Kayaking and canoeing adventures in Cornwall

Penned on the 24th June 2024

Kayaking and canoeing adventures in Cornwall

Rugged coastlines, serene rivers and picturesque estuaries make Cornwall a kayaking and canoeing paradise. Here, there are a whole host of paddling opportunities which cater to all levels and a wide range of age groups.

Whether you're an experienced paddler or a beginner eager to explore the waters, Cornwall’s coast has something special for everyone. Kayaking and canoeing in Cornwall offer more than just a chance to enjoy the water; they provide a gateway to exploring the region’s stunning natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant ecosystems.


Best kayaking and canoeing spots in Cornwall  

There are a great selection of kayaking and canoeing locations in Cornwall. From rivers to bays, here are some of our favourites:


Falmouth & the Carrick Roads

Three people kayaking along the river at Trelissick near Truro and Falmouth in Cornwall

Found on the south coast of Cornwall, this famous maritime town is great for canoeing and kayaking. A tidal river flows into the town and up towards Truro, offering diverse paddling environments from rocky cliffs to wide estuaries to narrow creeks. There are also plenty of historic sites, beautiful gardens, and picturesque villages to visit along the way. The River Fal is sheltered in most weathers, making it a potential kayaking and canoeing location year-round. 

Which company to use: Falmouth River Watersports offers kayaks and canoes to rent as well as guided tours. 

Where to stay: The Pilchard Shed sits just a few footsteps from the water, across the river from Falmouth. This idyllic bolthole provides easy access to the Carrick Roads.


The Helford River

The tip of a wooden canoe as it sails up the Helford River in Cornwall at dusk

Known for its calm waters and tranquil scenery, paddlers can explore hidden creeks, ancient woodlands, and pretty coves along the Helford River. There are also lots of wading birds to spot here, including herons and oystercatchers. Be sure to visit when the tide is high or else you may get beached on one of the mud flats. 

Which company to use: Koru Kayaking offers fantastic guided tours, including the famous Frenchman’s Creek, the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s novel and namesake. 

Where to stay: Anella is a quirky cottage based near the banks of the Helford. Complete with a hot tub, it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind after a day spent exploring.


Camel Estuary

A flat path running alongside the Camel Estuary in Cornwall

Found between Wadebridge and Padstow, the Camel Estuary is a great spot for kayaking because of the serene, sheltered waters, gentle tides, and the diverse landscapes. Expect to see everything from sandy banks to rolling countryside to charming villages here. You may even spot one of the UK’s rarest mammals, the otter, if you're lucky.

Which company to use: Cornish Rock Tors offer both guided kayak tours and rental.

Where to stay: Wildwood Hideaway is a woodland cabin near Wadebridge that offers a magical, back-to-nature experience with added comfort and style.


St Ives Bay

Looking across St Ives Bay at the pretty harbourside town

St Ives is an exceptional spot for canoeing and kayaking because of its crystal clear waters and stunning coastal vistas. Paddlers can explore sea caves, rock formations, and golden sandy beaches while also having access to the historical fishing town. Close to shore there are often calm conditions, making it a safe location, especially in the summer.

Which company to use: St Ives Surf School offers guided tours from Porthmeor Beach, infused with plenty of local knowledge.


Mounts Bay

A bird's eye view of kayaks paddling across the causeway at St Michael's Mount in Cornwall

With breathtaking views of St Michael’s Mount, Mounts Bay is a unique canoeing and kayaking destination. It’s a perfect spot for those looking to combine paddling with a bit of history and sightseeing. Mount's Bay is also home to diverse marine life, making it a popular spot for wildlife enthusiasts, with opportunities for seal and dolphin sightings.

Which company to use: Ocean High rents out kayaks and all of the equipment you need to explore the area around St Michael’s Mount.

Where to stay: Set high above Mount's Bay, Scenic Bay is an idyllic glamping pod with fantastic views of the ocean and the iconic St Michael's Mount.


Looe River

Kayaks paddling down Looe River with beautiful tree-lined banks behind them

Perfect for beginners and families, Looe River is a peaceful place to go for a paddle. Here, you can explore picturesque waterways, winding through lush countryside and charming villages. There is also plenty of wildlife, including birds and sometimes otters.

Which company to use: Adventure Fit South West offers kayak and canoe rental in Looe, including a tour of the West Looe River.

Where to stay: The Hillside Hut is a peaceful woodland getaway near Looe and perfect for those looking to enjoy the tranquil Cornish countryside.



