Kayaking Guide Sections:


kayaking off the shores of Rachel Carson Reserve

Water lovers of all varieties are discovering that one of the best ways to explore this chic coastal town is from on on-the-water perspective, and there’s no better or accessible way to acquire this vantage point than via a kayak expedition.

Kayaking is taking this small town by storm, as the small waterways and miles-wide rivers and sounds serve as perfect playgrounds for adventures, and a number of companies have popped up throughout the Crystal Coast that can easily lead the way. From a several hour cruise that encompasses an easy trek to the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve, to long days of fishing or seeking out the area’s prettiest and most desolate shorelines, there are an endless number of ways to put in, get out, and explore.

Kayakers from Beaufort NC

Where to Go Kayaking

It should come as no surprise that a coastal community like Beaufort has miles of watery terrain to discover, and kayakers of all skill levels will find ample opportunities to get their paddles wet. While virtually any expedition can lead to an encounter with small creeks, marshlands, and tiny deserted islands, there are a few major bodies of water where virtually all paddling adventures begin.

Taylor’s Creek – Taylor’s Creek is arguably the easiest body of water to reach from Beaufort, as it is the small channel of water that runs parallel to the downtown area’s Front Street, and which separates the heart of Beaufort from the outlying Rachel Carson Reserve. There are a number of local kayaking rental companies that are found just yards away from the water’s edge, and a number of kayaking tours launch directly into Taylor’s Creek as well. Because Taylor’s Creek is shallow, calm, and narrow, it’s a prime destination for beginning paddlers, particularly when the maritime traffic that congregates along waterfront Beaufort is light. From this body of water, advanced paddlers can also embark on longer treks to the Back Sound to the south, and the North River to the northeast.

Back Sound – Paddlers in Beaufort will have to cut across Taylor’s Creek and bypass the Rachel Carson Reserve to access the Back Sound, but once they do, they’ll find miles of generally calm water in every direction. The Back Sound separates the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve from the Shackleford Banks – a popular barrier island shoreline found roughly 1.5 miles away – and experienced paddlers can make a trek across the sound to enjoy a day at the beach. Just watch for windy days, where paddling against the wind-driven currents can be difficult, as well as maritime traffic and the sometimes swift currents that flow through Beaufort Inlet to the west.  

Newport River (along with Harlowe Creek and Core Creek) – The western, more residential regions of Beaufort connect with the Newport River – a relatively large body of water that in turn connects with a wide range of almost freshwater creeks and scenic and undeveloped regions of the Croatan National Forest. Explore the western regions of the river for a series of paddling trails through the forest, or head due north to connect with Harlowe Creek and Core Creek – which are both narrow and scenic channels of this otherwise massive body of water.

North River – The eastern residential portions of Beaufort connect with the North River, which is another wide body of water that in turn connects with the outlying sounds. While the regions closest to Beaufort are wide and heavily populated with maritime traffic of all sizes, the northern region is nice and narrow, with a number of seldom-explored creeks and branches that jet out in all directions. Look for small launches in the aptly named community of North River to explore a network of creeks that are easy to traverse, and which feel miles away from the rest of the world.

Kayaker fishing from Beaufort NC

Popular Launching Points

Taylors Creek, 2370 Lennoxville Rd Beaufort, NC 28516
This spot that’s located in the heart of Beaufort is one of the most popular launching points in the community, but it’s also one of the most convenient. Located directly along Front Street, with ample street side parking in either direction, paddlers who launch at this point will connect with Taylor’s Creek, and will be just minutes away from the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve, which is located just across the skinny channel of water that runs parallel to the downtown area.

Straights Landing, 1648 Harkers Island Rd Straits, NC 28516
Head just east of Beaufort’s town limits, and you’ll connect with this picturesque launching site that’s located in the small community of Harkers Island. With multiple boat ramps for vessels of all sizes, as well as plenty of parking, kayakers will be just a shell’s throw away from the Newport River to the west, as well as the Back Sound to the south.

North River – Coastal Riverside, 216 Clark Lane Beaufort, NC 28516
This kayak launch site is available for campers at the adjacent campground, and instantly connects with a wide but scenic section of the North River. From this relatively secluded spot, paddlers can head north where the water gradually narrows after several miles, or south to explore lesser-known paddling destinations like South Leopard Creek and Ward Creek.

Atlantic Beach, 613 Atlantic Beach Causeway Atlantic Beach, NC 28512
Head west to the neighboring town of Morehead City, and cross the causeway to the barrier island Crystal Coast region to connect with this launch site that’s situated on the southern terminus of the bridge. From here, paddlers can explore the Bogue Sound to the west, the Back Sound to the east, and can even connect with the Shackleford Banks and the Rachel Carson Reserve with a few miles’ paddle. Just be careful of the Beaufort Inlet, which is located due east of the launch site, and which can have swift and dangerous currents as well as heavy maritime traffic.

West Beaufort, 298 W Beaufort Rd Beaufort, NC 28516
This launching site is crowded in the summer months, but it does boast a separate kayak launch which makes it easier for paddlers to put in and start exploring. Located on the western edge of Beaufort, and just north of the downtown area, paddlers at this point can explore Harlowe Creek and the Newport River to the north, or Taylor’s Creek and the Back Sound to the south. As a result, this site is the best destination for access to a wide range of paddling trails and open waters that are ripe for exploring.

