddle to the famous Captain Cook Monument. Nearby Kahala’u Beach Park has good snorkeling as well, and makes one of the best spots for surf.
With warm water and summer weather year-round, Kona is a must-visit. Overall, it’s a paddler’s paradise.