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Fun Afloat: Where to Try SUP, Sailing, Kayaking and more

Where to get on the water with kids around Puget Sound

Published on: July 17, 2013

Alice_Crain, flickr CC

Where to try stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) around Puget Sound

What and why: Stand-up paddleboarding (also known as SUP) is a surface water sport where you stand up and paddle with a long paddle that is eight inches taller than you are. Andrew Drake, co-owner of Seattle’s Washington Surf Academy, and Surf Ballard, says SUP offers better views of the water and local wildlife than, say, kayaking (because of the standing position) and provides a full body workout.

Recommended age: Drake says 10 is a great age to start. Keep in mind that the smaller you are, the harder it is to propel forward. In addition to being a strong swimmer, a child learning to paddle board should have good coordination and be willing to work hard and go slow at first. It's also a great sport for grown-ups to try! 

Where to try it: Drake offers a group rate of $70 per participant for a two-hour class that includes all of the equipment. Kids and grown-ups can also try paddleboarding (and kayaking, sailing and canoeing), at Greenlake Boathouse in Seattle and Foss Bay Marina in Tacoma (Only kayak and paddleboard) or Sail Sand Point in North Seattle.

Mount Baker Rowing and Sailing Center offers a youth Adventure Camp that is water based and includes youth Stand-Up Paddle Board for kids ages 11–14. You can also rent paddle boards by the hour from Moss Bay on Lake Union for just $15 an hour.

Fun day trip: Salmon Bay Paddle offers multi-hour guided paddle board trips in beautiful locations that are rated easy for beginners, including a trip on the Sammamish River, where you can end your family’s tour with a meal at Red Hook Brewery, located adjacent to the launch site.

Sailing an Optimist (or "Opti") at the Seattle Yacht Club. Photo by Suzanne Lusnia.

Where to try sailing around Puget Sound

Why do it: Angela Frost, the Sailing Programs Coordinator for the Seattle Yacht Club, says sailing is not only extremely fun for kids but also teaches them life skills including “coordination and flexibility, teamwork as well as independence, problem-solving skills, responsibility and safety, and a greater understanding of nature."

Recommended age: Frost says, “Sailing is great for almost all ages. Kids as young as 7 can learn to sail on their own in small boats. No prior experience is required, although the ability to swim is a must.”

Where to try it: A great place for kids and adults to try sailing is the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union in Seattle. Every Sunday the center offers free 45-minute sailing trips to the public throughout the day.  Sign up in person starting at 10 a.m. (one person can sign up for up to five people, but get there early). You can also rent sailboats and other watercraft at CWB. In north Seattle, nonprofit Sail Sand Point offers sailboat rentals (also kayak and SUP) through its open boating program and classes for kids and adults. It offers an affordable annual membership. 

Fun camps: Near the UW on Portage Bay, the Seattle Yacht Club runs week-long summer camps for kids ages 7 to 18 and evening classes for adults, both open to the public (call 206-926-1011). Summer sailing camps are also available for kids ages 8 and up through the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department’s Mount Baker Rowing and Sailing Center; Sail Sand Point also offers classes. 

Kayaking, Seattle Parks & Recreation
Courtesy of Seattle Parks & Recreation

Where to try kayaking around Puget Sound

Why do it: Chris Vowels, kayak guide and owner of Columbia Kayak Adventures, says that kayaking is a water sport that can accommodate all abilities and ages. “I had a 78-year-old grandfather out the other day with his grandson.” 

Recommended age: Vowels says ages 8 or 9, “when a kid has the focus and physical stamina,” is an ideal age to get kids kayaking. Kids should be fairly strong swimmers. However, you can take smaller kids (as young as 3 or 4) out in a double kayak on calm water.

Where to try it: Take a spin on Lake Union, followed by Mexican food, at Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club on Portage Bay (kids under 18 need to share a double kayak with a grown-up). You can also try it at Greenlake Boathouse or Foss Bay Marina in Tacoma. Youth kayak and canoe summer camps for ages 10 to 14 are offered weekly at Bellevue’s Enatai Beach Boathouse with Cascade Canoe and Kayak.

Fun day trip: Outdoor Adventures Center offers a 90-minute tour of the Sammamish River that launches near Redhook Brewery, ideal for beginners and families with kids ages 6 and older. Moss Bay offers options for groups of kids including a “Kids Piggyback Tour” which includes a lesson and a tour around Lake Union for just $20 per participant with a minimum group of ten kids. Combine kayaking with environmental protection and education when you book a kayak tour with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and Alki Kayak Tours. In the Richland area, Columbia Kayak Adventures offers sea kayak tours of inland lakes and rivers.                               


Where to try canoeing around Puget Sound

Why do it: Canoeing is one of the easiest, most affordable and safest ways to introduce kids to water sports.

Recommended age: Almost any age can start. Very young children can sit in the middle of the canoe and ride along as adults paddle. Kids in their own canoe should be strong swimmers.

Where to try it: The University of Washington’s Waterfront Activity Center in Seattle is a popular option for exploring nearby waterways of the Washington Park Arboretum, where you can glimpse birds, turtles and other wildlife. Kids must be a minimum of 25 pounds, able to walk and fit in one of the center’s life jackets, and must ride with an adult ($9–$11/hour; call 206-543-9433). On the Eastside, Cascade Canoe and Kayak offers canoe rentals at the Enatai Beach Boathouse in Bellevue ($9.50–$19 an hour).

Fun day trip: From May to late August, on Saturdays and Sundays, the Bellevue Parks Department offers a three-hour ranger-guided canoe trip from Enatai Beach Park through the nearby Mercer Slough Nature Park ($16–$18). Along the way you may spot otters, herons and turtles. Children as young as five may participate but prior canoeing experience is required and an adult must ride with the child. 

Rafting, Outdoor sports
Photo credit: staff

Where to try rafting around Puget Sound

Why do it: River rafting provides an adrenaline rush for the whole family while getting them out on the water, close to nature.

Recommended age: Many outfitters require participants to be strong swimmers and ages 6 and up.

Where to try it: Because river rafting involves risk, it is always best to go with an outfitter with highly trained guides and a reputation for safety. Read our complete guide to Northwest river rafting for ideas on trips and outfitters. offers whitewater trips and floats on the Wenatchee River. Alpine Adventures offers family-friendly trips, an easy drive from Seattle, on its Skykomish Family Float in Gold Bar. Rafting on the Lower Yakima, a Class 1 river, is a good choice for families with young kids.

For 30 years Blue Sky Outfitters have been taking families on some of the best river rafting in the state on the Wenatachee and Methow rivers (try the “Express Half-Day” Wenatchee River trip, for $72–$82 per adult). Outdoor Adventures Center offers a full day Family Raft Adventure  for families with kids ages six and up on the Skyomish River for $85 per person.

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