Getting out on a stand up paddle board or kayak with kids is an incredibly fun way to get out on the water and enjoy your surroundings in a completely different way!
Kayaking with kids for the first time, especially small kids, can be a little intimidating but it’s certainly still possible. Without knowing how long they’ll be happy to sit for, plan for shorter amounts of time on the water at first then gradually build up.
Older kids, on the other hand, will get to paddle on their own, which is a fun experience for them but they need to be prepared to do the work. Typically, kids need to be at least 12 year old to go in a kayak on their own, but most places will have tandem kayaks so they can go with a parent if they aren’t comfortable on their own.
Standup paddleboarding is another option that’s fun for everyone. It can be a little more difficult with toddlers and smaller kids, though keeping it to a shorter length helps them to enjoy the experience more while they are on the front of the board.
If you are renting a SUP or a kayak with kids for the first time, do it where the water is calm and find tours that are less than 2 hours to help everyone enjoy the experience the most. Alternatively, if the area is easy to navigate, you can rent the kayaks or stand up paddle boards and go out on your own. The key is to keep the experience fun for everyone.
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What to bring if you plan to kayak or stand up paddle board with kids?
- Depending on if you join a tour or know where you will rent your kayak/SUP, you may not be able to find out in advance if you will get kids life jackets. We recommend bringing life jackets for kids if you are unsure.
- Wide brimmed sunhats for kids and adults
- Plenty of water (keep it cool in an insulated water bottle)
- Sandals you can walk in the water with like these Keen sandals for kids
- Floating waterproof dry bag for your camera, etc.
Here are some of the best places to take kids kayaking or stand up paddle boarding around the world:
Kayaking in Charleston, South Carolina with Kids
We loved visiting Charleston with kids on our road trip through the southeastern USA. The city itself was fun to explore and we won’t even get into the amazing food here, but what made us love it even more was the opportunity to get into nature. Just a short drive from downtown Charleston to Bowen Island, we were able to take a 2 hour kayak tour on Folly Creek with Charleston Outdoor Adventures. This would be our first time getting our 2 year old toddler in a kayak, so we were a little nervous about how it would go especially given that we’d be on a tour.
We were given a brief introduction to the area and on how to paddle the kayak. We were all given life jackets (including appropriately sized kid life jackets) and dry bags for the tour. Our family was given two tandem kayaks, so the kids were able to ride up front.
We spent two hours on our tour of the marshes and waterways behind Folly Beach. Our guide was excellent and gave us so much information about the area. We even got to see a couple of dolphins, plenty of birds and crabs, and oyster beds. We could have just rented the kayaks on our own, but we would have missed out on all the knowledge about the wildlife and eco-system that our guide shared with us. He did a great job making it fun for the kids as well.
Without kids, we might have chosen the tour on stand up paddle boards instead but either way it was such a fun outing for all of us. We did make sure to book an early morning tour to avoid the heat, and of course, water, sunscreen and sun hats were a must!
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Kayaking in Glacier National Park with Kids
Looking out over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park is one of the most picturesque sights on earth! The huge mountains overlooking the glacier-fed lake is such an inspiring view that makes you want to run right into the water. But watch out, because the lake is so deep and made from leftover glaciers it is incredibly cold and rocky. Don’t let that stop you from jumping right in though, especially with the kids!
On a hot summer’s day you can grab a kayak, SUP, or boat from one of the rental vendors in Apgar Village and go enjoy that crystal clear water. It is by far one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Not only was it one of our kids’ most memorable experiences to have their first time trying a SUP and kayak, but to be doing it in such an amazing surrounding. Only 30 feet from shore the lake gets incredibly deep but it is so clear you can see the huge car-sized boulders hanging out at the bottom.
Not only can you rent personal water sports gear, they also have boats and boat tours you could take to navigate the entire length of the 10-mile lake. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are plenty of people that will bring or rent kayaks or SUP’s and circumnavigate the entire length from end-to-end.
The best reason to spend time in Apgar Village on Lake McDonald kayaking or SUPing with the kids is because at the end of a long day in the water, there is an ice cream shop just up the road from the lake and will make the end of your memorable day on the water even that much better.
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Stand Up Paddle Board on Lake Tahoe with Kids
You might recognize photos of the beautiful alpine lake, Lake Tahoe which straddles California and Nevada in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination for anyone who loves the outdoors and adventure, however Summer is hard to beat with activities on and off the water. There is something for everyone here, whether you want to relax at one of many beaches dotting the lake, hike or bike one of the hundreds of trails, or get out on the water.
