France is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Many tourists are attracted by the culture, the good food, the beautiful cities and the diverse regions with their castles and fortresses for a vacation. In addition to numerous trips to France, we ourselves have explored several paddling destinations there in recent years and can now say that France is a real paddler’s paradise. In the following we would like to introduce you to the most beautiful regions of the country where it’s worth going kayaking or canoeing. Some of them we have paddled ourselves and tour reports with maps will help you with your planning. Other paddling regions should serve as inspiration.
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Kayaking and Canoeing in France
Canoeing enjoys great popularity in France and attracts not only its own citizens but also many tourists who want to explore the country’s beautiful waters during a vacation in nature. It is mainly the beautiful rivers that make the country so attractive among paddling enthusiasts. Compared to the rivers in other countries like Germany, they are often left in their natural state, making a canoe trip a lot more relaxed (less portages ) and natural. Many of the popular rivers are located in the south of the country. Thus, you often have the good weather on a canoe trip also on the side. In Provence, whitewater rivers are waiting, flowing through gorges rarely found in Europe.
Lake chains are rather not found in France. Likewise, the largest lakes in the country cannot compete with other big lakes in Europe. The only candidate here is Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French), which the French share with Switzerland. There are also plenty of opportunities for coastal paddling. Especially the Mediterranean Sea in the south is a true paradise for sea kayakers. Beautiful bays, azure waters and steep cliffs, such as those found near Marseille, definitely make for a unique paddling experience in good weather conditions.
Multi-day canoe trips in France
Especially on the popular rivers, numerous campsites have settled, which also specialize in canoe tourism. Canoe rental stations also often offer camping equipment and it is very typical that at the end of a tour you are brought back to the starting point by a shuttle bus.
Wild camping is generally not allowed in most parts of France, but is often tolerated in the wilderness. Thus, it is common to see canoeists pitching their tents on the riverbanks. Of course, you should always leave the place as you found it.
Even those who do not like camping are well served in France. Idyllic accommodations with equally beautiful hotels and guesthouses await you along many stretches of river. A tour like this is really fun if you round off the evening with a visit to a restaurant to enjoy French cuisine.
Paddling with kids in France
For families with children, the country offers the best conditions. Good weather in the south allows swimming fun for the little ones and the numerous campsites have also adapted to families. Thus, most campsites have playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants and a small grocery stores. Especially in the rural areas you can also find many affordable accommodations.
In addition, the country is quite densely populated and you are never really in isolated wilderness. If the worst comes to the worst, the next town or village is never too far away. Another big advantage are the mostly natural rivers. Especially the annoying portage for families can be completely avoided here.
Best time to go kayaking in France
In the south of the country, thanks to the Mediterranean climate, summer comes early and goes late. Above all, you should try to avoid the French school vacations, because the French also like to be on the rivers with their families for a canoe trip. In the south of France, the rivers often have very little water in high summer, which makes canoeing easier for inexperienced paddlers due to the lower currents. On the other hand, you will have to tow or carry your canoe in places where the water is too shallow. We recommend May and September as ideal travel months for the south of France. For the rest of the country, paddling is most fun in the summer outside the vacation season.
Ardèche – One of the most popular white water spots in Europe
The 27 km (16.8 miles) long Ardeche Gorge is the spot for whitewater sports par excellence in France. The river is also ideal for beginners in whitewater sports and sporty touring paddlers. That’s why there are numerous boat rentals at different places in the gorge.
At vacation times and in high summer, when the water level is quite low, the region is crowded with tourists. In spring until the end of May you can still travel relatively quietly by kayak. The highlight of this tour is without a doubt the famous Pont d’Arc rock passage.
We have already kayaked through the Ardeche Gorge twice and we are sure that it was not the last time. We did the first tour in May and there were some wild spots that were really fun. The second tour we did in July and the river had a nice current to go fast but there were no wild passages. Therefore, anyone who does not like it so wild, but still wants to marvel at the beautiful scenery from a kayak, should rather plan a tour later in the summer.
If you want to have the river for yourself a little bit, you should ideally use your own boat or see if a rental company gives out a boat very early in the morning. Because the masses come only in the later morning.
Dordogne – Paddling along picturesque villages, chateaux and castles
The Dordogne is a 490 km (305 miles) long river in the southwest of France. For paddling, the 150 km (93 miles) long section between Argentat and Limeuil is particularly interesting. The river is largely natural there and you don’t have to portage the boat at any point, as there are boat slides at weirs for this purpose. Especially for families with children the Dordogne valley is an excellent paddling region. There are numerous campsites along the route, the water is quite tame in summer and early autumn and there is really a lot to discover along the banks. Besides really beautiful villages, countless castles and chateaus await and there is even a cave or two.
The Dordogne is highly recommended for canoe trips lasting several days. It is so varied that one can never get bored. But if you have only one day for a paddle, you should paddle the section between Vitrac and Beynac. Here you can discover beautiful nature, idyllic villages and the most famous castles of the region within a short time. For such a day trip, however, it is better to avoid the vacations and weekends, as this route is very popular and accordingly very busy.
In our tour article on the canoe trip on the Dordogne we report on our 6-day trip.
