One of my favorite things about summer in the Pacific Northwest is the opportunity to explore some places to go kayaking and paddle boarding with my family. I loved it so much that I added kid-sized kayaks (second-hand!) and a paddleboard to our outdoor gear collection and they have been a beloved addition to our warm-weather adventures.
No gear? No problem! If you are on the Kitsap side of the water, Olympic Outdoor Center (Poulsbo and Port Gamble locations) or Exotic Aquatics (Bainbridge Island) rent both (adult and youth-sized) kayaks and paddleboards. They have their own docks and are a great choice if you do not have your own gear. Talk to them directly about options to transport their gear to the locations featured in this post. For Seattle-side paddling, Green Lake Boathouse, NW Paddle Surfers, and Alki Kayak Tours rent onsite. Advance reservations are available from all outfitters and are recommended for summer bookings.
Important Safety Reminders: Remember to always wear a properly-sized U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD). Check local weather, water quality, and tides. Lakes, especially, may have periodic water-quality warnings or closures. Keep eyes on children in and around water at all times; rarely do places with open-water access have lifeguards on duty.
Now that you’re ready to paddle, here are 9 kid-friendly spots to check out around Puget Sound.
Places to go kayaking and paddle boarding: North and East of the Sound
Cottage Lake Park, Woodinville
A local favorite, Cottage Lake Park is home to a small circular lake surrounded by beautiful homes. With public lake access, it’s easy to bring your own kayak or SUP and enter the waters to the right of the dock. Float past the ducks and to the middle of the lake. Follow the perimeter or go from end to end. A small outlet to the east of the lake is covered with lily pads. Admire the yellow and purple flowers, but don’t get stuck. The roots of the pads are long and run deep into the water. Watch for fishing lines near the dock and kids jumping off to swim as well. Enjoy the peaceful and calm waters further out from the bustling crowds. Be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen, there are few places to rest under shade. Look up and you may see resident eagles flying above or diving into the water for a feast of fish.
Amenities/tips: This park is equipped with a basketball court, ropes course, swimming pool, picnic tables, and a picnic shelter. There are paved trails and a playground that are popular places to explore after water play. Bring bikes, scooters, or skates if you have the room. Note that the playground and bathroom are located further away from the water. Be sure to allow plenty of time to pack away your watercraft so you and your family can adventure around the rest of the park. Bring lots of water and food. There’s a grocery store and a variety of fast food restaurants within a short drive (or walk, depending on how tired your kiddos are). Parking spots are limited near the launch, but there is plenty of free parking near the playground. You’ll have to walk or wheel your watercraft over to the lake if you park near the playground.
Green Lake, Seattle
For families coming from North Seattle, Green Lake Park is a prime location for kid-friendly paddling. You won’t need to worry about boat wake in this popular lake as Green Lake does not permit motorized watercraft, so go on and paddle right out to the middle. Throughout the summer the lake is home to blooming lily pads. Be careful as you paddle along, sometimes your paddles get stuck in the tangle of roots, making it difficult to get past the flowers. Green Lake also offers two lifeguarded swimming areas and a 2.8-mile paved trail for add-on activities like walking, biking, running, scootering or just hanging out after a day on the water. As of June 2023, the west swimming area is the only one with a life guard.
Amenities/tips: Parking is available and free in the park’s dedicated lot, otherwise you may find street parking or paid parking, nearby. Toilets are near the theater, a short walk from the water. Hourly, adult-sized kayak and paddleboard rentals are available on the opposite side of the water from Green Lake Boathouse. Kayaks and SUPS are $28-$31/hr.
Food and beverage options are within walking distance.
Juanita Beach Park, Kirkland
Juanita Beach Park, tucked in a protected bay of Lake Washington, is an ideal location for paddling with kids on the Eastside. On warm days, you may see turtles sunning themselves by the boardwalk and eagles soaring above. The swim area is enclosed by a “U-shaped” dock with a sandy beach and a shallow water area. You will want to launch your watercraft to the right of the dock. Once launched, going left will lead you to a nature preserve area. You’ll endure calmer waters until you reach Downtown Kirkland. Go right and you’ll head into deeper and choppy waters. Head that way if you are a strong swimmer and confident in your watercraft skills. Going to the middle of the Bay, patrons will most likely endure the wake from other boats and the wind, be cautious as you venture further out. The summer months are crowded so plan to get to this park early for easy access to parking and a smoother sail on the water.
Amenities/tips: The park has a bit of everything for a full day of fun including a playground, sandy beach, lifeguarded swimming (July-Labor Day), ball fields, and more. Parking is available for free but can get crowded over the summer and especially over the weekend. Juanita Beach Park also has a bathhouse for use. Ice cream and beverages are also available for an after-paddle treat. If looking to rent gear, NW Paddle Surfers has kid-sized paddleboards and paddles – one of the only places in the area you can rent youth-sized gear. Rental rates range from $29-$49/hour.