Our favorite way to experience the famous blue water of this pristine lake is by paddleboard. There are lots of great places to paddle around Lake Tahoe, but there is one that is worth spending a day or two at. Sand Harbor State Park, which is situated near Incline Village in NV is home to Tahoe’s famous crystal clear waters (you can see the bottom up to 100 feet!) and rocky boulders doting the shoreline, along with secluded coves of sandy beaches. Get here early when the state park opens at 8AM so you can get a prime spot to “set up camp” on the beach for the day. There are also restrooms, a cafe, and a rental shop where you can rent paddleboards and kayaks.
We love paddling around Diver’s Cove (there are rocks to jump off here too) and Boat Beach, but if you are up for a real adventure, we suggest paddling down to Secret Cove from the main beach at Sand Harbor (about 5 miles). Stay relatively close to the shoreline as it can get choppy farther out on the water. If you make this trek, bring a dry bag with lunch and water (and don’t forget the sunscreen!), so you can stop along one of the hidden beaches along the way. It will be a day you will never forget! For more info on paddleboarding and other family-friendly outdoor recreation around Lake Tahoe, check out our blog post on The Best Summer Outdoor Activities in Lake Tahoe with Kids.
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Kayaking in Oahu, Hawaii with Kids
For families who love kayaking or want to learn how to do it together, the calm waters of Kaneohe Bay off the Windward Coast of Oahu, Hawaii are a great place to start. The scenery is stunning and the conditions are just right!
Our favorite kayak trip in the area was to “the Mokes”, the twin islands that are visible from Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach. You can paddle there on your own, but we went with a top-notch tour provider and it was a wonderful experience. We were taught proper paddling form, had the opportunity to snorkel with wild sea turtles and even learned to “kayak surf” on the wave break between Moku Nua and Moku Iki! We do recommend bringing your own kid-size snorkel gear with you if you plan to go kayaking in Hawaii, as many operators don’t have the smallest sizes available.
Unlike some other places where we’ve kayaked, the water is blessedly warm – after all, it’s Hawaii! We comfortably used sit-on-top kayaks and didn’t have to worry about a little water splashing inside or gearing everyone up with spray skirts as we’ve had to on cold-water kayaking trips.
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Kayaking in Silver Springs, Florida with Kids
About an hour outside of Disney World sits one of the largest artesian springs ever discovered. The crystal clear spring run looks like it came straight from a movie set. Probably because the original Tarzan movies, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Sea Hunt, and countless other movies and TV shows have been filmed there. Glass bottom boat tours take you to see the statues from I-Spy, a 400-year-old dugout canoe, and other historic small craft sunk in the sparkling waters. Today, the 5.5-mile kayak run is a favorite for young and old alike because it’s the only paddle trail in America you can see wild monkeys and manatees!
If you’ve never paddled in an artesian spring, you don’t know what your missing. The first mile of spring run is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom. Not only does this let you see all the historic shipwrecks, but you can also find manatees frolicking in springs year round. The rest of the trip you’re kayaking through the black water of cypress swamp. About 200 wild monkeys live in these woods (escapees from a 1930’s tourist attraction). You also might find alligators basking in the sun or a whole host of water birds and turtles sitting on stumps. Kayaking Silver Springs is like an all-natural theme park ride in wild Florida. No wonder commercial kayak liveries run this river year round.
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SUP in Siesta Key, Florida with Kids
There are good reasons Siesta Key is known worldwide as one of America’s best beaches. Its wide beaches are filled with the whitest silica sand you have ever seen. The warm, calm water of the Gulf of Mexico washes laps lazily on the shore, and a charming little tourist town provides yummy eats and cool treats. This little slice of heaven has everything kids could want, including a beautiful kid-friendly SUP run in the Jim Neville Marine Preserve.
You put in at the Turtle Beach SUP launch and paddle through the still waters of Blind Pass where you might even find a manatee or two. The pass takes you into the mangrove forests of the Jim Neville Marine Preserve. About 10 minutes more paddling and you reach a natural turn around on the sands of Midnight Pass. Here a narrow stretch of secluded beach separates the marine preserve from the gulf. The kids can play in the surf and sand until it’s time to paddle back. The beauty of this easy three-mile round trip paddle will might make you forget the delicious gelato waiting for you in town, but your kids will be there to remind you.
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SUP in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with Kids
Stand up paddle boarding was something I had wanted to try for a while, and I couldn’t have chosen a more idyllic place to try it for the first time. I had first seen people doing it while we were on one of the popular public beaches in Playa del Carmen, but I wasn’t convinced that was the best place to try it for the first time. The waves were a little bigger than I was comfortable going out on, given I planned to do it on my own.
