It took Lewis and Clark almost 2 1/2 years to trek across the country to the Pacific Ocean and back to St. Louis. They dealt with harsh winters, sometimes-acrimonious relations with indigenous peoples and diets fit more for Timon and Pumbaa than U.S. Army heroes.

For you, kayaking down the Merrimack won't be quite as bad.

It's been on the wrong side of 90 degrees too much in the last few weeks. Any body of water looks enticing, but don't just stick to your pool -- your exploration options are limited there. With kayaking becoming more and more popular in recent years, now is a better time than ever to paddle through the water.

Kayakers from the South Bridge Boat House in Concord.
Kayakers from the South Bridge Boat House in Concord. (SUN/David H.Brow )

Believed to have been invented thousands of years ago by Eskimos to help them hunt in the Arctic, kayaks have evolved into sleek sporting vessels free to traverse whatever waterways its rider can find.

"I think it's a great activity you can do at all times, even in the winter, since it's not like you fall in," said Marissa Siraco, a staff member at UMass Lowell's Kayak Center. "It also gives you a new perspective on a place like Lowell -- you may not think it's beautiful, but it really is from the river."

The UML Kayak Center is open every day for the rest of the summer; on weekdays, it's open from noon to 8 p.m. and on weekends it's open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Kayak Center has eight solo and four tandem kayaks available for rental. If you're looking for a nice, romantic ride down the Merrimack, you can rent a tandem kayak for $25 for an hour, $50 for 2 hours or $75 for 4 hours.

The Kayak Center makes sure anybody from a newbie to a veteran will go out onto the river with the proper equipment -- boat, paddles, life preservers -- and at least some knowledge on how to operate a kayak.

"We tell people to stick to the right side since the dam is on the left," said Siraco. "There are boats in the river so you want to stick to the sides, and if you cross you want to do it together so that boats can see you. We also teach people about different strokes, about paddling into waves and about how to flip a kayak back over if it flips."

(SUN/David H.Brow )

The Kayak Center also offers a shuttle service three times a day. For $40 (or $60 for a tandem), the Center will drop you off at a launch point up the river, from which you can paddle back to the center in about one and a half to two hours. For information, visit www.uml.edu/campusrecreation/boathouse/kayak-and-canoe-rentals.aspx.

If you're looking for a quieter ride, you might want to try the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers in Concord. A far cry from the more bustling Merrimack, these three (the first two of which converge into the Concord River) offer a pleasant opportunity to sit back, relax and heckle the annoying prep-schoolers on land.

South Bridge Boat House on Route 62 in Concord rents out canoes and kayaks for $15 an hour on weekdays and $17 an hour on weekends. Sitting right on the Assabet, South Bridge is a good place to launch into the water, whether you're renting a canoe or a kayak.

"We probably see about 50-50 kayaks and canoes," said David Rohan, who works at South Bridge Boat House. "It's an easy canoeing river, so people usually take them out to the Old North Bridge and back, which is about an hour and 45-minute trip."

South Bridge Boat House is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. For information, call 978-369-9438.

Nashoba Paddler in Groton has a slew of options for activities on the Nashua River. Nashoba Paddler rents canoes, kayaks and paddleboards for about $50 per day. it also offers various tours, including a Full Moon Canoeing tour on July 20 and Aug. 17 that starts at 7:30 p.m.; admission is $37 a person for that.

You can also participate in private lessons and paddling clinics. For information on all Nashoba Paddler's offerings, visit www.nashobapaddler.com.

Plum Island Kayak in Newburyport rents single kayaks or stand-up paddleboards for $45 for a half-day and double kayaks for $60. Tours run three times a day; the morning and afternoon sessions are $55 for a single and $50/person for a double, while the sunset tour is $45 and $40, respectively. Plum Island Kayak also has various full moon tours, as well as expeditions to find seals and horseshoe crabs. For information, visit www.plumislandkayak.com.

Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.

Choose your vessel

  • Kayak: A skinny boat featuring one or two cockpits where the paddlers sit facing forward. Used in Olympic racing. Looks the most intense but isn't actually that scary.
  • Stand-Up Paddleboard: Recent form of surfing where person stands or kneels facing forward on the board and paddles. Versatile for wide range of water terrain.
  • Canoe: Slightly larger vessel with an open top. Good all-around boat for more relaxing waters. Was very important in the plot of the movie Deliverance.