Radio Island, Arendell Street, Beaufort (Coordinates: 34.721592,-76.686981)
This launch destination is teeming with all varieties of maritime traffic, but it’s also remarkably easy to reach thanks to a locale that is yards away from Highway 70 / Arendell Street. From here, paddlers will be just minutes away from the Beaufort Inlet to the south, as well as Newport River and Harlowe Creek to the north. Expect lots of company, through – vessels of all sizes utilize this popular boat launch.

Northern Downtown Beaufort, Arendell Street (Coordinates: 34.722683,-76.667595)
This site that’s located just north of Downtown Beaufort is nicely easy to reach, thanks to a location that’s adjacent to Arendell Street / Highway 70. With limited roadside parking which can get a little crowded in the summer months, but a nicely wide launching site that’s perfect for paddlers, kayakers can be connected with the Newport River / Harlowe Creek within seconds from this destination. Just use ample caution – the neighboring channel is heavily used by vessels of all sizes.

Kayaks on Rachel Carson Reserve, Beaufort NC

Kayaking Sales and Rentals

Visitors who don’t have their own kayak or canoe along for the ride will be happy to discover that there are lots of options when it comes to rentals and sales. From brand new kayaks from the best-known brands that are well-suited for the coastal conditions, to hourly rentals that are perfect for a quick journey through the open waters, there’s plenty of options regardless of a paddler’s ultimate goals or destinations.

Kayak Rentals – Paddlers will want to head to the heart of Beaufort to find a myriad of kayak rental options that are more or less concentrated along the waterfront of Taylor’s Creek. Kayaks can typically be rented by the hour, in half day or full day increments, or even for a full week, and a number of styles (two-seaters, sit-on-top, and sit-in kayaks), are often readily available for paddlers of all varieties. The local kayak rental establishments also often have launching sites adjacent to the business, and / or expert staff on hand who can point new paddlers in the right direction.

Kayak Sales – As one would expect in a coastal destination where kayaking rules the watersports scene, Beaufort is also home to a number of local watersports companies that sell all manner of kayak equipment, including the kayaks and canoes themselves, life jackets and safety equipment, paddles, and accessories. Many of the rental businesses also feature equipment for sale, and there are several watersports shops both in the downtown area and in the adjacent business sections of Morehead City that feature a wide range of kayaks and equipment for sale. For a bargain, start your shopping at the end of the season (generally September or October.) When the summer is over, paddlers can often purchase used rental kayaks from local watersports companies for a fraction of the original price.

Kayaks on Rachel Carson Reserve, Beaufort NC

Guided Tours and Expeditions

Newcomers to Beaufort may want to start their kayaking expeditions by embarking on a paddling tour or lesson. Offered by several local watersports companies, a tour can introduce new visitors to the local terrain, and can highlight some of the more secretive and scenic regions of the Beaufort area.

Because of the sheer variety of local tour providers, as well as the abundance of local waterways and on-the-water attractions, paddlers will find plenty of options when it comes to guided tours. Popular tour varieties include paddles to the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve, where herds of feral horses can be spotted from the water’s edge, as well as sunset cruises, and “Olde Towne” expeditions that circle the heart of the historic downtown region.

Custom tours and cruises may also be available for private parties and / or large groups, and longer expeditions to Bird Shoals, popular Back Sound fishing grounds, or even the Shackleford Banks may be available as well. Rates vary depending on the type of tour, but generally run around $20-30 per hour or so per paddler, depending on the destination.

With a myriad of options, and experienced guides on hand to point out local species of interest, a kayak tour is an exceptional idea for any paddler who’s new to the sport, new to Beaufort, or who just wants to make sure they see the very best aspects of this coastal region.

Kayaking Tips and Safety Considerations

  • A kayak can serve as an ideal vehicle for a number of on-the-water activities. Anglers can reach popular fishing grounds on the Back Sound-side of the Rachel Carson Reserve, while birdwatchers can take a cruise to the aptly named “Bird Shoals” to encounter perfect vistas of osprey, blue herons, ibises, snowy egrets and more.
  • It’s easy to combine a kayak trip with an on-land expedition, too. Paddle across Taylor’s Creek and utilize the small boat dock at the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve to connect with a nature trail that runs through the heart of the small island, and which features fantastic views of local marshes, shrub thickets, maritime forest and more.
  • Watch out for heavily trafficked areas. Beaufort is popular with mariners of all varieties, so it’s not unusual to encounter skiffs, yachts, sailboats and other vessels on a cruise through the waterfront.
  • Bug spray is a must in the summer, especially in less developed areas and outlying barrier islands where the human population is scarce.
  • Be careful of currents. A windy day can turn the otherwise calm Back Sound and adjacent bodies of water into difficult terrain to paddle through, and wide channels of water like the Beaufort Inlet can have deep and swift running currents that are heavily influenced by the tides. As such, open water paddles are best reserved for advanced and / or experienced kayakers only.
  • The fall and spring months are prime times to go exploring! The population is smaller, the mosquitos are generally gone, and the waters remain relatively warm and easy to traverse. (These exceptional conditions also coincide with great fishing and birdwatching.) Book an off-season or shoulder season vacation to enjoy a quieter side of the Beaufort kayaking scene.
  • Don’t forget the camera! From Taylor’s Creek and the Rachel Carson Reserve, paddlers can enjoy an unparalleled vantage point of the historic downtown waterfront, resulting in plenty of frame-worthy photos.

Both beginning and experienced kayakers will find that Beaufort is a veritable playground when it comes to on-the-water explorations. From a myriad of access points to a stunning waterfront that’s even more beautiful from the water’s perspective, kayaking is a dream in this coastal community. Rent a kayak for a day, or bring along your own, and discover why kayaking is rapidly becoming Beaufort’s favorite watersport.

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