Lake Kayaking with Kids

Sarah Hauge

“I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.” Jo says those words to her older sister Meg on Meg’s wedding day in Greta Gerwig’s film “Little Women,” indicating her embrace of life as a single, independent woman. (“Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott originally said the same thing to her own older sister.)

“Little Women” is the favorite movie of my first-grade daughter, and I thought of that line as I watched her and her sister joyfully and adeptly paddle their own kids kayaks for the first time last summer on a family trip to Hood Canal, in western Washington. It was love at first paddle, and kayak time was a highlight of each day.

“They’re pretty easy to maneuver around for someone without a lot of experience going in a kayak,” my 9-year-old says.

Small and durable, and easily maneuverable, these plastic vessels are ideal for kids (and some adults—weight limits often go up to 130 pounds) ready to discover new independence on one of our area lakes.

The one-seater kayaks are stable and easy to turn thanks to their short, wide shape. Weighing less than 20 pounds they’re also fairly manageable to carry on land. When purchasing, make sure yours allows for easy entry from the water.

Sarah's daughter kayaking at Hood Canal.
Kayaking at Hood Canal. // Photo: Sarah Hauge

If your child tries out a kid’s kayak, all of the usual water safety tips apply: make sure they wear a proper flotation device, talk about where it’s safe to go, and keep a close eye on kids. Once aboard, with a little guidance on how to paddle and turn, your young seafarer will soon be ready to explore.

We enjoyed paddling parallel to the shore in the mornings to investigate sea life when the tide was out, and journeying in and out from the dock later each day when the tide came in. On lakes, sticking close to the shore will help avoid motorboat traffic.

Both my kids loved them, and I appreciated the serene, confident looks on their faces after years of being tucked into random nooks and crannies of other people’s boats while older people did the work and made the decisions.

I hope to have another chance soon to watch each of them paddle her own kayak, her own way.

For more stories about families and introducing your children to recreation in the great outdoors, visit the Out There Kids column.

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