Kayaking Ullswater and the Lake District

kayaking ullswater canoe views

So you’ve decided to go kayaking in the Lake District or Ullswater? Great decision! Ullswater is a gorgeous setting for a kayak ride, SUP or canoe. You don’t need a permit to paddle in the Lake District, there are easy launch sites galore, and great parking. And it doesn’t matter if it rains!

Last year, we’d taken a short break in Ullswater and I’d got up early to watch the sunrise. On the way back to our hotel, I saw a couple of women taking a canoe onto the water and I was struck by how perfect and peaceful that must be.

Getting Kitted up for Kayaking

Inspired by the Canoe Ladies, we spent a few months kayak hunting. Because of lockdown it seemed like the whole world was buying kayaks. We eventually found two sit on top kayaks from Costco and Shore.co.uk, which were both great options.

We are beginners to owning kayaks, but we have paddled a few in our time. I’m a leader with a Sea Scout group, and we’ve taken multiple sea kayaking trips in California, paddling at sunset and exploring caves. With that in mind, I was quite confident about the sort of kayak we needed to buy, and the important accessories.

Both our kayaks are sit-on top models. This means they’re quite fast, but importantly they’re very stable, virtually unsinkable and reasonably easy to get back on, if we DO manage to fall off.

sit on top kayak

Alongside our kayaks, I made sure we had a throw line (this sort of rope can be a tow line, or used to secure a kayak), and a dry bag, so we could take a phone with us on the water. You’ll also need to make sure you have buoyancy aids to paddle on a lake.

Lastly, I decided kayak insurance was a good idea, in case a kayak gets bumped, or stolen. I joined the British Canoeing website which gives you insurance for your craft but also information and access to all sorts of inland waterways as part of the membership – so it’s well worth looking at.

Lastly, we needed a way to transport the kayaks. When we had one kayak, we bought these soft roof bars. They sit on top of the car and a strap goes inside the car doors to hold them in place. They cost about 25% of what fixed roof bars cost, and I’ve used them with two extra ratchet straps to hold the front and back of the kayak. It’s really secure and much easier than using fixed bars.

soft roof bars

However, once we had two kayaks, we invested in some Thule roof bars and a Sports Bar, so that we can attach two kayaks safely. The only downside to this cunning set-up is that it does sort of spoil my dream of having one of those snazzy rooftop car tents, so I’ll have to get up early if I want to see sunrise.

loch morar

Where to Kayak in the Ullswater and the Lake District

Where are the best places to take your kayak at Ullswater?

We’re so lucky that Ullswater is just an hour from our home, so we can get up there early in the morning, when the lake is at its prettiest and most peaceful.

Kayaking Ullswater: top tips

I started our Lake District mission at Ullswater because it’s easy to get to, relatively quiet compared to Windermere, and the views are so pretty.

You do not need a permit to paddle on Ullswater, there are no limits on crafts and the water is not so cold as some of the deeper lakes. At sunrise, the views at the top or bottom of the lake are best. At sunset, head for the eastern edge of the lake.

Where to park at Ullswater:

Generally, parking at Ullswater is very easy. If you want to go to the Southern end of the lake, then I recommend parking at Glencoyne car park, which is just on the left after the village of Glenridding.

If you want to paddle at the top end of the lake, then there is always the Sailing Club car park. Alternatively there’s a big car park at Pooley Bridge, or if you follow the lake road past the sailing club, there are a couple of small parking areas on the top end of the lake, that are popular with fishermen.

Check out the maps to see where you should launch your kayak. In general, if you’re not a member of the sailing club, then you’re safe to launch from just to the left of the sailing club, or at the bottom end of the lake around Glencoyne, up towards Aira Force.

Top tip – if you park at Glencoyne, you can pay ahead of time using an app, and you can arrive from very early in the morning. The launch site is right across from the car park, so it’s a very easy walk. If you need toilets, head to the visitor centre in Glenridding OR to the car park of the Aira Force waterfalls.

kayaking ullswater

Kayaking in the Lake District: Top Tips

If you want to explore beyond Ullswater we have done some research on the best lakes for kayaks in the Lake District, and what you need to know before you go paddling.


  • You don’t need a permit to canoe or kayak on Windermere
  • Park at Newby Bridge and launch your kayak here
  • Paddle up to the gorgeous river to the southern tip of Windermere
  • If you’re looking for parking, this website tells you which areas of the park are quiet, or busy.


  • You can paddle on Coniston without any permits
  • There’s parking at the Coniston Boating Centre which is right next to the water
  • There are free public toilets next to the parking
  • The boating company can charge a £2 launching fee for launching from their dock
  • There’s a great cafe next to the dock where you can get hot chocolate and bacon sandwiches!

buttermere kayak


  • Buttermere is a lovely place to kayak and it’s great to walk around the lake and stop for a picnic
  • Kayaking here is peaceful because there are no powered craft allowed
  • You can buy a one-day permit for your own canoe or kayak at the parking machine at the National Trust car park
  • Otherwise, you can buy an annual permit over the phone from the rangers.
  • Aim to arrive early – only 10 craft are allowed on the water at any one time
  • Park at Gatesgarth (CA13 9UZ) and it’s a 5 minute walk to the Southern edge of the lake, which is the BEST place to watch the sun rise.

kayaking lake district


  • You will need a permit before paddling a canoe or kayak on Bassenthwaite
  • You can buy permits online – it costs £50 per person for six months (or you can buy a day’s access for £6)
  • There are no car parks – instead there are lay-bys along the side of the lake.
  • My favourite launch spot is “lake view spot” layby (on Google Maps) which is two thirds down the West side of the lake. It’s an easy path to the water and a good launch into protected waters, so it’s great for swimming and picnics


  • We kayaked on Derwentwater when we visited relatives who live at the Northern end of the Lake District. There are maps around the lake showing multiple access and launch points
  • Park at the theatre – just remember change for the parking machines!
  • No permits are required.


  • Wastwater has some of the best views in England but it’s quite a drive so set off EARLY!
  • You don’t need a permit, but there are strict limits on the number of crafts that can be on the water
  • The limit is 10 crafts, so during busy days or at weekends, make sure to get here early or late.

kayak guide lake district

A Perfect Day Kayaking

Honestly, kayaking in the Lake District is the perfect way to get to know our new kayaks AND get a bit of freedom and adventure during lockdown.

plus size wetsuit uk

Am I an expert kayaker? No. Do I look a bit daft trying to get out of a kayak? Probably. Do I care? Definitely not.

With everything going on in everyone’s lives at the moment it’s never a bad idea to take a little time out and enjoy some fresh air and open spaces. It turns out that kayaking is also a pretty decent workout, and my arms and chest have a decent ache this morning after using lots of energy on the water.

Arriving before 10am meant it was very quiet, and for several hours, we were the only people on the lake. We paddled, we took pictures, we sang made-up songs and admired the view.

We took towels and dry clothes, so when we got out of the water we could get changed. I’d also packed a thermos flask full of chilli, plus some cheese and crackers. After we’d got changed, we had a gorgeous picnic by the lake, sheltering under a huge tree from the light drizzle of rain.

Nobody fell over, and we even managed to get the kayak strapped back onto the car in under 30 minutes.

I’m calling our first kayaking experience in Ullswater a 10/10, would highly recommend!

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