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10 Best Places to Go Kayaking in Cornwall This Summer

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Cornwall, a gem tucked away in the UK, has always held a special place in my heart. Every year, without fail, my family and I are drawn to its rugged coastlines and quaint villages for our annual holiday. It’s here, amidst the crashing waves and serene bays, that I’ve dipped my paddles into the world of kayaking. As a self-confessed novice, I’ve found Cornwall to be a paddler’s paradise, offering something for everyone, from the absolute beginner to the seasoned pro.

The contrast between the north and south coasts of Cornwall is stark. While the north offers a wild, untamed seascape, the south coast greets you with calmer waters, more forgiving for those of us who prefer a leisurely paddle. My trusty sit-on-top kayak has become my steadfast companion on these adventures, proving that you don’t need a fancy sea kayak to enjoy the crystal-clear waters of Cornwall.

In this post, we’re diving into the 10 best places to go kayaking in Cornwall this summer. Whether you’re drawn to the sheltered estuaries of the south or the challenging open waters of the north, Cornwall has a spot that will capture your heart. So, grab your paddle, slap on some sunscreen, and let’s explore the best kayaking Cornwall has to offer.

Where to Go Kayaking in Cornwall

Fowey River: A Paddler’s Peaceful Retreat

The Fowey River isn’t just another kayaking spot; it’s a journey through the heart of Cornwall’s stunning natural landscape. Paddling here, you’ll glide past ancient woodlands and catch glimpses of wildlife that call the riverbanks home. For those interested in a bit more than just paddling, the Fal-Ruan Nature Reserve is a short detour away, offering a chance to spot rare birds and flora. It’s a perfect spot for family outings or solo paddles, where the river’s gentle flow suits beginners and those looking for a relaxing day out.

  • Tip: Visit during the spring or early summer to see the riverbanks burst into life with blooming flowers.

St. Ives Bay: Where Art Meets Ocean

Kayaking in St. Ives Bay

Kayaking in St. Ives Bay offers more than just a workout; it’s a sensory experience. The bay’s clear waters offer visibility that can make you feel like you’re floating on air. Local kayak tours are the way to go here, guiding you to spots like the hidden coves and sea caves that you wouldn’t find on your own. The area is also known for its artistic heritage, so why not draw inspiration from the landscape just as countless artists have done before?

  • Tip: Early morning paddles are magical here, with the rising sun casting a golden glow over the water.

Lizard Peninsula: For the Brave and Bold

The Lizard Peninsula is where kayakers can test their mettle against the open sea. The coastline here is a dramatic backdrop to an adrenaline-fueled adventure, with spots like Kynance Cove offering postcard-perfect views. The area’s biodiversity is a kayaker’s delight, with chances to see seals, dolphins, and a variety of seabirds up close.

  • Tip: Ensure you’re prepared for the sea conditions; a guided tour can provide the local knowledge and safety support for a thrilling yet safe adventure.

Helford River: Paddling Through History

Helford River Cornwall.png

Paddling the Helford River is like taking a step back in time. The river’s sheltered waters are flanked by ancient woodlands and traditional Cornish villages. A stop at Frenchman’s Creek, made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s novel, adds a touch of romance to your adventure. The river is also a sanctuary for wildlife, offering tranquil spots for nature watching.

  • Tip: Look for guided tours that offer insights into the area’s rich history and wildlife for a more enriching experience.

Mullion Cove: Kayak to the Edge of the World

Mullion Cove feels like the edge of the world, with its dramatic cliffs and expansive views of the Atlantic. The cove is a starting point for sea kayaking adventures that explore Cornwall’s unique geology and marine life. The challenges here are rewarded with unparalleled views and the thrill of exploration.

  • Tip: Be mindful of sea conditions and always wear appropriate safety equipment. This spot is best suited for those with some kayaking experience.

River Fal: A Tapestry of Landscapes

The River Fal offers a diverse kayaking experience, with its mix of open estuaries and secluded creeks. It’s a place where you can truly refine your paddling technique in a variety of water conditions. The river’s beauty lies in its changing landscapes, from bustling harbors to quiet, hidden inlets only accessible by water.

  • Tip: Opt for a guided kayak adventure to discover secret spots and learn about the local ecosystem from experienced guides.

Port Isaac: From Sea to Screen

Port Isaac Cornwall.png

Port Isaac, a picturesque fishing village, offers more than just stunning views; it’s a slice of Cornish culture. The waters here can be challenging, making it an exciting spot for intermediate kayakers. The village itself has been a backdrop for many films and TV shows, so don’t be surprised if it feels familiar.

