Paddle boarding in North Carolina

North Carolina is a beautiful state with all sorts of outdoor activities to try!

Paddle boarding is our favorite, so, here are six places we suggest you paddle board with diverse types of SUP.

Let us know if you have any other suggestions we may have missed!

Key Highlights

  1. Fontana Lake: A serene and beautiful destination, perfect for those looking to escape into nature. With its clear waters and minimal boat traffic, it's ideal for exploring the lake's hidden coves.

  2. Roanoke River: Offers a wilderness experience amidst ancient forests and abundant wildlife. The river's diverse ecosystem makes it a unique spot for SUP adventurers.

  3. Outer Banks – Kitty Hawk Woods: Known for its scenic beauty and wildlife. Paddle boarders can navigate through tranquil waters under a canopy of live oaks and red maples, making it a picturesque paddling experience.

  4. U.S. Whitewater Center: A must-visit for thrill-seekers. With over 1,300 acres of land, it offers both challenging whitewater SUP courses and serene flatwater paddling on the Catawba River.

  5. Milltail Creek, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge: Perfect for those looking to paddle in remote and wild settings. This location offers close encounters with the region's namesake alligators and a variety of bird species.

  6. Outer Banks – SUP Surfing: The East Coast's premier destination for SUP surfing. From Corolla to Kill Devil Hills, the Outer Banks boast some of the best waves for an unforgettable SUP surfing experience.

 The Tar Heel state is underestimated as a SUP paddlers paradise.  From the famed Outer Banks to the Smoky Mountains, there is a body of water for every Stand Up Paddle Boarding enthusiast who is looking to get away from the crowds!


Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake is by far one of the most beautiful and tranquil lakes in the Southeast. 

The dam was built during WWII in part to provide electricity for the war effort and is the highest dam east of the Rockies - standing at 480ft tall.

There is very little boat traffic, especially up on the western part of the lake towards the dam. The water is nearly perfect in terms of temperature and visibility. When standing up to your shoulders in the lake you can still look down through the water at your feet.

The 'greenish' tone of the water comes from old, abandoned copper mines at the bottom of the lake that existed prior to the dam being built. The lake has many fingers to explore and because of the complexity of the shore, we suggest either hiring a guide or chart your trip out on a map.  

Give Smoky SUP a shout for your SUP rental.


Roanoke River

The Roanoke River and its tributaries offer a unique wilderness experience for paddle boarders.

The river meanders from the Coastal plain to the Atlantic Ocean and fans out through the largest intact bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem east of the Mississippi.

This vast natural corridor is home to black bear, river otter, white-tail deer, bobcat, and beaver, plus more than 200 bird species. Ancient bald cypress trees and towering tupelos form a lush overhead canopy along the Roanoke. 

There are sixteen unique camping forms that were built along the river, making for a unique paddling experience.  

The water varies from very shallow to approximately 8ft. There are several small rapids that add a bit of excitement for those without a lot of river SUP experience. 

Mountain 2 Island Paddleboard Company offers SUP rentals on the Roanoke.

Outer Banks – Kitty Hawk Woods

 No SUP trip to the Outer Banks would be complete without paddling the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Preserve.

Kitty Hawk tends to be the most scenic area in the Outer Banks and arguably the least windy.  The 1,500-acre Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Preserve is simply gorgeous. Access this beautiful local via the Kitty Hawk Public Boat Launch off of Bob Perry Road and rent your boards from Kitty Hawk Watersports.

The preserve offers epic stand up paddle boarding and incredible wildlife such as otters, osprey, egrets, herons, king fishers and turtles while under a canopy of Live Oaks and Red Maples.

Paddle boarders can embark on a true adventure and paddle to the cluster of Kitty Hawk Bay Islands, located well outside the parameters of the standard nature trails.

These small clusters of islands aren't meant for foot traffic and are comprised mainly of marshes with little to no solid ground to explore. 


US Whitewater Center

For a real change of pace, check out the U.S. Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

The Whitewater Center is currently comprised of over 1,300 acres of protected land offering 50 miles of trail and access to the Catawba River and Long Creek. 

The Center has become a mecca of instruction and competition for whitewater SUP, thanks largely to the innovation of Trey Knight, the program manager.  Trey has worked vigorously with the ACA (American Canoe Association) to create comprehensive courses for students and instructors in all disciplines of paddle boarding.  

Furthermore, the Center hosts what is arguably the most challenging whitewater SUP race in the world during “Tuck Fest” each April.

If whitewater paddle boarding isn’t on your bucket list, the Catawba River offers gorgeous flatwater paddling.


Milltail Creek: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge


If you want to SUP a remote, wild place, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge should definitely be on your bucket list.

Fifteen miles of paddle trails make their way through the waterways, and Milltail Creek offers close to 10 miles of round-trip paddling through the woods and marshes of the Inner Banks.

Wildlife abounds here, and you are guaranteed to see egrets, herons, and other water birds. More elusive denizens of these woods include red wolves and black bears, which you’ll most likely neither see nor hear – to most paddlers’ relief!

One creature you probably will see is the refuge’s namesake alligator, since you’re paddling in their northernmost known habitat.

The creeks and waterways here range from open areas rife with marsh grass to tree-lined waterways.


Outer Banks – SUP Surfing

Forget Hawaii and California - on the East Coast, the best place to SUP surf is on the Outer Banks, and this region is renowned as one of the best SUP surfing destinations from New York to Florida.

Surfers from all over the country and the world head to the Outer Banks for the annual ESA tournament, or just after a storm swell, to paddle out to the Atlantic and enjoy some of the best waves on the coast.

Corolla and Carova can have solid waves and are especially popular in the summer months when water temperatures are perfect, and small swells make frequent appearances.

The Duck Pier, like most local piers, has seasonally great surf on either side, and Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills offer a number of great surfing spots.



Much like California and Florida, North Carolina offers a variety of SUP spots for all of the paddle board disciplines of flatwater, whitewater, fishing and surf but unlike those two states, you won’t find the crowds at these various spots. 

So, follow this guide and make like a local the next time you plan a trip to the Tar Heel State!


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Paddle boarding in North Carolina

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