Yes, you can kayak in all federally protected areas. That includes rivers and lakes that are part of a National Park or Recreation Area and some state parks. For this rule to apply, you do not have to be on land owned by the National Park Service.

Kayaking is a lot of fun and can be one of the best ways to spend your day outside. If you are considering kayaking but are wondering if you can do it anywhere, this post is for you! There are a few things that will determine where you can kayak.

Going over private land without permission

It is illegal to go on someone else’s private land without permission. That includes personal property, buildings that are not in use, campgrounds, and trails on public lands. It is a federal crime to trespass, damage someone else’s property, and not leave.

Kayaking over closed waterfalls

It is illegal to kayak over waterfalls that are closed or not available to the public. There are legal exceptions, such as when there is an official trail around the waterfall, and you have permission from the landowner.

Still, it is best to check before proceeding any farther than you usually would be allowed for everyone to stay safe and out of trouble with federal laws.

Kayaking to an island that is not officially open to the public

Although it may be tempting to visit a nearby island and fish or sunbathe on its shores, visiting an island without permission is illegal. Many islands are on private property, requiring a special permit to visit them.

These permits can be hard to come by, and in some cases, the island is not even named on Google Maps, so you will not find it on your map. So, it is best to keep away from those private islands.

Kayaking over unsupervised dams

It is illegal for anyone under 16 years of age to go over the dam of a lake or river that has no one watching it to avoid seeing and getting hurt by people jumping from the dam.

In most cases, if there are no people around when you go over, signs are posted saying an area is potentially dangerous for young children, but there are times when this does not apply.

This law only applies to waters controlled and managed by the government, so only some lakes and rivers are subject to this federal rule.

Kayaking in areas that are off-limits to the public

While kayaking, it would help if you stayed on public lands such as trails, shorelines, and official launching sites. You cannot paddle past any yellow buoys or signs posted by the government.

Most public parks and recreation areas have these boundaries marked with buoys to keep visitors safe from dangerous rocks and submerged trees.

Kayaking with a large group of people

It is illegal to go kayaking with a group of more than twelve people at once unless you get permission from the landowner or local agencies like the National Park Service or state park authorities before they reach the property. In most cases, if you are a visitor, you will not be on private property, but it is best to check and be sure.

Kayaking without permission outdoors

It is illegal to go kayaking on private property without the owner’s permission, and they are allowed to charge anywhere from $100-$2000 for this permission.

If you encounter someone who is not willing or able to permit you, keep your distance as it could be considered trespassing in most areas.

Kayaking in a public place that is not designated for this activity

Kayaking in a public place not officially designated as suitable for this type of sailing or boating is illegal.

Therefore, if you go kayaking up and down a river in your backyard without paying close attention to the signs about where you can and cannot go, you can easily be sued for trespassing on private property if someone ends up getting hurt by you.

Instead, check ahead of time if someone has set up a private area for kayakers, then you will have no problems.

Kayaking large bodies of water

If you are kayaking in a large body of water such as a lake, you have to be very careful about the conditions and weather.

As long as the water is within what is considered safe for an average person, that does not mean that there are not dangerous places or times for you to go swimming.

There are no lifeguards on duty at most lakes and rivers to preserve the beauty of these natural resources, so it pays to be extra cautious about the conditions provided by officials who monitor these waters.

Kayaking in shallow waters

Kayaking in a body of water that is much deeper than your head is illegal. If you are above or below the water level of your neck, it is too dangerous for you to go kayaking, and you should never go swimming without knowing how deep the water is. Remember, if it looks too bubbly and too deep to take a dip, then it probably is.

Many poisonous fish can be found in the water, so if you fall into something, it would not be a good idea to start swimming.


Kayaking is a fun activity that everyone should try at least once. If you have the proper safety gear and training, you can go kayaking without worrying about getting stranded or hurt.

However, many other rules need to be followed to keep you, your friends, and your family safe from dangerous situations.

Follow these rules carefully so you can go kayaking and enjoy the outdoors without fear of anyone getting hurt or in trouble with the law.