  • Tip: After your paddle, take time to explore the village and enjoy some local seafood – the perfect end to a day on the water.

Bude Canal: Kayaking’s Gentle Side

The Bude Canal is the antidote to the wild Cornish sea, offering calm waters ideal for beginners or those seeking a gentle paddle. The canal route takes you through picturesque countryside, offering a different perspective on Cornwall’s diverse landscapes.

  • Tip: The canal is perfect for families and those looking to practice their paddling in a controlled environment.

Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes: A Family-Friendly Adventure

Trevaunance Cove

Trevaunance Cove is a sheltered haven that’s perfect for beginners and family groups. The cove’s calm waters make it an ideal spot for introducing kids to kayaking, with plenty of opportunities for rock pooling and exploring at low tide.

  • Tip: The area is also great for snorkelling, so consider packing a mask and snorkel for a peek beneath the waves.

Carbis Bay: Paddle in Paradise

Carbis Bay, with its turquoise waters and sandy beaches, feels like a slice of tropical paradise. The bay’s sheltered conditions make it ideal for paddlers of all levels, offering a safe environment to practice or simply enjoy a day on the water. It’s also a popular spot for paddleboarding, giving you options on how you want to enjoy the water.

  • Tip: Stay for the sunset. Watching the sun dip below the horizon from your kayak is an experience you won’t forget.

Each of these kayaking spots in Cornwall offers a unique experience, from tranquil river paddles to adventurous sea kayaking. Cornwall’s diverse landscapes and rich history provide the perfect backdrop for your next kayaking adventure. Whether you’re looking to improve your skills, connect with nature, or simply enjoy some quality time on the water, Cornwall has something special for you.

Kayaking Tips for Enjoying Cornwall’s Waters

Embarking on a kayaking adventure in Cornwall is not just about picking a spot and hitting the water. It’s about making memories while staying safe and maximising fun. Here are some tips to ensure your kayaking Cornwall experience is top-notch.

Choosing the Right Kayak

My sit-on-top kayak has been my trusty steed on many a Cornish adventure. It’s perfect for beginners and those looking for a bit of comfort and stability. However, if you’re venturing into open waters, consider a sea kayak for better handling and efficiency. Remember, the kayak you choose can make or break your experience.

Safety First

I can’t stress enough the importance of wearing a buoyancy aid, regardless of your swimming prowess. The waters can be unpredictable, and safety should always come first. Also, familiarise yourself with the sea conditions and weather forecast for the day. I’ve had my share of surprises, and believe me, being prepared makes all the difference.

Local Knowledge is Key

Before I head out, I always chat with local kayakers or tour operators. They offer invaluable insights into the best spots and times to kayak, especially concerning tides and currents. For instance, kayaking in St. Ives at high tide reveals hidden beaches and coves that are simply magical.

Respect the Environment

Cornwall’s coastlines and rivers are teeming with wildlife. From the majestic peregrine falcons to the playful seals, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Always maintain a safe distance from animals and avoid disturbing their natural habitats. Remember, we’re visitors in their world.

Packing Essentials

Apart from the obvious (kayak, paddle, buoyancy aid), there are a few essentials I never hit the water without:

  • Waterproof bag: Keeps your snacks, camera, and phone dry.
  • Sun protection: A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are must-haves, even on cloudy days.
  • Water and snacks: Paddling is hard work, stay hydrated and energized.
  • First aid kit: Better safe than sorry, especially if you’re exploring remote areas.
Sea Kayaking in Cornwall UK.png

Plan Your Route

Especially on the south coast, where the waters are calmer, planning a leisurely paddle around places like the Helford River can offer a day filled with discovery. I always check the map and tide times to plan a route that allows me to explore without rushing. It’s about the journey, not just the destination.

Learn Basic Kayak Skills

Even if you’re a beginner, mastering a few basic skills can greatly enhance your kayaking experience. From learning how to paddle efficiently to knowing how to re-enter your kayak from the water, these skills can be lifesavers. Local kayak schools and guided tours are great places to start.

Be Prepared for the British Weather

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the weather in Cornwall can be fickle. Always dress in layers and be prepared for all eventualities. Waterproof gear is a godsend, especially when the heavens decide to open up mid-paddle.

Join a Guided Tour

For those new to kayaking or looking to explore with the reassurance of local expertise, joining a guided tour can be a great option. Not only do you benefit from the knowledge of experienced guides, but it’s also a fantastic way to meet fellow kayaking enthusiasts. Plus, they often provide all the gear you need, which is a bonus.

