Float on! Canoeing and kayaking with kids
Editor's note: Updated June 2019
When Kaj Bune and his family want adventure, they head for the water. Not the beach, not a swimming pool; they grab a kayak or a canoe and head for a lake, a river or the Sound.
"We'd been paddling together with friends since before any of us had kids," Bune says. "Once kids started to arrive, it was natural to just bring them along."
Bune and his wife, Maylon Hanold, set out with their son, Nils, just a few months after he was born, paddling the length of Lake Washington. They moved into overnight trips almost as quickly. "When Nils was 1, we headed out with friends to the Broken Islands off the west coast of Vancouver Island," says Bune. "We have beautiful memories of him on wild beaches as a little guy."
Of course, not everyone has the years of paddling experience that Bune had when kids came along. But canoeing and kayaking offer up a kid-level of view of the water and all the nature surrounding it, whether you're renting a kayak for a short Lake Union ride or braving the open waters to go on an overnight trip to one of the Puget Sound's many wild islands.
Mark and Bebeth Steudel found a canoe on Craigslist and, with the help of friends who had spent time in boats, took their then 2-year-old Sabine on her first paddling trip over Mother's Day, to Saddlebag Island off the coast from Anacortes. Decked out in her own rain suit, rubber boots and life preserver, Sabine helped carry the gear to the canoe, and after all that work promptly fell asleep in the bow of the canoe for the paddle. "It's a great way to get outdoors for longer trips with her," Bebeth says.
Starting out, most families take it slower. When Nils was a toddler, Bune said, "We would launch in the arboretum and do a lap in Lake Union … He'd fall asleep and nap in the boat, and I'd wake him up for lunch at Ivar's."
One of the benefits of paddling for Bune and his family is the intergenerational nature of the trips. Frequently, Bune's dad, who is 80, or his mother-in-law will join them. Traveling by water is more family friendly than, for example, hitting a trail. They know the adventure won't be cut short by kids whose short legs and attention spans won't make it far, or by older joints that can't take many miles on the trail. "Paddling allows us to experience the wilderness as a family. I think it's what people a thousand years ago must have done. We get to reconnect to the way people in the Northwest have always experienced the water."
Time on the water yields entertainment and education, too. The kids collect shells and pebbles in all the colors of the rainbow. Fishing becomes a biology lesson.
"We have great memories of fishing and cleaning fish," Bune says. "The kids are enthralled looking in the stomach and seeing what the fish has been eating. We look at the parts of the fish, and we talk about where the food we eat comes from."
The Steudels remark on Sabine's connection to the natural world when they spend time on the water, too. "She can spend hours entertained when she's on the beach," says Bebeth. "And being away from it all is great for us, too." Sounds like a family activity everyone can enjoy.
Getting out on the water
The arboretum offers the chance to get on the water for all comfort and experience levels. Bune and his son used to go turtle hunting, counting as many turtles as they could on a trip. “Our highest count was 104!” he says, almost as excited as one imagines his son must have been.
Canoes and kayaks are available to rent at Portage Bay at the Agua Verde Paddle Club (206-545-8570), in Lake Washington though the U.W. Waterfront Activities Center and in Lake Union through the Northwest Outdoor Center (206-281-9694,) which also offers lessons.
Once you’ve explored the Arboretum and the houseboats of Seattle, Bune recommends looking at the Sammamish Slough. It requires a car shuttle, but the 13-mile trip starting in Redmond and ending at Lake Washington offers slow water, beavers, eagles and plenty of opportunities to stop for activities, a visit to the Bothell Historical Museum at Bothell Landing.
For overnight trips, salt water is frequently your best option. Bune recommends two islands just inside of Deception Pass: Skagit Island and Hope Island. Skagit Island allows human powered craft only, and Hope Island has a campsite on the north end. Approaching from the east makes it a short crossing, or putting in at Kornet Bay is a few miles of paddling.
Shannon Huffman Polson is a writer and mom focusing on the outdoors, family and faith. You can read more from Polson at her website, aborderlife.com.
Editor's note: This updated story was originally posted in June of 2011.