Gard – In the footsteps of the Romans
Nature is actually in the foreground of every paddling tour, but it is different on a tour on the Gardon. The highlight of this tour is the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, one of the best preserved bridges of the Roman Empire. The Pont du Gard is one of the most popular destinations in the south of France and there is nothing more beautiful to explore this historic structure from the water.
Since canoeing is a favorite pastime of many French people, there are many rental kayaks and canoes on the river during the vacations, which preferably head for the Pont du Gard. With your own inflatable canoe or folding boat, you can paddle to the historic bridge even after the rush hours and thus take in the surroundings at your leisure. Similar to the Ardeche Gorge, the water level is also quite low in high and late summer.
The canoe trip can be ideally combined with visits to some beautiful French cities. Nîmes, Avignon and Arles are in the immediate vicinity, all of which have their own charm and are well worth a visit.
Read the tour report about our canoe trip on the Gard.
Les Calanques – Mediterranean Coastal Paddling
For many French people, Les Calanques National Park is one of the most beautiful coastal regions in the country. High chalk cliffs, narrow bays and azure waters paint a picture of a paradisiacal landscape, which one associates with the Mediterranean.
Most tourists come to the national park for a hiking tour. We have also made numerous hiking tours in the national park and can only recommend a hike there to you. It is simply a unique experience to hike along such a beautiful coast and to rest in one of the beautiful bays.
In ideal weather conditions, which means no waves and stable weather conditions, the coast is suitable for wonderful sea kayak tours. The many small bays with their beaches invite you to stay.
If you are ambitious, you can paddle the entire national park from the coast, as we did. You start in the small harbor town of Cassis and head towards Marseille. We ended our tour directly in the old harbor “Vieux Port” of Marseille. On the way there are imposing rock formations and numerous bays, which entice you to stop and swim. In Cassis and Marseille there are also kayak rental stations. If you don’t want to paddle the whole route from Cassis to Marseille, you can also do only a part of it. However, it is recommended to start in Cassis, because from there you can reach the more impressive bays faster. A comfortable day trip in this case would be the route Cassis to Calanque d’en Vau.
Learn more about our tour in the article Kayaking in the Calanques.
Verdon – The Grand Canyon of France
The Verdon is an alpine river in southern France and is also called the Grand Canyon of France. No wonder, with chalk cliffs, which are up to 700 m (2300 feet) high, the gorge offers impressive scenery. Five dams have already been built here for energy production and flood protection, which means that nowadays some parts of the gorge have been “swallowed up” by these reservoirs.
Nevertheless, the region is a popular destination for many tourists, who use the reservoirs for summer bathing and go hiking and climbing in the gorge. The lakes are just as inviting for a leisurely canoe trip and parts of the Verdon Gorge are also easily navigable. In addition to good weather that you should bring, it is important that you find out in advance when from the hydroelectric power the flood wave is sent into the Verdon.
Lac d’Annecy – A mountain lake with alpine scenery
Among paddling enthusiasts, it is mainly the rivers that the country has to offer. Nevertheless, there are also some beautiful lakes that invite you to a day trip. The alpine lake Lac d’Annecy is a very good example here and is one of our favorite lakes in France. Since the lake is fed by mountain rivers with drinking water quality and no runoff is discharged into the lake, the lake is one of the cleanest waters in Europe.
On the north shore is the town of Annecy, which can be easily reached by train. The place is famous for paragliding. But it is equally worthwhile to explore the area by kayak from the water. The 14.6 km (9.1 miles) long lake offers beautiful views of the southern mountain panorama. Since it is an alpine lake, you should pay attention to good weather conditions, because it can also quickly become wavy and uncomfortable on the lake in wind and storm.
Around the lake there are very beautiful hiking trails that you can also explore. So you can hike up one of the mountains to admire the lake from a height. A bike ride along the lake is also a lot of fun, which you can rent at one of the many rental shops in Annecy.
Sorgue – canoe trip near the source
The Sorgue is known for its emerald waters in large parts of France. Ideally, you start your tour from the Fontaine de Vaucluse, where the river rises. It is about 8 km (5 miles) to the small town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, so it is also perfect for families. Depending on the season and the amount of rain, the water level can vary greatly. Especially during dry periods in summer it is possible that the river has water only further downstream.
There are kayak stations near the Fontaine de Vaucluse, which also receive the boats back at the destination point and organize the return transport to the starting point.
The water is so crystal clear in many places that you can see right down to the bottom even in very deep places and observe the fish life. The river is mostly overgrown with trees and wild bushes and therefore offers enough shade on the water even on hot summer days.
Loire – An endless natural river
With a length of more than 1000 km (620 miles), the Loire is the longest river in France. The beautiful and special thing about this hiking river is that it is largely natural. Thus, the Loire divides at various points in several river arms, thus forming beautiful islands that are very popular with paddlers as a place to rest and spend the night. On the banks, sandy beaches, forests, fields and, of course, numerous castles await.
The upper course of the Loire is a real white water with class III-V and originates in the Massif Central. The middle course with class WW II is no problem for experienced river paddlers and the current ensures fast progress. The lower course of the river is characterized by a calm current and is also ideal for paddling beginners and families. The Loire is the ideal river for camping enthusiasts, because here you can paddle several weeks without any problems.