There are a couple things everyone can agree make America great: one, our national parks and, two, our highways. Because without the asphalt arteries to get you there it would be damn near impossible to get to the most pristine natural areas this country has to offer. What does this mean for SUP adventurers? An insanely diverse variety of SUP experiences from coast to coast.
In this guide, we're focusing on national parks where winter paddle boarding is on the menu.
First, let's set some ground rules: Since this is a road trip, the national parks in this list have to be in the continental United States. As much as we know you'd like to have a team of sled dogs pulling you and your paddle board across a frozen lake in the barren white north, we're afraid Alaskan national parks are off the table.
Next, that winter thing kind of applies to a handful of other awesome spots even in the Lower 48. (Looking at you, String Lake in Grand Teton.) So we're going to have to avoid places where winter makes paddle board access nearly impossible.
Finally, in terms of direction, we're starting in our home state of Florida. We'll cruise up the Eastern Seaboard before jetting across the vast expanse of the country via the northern route to the Pacific Northwest and then down the coast, before coming back across the Southern route through Texas. A big ol' 15,000 mile loop with plenty of winter paddling, national park sightseeing, and roadside hamburgers along the way. So grab your inflatable paddle board and let's hit the road for some SUP adventures.
BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK
Starting our winter paddling road trip in a place where winter doesn't really exist is the perfect warm up. Biscayne National Park, located in South Florida within throwing distance of Miami, is a paddler's paradise. It is, after all, 95% water. So the trouble isn't finding a place to paddle, it's deciding on just one. Crossing Biscayne Bay itself is a nice 7-mile workout. Jones Lagoon is a great place to hover above the shallows and peer down at sting rays and upside down jellyfish. Hurricane Creek weaves through Mangrove-fringed shorelines where plenty of snorkeling abounds. And that's not even touching upon the vast network of designated water trails in the park. In short, this national park is a national treasure for any SUP enthusiast.
The board for Biscayne: Opt for the Breeze Aero Inflatable Paddle Board, our newest landmark in the BOTE inflatable SUP line and the perfect choice for Biscayne's shallows. This board is easy to maneuver, fun to paddle, and super stable. It's also incredibly portable, so when it's time to load up the car and hit the next national park on your road trip, packing up the Breeze will be a, um, breeze.
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
Just a hop, skip, and a marshy jump from Biscayne is your next stop: Everglades National Park. While surviving the Everglades can be a lesson in pain and humility, there are also some world-class paddling spots in the park. As the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, the place is positively flooded with opportunities. From freshwater marsh to mangrove forests to white sand beaches and pristine islands, you could spend a lifetime in the park. Just beware of things that want to eat you. The wildlife is like something from a prehistoric nightmare with sharks, alligators, crocodiles, and bear-sized raccoons. And the swamps can be downright spooky. The Everglades are also scary beautiful though.
The board for the Everglades: The Rackham Aero Inflatable Paddle Board is the go-to board for the 'Glades. With unmatched stability, your risk of being gator lunch is all but annihilated. It's also the best board there is to take your fishing up a notch. And the fishing in the Everglades is as good as it gets.
CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK
Congaree is South Carolina's only national park. It's made up of an incredibly biodiverse floodplain that's home to the largest intact expanse of bottomland hardwood forest in North America. Loblolly Pines and huge cypress trees tower hundreds of feet above black waters, blocking out the midday sun. Two local rivers feed the floodplain, and one of the best paddle experiences in the park is the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, which weaves 15 miles through the Congaree Wilderness.
The board for Congaree: It's the Breeze Aero Inflatable Paddle Board again. But this time in "Classic Teak" to match the surrounding hardwoods of Congaree, obviously.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
When most people think of the Smokies, they think of 6,000-foot peaks, pine forests, and frisky black bear populations. But situated on the southern edge of the park is one of the most underrated gems in the area: Fontana Lake. This finger lake reservoir is 17-miles of pure paddling bliss. It's not just the deepest lake in North Carolina, it's also littered with dozens of hidden coves and dotted with islands that once were mountain peaks before the Little Tennessee River was dammed. With the Smokies as your backdrop, Fontana Lake is as easy and scenic a flat water float as you'll find.
The board for the Smokies: Since Fontana Lake is a dammed and flooded river, it's loaded with great fishing. Go with the HD Aero Inflatable Paddle Board and don't forget your fishing gear. This is a killer spot for bass, trout, crappie, and catfish.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Maine's Acadia National Park is coastal wilderness at its very finest. With ocean and woodlands and glacier-carved mountains and dozens of islands dotting the shore, this place is what postcard dreams are made of. In winter, paddling here will be a lesson in shivering. But just as striking to your core will be the natural beauty. Whether you opt for rugged coastline with the myriad islands and coves, or some freshwater inland paddling at Jordan Pond or Echo Lake, the options are near endless.
The board for Acadia: To handle the choppy ocean waters around Mount Desert Island, you'll want something super stable like the Rackham Aero Inflatable Paddle Board.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
From the easternmost point in the US to the westernmost point, by the time you reach Washington's Olympic National Park the need to get out of the car and stretch your limbs will be paramount. Luckily, Olympia is home to some of the most gorgeous otherworldly waterways in the world. Again, you've got ocean optionality with put-ins from driftwood-draped beaches. And you've also got serene lakes, from the glacial Crystal Lake to the third largest lake in Washington, Lake Ozette. But if you're a skillful paddler who can handle Class I and II rapids with confidence, one spot absolutely worth checking out is the Hoh River. This glacially-fed river travels through broad valleys and misty mountains and impossibly lush old-growth rainforests with behemoth moss-covered trees before eventually spilling into the Pacfic. It'll be cold, but so worth it.
The board for Olympic: The best board for the 56-mile, sometimes rapid-filled river is the Traveller Aero Inflatable Paddle Board, a stable and agile board that'll go the distance.
CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Off the coast of California, Channel Islands National Park is a string of five rugged islands that features crazy ecological diversity and about a bajillion seals. While paddling from the mainland to the national park is probably not recommended (it's about 20 miles across shipping lanes), it is technically possible. But the better option is to pack up your inflatable paddle board and catch one of the Island Packers shuttles to the park. Then paddle among emerald coves and sea caves and stunning beauty.
The board for Channel Islands: Depending on which side of the islands you paddle and how far you paddle, you may want to do a mix of multi-mile paddling and SUP surfing. For this reason we're going with the Flood Aero Inflatable Paddle Board for its endless multi-purpose functionality and surf style nose.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
The final stop on your whirlwind winter paddle tour of the United States takes place where everything's bigger: in Texas. At Big Bend National Park. Carving through this park is the timeless Rio Grande River. And taking a paddle trip on this ribbony gem is hands down one of the best multi-day river trips in America. You'll travel through 1,500-foot canyons and camp on sandy banks. There are a number of different sections of river to choose from with varying mileage. The Santa Elena Canyon is a popular 20-mile option with super easy access. But for something a little longer, the weeklong trip through the Lower Canyons is 83-miles of desert, rugged hills, and steep canyons. It's one of the best journey trips there is.
The board for Big Bend: If you're doing a multi-day journey trip, you can't go wrong with the Rackham Aero Inflatable Paddle Board for its incredible stability and surface space for packing down gear. If you plan to travel light and go fast, go with the Traveller Aero Inflatable Paddle Board. It's the fastest BOTE board, and super stable. It's built for the long haul and can handle river rapids and carry all your gear with ease.
Once you've wrapped up the Rio Grande, it's time to head on home with the memories of the trip of a lifetime firmly sealed in your back pocket. If the adventure itch starts to creep up again, check out what the Southeast is all about.