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A Complete Guide to Canoeing and Kayaking with Kids and Teens

Plan a trip canoeing or kayaking with kids and teens

Planning a trip canoeing or kayaking with kids and teens? Perhaps you want to spend a few hours on the water as a family, or are looking to put together an overnight canoe trip and plan to spend the night on an island. I will never forget my first overnight canoe trip as an 11 year old and I’m here to show you how to plan an amazing experience with your own family.

Planning a canoeing, paddle boarding or kayaking trip with kids is a great way to encourage adventure, get outside and spend time together.

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Why Canoeing and Kayaking with Kids and Teens is an Amazing Adventure

When we start planning a trip with our own kids, we usually start with either an amazing destination or a fun activity to build our trip around. As a family we love to spend time on the water, so are often drawn to activities that involve boats. The best thing about kayaking, canoeing and paddleboard is that you can easily enjoy these activities in an hour, a day or make it a whole week. Below are just a few reasons we think a family kayaking trip or a family canoeing trip makes a great adventure:

  • There is a sense of freedom and adventure when you set off on a canoeing or kayaking trip
  • Building water confidence and skills is incredibly important starting at a young age
  • For hundred of years, water was used as our roads and it was easiest to travel by boat. Travelling by water with your kids gives you an unique perspective to see the world
  • Even if you don’t own kayaks or canoes, you can typically rent these boats easily
  • It’s beautiful to spend time on the water
  • It can give you kids and teens a sense of independence and confidence to manage their own boat
  • Canoeing and kayaking is good exercise – especially for your arms and core!
Canoeing and Kayaking with kids and teens
Kayaking with Kids: Teenager on an overnight kayaking trip in Maine (as part of the Maine Island Trail Association)

Types of Canoe and Kayak Trips

There are many ways to get out on a canoe and kayaking trip with your family. The easiest way is to get out on the water for an hour or two for a short paddle, but you can also plan a day long trip, or even an overnight canoe camping trip. If you are brand new to kayaking, it’s best to start small and easy with a short paddle. There are many types of kayaks (see more below) and how long it takes to get a sense of balance and the paddling motion depends on the person. Typically after an hour on the water, most people begin to feel comfortable.

Day Trips

The easiest trip to plan kayaking with kids is to spend an hour or a day out on the water. If you are new to paddling, choose a calm river or lake without a lot of current and exposure. Remember to keep an eye on the weather and pack warm clothes, safety gear, water and food. Choose an amazing place to go with some destination in mind – picnic on an island, canoe around a lake, or go fishing. If you don’t have your own equipment, it is typically easy to find a place to rent gear and you can often get great recommendations of where to go from the rental company.

While this article focuses mostly on canoes and kayaks, paddle boarding is a great activity for an hour or day on the water.

Overnight Trips

If you are looking for a bit more adventure, planning an overnight trip canoeing and kayaking with kids can make a great, adventurous vacation. For an overnight you will need to do a little more planning and packing and may want to select larger kayaks or a canoe to fit all the gear. There are many places that offer camping that is accessible by boat.

See more about our 3-Day Kayaking and Rowing Trip in Maine.

Family kayaking trip to an island
Setting up the ten on an island during a trip kayaking with kids

Canoeing Vs Kayaking (Vs Paddle Boarding)

The age of your kids, the type of water you will be on, and the length of your trip, will all determine whether it is best to use a kayak, canoe or paddle board for your adventure. The following information gives a snapshot of the differences and when you should select a canoe versus a kayak versus a paddleboard.


Select a canoe when you need to carry gear such as on an overnight trip as it offers more storage. A canoe is also an excellent choice if you have very young kids or kids who are nervous to be in their own boat. Canoes are generally best on calm waters.


There are many different types of kayaks and even kids as young as 5 can easily kayak on some of the sit on top kayaks. Kayaks are the best choice for rougher waters, but it is incredibly important that you and your family have the skills to manage the boat in rough waters (see more below about safety). Larger kayaks can hold enough gear for an overnight if you pack light. You can also get 2 person kayaks if you’re kayaking with kids.

