Ultimate Guide for Kayaking the Medem River in Germany

When you think of visiting Germany, paddling is probably not a sport that comes to mind. Few visitors experience its lakes and rivers except from shore. Part of this is simply because it can be difficult finding out where you’re allowed to go, where to park with easy water access, and where to put in and take out your boats. But missing out on paddling in Germany is such a shame! We’re here to tell you it’s not only doable, but we have the perfect beginner trip that’s safe, easy, and free (if you have your own boats). We guarantee you won’t regret kayaking the Medem River in Germany!

Travel Tip: If you don’t have your own boats, you can rent them from Kanu-und Kajakverleih Otterndorf right on the Medem River. We haven’t personally used them and we’re not in any way affiliated with the company.

Where is the Medem River?

The Medem River in Germany is a tributary of the Elbe River, one of the largest and longest in Europe. Compared to the Elbe, the Medem is dwarfed in size. It flows into the Elbe on the north coast of Germany just a few kilometers from where the Elbe itself empties into the North Sea.

The river’s official headwaters have a rather unremarkable beginning in the small village of Ihlienworth. As a crow flies, the entire length of the Medem is only about 15 km from its headwaters to where it empties into the Elbe. It’s entirely encompassed within the federal state of Lower Saxony.

Just before the Medem River reaches the Elbe, it lazily winds through the beautiful little village of Otterndorf. Typical for northern Germany, most of the buildings here are made from bright red brick. The section of the Medem River that we paddled runs right through the heart of Otterndorf.

Paddling through the village of Otterndorf in northern Germany
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If you have any questions we haven’t answered here, you can drop them in the comments below, or you can always swing in and ask at the Otterndorf Tourism Office. It’s right in the downtown area. The folks there are friendly and happy to answer questions, and during our visit, at least one of the gals spoke English.

Map of Paddling Route on the Medem River

Our custom Google map below shows our entire kayaking route on the Medem River, options for put-in locations, and free parking pinned.

Click icon in upper right corner to expand map for more details.

Where can you launch boats on the Medem River in Germany?

While the Medem River isn’t long, much of it doesn’t offer easy access to launch a boat unless you know someone with a private dock. Thick marshy grass and trees grow right down to the water’s edge, and much of the bank is steep.

According to the kind folks at the Otterndorf Tourism Office, paddlers have three main options to launch boats on the river. This of course is assuming that you’re traveling with your own boats and are arriving by car, which means you’ll also need easy access to parking nearby.

We scoped out each of the three options and launched from the one we thought was perfect, which is the southernmost one on the map below.

Map of the Medem River in Germany with boat put-ins
This map, courtesy of the Otterndorf Tourism Office, has the three recommended boat put-ins marked with a paddler in a canoe.

The southern put-in is ideal, offering a grassy lawn right next to a small concrete boat launch big enough for small, motorized boats.

Ample free parking is available right on the main street of Goethestrasse, just a few feet from this grassy lawn and boat launch.

Best place to launch boats for kayaking the Medem River in Germany
This is the southernmost put-in, which is great if you need space to assemble your boats or gear.

What is the difficulty level of the river?

The Medem River is perfect for novice paddlers because it’s calm flatwater with no rapids, at least the entire section we paddled both upriver and downriver. We paddled about 6 km, but you can paddle further if you like, especially upriver.

If you head downriver, you’ll have to navigate some small dams and then it spits out into the Elbe, which is so wide already at this point, that it’s practically the North Sea.

Two Small Potatoes kayaking the Medem River in Germany
This section of the Medem River is upstream of the put-in and meanders through pretty fields.

For those who don’t know, the paddling difficulty of a river according to the American Whitewater Association includes Class I -VI, with Class I being the easiest.

By definition, Class I is defined as:

  • “Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.”

The water in the Medem River is flatwater, not even rising to the level of Class I, since the water has minimal current and obstructions.

That said, please note that anytime you paddle, you do so at your own risk! Depending on the time of year and the weather, the conditions can change drastically on any body of water. Always check current conditions before you paddle.

Travis kayaking with our dog on the Medem River in Germany
The water is definitely calm enough to bring your favorite furry friend along for the ride!

What can you expect to see on the river?

Along the section of the Medem River that runs through Otterndorf, you essentially get a peak into people’s back yards.

Beautiful brick home on the Medem River in Germany
Travis and Touille say hello to a curious beagle on his waterfront balcony.

Most waterfront homes in town have their own dock with a canoe and patios overlooking the water.

Don’t be surprised to see kids waving at you from their backyards and friendly gestures from locals dining on outdoor terraces at restaurants.

Beautiful red brick home while kayaking in Medem River in Germany
Most of the homes are red brick with gardens, creeping roses, and little docks with their own private canoes.

Once you leave town, you’ll see lots and lots of birds: ducks, geese, blue herons, songbirds, so many birds.

Birdwatchers – don’t forget your binoculars!

Blue heron perched in a tree while kayaking the Medem River in Germany
Herons are common in Germany, but their size never ceases to amaze us.

Need a place to stop for a rest or for lunch?

We found a great little spot for lunch just on the edge of town in a grassy area under some trees. It’s actually the only land access we saw where we paddled that wasn’t on the official tourist office’s map.

Lunch spot while kayaking the Medem River in Otterndorf, Germany
If you do take out here, be careful on the steep wooden ramp. It’s slippery and has a couple of big nails.

This is a great spot for a break if you paddle upriver quite a ways, then pull up on shore on your way back downriver.

We did this, then continued past our put-in point to paddle downriver before turning and coming back to our launch point to take out the boats for the evening.

Bridge over the Medem River in northern Germany
The “lunch take-out” overlooks a pretty little bridge over the Medem River.

DON’T practice “Leave No Trace.”

Typically, it’s always good stewardship of the land to pack out any trash you pack in, hence the “Leave No Trace” policy.

We actually TRY to leave a trace in that we always try to leave a river, campsite, or trail cleaner than before we visited. We pack out any trash we find paddling, even if it isn’t ours. Sometimes we see so much trash it isn’t possible, but we paddle with an extra bag and fish out any bottles or litter we find.

On the rare occasion we don’t have a bag, we attach trash to the tie-downs on our Oru kayaks.

Travis collects garbage while paddling the Medem River in Germany
Trav fishes out a glass bottle, which is a common sight when we’re paddling, not just in Germany but everywhere.

It’s nice knowing that not only are we not polluting, but we’re actually making an outdoor location better for future visitors, as well as the local wildlife.

We definitely want to make sure we leave a nature area as pretty as the Medem River untouched for all those who visit after us.

Questions about kayaking the Medem River in Germany?

Let us know in the comments! We’re happy to answer.

Or if you’ve paddled the Medem, please share. We love connecting with other outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who love the water.

Paddlers might also like these other posts about kayaking in Germany.

Know Before You Go
  • If you have your own boats and park where we did, this entire excursion is FREE.
  • This section kayaking the Medem River is class 0, easy flat-water for beginners. The section we paddled doesn’t have any natural obstacles or man-made dams.
  • If you like the red brick architecture, make sure to also explore downtown a bit on foot. The streets are absolutely packed with cheery old red brick buildings.
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