Kayaking in Oklahoma City: Where to Paddle in OKC
When you think of Oklahoma City, what typically springs to mind? If you said “kayaking,” you might be in the minority, but you wouldn’t be wrong.
In fact, with Oklahoma City as the official training site for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes in rowing, canoeing, kayaking and all kinds of watersports, kayaking in OKC is actually one of the city’s most popular outdoor activities and tourist attractions, growing in popularity each year.
Since 2006, Oklahoma City’s famous Boathouse District has hosted national and international paddling competitions and has transformed itself into one of the nation’s premiere destinations for whitewater rafting, kayaking, rowing and dragon boating. It’s also a great destination for casual paddlers just looking to have some fun.
Kayaking in Oklahoma City isn’t limited to the downtown hotspots, though. Here are American Paddler’s top five choices for the best places to kayak in and around Oklahoma City.
- Kayaking the Oklahoma City Boathouse District
- Kayaking the Oklahoma River in Downtown OKC
- Kayaking Lake Hefner
- Kayaking Lake Overholser and the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge
- Kayaking at Lake Thunderbird State Park
NOTE: Oklahoma requires all boats with an outboard motor — including canoes and kayaks — to be registered with a state boat sticker, and many municipalities, including Oklahoma City, may require additional permits and passes to paddle on city waters.
Oklahoma City Boathouse District
In just over a decade, the downtown Oklahoma City Boathouse District has established itself as one of the top locations for paddlesports enthusiasts not just in the region, but in the country. Since the Chesapeake Boathouse was built in 2006 along the Oklahoma River just south of I-40 and west of I-35, the district has exploded in activity. Today, it includes a row of world-class boathouses, the Chesapeake Finish Line Tower and a $45 million whitewater rafting and kayaking center that offers tours, lessons and rentals for all ages.
Among other dry-land attractions, the RIVERSPORT Adventure Park offers day passes that include whitewater rafting experiences for $49 or flatwater activities for $39, plus hourly kayak rentals and seasonal rates. Whitewater kayaking is also available for those bringing their own gear. You’ll also find various programs, kayaking lessons and other adventures in the Boathouse District right in the heart of OKC.
Best for: Those looking for a guided adventure, rentals, lessons or to try whitewater kayaking or rafting
Tours and rentals: RIVERSPORT Adventures offers rentals, lessons and programs for various watersports, including kayaking
Public access: Regatta Park, 701 S. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City
Kayaking the Oklahoma River in Downtown OKC
We included this as a separate kayaking location because, while the Boathouse District is on the Oklahoma River, it really is an experience of its own. However, for paddlers who’d prefer to stay away from the crowds, the river itself offers plenty of seclusion.
Technically, what’s known as the Oklahoma River is a 7-mile stretch of the North Canadian River that’s been transformed into a series of lakes, trails and recreational areas for the enjoyment of those near OKC’s downtown district. The Oklahoma River district, which was completed in 2004, offers plenty of locations for fishing, recreational paddling and boating, with walking trails running the length of the north and south banks.
Though swimming in the Oklahoma River is not allowed, kayakers looking to enjoy a relaxing evening with a beautiful skyline view will find a perfect spot for a peaceful paddle.
Best for: Those looking for skyline views without the crowds
Public access: SW 15th St. and S. Portland Ave., Oklahoma City
Lake Hefner, just north of Oklahoma City along route 74, is a 3.8-square-mile reservoir originally built to expand OKC’s water supply in 1947. Today, however, it’s a prime destination for boaters, paddlers and nature enthusiasts across central Oklahoma. Dozens of bird species migrate here from across North America, making Lake Hefner an ideal place for bird watching.
Several public parks and beaches — including one with a lighthouse on the eastern banks — line the lake’s 17-mile shoreline, and those looking to kayak on Lake Hefner will find plenty of good spots to put in. Kayakers looking to take in a gorgeous sunset, do some fishing or get some exercise will not be disappointed. Group paddles, classes and moonlight kayaking is also available through rental companies like OKC Kayak.
Best for: Recreational paddlers, families and anglers
Lake Overholser and Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge
A slightly smaller reservoir about 10 miles to the southwest of Lake Hefner is Lake Overholser, which also offers paddlers a wealth of fun things to do. Home to the historic Overholser Dam and the Lake Overholser Bridge just south of Route 66, the lake offers plenty to do, with trails, picnic areas and recreation facilities lining the shores. Paddlers can rent kayaks or stand up paddleboards at OKC RIVERSPORT at the Lake Overholser Boathouse or the Flat Tide Rental Shop, which operates May through October.
Another gem of Lake Overholser is the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge, a 1,000-acre marsh that lies just to the lake’s north. Kayakers can paddle through the winding marsh along the North Canadian River, which is also a prime location for bird watching and fishing. Just be sure to get there early, as the parking lots just south of the bridge at the lake’s northeast corner do tend to fill up.
Best for: Exploring, historic sight-seeing and casual kayaking
Public access: There’s a public boat launch near the parking lots just to the south of the Lake Overholser Bridge off East Overholser Drive
Lake Thunderbird State Park
While not technically in Oklahoma City, Lake Thunderbird is a sprawling reservoir just a half-hour’s drive to the city’s southeast offering a variety of watersports and recreation activities. With Lake Thunderbird State Park to the lake’s north and Little River State Park to the south, there are plenty of options for kayaking, camping, fishing, swimming and archery. If you’re into gambling, there’s even two nearby casinos.
Kayak fishing is a popular pastime at Lake Thunderbird, which is regularly stocked with bass, crappie and catfish. And for those looking for a glimpse of America’s great symbol of freedom, lucky paddlers might also spot a bald eagle or two swirling overhead.
Best for: Anglers, families and recreational paddlers
Tours and rentals: Calypso Cove Marina on the lake’s south end offers pontoon and paddle boat rentals, but does not rent kayaks. However, OKC Kayak rents kayaks and trailers you can take to this location.
Public access: You might need to pay to use the day-use areas of the state park, but the park has nine public boat access ramps to launch a kayak. Check out the map for more information.
If you know of any other locations for kayaking in Oklahoma City, drop us a line.