Top Places for Family Kayaking in the U.S.

Top Places for Family Kayaking in the U.S.

Pepsi or Coke? Windows or Mac? Carolina or Duke? Canoe or Kayak? These are all legitimate topics up for debate among American families today.

We can save Coke, Mac, and Duke for another post.

Canoeing is enjoyed by many water enthusiasts across the nation, and many families think it’s the go-to for adventures on the water, but we would like to highlight some of the benefits of kayaking for families with more adventurous goals.

  • Kayaks are lighter (easier for kids to carry)
  • Kayaks have a “flipper” on both ends of the paddle (double the speed)
  • Kayaks are closer to the water’s surface (easier to keep steady)
  • Children as young as three can learn how to paddle
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are great for an extra wee passenger (more weight = better workout)

Letting your children drive their own kayak will teach them a new skill, provide great exercise, and empower them to learn independently. Most places that rent out kayaks provide basic instruction on how to enter and exit the water and various strokes to control the boat. Make sure all life jackets are the right size – based on weight – and that they are adjusted properly.

Let’s take a look at three types of flat-water adventures in three of the most water-logged states: California, Florida, and Illinois.

Wildlife Viewing Awaits

No matter where you choose to take your family kayaking, seeing turtles, fish, and birds are a promise. How about a gator or a bobcat?

– Lake Tahoe, California

Okay, we can give Nevada half the credit on this gem. Lake Tahoe offers a diverse ecosystem to view all types of critters of land, water, and sky. As one of the largest lakes that isn’t shared by another country, its waters are crystal clear and perfect for the kids to see an incredible underwater world.

Most of the excitement is on the south shore, but the ultimate aquatic experience is offered on the north shore via crystal kayaks through Wild Society. What better way to view the wondrous waters of Lake Tahoe than through a clear kayak? Wild Society even offers night tours and lights up the base of each kayak for views up to 20 feet below.

– Naples, Florida

If you are comfortable with seeing a gator here or there, the Everglades in Florida provides a unique ecosystem as well. Kayaks can go just about anywhere, so they are perfect for navigating through the grasslands and mangroves. If your family is into wildlife and plants, the rainbow of bromeliads will become a lasting memory. South of Naples is abundant with kayak rentals and tour guides—just ask Google.

– Ullin, Illinois

Florida and Louisiana aren’t the only states with swamps and wetlands. Paddle among trees and unique species of plants. The Cache River is home to many endangered species and waterfowl. Kayakers can also see river otters, mink, turtles, and maybe even a bobcat if floating near shore. Cache Bayou Outfitters is one of many companies offering guided tours.

Soak up Some Cityscape Scenery

Throughout world history, humans have inhabited areas as close to the water as possible. The great news for us today is that some of the largest cities in the U.S. have waterways to explore in a more civilized manner—by kayak.

– Oakland, California

Lake Merritt showcases human impact in the form of buildings and industrial influence. Despite being a more urban lake, it is one of the few world-wide locations to view bioluminescent algae. Don’t be surprised if you see competition rowing and sailing as well.

– Jacksonville, Florida

Nicknamed “The River City,” the St. John’s River snakes through downtown Jacksonville. St. John’s Marina has a boat ramp with easy access to downtown paddlers. We advise that you hire a tour guide because the river splits in many directions. Also, this may be best for the family of intermediate kayakers because there are few places to pull over.

– Chicago, Illinois

Perfect for any family dynamic with a wide variety of interests, Chicago kayak rental companies offer specially-themed tours my moonlight and sunset. Your family can even enjoy fireworks at Navy Pier from their kayaks, float by Chicago’s architectural wonder, and get spooked during ghosts and gangsters tours.

Experience Something Extraordinary

Viewing wildlife or the big city from a kayak is certainly a unique experience, but what about something awe-inspiring?

– Sierra Nevada, California

A huge oasis with the desert on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other is Mono Lake. One of the few kayaking expeditions during which you will see no fish, this 70 square mile saline lake is rather home to shrimp and flies. Paddle around and among tufa towers which are limestone formations.

– Crystal River, Florida

After viewing the typical wildlife found in America’s lakes and streams, why not meet a sea cow? Manatees are the gentle giants of the sea, and the fall temperatures of Florida invite over 800 manatees to Kings Bay. If you can’t make the trip before the Gulf of Mexico waters get above 68 degrees, your family may still be able to see a few manatees during the summer months.

– Oglesby, Illinois

If you have a young geologist in your family, then Starved Rock State Park will be an adventure of a lifetime. Paddling along the Illinois River will offer views of the majestic sandstone bluffs. Ancient melting glaciers carved through the sandstone have made several canyons that sometimes have flowing waterfalls after the spring rains. After your paddle, be sure to do some light hiking and see one of the 14 canyons. Return in the winter to see icefalls and bald eagles.

Beautiful and unique locations for family paddling trips will surely have your kids falling in love with nature, wildlife, history, and even a little geology. Make your reservations today.

Zaneta is a Research Specialist and Writer for 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, S.C. with her spouse, 12-year-old daughter, three lizards, and two Dachshunds.

About the author
Mrs. Hatland is a 30-something married, mom of 7 and the face behind the popular online publication, Motherhood Defined. Known as the Iowa Mom blogger by her local peers and “The Fairy Blogmother” worldwide. She has professional experience in working closely with clients on brand ambassadorships, client outreach services, content creation and creative social media advertising exposure.

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