Rattlesnake Lake, North Bend
Rattlesnake Lake is known for its turquoise waters and mountain hikes with spectacular views from the top. Popular in the summer, the lake fills with swimmers, kayaks, fishing floats, canoes, and anything self-propelled or with an electric motor. This makes for a calm floating experience with occasional wind. Launch your boat from the shore or from the boat launch itself. Swim across and take a look into the water. Past the intense green-blue color, you’ll find many tree stumps. Be careful that you don’t lose your paddle hitting these stumps. Historically, this lake is manmade and covers what used to be a town. At low tide and in the winter, the lake dries and the stumps are in plain view, making for a spectacular scene. Paddle further out and to the left of the lake and you’ll witness a small waterfall. Listen to the rushing water and stay a while to admire the view. Head to the other side and watch wildlife – birds perching on branches and pecking at rocks on the shore. Back on land, rest with a snack and maybe a swim in the very cold waters.
Amenities/tips: Bring your own watercraft, there is no rental at this location. No food or drink for purchase at this park either. Bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and a hat; the water doesn’t offer too many shady spots to rest. Porta-potties are available for use near the trailhead as well as a proper bathroom near the trailhead. Take a walk to the Cedar River Watershed Education Center to learn more about the park and its history.
Seacrest Park, Seattle
If you want an amazing skyline view of Downtown Seattle, then this is an awesome kid-friendly park to go paddle. Tucked away in Elliot Bay, Seacrest Park is an option for Seattle-based families looking for a protected saltwater location, but don’t want to travel across the Sound. The cove provides shelter from current and boat wake making it a comfortable option for young paddlers. This is a popular spot for scuba diving as well, so launch on the left side of Marination Ma Kai and head west to avoid divers who gravitate to Coves 1 and 2.
Address: 1660 Harbor Avenue SW, Seattle 98126
Amenities/tips: Parking, restroom and outdoor showers are available. Food and beverage options nearby as well as easy access to the water taxi. Alki Kayak Tours rents both kayaks and paddleboards for on- or off-site use. Rental rates are $25-$150, depending on hourly and off-site options. After paddling, take a walk or bike along the Alki Trail.
Places to go kayaking and paddle boarding: South and West of the Sound
Arness Roadside Park, Kingston
Arness Roadside Park is a small park, favored by the locals and is located in Kingston. It’s a fantastic option for North Kitsap paddling and is a quick drive from the Kingston Ferry. The bay is quite shallow, making it an ideal location for kids to learn how to paddle, swim and play in the water. There is no rental outfit at this park, but you can rent and transport your craft from a local company or bring your own kayak or paddleboard. Also, bring a picnic and enjoy being on the water or playing on the sandy beach. With views of the Kingston Marina, the Cascades and beyond there’s plenty to see and enjoy while on the water or the beach. Note: Watch the tides at this park, extreme low tides make for very shallow waters.
Amenities/tips: There is free parking available. Portable toilets are also available. Bring your own snack, treats and a picnic, there’s no food or drink available at this park.
Hidden Cove, Bainbridge
Enter the water at Hidden Cove Park via a 220-foot dock to enjoy the quiet waters of this narrow Port Madison inlet. Kids will love paddling around a one-house island known as Treasure Island and can “dock” their vessel on a sand bar when the tide is right for a bit of play and adventure. Bring your own watercraft to this location or rent from a retailer and transport it.
Amenities/tips: Free parking lot and portable toilets are available. Pack your car with a picnic lunch that your family can enjoy at one of two picnic tables at the park. There’s no food or drink to purchase at this location.
Ollala Bay, Olalla
An easy drive from the Southworth Ferry, Ollala Bay has a “secret” sanctuary of water (it doesn’t show up on Google Maps) accessible via the boat ramp that’s a wonderful kid-friendly park to paddle. Kids will love the calm, wind-free waters and floating platforms. If you are feeling more adventurous, paddle under the bridge out into the Colvos Passage, toward Vashon Island. On a clear day, you’ll get views of Mount Rainier and if you are lucky, perhaps orcas too!
Amenities/tips: Parking is available in a small lot or along the road. Portable toilet. Enjoy adjacent Olalla Bay Market & Landing for tasty pizza-by-the-slice, ice cream, and beverages.
Purdy Spit County Park, Gig Harbor
Another great salt-water option, the Purdy Spit offers an easy-to-access body of water suitable for kids on lower-wind days. Kids might enjoy the challenge of crossing Henderson Bay or paddling under the bridge to Burely Lagoon at higher tide. If the wind picks up further out in the Bay, you may get to enjoy watching local windsurfers.
Address: 7726 WA-302, Gig Harbor, WA 98329
Amenities/tips: Parking is available along the southern shoulder of the Spit. No toilets. Food and beverages are available nearby at the intersection of Purdy Drive and SR 302. My family likes to order from the taco truck and bring it to the beach.
Jasmin Thankachen contributed to this article