Canoeing with Kids

Paddling Can Be Play
A canoe offers room to stretch out.
Gear We Like

Mad River "Destiny" Light Canoe - Bigger is better. A 17-foot boat is generally the minimum size for hauling a family and gear on overnight trips. And go on, you've got enough to carry, and you're not getting any younger—treat yourself to Kevlar. My family paddles a Mad River Destiny (17'6", 39-56 lbs. in Kevlar; 70 lbs. in fiberglass). The Kevlar model weighs in up to 40 lbs. lighter than its Royalex equivalent. Your overworked back will thank you.

PFD - That's personal flotation device, or life jacket. The key features to look for are a flotation collar (to keep the head up in water, doubles as a pillow), crotch strap, and flat nylon back (which allows an infant to rest comfortably in a car seat without the PFD bunching up). For older kids, the comfort and fit of a PFD are key if you want them to keep them on.

Crazy Creek Canoe Chair - Comfy and compact chair makes the perfect "third man" seat in the middle of the boat for a child.


Traveling in the outdoors with kids quickly boils down to a physics problem: how do you transport massive amounts of gear through the wilderness without killing yourself and child? The answer to this dilemma is a canoe. It is hands-down the best mode of warm-weather wilderness travel with kids that I have found.

A canoe endears itself to parents for its ability to serve as a gear barge. Billy won't go without his life-size stuffed grizzly bear? No problem—strap it to the bow. Jasmine has to bring her 23 Barbies and their dress-up clothes? There's always room under the thwarts. Of course, this can get ugly if you have to portage—and it makes a great case for setting up a base camp!

Canoes are a floating playroom to kids. They can move around a bit, paddle if they want, fish as they float, or just space out and stare at the cloud patterns.

The bonus of traveling by canoe is that you can actually cover ground and see a variety of terrain—no small feat with kids. For us, it's been the best way to access deeper wilderness, with all the surprises and magic that such places have. We recently returned from a multi-day canoe trip in the Adirondacks in northern New York state with two other families. The kids could swim, bagged their first summit, caught a fish, and we had a large campsite to ourselves. Not a bad reward for a short drive and long weekend.

Here's a few tricks we've learned on the rivers and lakes.

Little kids (up to age 3) A young child can sit unstrapped in a car seat that is nestled securely within the canoe. A clip-on beach umbrella (try Ames or K-Mart) keeps the sun out of their eyes. Bring waterproof toys (plastic dolls, etc.). My daughter Ariel always enjoyed tying a string around a toy and dragging it in the water, watching the patterns it would make for hours.

Big kids (age 4+) It's time to work (or pretend to): get 'em a paddle! Younger kids may not add much propulsion, but they enjoy thinking that they do. Older kids can actually start to pull their weight, especially when put in one of the two "driver's seats." For campsites, a portable nylon hammock, which doubles as a swing, has been a hit. Fishing from the boat, for those who are so inclined, is also a hit with older kids.

All Original Material Copyright © by David Goodman.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »