Top spots for canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding in the South West

Top spots for canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding in the South West

It’s easy to see why kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding in the South West is very popular. Throughout the counties of Bristol, Cornwall, Dorset, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire there’s a large array of winding rivers, lakes and coastal bays to explore. To help guide you to where to paddle in the South West here’s our list of top locations perfect for canoes, kayaks or paddle boards.

1. Grand Western Canal, Devon

Grand Western Canal - South West of England Photo by Visit South Devon

If you are looking for a gentle and charming paddle through the Devonshire countryside we recommend the Grand Western Canal paddling trail. Starting in the market town of Tiverton, the trail offers an impressive 22 miles of uninterrupted canal to explore. Yes, that’s right no locks!

The Grand Western Canal trail is split into sections giving you the chance to plan a journey to suit you. For day trips, we recommend covering a few sections either as a round trip or one way. If you are looking for a challenge or a short break, we would recommend paddling the entire length over a couple of days. You’ll find there’s plenty of amenities along the canal from campsites, to pubs and a few small villages such as Sampford Peverell.

Although spring fed there is no noticeable current, yet the canal can be exposed to the wind in places. Remember to make sure to check the weather before heading out. If you are unsure about how to read the weather please read our article covering what to look consider by clicking here.

To learn more about paddling along the Grand Western Canal, please click here.

Licence required? Yes – but not included in British Canoeing Membership. Click here to get a licence.

2. River Tamar, Devon & Cornwall

River Tamar - South West of England Photo by Cornwall Guide

River Tamar flows along the border of Devon and Cornwall spanning through 60 miles of gorgeous countryside. Starting in Woolley Moor, Morwenstow, the river travels down to Plymouth Sound where it goes into the English Channel.

Surrounded by ancient woodlands and rolling hills makes paddling on the Tamar a wonderful experience. Plus, wildlife lovers will be amazed by the abundance of wildlife and diverse range of habitats to be discovered. You’ll experience habitats for rare varieties of orchids and lichen, as well as birds and butterflies along this nature-filled trail.

The last 19 miles leading down into Plymouth is tidal water, and leads to the beautiful Firestone Bay. The tranquil waters make for a peaceful paddle in a beautiful location. Plus, there are many great restaurants and eateries around this area, making the area perfect for a landing to refuel and explore. Before heading out on any tidal waters, please watch our safety video covering what you need to know by clicking here.

Paddling services (incl. hire provision, lessons and guided tours) in this area:

Licence required? No river licence is required.

Find out more about the River Tamar here. Our rivers pages includes launch points, routes, cafes, camping, and parking locations.

3. Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, Somerset

Bridgewater and Taunton Canal, South West of England Photo by Canal & River Trust

Cut off from the rest of the canal system, the Bridgewater and Taunton Canal offers paddlers a peaceful place to explore. Weaving through 14 miles of beautiful rural landscape makes the canal an idyllic place for nature enthusiasts. Also, you’ll be dazzled by just how well kept the canal and its towpaths are around here. A rural, tranquil and beautiful canal busting with wildlife…what’s not to love!

If you would like to paddle along one of the South West’s best kept secrets we would recommend our Maunsel Lock to Creech St Michael trail. Starting at Maunsel lock, you will paddle along the edge of the Somerset Levels to the picturesque village of Creech St Michael. Upon returning to Maunsel lock, we would highly recommend a bit to eat at the local canal centre’s tea shop.

Paddling services (incl. hire provision, lessons and guided tours) in this area:

Canal licence required? Yes – included in British Canoeing ‘On The Water’ membership. Click here to join today!

Find out more about the Bridgewater and Taunton Canal, including launch points, routes and parking locations by clicking here.

4. Poole Harbour, Dorset

Poole Harbour, South West of England

Poole Harbour is Europe’s largest natural harbour and second largest in the world. The natural harbour is an enclosed coastal bay ringed with thick lush woodland with extensive saltmarshes, sand dunes and heathlands. These diverse habitats provide the harbour with a rich array of wildlife with many conservation areas protected. It’s easy to see why Poole Harbour is an incredibly popular place for coastal kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddle boarding in the South West of England.

If you wish to discover Poole Harbour from the water, we recommend our circular paddling trail, looping round Brownsea Island, with great opportunities to stop off and explore.

Paddling over to Brownsea Island, the trail will lead you to the right as you head round the north side of the island. Please note, the north side of the island is a nature reserve so you are unable to land here. However, following the trail round to the west side of the island you will find Pottery Pier, a popular landing spot. You are asked to make a small donation for landing at Pottery Pier. You can do this at one of the donation boxes or at the Brownsea Quay visitor centre.

On Brownsea Island you will find The Outdoor Centre, with toilets and refreshments available in high season. You can also enjoy a walk to the quay through the pine woods. St Mary’s Church is still in use, carrying on a Christian presence from 800 A.D. Near the church is the entrance to the Dorset Wildlife Trust area of the nature reserve, where you can take a guided walk or use a leaflet to explore this tranquil area.

Before heading out on any tidal waters, please watch our safety video covering what you need to know by clicking here.

Licence required? No.

5. St Ives Bay, Cornwall

St Ives South West of England

St Ives is a popular tourist destination throughout the year for paddle boarding in the South West. The crescent-shaped bay stretches for 6miles from St Ives round to Godrevy Head, were you’ll find the world-famous Godrevy lighthouse. Did you know the light house was the inspiration for the Virginia Woolf novel, To the Lighthouse?

The large open coastal bay makes it a popular location for sea kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddle boarding. Heading out on the water you’ll experience many natural delights the coast of Cornwall has to offer. Throughout your paddle, keep an eye out for seals and dolphins as well as cormorants and gannets. All of which are commonly found around this area of Cornwall.

The safest places to paddle around the bay are St Ives Harbour and Carbis Bay where there are usually safety boats operating. Both locations are also full of local amenities, cafes and shops.

Remember St. Ives Bay has variable tidal currents and can often gain strong winds. Take a look at our St Ives Bay paddling safety guide by click here. We would recommend carrying a copy or having one saved to you phone when paddling.

Licence required? No.

So, there you have it, our list of top locations perfect for canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding in South West of England. Make sure to check the weather, especially the win, when paddling on any of these location. For more information about staying safe whilst paddling please click here.