How to Go Kayaking in Seattle’s Lake Union

Looking toward the Ship Canal from Lake Union

Looking toward the Ship Canal from Lake Union. Photo by David Newman

Undoubtedly, one of my absolute favorite things to do in Seattle is to hop in a kayak and paddle around Lake Union and beyond. With local facilities that make renting a kayak easy and relatively inexpensive, you’ll be off in no time. If you’ve got a hankering to try it out, or if you’re looking for tips to make your paddling experience about as great as it can be, take a look at my Seattle kayaking tips and paddle your way to northwest bliss.

What should I wear to kayak in Seattle?

Great question and I’m glad you asked. Mostly, you’ll be dry, so there’s no need for a swimsuit or goggles. My suggestion: think comfort and think flexibility. I like to go out in a pair of old sneakers (you probably won’t want to barefoot it, as there are pedals on both the right and left hand sides of the kayak to operate the rudder in back), t-shirt and/or sweatshirt (depending on the temperature) and shorts or sweatpants (also depending on the weather). Also, you’ll want to bring a hat to keep the sun off your head and sunscreen for the rest of you. All that water reflects a LOT of sun and you don’t want to get lobsterized.

Where should I go to rent a kayak?

You’re in luck, because you have a few great options when thinking about where to rent a kayak and launch in Seattle.

Where should I paddle? What is there to see?

So, now that you have your smart gear and you’re on the water, there’s a lot to check out. If you’re in Lake Union, you’ll find yourself surrounded (in a good way) by floatplanes taking off and landing, giant yachts, speedboats, tour vessels, Ride the Ducks boats, tiny sailboats, stand-up paddle-boarders (SUPs) and lots more. (My wife and I even saw a Harbor Seal once as we paddled along the western side of the lake. I thought it was a dog at first.) The lake itself is surrounded by the city skyline to the south, Capitol Hill to the east, Queen Anne Hill and the Space Needle to the west, and the Wallingford neighborhood to the north. Here are some other sights to catch:

  • Check out the “Sleepless in Seattle” houseboat: You can find this famous abode in a cluster of houseboats along the northwest edge of Lake Union. Insider’s note: houseboat owners appreciate when paddlers respect that these are their homes, and, just as you’d not want random passers-by peering into your home, they’d rather you kept a wee distance and stay off their docks.
  • Visit Fishermen’s Terminal and the Ship Canal: Head up the northwest arm that leads out of Lake Union and paddle beyond the Aurora and Fremont Bridges and you’ll see Seattle’s maritime community hard at work. Amazing tugboats and trawlers all around and even a handful of dry-docks to investigate.
  • Head out to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Ballard Locks):  This is definitely one of the coolest features of Seattle. It’s where boats can make the transition from the fresh water Lake Union to the salt water Puget Sound. Fascinating to watch if you like that sort of stuff like I do. Boats as large as 760 feet in length and as small as a kayak can travel through the locks so don’t be shy. Insider’s note: If you’re renting a kayak this is the furthest up the Ship Canal some renters would like you to venture, but some of them are OK if you go ahead and go through the locks and into salt water. Check ahead with the rental joint for clarification.
  • See Gas Works Park: At the very north end of the lake, where the shore curves south, you’ll find another of Seattle’s great secret parks. This 19-acre park is a public park on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant. The plant operated from 1906 to 1956, but was purchased by the city in the ‘60s and made into a park, which opened in 1975. Best place in Seattle to fly kites, BTW.

So, to wrap this up, now you know what to wear when you go kayaking in Seattle, where to rent a kayak in Seattle and a few of the MANY cool things to see while kayaking in Seattle. If you found these hints helpful, drop me a comment below; and if you have photos of your own to share, add a link!

Happy paddling!

Seattle City Skyline from Lake Union

Seattle City Skyline from Lake Union. Photo by David Newman

Family Paddling by Gas Works Park

Family Paddling by Gas Works Park. Photo by David Newman

Tug Nose

Tug Nose. Photo by David Newman

Dry Dock in Lake Union

Dry Dock in Lake Union. Photo by David Newman

Ship's Hull

Ship’s Hull. Photo by David Newman

Looking North Along the West Edge of Lake Union

Looking North Along the West Edge of Lake Union. Photo by David Newman

Ballard Bridge

Ballard Bridge. Photo by David Newman

Tug 1

Tug 1. Photo by David Newman

Fremont Bridge Going Up

Fremont Bridge Going Up. Photo by David Newman

Anchor Bay

Anchor Bay. Photo by David Newman


Vessels. Photo by David Newman

Tremont's Prow

Tremont’s Prow. Photo by David Newman


Depth. Photo by David Newman

About the Author

David Newman

Creative Director at Visit Seattle, David Newman is a type-junky, design nerd, would-be-superhero, music-fan, family-man and Seattle enthusiast currently residing in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood with his wife, teenagers & anxious dog.

More Posts By David Newman
David Newman


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