Are you craving a little outdoor, downtime with your kids? How does an afternoon paddling across a local lake with your family sound? If you’ve never seen the inside of a kayak, don’t worry. This relaxing activity is easy to learn and we’ve put together the essentials for you. Here’s how to get started kayaking with your family in and around Portland.

Kids kayaking

Photo: courtesy of Portland Kayak Company

The Basics
The beautiful thing about living in Portland (one of them, at least) is that you don’t need to buy a lot of gear to try out kayaking. There are plenty of outfitters in and around town who rent out kayaks, paddles and any additional gear you might need for your day of exploration.

Kayaks can be rented for a per-hour or per-day rate. If you are just starting out, this is most affordable rout to go. Dependon on the size and type of kayak, hourly rates range from $12/hr to $20/hr. Daily rates range from $50 to $100.

If you choose to buy, youth ride-on-top kayaks can be found for $100 and up, and adult and 2-seat kayaks cost $600 or more. For a few quick paddles on your favorite lake, an inflatable kayak might work for a much lower price point. Ask the experts at your outdoor store for tips on what works for you and your family. If you spend time on the water, doesn’t hurt to buy your own flotation devices. Make sure they’re Coast Guard certified and appropriate for your planned activity.

Your Little Duffers
Junior can come along on kayaking trip as a paddler or a “duffer.” Duffers are just along for the ride in the center compartment and don’t help propel the boat. This is a role most children play until age eight. Experienced paddlers can start using their own single kayaks around age ten or so.

Kayaking Portland-kator 29-flickr

Photo: Kayaking Smith and Bybee Lakes by kator29 via flickr

Where You Can Play & Learn
You’ll want to get started on your kayaking adventure in calm, protected waters first — that means lakes and protected bays without much current or wind. Lakes without motorized boat traffic make for easier paddles, as you won’t need to avoid wakes.

Scappoose Bay is a gentle start for beginners, with the friendly outfitters Next Adventure’s Scappoose Bay Paddling Center providing rentals and lessons or tours. You might even spy some river otters playing.

Trillium Lake has no motorized boat traffic as well as camping and beautiful views near Government Camp on Mt. Hood.

Alder Creek’s classes allow kids 10 & up to attend their Learn to Kayak tours with parents. Check to see which class would be best for your family

Portland Kayak’s “no experience needed” tours around Ross Island let the little ones come along for the ride in double kayaks. Call for availability and details. Or, choose some group lessons for the family.

The Lower Columbia Slough in North Portland can be a lovely place to set in, but you’ll want to check the tide schedule to keep your trip focused on bald eagles and herons, not hard paddling against the current.

Kayaking-Arnold de Leon-flickr

photo: by Arnold de Leon via flickr

What You Need to Know
Of course, safety is the first priority when it comes to water sports. That means you too, parents! Modeling safety goes a long way. Those personal flotation devices should fit and be properly secured. Wear closed-toe sandals or water shoes, plus plenty of sun block (Bring extra on the kayak with you. You’ll probably be out long enough to need to re-apply.) Don’t take your kids paddling unless you have a lot of experience with advanced moves under your belt — like rolling your kayak, for starters — or you have a very experienced person in your party. Plan snack times and bathroom breaks ahead of time and be sure to bring lots of water for everyone. Then have fun!


What’s your favorite part of a day on the water with family? Let us know in the comments!

—Kelley Gardiner