Let’s get something straight. You may be in a kayak (a sit-on-top or standard kayak), but let’s use a verb for when you are in a kayak instead: paddling.
Another thing to get straight: Canoes, well, are canoes. The differences between canoes and kayaks are argued among water fanatics everywhere. Some of the differences are listed below:
- Canoes are heavier
- Canoes use oars, not paddles
- Canoes can hold lots of stuff (kayaks can, too, as long as you buy a touring kayak)
- Canoes are easier to capsize
- Canoes are slower
Everyone will try to get your family to rent canoes: say NO! Kids can master kayaking in the drop of a hat, and your family can cover more territory with less effort, experience nature, and enjoy the peace and serenity of open, flat water.
Kayaks use a paddle with two “flippers” to propel you, and they are lower to the water’s surface, therefore making it easier to propel without “losing it.” Plus, kayaks can silently maneuver with little disruption in areas with more wildlife.
Now that we have that established, let’s take a look at where you can take your family kayaking for an adventure of a lifetime. Be sure to pack life jackets, snacks, and sunscreen in your dry bags.
The Peace and Serenity of Nature
It’s unbelievably quiet sitting in a kayak on the water. Viewing wildlife or just watching the horizon teeter slowly back and forth can calm even the most restless soul. Here are just a few of our nation’s parks that are sure to take the edge off and tire out the kiddos.
Acadia National Park – Soak up some French history and witness incredible wildlife around Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor, Maine. Offering outstanding views of mountain vistas, rugged sea cliffs, and miles of coastline, you and your kids will enjoy paddling around any one of Acadia National Park’s bays. Several of the local kayak rental shops provide guided tours, and you can even paddle to boat-in campsites for an overnight stay if you are feeling extra adventurous.
Grand Teton National Park – Jackson Hole, Wyoming is home to one of the most diverse outdoor adventure locations in the country. With multiple lakes and the Snake River, this National Park provides paddling for the beginner, experienced, or thrill seeker kayaker. Eight kayak rental businesses call Grand Teton their home, and a variety of tours are available.
Lake Tahoe – Crystal clear waters and scenic mountain views are calling your name. One of the largest lakes that doesn’t border another country, Lake Tahoe is nestled between California and Nevada. The south side of the lake offers the largest variety of activities. Emerald Bay State Park is a calm area to experience serene waters with your family, along with a little time on the beach. And before or after your float, be sure to drive the 86-mile loop around the lake.
Urban Kayaking with Cityscape Views
If you recall from history class as a kid, sources of water were the focus of the explorers that helped build our nation. Some of the largest cities offer incredible paddling adventures if you feel more at peace surrounded by signs of human inhabitation.
New York City Downtown Boathouse, New York: Don’t worry about rental fees; the City of New York has a specialized non-profit organization with a mission to provide free public access to the waterways of the city. Volunteers will assist you and your family members to embark on a kayaking journey along the Hudson River (May through October). Safety equipment and brief instructions are provided.
Chicago, Illinois offers a variety of specially themed, guided kayaking tours fit for a family of any shape, size or age. Chicago provides private tours, sunset paddles, Navy Pier firework paddles, history and architecture tours, ghosts and gangsters tours, and moonlight tours.
Austin, Texas also boasts quite unique kayaking tours on Lady Bird Lake. They include a full moon night tour with live music, a firework tour on the 4th of July, a bat watching tour, and an urban tour straight through downtown.
Portland, Oregan has so much more to offer than craft beer and eclectic food. With water being a large part of the city, there are numerous paddling adventures available to the active family. Take a leisurely paddle along the Willamette, see the second-largest waterfall by volume in the U.S., challenge the Clackamas River’s class III and IV+ rapids (easy to very difficult), and take a wildlife-rich paddle through the Scappoose Bay with great blue herons, bald eagles, and river otters.
Extra Unique Kayaking Locations
In a regular canoe or kayak, you may be lucky to see wildlife at a distance, but what about a clear, see-through kayak in the clearest waters of Florida? Rainbow Springs offers this unique experience, during which you can see fish, turtles, otters, and even alligators swim right underneath your feet. These boats are dog-friendly but are priced steeply to ensure views of the underwater world. Adult rentals are $55 and child rentals are $45, so plan ahead for this extraordinary experience.
Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada, California: Another location offering more than beer, Mono Lake’s beauty is haunting in size and activity; the lake is 700 square miles and features volcanoes and ghost towns close by. The lake has some incredible historic roots as well. The Mono Basin History Museum is a nice stop after a life-changing paddle.
Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona: If your kids are geology buffs, this is the best kayaking location in America. Paddling beside and through world-famous canyons (overnight, if you wish), you can also add a little more mystery and use your navigation skills with the Labyrinth tour.
Lakes in “Your Own Backyard”
There’s no need for whitewater to engage your family in the great outdoors close to home. Some lakes are smaller and don’t allow boats. These types of lakes (usually man-made) are perfect for the first-time paddling family to practice in preparation for some of the more challenging places to paddle listed above.
Check out paddling.com to find lakes and rivers with boat ramps at over 22,000 locations across the US. In the summer months, chilling out along the shores or venturing out with the speed boats can offer a variety of challenges.
If you are looking for a destination float to tack onto your vacation plans or road trip, be sure to consider some of the more beautiful and unique locations for family paddling. Don’t be afraid to explore close to home either. You never know what beauty you may find just a short 20-minute drive from home.
Zaneta is a Research Specialist and Writer for carinsurancecomparison.com. Writing and research have been an integral component of her studies in anthropology, instructional technology, technical and professional communication, and adult education. A mountain biker-turned-paddler, she lives in Greenville, SC with her spouse, 12-year-old daughter, three lizards, and two Dachshunds.