Eight reasons why you need to try canoeing or kayaking on the Crinan Canal
If big foamin’ breakers give you the shakers then the Crinan Canal is, as the song goes, for you. ‘O...
Argyll & the Isles boasts some of the best kayaking spots in Scotland, from sheltered lochs and canal paddles to the open sea along the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail and even white-water river adventures.
The area is tailormade for kayaking and canoeing. Paddle your cares away along 3,723KM of coastline, over 40 freshwater and sea lochs, several easily accessed beaches and rivers and Britain’s most beautiful shortcut, the Crinan Canal.
For nature lovers, there are seals, porpoise, diving gannets and eagles. Venture inland and you might spot one of Scotland’s otters. If you’re the adventurous sort, the wild waters of the Gulf of Corryvreckan and the tidal Falls of Lora, will thrill and delight. You can even kayak out to Staffa and into the ethereal beauty of Fingal’s Cave.
Kayaking and canoeing are one of the rare activities that you can equally enjoy gently or strenuously. It gets you on the water, brings you closer to nature and can be as sociable or as solitary as you choose. Classed as a low impact sport, the physical and mental health benefits are incredible. Enjoying the water is good for the mind, body and soul.
Plus it’s is easily accessible for all the family. Hire a kayak and paddle, don a wet suit, buoyancy aid and helmet, get some hot tips from the hire company and you’re ready to go!
"Argyll has to be one of the top places in the world to sea kayak, offering anything from very sheltered lochs to exposed locations which will challenge even the most experienced paddler - such as the Sound of Jura, along with remote islands.
The variety of wildlife here is another major attraction, which can be observed from a safe distance, on the water".
Dave McBride, Kayak Majik
With miles of glorious coastline and sparkling waters scattered with picturesque, inhabited islands, Oban is one of the best places in Scotland for sea kayaking. It’s no coincidence that Ganavan Sands, just north of Oban, is the start of the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail.(anchor link to trail on this page)
For the more adventurous and experienced kayaker:
For kayaking equipment to buy and hire, tuition and guided tours, check out Outside Edge, Sea Kayak Scotland, Sea Freedom Kayak and Sea Kayak Oban.
A port and marina on the west coast of Argyll, Craobh Haven is popular place to sail. There is a small, sheltered bay which is ideal for sea kayaking novices.
Be sure to stay in the bay as the wider area is not suitable for paddling without extensive local knowledge.
Craobh Haven Watersports rent out sit-on-top kayaks, wetsuits and buoyancy aids. They allocate an area to kayak in so that you don’t have to worry about underwater obstacles, tides or winds.
With its extensive open waters and secluded beaches surrounded by lush forests and woodlands, the Cowal Peninsula has a real sense of rugged remoteness. Porpoises and seals swim these waters and, if you venture inland, you might even spot one of Scotland’s iconic red squirrels.
Sea Kayak Argyll and Bute, based at Toward just south of Dunoon, offer introductory sea kayaking courses and a range of guided tours.
The large island of Mull, with its long indented coastline and sea lochs offers contrasting paddling conditions and experiences. Otters, seals, porpoises and playful dolphins can often be spotted in the Sound of Iona.
There are several good launch points with convenient parking and you’re likely to of spot wildlife both on the waters and in the skies.
Bendoran Watersports at Bunessan on the Ross of Mull offers sit on and sea kayak hire, lessons and guided expeditions exploring the rugged coastline.
Tiree is Argyll’s top spot for water sports. It’s pristine white sands and near-guaranteed wind and waves make it the perfect place to learn and practice your surfing skills. Paddling in the surf on a sit-on-kayak is a great experience – you’ll get wet feet but it’s a lot of fun!
This is a wonderful coastline to paddle around, with crystal-clear waters and small rocky islands. You might even be lucky and spot a basking shark offshore!
There are several kayaking and canoe spots around the island with easy parking near to launch spots.
Wild Diamond, based at Loch Bhasapol, hire out single, double and triple kayaks.
The lovely thing about loch kayaking and canoeing is that there is something for everyone. Novices can enjoy sheltered water, whilst those more experienced can make the most of the vast open stretches.
For many people Loch Lomond is the most beautiful loch in Scotland, if not the world. To the south there are a myriad of islands, small and large, hilly and flat, wooded and open. To the north, the mountains on each side get bigger and the loch becomes more and more fjord-like. The iconic Ben Lomond, often with visible snow, towers over all parts of the Loch. The villages on either side, Balmaha, Rowardennan, Luss, Tarbet are charming and there are grand houses and castles to spot as you paddle. There are several good access points on the west shore. Canoe and kayak hire is available at Luss with Loch Lomond Leisure and also at Loch Lomond Shores.
Perfect for a peaceful paddle, Loch Goil is a nature lovers utopia. Spot seal colonies, porpoises, eider ducks, gannets oyster catchers, shags, cormorants, buzzards & occasionally, even eagles. And keep an eye out for starfish under the waves when paddling around the 14th century ruins of Carrick Castle.
Located in the centre of the beautiful Argyll Forest Park on the Cowal Peninsula, Loch Eck is a freshwater loch offering a unique view of inland Argyll. At the southern end there is portage access to the River Eachaig from which you can see the Benmore Botanic Garden, the Holy Loch and the ‘the Paper Caves’ where the Earl of Argyll hid family papers when leading a Protestant rebellion.
An interesting historic sea loch paddle taking in the ruins of the 12th century Kilmun Church, remainders of the historic US naval base and the fabulous 1930’s Kilmun arboretum on the hillside. Great if you are staying locally and want a paddle!
Just to the south of Oban is another great paddle for history enthusiasts. The Carraig nam Marbh (Rock of the Dead) can be found just as this sea loch breaks into the sea. At this point the south coast of Mull stretches majestically across the horizon and nearby Kerrera offers the option of paddling around the island and exploring the ruins of Gylen castle.