A few days later, we arrived on Xpu-Ha beach and I knew this would be the perfect place to finally try stand up paddle boarding. I was able to rent a board, and after a few brief instructions, I was out on the water. The water was calm and so clear. It was incredibly peaceful being out there all on my own. I paddled back to where my husband and kids were playing on the beach, and of course, the kids were begging to have a turn riding on it.
We returned to Xpu-Ha beach a few days later, this time with their swim vests, and rented a stand up paddle board again. This time my husband and I took turns out on the water and with each of our kids. We weren’t sure about being on the stand up paddle board with a toddler, but our son (who was 2 years old at the time), was so content to just lay there. I thought he was going to fall asleep!
The Mayan Riviera is such an incredible place for families! Here are all the resources we used to plan our family trip to the Mayan Riviera.
Kayak in Holbox, Mexico with Kids
Discover Isla Holbox, just a 20 minute ferry ride from Chiquila, north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. This sweet, slim, hidden gem of an island is part of the Yum Balam Nature Preserve, where flamingos, whale sharks, sea turtles, and scores of marine life make their home. Natural, untamed beaches and coastline.
Aside from being known for its quiet ecological beaches, Isla Holbox marks where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean. When you need a break from the beach, book a kayaking excursion through the mangroves. Compare prices between local vendors (on the beach or near town center) who would love to guide you along the coast and through the mangroves via kayak. Two well reputed companies are Explora Holbox Kayak Tours or VIP Holbox Experience.
Start your paddle through the shallow, clear water. Listen for birds and look out for flamingos and alligators basking in the sun on the banks once you enter the mangrove tree-lined channels. You can also rent a SUP or a kayak from the beach to simply explore the coastline.
An Isla Holbox beach vacation with kids should be on everyone’s list!
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Stand Up Paddle Board in Valle de Bravo, Mexico with Kids
After a week in Mexico City with kids, we couldn’t have been happier to arrive in Valle de Bravo. It was a 2-3 hour bus ride from Mexico City (depending on traffic) but felt like another world. With views of the Lake Avandaro surrounded by mountains, we knew we’d enjoy our time exploring Valle de Bravo with our kids. First on our list was to visit the Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary to witness the migration of the monarch butterflies, but after that we hoped to do some hiking and get out on the lake.
The lake is popular for water activities, especially in the summer, so we planned to get out either on kayaks or stand up paddle boards. We had walked down by the waterfront plaza and saw they were available for rent, but instead we booked a SUP lake tour through Airbnb Experiences. We were the only ones on the tour so it ended up being a private guided tour around the lake. That suited us well, since we had our two kids on the front of our boards. We mentioned in our conversation with our guide Arturo that we would have two kids with us, so he made sure to bring them life jackets (that were appropriately sized kids life jackets).
The water was incredibly calm and he took us around the lake for approximately 90 minutes. We stopped near several small waterfalls feeding the lake. Given that it was just us, we were able to take our time, let the kids try standing and just enjoying the scenery. The hour and a half was the perfect amount of time, as the kids were getting a little antsy towards the end.
We recommend going in the morning as that’s when the water is the most calm.
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Kayaking Lake Nicaragua with Kids
Nicaragua is an adventure lover’s dream destination and there are many active activities for families in Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America and contains the beautiful twin volcanic island of Ometepe. It offers an opportunity to experience rural Nicaragua and see the amazing diversity of wildlife on the island.
One of the best ways to experience this is on a kayak trip on the lake, into Rio Istian. We were thankful to have double kayaks with one adult and one kid, since it can be tough paddling against the wind on the lake. Once we entered Rio Istian, the water was calm and we were surrounded by jungle. If the kids can stay quiet long enough, you will be rewarded with many bird sightings. We organized our trip through Cabellitos Mar at the very reasonable price of $20 USD/person, kids free.
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SUP the Central Coast NSW with Kids
With over 40 different beaches, the Central Coast on Australia’s East Coast has conditions and a beach to suit everyone. Only an hour north of Sydney, it makes a great day trip and escape from the hustle and bustle of the busier city beaches. Even during the busier summer months you can find areas where you have whole stretches of clean sand and magic waves all to yourself.
Some of our favourite spots to take children out on the SUP include Terrigal Haven and Avoca Lagoon, as conditions are calmer and there are lots of family-friendly facilities nearby such as restrooms and places to eat. Avoca and Terrigal Lagoons also have the option to hire SUPs and other water based fun from local business based on the shorelines.
