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.
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.
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
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
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