West Loch Tarbert, close to the historic fishing village of Tarbert, is a long, narrow sea loch at the north western end of the Kintyre peninsula. It’s a popular spot for water sports, with clear water, plenty of wildlife and fabulous views and scenery. The warm, shallow waters of Escart Bay are ideal for perfecting your paddling technique.
Kayak Majik, based near Escart Bay, hire out open canoes and offer guided sea kayak tours with all equipment provided. The company is also trialling wingSUP and wingfoiling lessons – perfect for windy Kintyre!
Kayaking is a wonderful way to explore the waters but it’s not without risk. Keep safe by following these safety tips from British Canoeing.
The British coastline offers some of the best sea kayaking opportunities in the world, but anyone venturing out needs to understand the risks and paddle safely. British Canoeing has been working with the RNLI to publish safety information that sets out the steps you need to take to stay safe on the sea.
The full information can be found here but in the meantime, make sure you familiarise yourself with these points.
To stay safe on the sea:
The Argyll Sea Kayak trail is 150km in length and offers some of the best sea kayaking in Europe. The route takes in some of Scotland's most scenic coastlines.
The magnificent Fingal’s Cave, similar to the Giants Causeway in Ireland, is formed from hexagonally jointed basalt columns. Famous for its wonderful acoustics, the cave has a large arched entrance, which from the inside, frames the island of Iona, and is filled with beautiful clear waters. On a calm day, experienced sea kayakers paddle out to Staffa from Mull to visit the cave. In May and June you can go ashore and see the puffins.
Basking Shark Scotland run guided wild swimming, paddleboarding and kayaking tours of the cave.
Nicknamed Britain’s most beautiful shortcut, the sheltered waters of the Crinan Canal are ideal for both beginner and experienced paddlers. Look out for heron and otters on the inland stretches and seals and osprey in Crinan Loch where the canal enters the Sound of Jura. Near Bellanoch, there are great views of Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve. This lowland raised bog is one of Europe’s rarest and most threatened wildlife habitats.
The canal is just over 14km long and there are the long uninterrupted stretches to enjoy between locks 4 and 5 and locks 13 and 14. The canal is also part of the longer Argyll Sea Kayak Trail.
River Orchy - in the right conditions, this is one of Scotland's best rivers for white water kayaking. One for the skilled and experienced kayaker, there is much fun to be had. Always check conditions in advance and seek out someone who knows the waters for your first time on the river. The usual place to start is near to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and paddle downstream.
River Awe - provides fantastic white-water kayaking. The river is dam-controlled, and releases water at a great beginner/intermediate level all summer long.
Falls of Lora – situated north of Oban, during high spring tides, this is a tidal wave under Connel Bridge. It’s fun, but serious. The falls are created as the tide ebbs out over a rock shelf. It can be unpredictable with boil patterns and whirlpools so should only be attempted by kayakers who are skilled, experienced, knowledgeable and adventurous. It should never be attempted on a solo paddle.
If you’re a sea kayaker, you’re probably in to wild camping.
Sea Kayak Argyll and Bute offer a weekend course to give you the essential skills and knowledge to take your sea kayaking on tour. They also offer coaching for beginners and advanced kayakers plus an exciting programme of sea kayaking events.
It’s all about how you sit and the paddle you use. In a kayak you normally sit with your legs in front of you and in a canoe you normally kneel. Both can be for one person or more people. A kayak can be open or closed whereas a canoe is always open deck. Another difference is the paddle - canoes use a paddle with one blade and kayaks use a paddle with two blades at either end.
There are lots of different types including:
Before venturing out on the water, always seek professional advice about which is best for you and what you plan to do.
Kayaks and canoes can cover much of the same ground, but there are different type of kayaks for different uses – e.g. sea, touring and river. Canoes tend to be best suited to relatively calm waters like lochs and canals as they are open top and could readily capsize in swell or rough river conditions. If you’re a keen canoeist, we hope you still find this page useful. And if you can suggest any canoe routes in Argyll & the Isles, we’d love to hear from you!
In theory, canoes can be used on any body of water, from lakes to canals, rivers to estuaries. In practice, they can be used by very skilled canoeists with extreme caution in the right conditions but we do not recommend it.
Yes, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows you to roam and swim relatively freely in inland and coastal waters provided that you do so responsibly. This means it is legal to kayak and canoe in Argyll’s sea, lochs and rivers. Access should always be taken from open (as opposed to enclosed) land. It is important to consider where you are launching from and, if you have travelled by car or van, that this is parked responsibly while you’re out on the water.
No water-based activity is 100% safe and you should always have a healthy respect for the water. You can minimise the risks by reading and following the safety advice provided by British Canoeing, planning ahead and exercising caution at all times. Never paddle alone.
As a minimum, you’ll need a kayak or canoe, buoyancy aid and paddle. If you are paddling in the sea, tidal or white waters, it is sensible to wear a helmet. If you are using an open top vessel, a wetsuit is a good idea. You should also bring a waterproof bag in which to store your phone. You should stow this carefully so that it is easily accessible.
Normally, the longer and narrower the kayak, the faster and straighter it will go. This is ideally suited for sea conditions.
Wider and shorter kayaks are more stable and easier to turn but won’t be as fast.
If you are a beginner to kayaking, starting with a short canoe is probably best for you.
We strongly recommend that you get professional advice when buying or renting a kayak or canoe.
You can hire kit from a few of places locally. Some offer equipment only while others will only hire equipment as part of an organised activity.
Call the coastguard: Call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard in an emergency. (If you don’t have a signal, your phone will try to connect you to the nearest network.).
It is important to have your mobile phone kept in a waterproof bag and ideally on a cord attached to you.
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