For kayaking, The Entrance has a fantastic lake system where you can explore islands and see lots of local Pelicans for which the area is famous for.
To find out which beaches are patrolled in the area and what facilities are available check out this guide to Central Coast beaches.
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Kayak in Abel Tasman, New Zealand with Kids
The Abel Tasman National Park is located in the northern part of New Zealand’s South Island and is known for its golden beaches, granite cliffs, and it’s world famous coastal track. Kayaking is the perfect way to see the Abel Tasman coastline We chose a half day paddle to Split Apple Rock from Kaiteriteri which is suitable for children from aged 8 (some operators specify 10). The Split Apple Rock paddle is an ideal introduction to sea kayaking, but this is sea kayaking and tides can make things more tricky!
After some initial instruction on the beach we were off in our double sea kayaks. As this is sea kayaking, spray decks are worn (hence the minimum child age). Our family of five was split up with a child per adult, plus one of the boys with an instructor. Getting out to Split Apple Rock was hard work as the wind was blowing hard against us. At one point I thought my kayak wouldn’t make it! Once at Split Apple Rock we spent some time observing the rock from our kayaks, then headed to the most beautiful beach for some drinks and cookies. From here we paddled back to the starting point, much easier on the way back as the wind was with us. This three hour kayak is beautiful and well worth the effort, for the tremendous views of the coastline and spectacular beaches.
There are plenty of options when it comes to kayaking in Abel Tasman, but many of them require children to be aged 12. Kayaking operators are based in Kaiteriteri, Marahau and Golden Bay. The Split Apple Rock paddle often runs twice daily, morning and afternoon, from the beach at Kaiteriteri, and costs $90 adults and $65 kids (aged 8 or 10+ depending on the operator).
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Kayak Railay Beach, Thailand with Kids
Railay Beach in Thailand could possibly be one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. While staying in nearby Ao Nang with kids, we took a long-tail boat over to spend the day at Railay Beach. While we were there we noticed several people renting kayaks and stand up paddle boards to get up closer to the stunning limestone karsts. It’s one thing to admire the view from the beach, and quite another to get to see it from the vantage point of being in the water. We knew we’d have to return another day and try it ourselves.
Given that we were travelling in Thailand with kids (who were 5 & 3 years old at the time), we knew kayaking would be the safest way. We were able to rent a tandem kayak that had room for both kids to sit in the front. Though it didn’t make for the best pictures, it allowed us to share the experience as a family. We spent an hour kayaking from Railay Beach over to the nearby limestone karsts jutting out of the water. We went in between them, got up close to them and saw plenty of birds. It was such a fun experience for everyone and a unique way to see the landscape other than just from the beach or when speeding by on a boat.
Renting a kayak or SUP was easy and we did it right from the beach. We were given life jackets for us, but we had brought our kids swim vests from home. They didn’t appear to have kid sized life jackets.
Kayak in Kanchanaburi, Thailand with Kids
When planning our trip to Thailand, we chose to visit Kanchanaburi with kids because of the outdoor experiences it offered. We were able to visit the nearby temples by bike and took a day trip out to the nearby Erawan National Park. It seemed like the perfect place to hit three of our favourite things to do when traveling with kids: hike, bike, & kayak.
Walking up the main street in Kanchanaburi, we were easily able to find a place to rent kayaks. We weren’t looking for a full day tour, since that can be more difficult with young kids. We were able to rent the kayaks for a couple of hours from River Kwai Canoe Travel Services who picked us up from our hotel and drove us to the starting point.
Kayaking on the River Kwai was a wonderful experience, perfect for a family with small kids. The river was calm and in the morning, was free of most boat traffic. We had the river all to ourselves for almost the entire time, it was until we start approaching the Bridge on the River Kwai that we started to see some boat traffic.
We were given instructions to call when we passed under the bridge near our hotel and we’d be picked up at the Chinese temple. Sure enough, she was waiting there when we arrived to give us a lift back to our hotel.
We opted to kayak over stand up paddle boarding because it’s a little easier to do with the kids. Though they can ride on the front of the boards, being in the kayak allows them to move around more and even try paddling themselves. We were given adult sized life jackets, but had our own swim vests for the kids. We often find it difficult to rent kids gear (i.e. life jackets and helmets) for kids this small, so if we have the room and it’s easy to pack, we will.
Though this would have been a lovely way to see the sunset, we opted for mid morning. It was a little warm towards the end, but the river was extremely calm and we saw very little boat traffic.