When are kids old enough for kayaking adventures?

sea kayaking with kids.

01 May When are kids old enough for kayaking adventures?

sea kayaking with Backroads

© Backroads/Brenda Ernst

The great thing about kayaking with kids is that, given the right conditions and a suitable PDF, it’s possible to take them to water from the time they can sit up. Gliding on the morning glass of your family’s favorite lake or cruising over the kaleidoscope of a thriving coral reef are moments that may cement themselves among your child’s earliest memories with you. With any luck, by five years he’ll be helping you paddle a tandem kayak with pride. And by twelve? Just watch and marvel as she leaves you in her wake.

Yet even kids who cut their teeth on kayaking at the same time they were cutting teeth aren’t necessarily ready for the paddling opportunities presented on an adventure tour. Before assuming you’ll both get to enjoy the on-water experiences included in the journey, verify these important details

  1. First, make sure there are no age restrictions for kayakers on the trip, which may actually be determined by a third-party outfitter supplying the kayaks rather than the company providing the tour. If it isn’t clearly stated in the brochure or web description (and don’t be surprised if it isn’t), contact the tour operator to ask.If you’re expecting to share a kayak with a young child, make sure the outfitter offers tandems or will not mind you sharing a single kayak with your petite paddler.
  2. If the itinerary calls for a guided kayak excursion, you’ll need to consider how long your child will be a willing listener and whether you’ll be able to keep up with the pack if you effectively need to “paddle for two.” If there’s any question, you or your partner may need to hang back with your child while the other enjoys the excursion without you.
  3. For best results, look for a tour that offers paddle time at your leisure. When traveling with young children in particular, the kayaking may be much more enjoyable when you can take breaks to swim, snack, or use the all-important restroom as desired.
sea kayaking with kids.

© Backroads/Brenda Ernst

Also, choose a tour that caters specifically to families. Backroads, for example, offers several “Family Trips” designed with activities, itineraries, and leaders that are ideally matched with kids. For its kayaking excursions, Backroads recommends that kids be 6 years and older and points to their San Juan Islands and Yellowstone & Grand Tetons trips as particularly well suited to families with young children. All of the kayaking experiences offered on their North American Family Trips take place on calm water and tandem kayaks are usually available.

Lindblad Expeditions’ most popular family trips call on The Galapagos, Alaska, and Baja California, and all include family-friendly kayaking opportunities. These trips are open to children of all ages, and toddlers are welcome to kayak on the laps of parents where appropriate. As a general rule, Lindblad Expeditions recommends that kids under 12 years share a double kayak with an adult, though they do recognize some kids may have significantly more experience kayaking than others. Parents are welcome to consult with guides about their child’s kayaking abilities and the specifics of the excursion in case they prefer going solo.

O.A.R.S. also offers family adventures with kayaking for young and beginner paddlers including a gentle Jackson Lake kayaking trip in Grand Teton National Park and a Jackson Lake kayaking/Salmon River rafting combination trip, both of which provide double kayaks and welcome kayakers as young as 4 years. Some of their kayaking and rafting itineraries may have different minimum age requirements based on high water and low water seasons. To scout out the kayaking trips best suited to your children’s ages and the timing of your vacation, look for the Trip Finder button on the O.A.R.S. site.

For more family-friendly paddling adventures, take a look at The Adventure Collection’s “Family” listings in Canoeing and Sea Kayaking and also Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking.

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Shelly Rivoli is the Adventure Collection’s Family Travel columnist. She has traveled with young children by airplane, Metro, ferry, train, elephant and long tail boat. Her revised and expanded guidebook “Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler” received both a Lowell Thomas Award and a North American Travel Journalists Association Award. Shelly founded TravelswithBaby.com a decade ago and has blogged there since 2007, receiving many accolades along the way. Recently, she created a second site, FamilyTravel411.com, which focuses on travel with school-age children, of which she now has three.
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