See our suggestions


A paddleboard is a great and fun option for getting out on the water. Since there is not a lot of storage, they are best for day activities. While young kids can paddleboard, they may not get that far since most boards are designed for bigger people.

Where to Go Canoeing, Kayaking and Paddle Boarding

The quick answer is anywhere there is water! You can canoe and kayak on lakes, rivers, ponds, and in the ocean. If you are brand new to kayaking with kids, choose calm, warm waters to get started and build up from there. Of coure, always take safety measures out on the water.

If you are planning a family kayaking trip, choose an epic destination or experience. Kayak to a glacier, go somewhere with amazing sea life, rent sea-through kayaks, kayak at night to see bioluminescence. The best canoeing and kayaking adventures are to places you can only access by water.

Gear for Your Canoe or Kayak Trip with Kids

The first gear you will need for your trip is a kayak, canoe or paddleboard. Start by renting these to make sure it is something you enjoy. Once you know that you will be spending more time on the water or are starting to plan a trip kayaking with kids, you can looking into purchasing a canoe or kayak. There is a huge range or prices for these boats depending on the type. It’s important to also consider how you will transport these boats. With a family, you may need 2 cars with roof racks, a trailer, or a truck.

You will also need paddles and if you are taking your kayak out in rough waters, a spray skirt.

If you are planning a day trip either canoeing or kayaking, it’s important to have a good life jacket. The best kayaking PFD will be slightly higher on the torso than a traditional life jacket so it is comfortable to sit in the kayak.

Even for a short trip, it is a good idea to have water with you and if you are out longer than an hour, pack some snacks. You can put these in a dry bag and make sure you attach the bag to your boat.

You should always dress in layers when you are on the water and make sure you have a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and footwear that can get wet on any trip kayaking with kids even if it is just for a few hours. Bringing a waterproof layer can make a huge difference for staying warm. Always be aware of not just the air temperature, but also the water temperature when planning your clothes and other canoe and kayaking gear.

Other items you may want to bring kayaking with kids include your phone in a waterproof case or bag, binoculars, maps, bug spray, whistle, headlamp, books, fishing pole, and camping gear.

Tips for a Successful Trip Canoeing and Kayaking with Kids

You’ve got your gear loaded, you’ve selected an amazing destination and you’re ready to head off on your family trip with kids or teens. Here are a few tips that can help make this an amazing day (or days) on the water.

  • Set clear rules for everyone from the start – will you all stay together? How far apart is ok?
  • When it is helpful, give your kids suggestions, but also allow them time to figure it out for themselves. After teaching 100’s of people to kayak, I believe the best tool in learning is simple experience (with a little coaching)
  • Let your teen or kid navigate or lead
  • Make it fun – take stops, swim, sing songs, take photos and enjoy your time on the water
Kayaking with kids and teens
Kayaking with kids and teens

Canoe and Kayak Safety

On our first overnight trip kayaking with kids, my 12 year old flipped his kayak in the middle of a cold channel in Maine. He was a strong paddler and has lots of experience on the water, so he didn’t panic and we were able to get his boat quickly righted and moved on our way. Staying safe and being prepared on the water is incredibly important and knowing your limits and the skills of everyone on the trip can help overcome dangerous situations. Here are just some suggestions to keeping your family safe:

  • Always let someone know where you are going, when you will return, and make sure you have a map with you
  • Make sure you have the skills needed for your planned trip. For beginners, start easy and small and build up from there. You can always take a class to get more skills.
  • Never paddle alone and always wear a good PFD
  • You can quickly become hypothermic in cold water – just a few minutes is all it takes – be prepared, have the right clothing and always have a backup plan
  • Always know the weather conditions and forecast as well as any tidal changes or currents you may encounter
  • When kayaking or canoeing with kids – try to keep a comfortable ratio of kids to adults

Taking a trip canoeing or kayaking with kids is an amazing way to explore the world and may be the perfect adventure for you and your family.

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