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Six-year-old touching a lily pad when renting a canoe at UW.

Renting a canoe with my 6-year-old: UW Waterfront Activities Center

A sunny summer day and a squirrelly six-year old….what to do? Rent a canoe!

A sunny summer day and a squirrelly six-year old….what to do? What to do? I know, let’s rent a canoe at the UW!

My little guy and I hopped on our bikes on a recent warm afternoon and rode the Burke-Gilman trail to the UW Stadium. Located just behind it we found the UW Waterfront Activities Center with bike racks in the breezeway and easy pay parking for cars in section E19.  It is also right below the UW light rail station, in case you want to combine the fun of a light rail ride with a canoe outing.

At the Activities Center, the helpful staff had us outfitted with paddles and life jackets in just a few minutes and we were directed to the dock where another staff member slid a canoe into the water and helped us in. Then it was just us, the great wide open waters of Union Bay and Lake Washington, Canadian geese, ducks, two herons, one eagle and a whole bunch of lily pads.

A popular paddling route from the Activities Center is due south into the Washington Park Arboretum via Marsh and Foster Islands. However, if 520 (Evergreen Point Bridge) construction is limiting your access to that area, UW staff recommend heading north toward the Union Bay Natural Area past Broken and Birch Islands and into the University Slough. This route gives you a unique view of the back of Husky Stadium, the Conibear Shellhouse, the Husky Ballpark, Track and Driving Range, not to mention all of the natural wonders in and around the water.

My son’s paddle was small, matching his stature, and while he applied himself vigorously for about 10 minutes, the rest of the paddling was up to me from the stern. This was simple as we drifted between the islands and the shore, but once we circled back into the more open waters of Union Bay and the breeze picked up, it did give me a decent arm workout to keep the canoe steady. We spent an hour paddling around but could have easily continued meandering along the shoreline toward the Urban Horticulture Fieldhouse, if lunch hadn’t been calling.  Upon our return to the dock, we were helped out of our canoe and directed back to the rental area, where we returned our life jackets, paddles and paid. Restrooms and a drinking fountain are easily accessible just down the hall from the returns counter.

Canoes can carry up to 1-4 people – 3rd and 4th passengers must be children under 12 and weighing under 90 lbs. (Total passenger max: 525lbs).  Kids must be over 25 pounds and able to walk on their own and boat renters must be 18 years of age or older with a valid ID. Rentals are first come, first served. Current students, staff, and Alumni Association members with ID are eligible for rental discounts.

Drifting lazily with a light breeze through calm waters reflecting a blue sky is about as blissfully bucolic as it gets in the city.  So, go rent a canoe with a kid or two and experience a lazy summer day in Seattle. And as you happily dip your paddle into the clear lake water and propel your craft forward, don’t forget to forge a fresh path or two through the lily pad fields. The sound of the metal canoe pushing through the rubbery leaves is like that of a slithering snake, according to my son, which apparently makes the six-year old set supremely happy.  You’re happy, they’re happy. Success!



Where: UW Waterfront Activities Center, behind Husky Stadium 3800 Montlake Blvd NE, Seattle 98105.  Below the UW Flight Rail Station.

Summer Hours: Open Wednesday- Sunday. June-July, Weds – Fri, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Weekends 9 a.m.-8 p.m; August, Weds – Fri, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Weekends, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Cost:  Canoe rentals are $16/hour  (UW students and staff are discounted).

Information: 206-543-9433, Website


First published June 2016, updated June 2023


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About the Author

Erika Bigelow