People gig rowing down Fowey River towards boats bobbing in the water

Meander down the tranquil Fowey River for another family-friendly canoeing and kayaking experience. Here, you pass through verdant woodland and quaint Cornish villages. Keep an eye out for St Catherine’s Castle, which has been overlooking the river since the Tudor period.

Which company to use: Encounter Cornwall are an award-winning company that specialises in guided canoe and kayak tours on the Fowey River. 

Where to stay: Shepherd’s Rest is a romantic hideaway in the heart of the countryside, complete with a lakeside barbeque for evenings spent al fresco.


Gig rowing in Cornwall

Gig rowing down the peaceful river at Devoran as the sun starts to set

If you would rather observe people on the water than take part yourself, why not go and watch one of the local Cornish gig rowing clubs go out training on the water. Gig rowing is an important part of Cornish culture and heritage and dates back as far as the early 19th century, when gigs were used as pilot boats and for transportation between ships and shore. There are over fifty gig rowing clubs in Cornwall, which can be seen training multiple times a week during the spring and summer. Find more about Cornish gig rowing clubs, including where you can watch them train.


What wildlife will I see when kayaking?

Two dolphins breaching the surface in Cornish waters

Cornwall is home to a fascinating range of wildlife. Remember to keep your distance and to slowly move away, even when approached by local wildlife, especially seals. Here are some of our favourite wildlife you can regularly spot while kayaking and canoeing in Cornwall:

Seals can be spotted all around the Cornish coastline. These inquisitive creatures often come up to investigate people paddling on the water.

Dolphins and porpoises are often seen on Cornwall’s south coast, particularly Falmouth Bay.

Seabirds including gannets, cormorants, guls and oystercatchers are frequently seen in Cornwall. This makes it one of the best places in the country for birdwatching.

Fish species including mackerel, mullet, and bass are found all around the Cornish coast. If you’re lucky you may even see a basking shark, the second-largest fish in the ocean.

Crustaceans and molluscs including crabs, lobsters, and various shellfish are often seen in the shallow coastal waters and rock pools.

Seaweed and other aquatic plants create underwater forests, especially around rocky coastal areas.


Why go canoeing and kayaking?

Full of health benefits and a wonderful way to explore Cornwall's many waterways and coastlines, there are lots of reasons to try kayaking and canoeing...


Kayaking is good for you

Looking down from the cliffs at Watergate Bay in Cornwall at a kayaker in the distance

Paddling a kayak or a canoe is a fun, full-body workout great for cardiovascular health, strength, and endurance. Exercising near or on the water comes with additional benefits, including helping us tap into our ‘blue mind’ – the calming, meditative state of mind and overall wellbeing that people experience when they are near, in, on, or under water. Kayaking and canoeing also offer us a unique way to connect with nature, which is low-impact on the environment. Plus, an opportunity for adventure and exploration, by allowing us to visit remote areas that are inaccessible by land.


Low-impact activity

A person paddling into shore on a red kayak at Kennack Sands in Cornwall

Kayaking and canoeing offer a low-impact way to explore aquatic ecosystems, providing an intimate look at the beauty and fragility of these habitats. In turn, this makes us more aware of the importance of protecting our marine environments. Here are our top tips to be environmentally-conscious paddlers:

Leave no trace: bring everything you take on a trip back with you. Even better, if you see any pollution (e.g. plastic), which shouldn’t be there, take that back with you too.  

Use eco-friendly gear: avoid taking single-use plastics with you and opt for biodegradable sunscreen.

Respect local wildlife: observe marine life from a distance, stay away from breeding areas, and make minimal noise when animals are nearby.


Safety when canoeing and kayaking in Cornwall

A hand dipping into the sea from a kayak

Safety is paramount when kayaking and canoeing. Here are our top tips for staying safe on the water: 

Always wear a life jacket: plus, wear bright clothing for visibility.

Go with a guide: not only does this make you safer, but it’s also a great way to access local knowledge and to uncover secrets of the coastline that you wouldn’t know on your own. Guides will also provide you with all of the gear you need for a safe and enjoyable canoeing or kayaking adventure.

Check the weather: avoid paddling if the weather is bad, if there are waves, or if there are offshore winds, which blow from the land out to sea.

Choose an appropriate location: this means sticking to calm, sheltered waters near the shore.

Protect yourself from the sun: wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat, and cover your arms and legs if you’re going out for more than an hour. Remember to also stay hydrated and take water with you.


Looking to stay in Cornwall?

A beautiful hideaway overlooking St Michael's Mount in Cornwall

Take your pick from our dreamy collection of unique hideaways in Cornwall, from glistening sea views to rural havens with bubbling hot tubs.


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