Capture the Moment

Finally, don’t forget to capture the moment. Whether it’s a stunning sunset over the River Fal or a seal popping up beside you in Carbis Bay, these are memories you’ll want to keep. A waterproof camera or phone case comes in handy for these picture-perfect moments.

By following these tips and embracing the spirit of adventure, your kayaking journey in Cornwall will be an unforgettable one. Whether it’s your first time paddling or you’re a seasoned kayaker, Cornwall’s waters are waiting to be explored.

Essential Reading

The Sea Kayakers Handbook

This book is your first step to adventure on the water, with everything you need to know, from buying a kayak to dressing for the water.

Topics include: Getting Ready; Kayaks; Accessories and Clothing; Getting to Know Your Kayak; Controlling Your Kayak; Getting Into and Out of the Water; Real Life Paddling; Finding Your Way: Kayak Navigation; Trip Logistics; Group safety; Kayak Camping; Planning Your Dream Trip; Taking Care of Your Stuff

Kayaking Cornwall FAQ

Where is safe to kayak in Cornwall?

Safety always comes first, especially when you’re out on the water. For those of us who prefer to keep things serene and straightforward, the south coast of Cornwall is a treasure trove of calm, sheltered spots ideal for kayaking. Carbis Bay and Bude Canal are my go-tos for a worry-free day on the water. These spots are not just safe; they’re also stunningly beautiful, offering a peaceful paddling experience away from the hustle of stronger currents and waves. Always remember, a little local knowledge goes a long way in ensuring your safety, so don’t shy away from asking around or joining a guided tour.

Do I need a license to kayak in the UK?

When it comes to kayaking in the UK, the rules around licensing are straightforward but important to understand. If you’re planning to paddle in the sea, you’re in luck—no license is required, which makes the stunning Cornish coastline an ideal spot for kayakers of all levels. However, if your adventures take you to rivers and canals, the situation changes.

For most rivers, canals, and inland waterways in the UK, you’ll need a license to kayak. This is because these waterways are often managed by various organizations, such as the Canal & River Trust or the Environment Agency, which require a license to ensure the maintenance and preservation of these spaces for everyone’s enjoyment.

Getting a license is not as daunting as it might sound. Options range from day passes to annual memberships, which can be obtained from the British Canoeing or the relevant managing body of the waterway you’re interested in exploring. These memberships often come with additional benefits, like third-party insurance and access to a wide range of waterways, making it a worthwhile investment for any keen kayaker.

So, before you set off on your inland kayaking adventure, make sure to check the requirements for the specific rivers or canals you plan to explore. It’s a small step that helps protect these beautiful waterways for future generations of paddlers.

Where can I kayak in Cornwall at low tide?

Low tide in Cornwall reveals a whole new world, offering unique kayaking experiences that you can’t get any other time. The River Tamar and Fowey Estuary are my top picks for low tide adventures. These spots not only provide safe paddling routes but also unveil hidden gems of the Cornish landscape that are inaccessible at higher tides. However, remember that local knowledge is key to a safe and enjoyable experience. Conditions can change, so it’s wise to consult with local kayaking guides or groups before heading out.

Is St Ives good for kayaking?

St Ives is more than just good for kayaking; it’s fantastic. Especially for beginners, the calm waters of St Ives Bay provide a safe and scenic environment to get to grips with kayaking. What’s more, the availability of kayak tours means you can explore this picturesque area under the watchful eyes of experienced guides. They’ll show you the best spots and maybe even share a story or two about this iconic Cornish location.

A Kayaker’s Dream

Cornwall is a kayaker’s dream, offering a variety of experiences that cater to all skill levels. From the serene rivers and estuaries of the south coast to the more adventurous seas of the north, there’s something here for everyone. Carbis Bay, Bude Canal, River Tamar, Fowey Estuary, and St Ives are just a few of the spots that make kayaking in Cornwall an unforgettable adventure.

Whether it’s your first time holding a paddle or you’re looking to add new routes to your kayaking diary, Cornwall’s waters welcome you. The blend of natural beauty, wildlife, and the thrill of exploration makes each trip unique.

As for me, I’m always counting down the days until my next kayaking adventure in Cornwall. There’s always a new cove to discover, a new river to navigate, and a new story to create. So, grab your kayak, your sense of adventure, and maybe a pasty for the road—Cornwall’s waters are calling. See you out there!

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