Paddles up

in Halifax in Masham

Canoeing and Kayaking in Yorkshire

Yorkshire has some excellent rivers and can cater for flat water paddling to Grade 3+ white water. Our extensive network of canals and rugged coastline also offer some of the best canoeing and kayaking around.

Canoeing Yorkshire’s white water

Getting Started

When you are getting started, you don’t need to be fantastically fit, but canoeing and kayaking at a high level or competitively will demand good physical fitness.

Canoes come in all shapes and sizes; from open canoes, often called Canadian canoes, through to sleek slalom kayaks designed for speed and agility.  Most people will learn the basics needed either in open canoes or a general purpose kayak. They are both great fun but employ different techniques and skills, and so appeal to different people.

Whether your final aim is to do a touring trip or paddle down white water rivers, you will need to gain a grounding on flat sheltered water first. Here you can learn how to control the canoe, and develop the different strokes you will need.  Most activity outdoors is concentrated into the April to October period, and many clubs run indoor sessions in swimming pools through the winter.

Have a go
If you want to try canoeing for the first time, contact one of the organisations below and arrange some instruction or go along to a try out session. All instructors should be BCU qualified. 

How about trying your hand at Canadian canoeing? It’s an idyllic laid-back way to explore our waterways. Stable, roomy and with plenty of room for a friend or two, a picnic and even camping equipment. If this sounds more you, River Mountain Experience offer one day boat handling courses to get you started.

Paddles Up

Two of the most popular rivers are the Wharfe and the Washburn. Both of these are only open at certain times, so do look on the British Canoe Union Yorkshire site for more information first. Additionally, each Club has its own regular trips on their stretches of local water. 

Sleningford Watermill is a great place to access the river Ure.

Experienced canoeists flock to Sowerby Bridge Slalom Course, near Halifax. The 300m white water course uses the weirs on the River Calder previously used to power the area’s mills. Mostly grade 2, in high water it can reach a challenging grade 3. The river Wharfe near Ilkley and Otley is another destination. Weirs make both rivers potentially dangerous for the beginner.

For those looking for a gentler adventure on water that doesn’t move as much, here are some suggested venues:

Master the art of the open canoe as you are taught the skills required to pilot your craft by How Stean Gorge. You will be led by a friendly British Canoe Union qualified instructor on Scar House Reservoir in NIdderdale, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Enjoy the stunning scenery and natural wilderness of this special area as you paddle your canoe and attempt to stay dry! See how many different types of wildlife you can spot from your privileged position on the water. There are many different kinds of raptor that circle the skies above Scar House. Keep your eyes peeled you never know what you might spot! No experience necessary. All safety equipment is provided.

Semerwater, near Bainbridge, North Yorkshire
Bring your own canoe and enjoy the ruggest and beautiful setting of this lake.

Leeds – Liverpool Canal
Many sections of the canal network are ideal for canoeing. For accommodation options, visit our Novotel Leeds page.

Alfresco Adventures
Ever fancied kayaking or canoeing but didn’t want to throw yourself in at the deep end? You have come to the right place! We use rivers and lakes in numerous locations throughout North Yorkshire and have an exciting, adventurous and fun option whether you are 7 or 70. So, do you fancy canoeing or kayaking on a beautiful stretch of river or the tranquillity of a lake admiring the picturesque landscapes and stopping off along the way for relaxation and refreshments. This is the place to start you adventure!

The online river guide provides a good summary of most UK rivers, so you can find out what it’s like before you paddle.

River Washburn Water Releases

One river worth a special mention is the River Washburn – it is the only dam released white water trip in the country. This means there is guaranteed white water on about 30 days a year through the summer period – so you get to paddle in the warm.  This is Grade III white water and so you need to be an experienced paddler.

The Experience
The River Washburn, a tributary of the Wharfe, and the four large reservoirs of the Washburn Valley, provide the main water supply catchment area for Leeds. Except during water releases, the river joining the reservoirs is normally dry and canoeing impossible. Paddling on the reservoirs and above is strictly prohibited.

On about 30 days in the year, water releases for canoeing purposes are made from Thruscross Reservoir into Fewston Reservoir. Events at Washburn currently include Wednesday evening and weekend cruises, slalom, freestyle and white water racing. The 2.4km (1.5 miles) of Grade III, fast flowing water between the two reservoirs is the only dam-release facility in England and has become one of the most important and heavily used competition sites in the country. The river has three slalom sites, catering for differing standards of competition. The Washburn now hosts both Premier and Division 1/2 slaloms.

On slalom and white water racing days, parts of the river not in use by the event can normally be used by non-racing paddlers for recreational cruising by prior arrangement with the event organiser.

The committee plans to continue to develop the site to make the already exciting river a venue of international standing. Recent improvements have included building new features along the river and it now has one of the best freestyle holes in the country.

Have a go
Just check the event is on and turn up. A shuttle service often operates to return you to your vehicle. Find out more.

Sea Kayaking

Lovers of salt-water action will be impressed by the variety and quality of sea kayaking off Yorkshire’s coast. Sweeping sandy beaches provide plenty of surf and this beautiful coastline is home to some impressive sights.  

The Yorkshire coastline, with its wide variety of scenery, should be able to offer you an exciting trip whatever your skills and canoeing interests. These vary from committing open water crossings to magnificent coastal excursions with sweeping sandy beaches providing abundant surf at many locations. With equally varied and rich wildlife, you can find you share your trip with an abundance of birds, seals and even an occasional dolphin.

The Experience
The section of coast line around Flamborough Head provides some of the most spectacular canoeing on the north-east coast, with vertical chalk cliffs eroded to form natural arches and sea caves.  The best time to paddle this coast is at high water as you can get in close to the cliffs as long as there is no swell.  There are some amazing sea caves, some of which are so deep that a torch is required to fully explore them.

The chalk cliffs form part of the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs and provide an amazing wildlife spectacle with fantastic landscapes.  Bempton is home to England’s largest seabird colony during the spring and summer breeding season, with an incredible 200,000 seabirds. The seabirds include gannets, puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes, and are best seen from April to August. This is also the time when the weather is likely to be at its best. Viewing this number of seabirds nesting from your kayak simply can’t be beaten.

Have a go
Sea kayaking is for people with a reasonable level of experience. Tidal streams off Flamborough Head are strong, and rough water can be experienced around the headland during the main tidal flow. The skills required are not simply those of paddling the boat; you also need to understand tides, tidal streams, and the interaction between tidal streams and the weather. A properly equipped sea kayak would be preferred but this trip is undertaken in general purpose kayaks as well.

Harbourside Watersports, Scarborough – Explore the Jurassic coastline of Scarborough from kayak; wonder at how peaceful it is a few metres from the shoreline; paddle across the bay and around the rock pools; catch a few waves; search for wild life and perhaps stop for a picnic.

Hire a sit-on kayak or two to explore Scarborough’s North and South Bays. Hire available for anything from few hours to all day or all week. Buoyancy aids come with hire. We also offer kitesurfing lessons and hire.

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