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  • Elizabeth Voyles

A Family of Paddlers

Elizabeth Voyles' daughter with her grandpa and father on Lake Lytle in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Photo courtesy of the author

Canoeing was completely new to me when my husband suggested we try it a few years ago. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered, despite enjoying other water activities. And I especially had not considered canoeing with our daughter, an infant of about eight months old, at the time he wanted to begin this new hobby. My husband had fond memories of family canoe trips growing up, and insisted his parents had taken him and his two siblings canoeing, even when his sister was a baby. He convinced me there was nothing to stop us going and bringing our daughter along. In the years since, we’ve had wonderful experiences canoeing with our now toddler daughter and also with our younger daughter, about nine months old. Canoes are a wonderful way to get out on the water with the whole family, even the youngest members. Safety When planning a canoe trip, water safety is always a major concern. This is especially true when planning a trip with infants and toddlers. You will need to find a Personal Flotation Device (life jacket) in the correct size for each child. Personal Flotation Devices for children are sized by their weight. You want to choose one with a wraparound collar behind the head so your child floats face up in the water. We personally love a PFD with a handle behind the collar where you can easily grab and lift your little one out of the water if needed. The PFD should also have an adjustable crotch strap to prevent it slipping off of your child. Life vests should be on before stepping into the boat with your little ones. Consider the safest and most comfortable seating arrangements for your child. Do not strap your infant or toddler into a car seat or any seat or apparatus that will sink if it ends up the in the water. This is not a safe arrangement. With both of our daughters, I held them in my lap as infants or placed them at my feet with toys. For our toddler, we bring a small chair along or have her sit on a buoy or a full dry bag. If your child falls in the water, remain calm. Turn the canoe as swiftly as you can, grab the handle or collar of their Personal Flotation Device and lift them back into the canoe. If the canoe tips, confirm your child is floating face up. Keep a hold on them and get yourselves all to safety and back in the canoe. In my experience, a canoe trip with infants and toddlers needs two adults. And one of those adults isn’t likely to be doing much paddling. It takes at least two hands to hold infants and entertain and watch toddlers in a moving watercraft. You may periodically be able to have both adults paddling, but it isn’t something you should count on. Stuff Overboard! It’s safe to assume your young child will attempt to throw things in the water while enjoying their canoe trip. It’s a good idea to attach tethers to any fishing poles, nets, toys, chairs, or gear you plan to keep within reach of your child. We’ve learned from experience, those child-size fishing poles do not float. You need to tie them to the boat if you want to use them on your next canoe trip. It’s a great idea to tether any toys to the canoe, and even better if the toys you bring float. Plan Ahead A great family canoe trip starts with planning ahead. Young children have short attention spans and a limited tolerance for wearing a possibly uncomfortable Personal Flotation Device. Bring toys as a distraction. Pack snacks and drinks for the trip. This can help with crabbiness due to hunger and also help with boredom. Pack a dry bag with any diapers and bottles or feeding supplies required. Include hats, sunscreen, towels and extra clothes for all family members. If someone ends up wet, it is so much better to be prepared. Most young children max out at about two hours on a canoe trip. Plan your paddling trips in locations where you can be back to the car in a reasonable amount of time before they start to unravel. Avoid nap times, bottle times, or make plans to stop and take breaks. It’s important to keep the limitations and needs of your little ones in mind to ensure everyone enjoys the trip. Where to Canoe with Little Ones When choosing a spot to canoe as a family with young children, consider the logistics. Look for a paddle spot with easy in and out access for your canoe. You should be able to get in and out of the canoe holding children, or easily hand them into the canoe without risking a fall in the water. Also, consider how long you plan to canoe and where you will stop for breaks if needed. Great Spots for Family Paddling in Oregon Lake Lytle, Rockaway Beach, OR Lake Lytle is my favorite canoe spot in Oregon. It’s beautiful and calm. There is a public dock and boat launch, providing easy access in and out of the lake and your canoe for all members of the family. Once you’ve paddled around Lake Lytle, you can paddle down a small stream to reach Crescent Lake on the same trip. There are great views, wildlife to observe, and you’re never too far from shore if anything comes up with your young passengers. Estacada Lake, Estacada, OR Estacada Lake is located just outside of Estacada, OR, near Milo McIver State Park. There is a public dock and boat launch for easily getting in and out of the lake and your canoe. It’s a large reservoir and the water is fairly calm. The scenery is beautiful and there is a lot to see as you paddle along. This one can be a longer trip, so plan accordingly, and be aware you may not be able to see it all in one trip. Silverton Reservoir, Silverton, OR As with my other favorites, there is a boat launch and dock. I can’t overstate how much easier it is getting in and out of a canoe with infants and toddlers when you can tie up the canoe and gently hand the children inside. Silverton Reservoir has a lovely open water area. There is always ducks in the water. We’ve seen deer and salamanders, caught fish, and had many great experiences. There is an arm off of the reservoir you can paddle up and explore. It takes you out of the wind and through some great scenic water. There is a nice spot, where the reservoir meets the river, you can get out to skip rocks and eat a snack. Beaver Creek Natural Area, Seal Rock, OR This is a very special canoe experience because you can paddle almost to the ocean, or at least to a beach and ocean view. The launch was pretty easy for getting kiddos in and out and we enjoyed calm water and beautiful views. Our toddler loved taking a break to play at the beach in the middle of the canoe trip. Pudding River, Canby, OR We’ve had many great trips on the Pudding River. This is best for more experienced paddling families. The river is navigable best in summer. You will want to check the water level and the current to be sure it’s doable for your family. There is no real boat launch or dock. To get in, you carry your canoe down a steep hill and haul your kids and stuff down after it. We’ve done it a number of times with one child. More than that, or with an infant it may be more than you want to take on. But once you’re out there, it is a very nice paddle down river. These are a few of many places in Oregon to enjoy canoeing with infants and toddlers. As long as you plan ahead and keep safety in mind you can look forward to exploring these and many other beautiful Oregon paddling spots with your young children.

Elizabeth's husband and daughter at the beach they reached from Beaver Creek.

Photo courtesy of the author

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