Paddling with kids on Lake Washington from REI's new boathouse. Credit: April Chan
Who doesn't want to spend some of our spectacular Northwest summer days out on the lake? For families with kids who are good swimmers or even kids just starting to learn (all wearing life jackets, of course), a family outing on Lake Washington makes for a safe and idyllic summer adventure.
Local outdoor giant REI makes it easy for families to try out a variety of water sports — without the lofty investment of buying your own equipment. REI's Enatai Beach Park Boathouse and Meydenbauer Bay Park Boathouse offer a variety of vessels for rent, including stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. Prices start at $29 per hour.
Our family's test drive
On a sunny Saturday, our family of four reserved two 2-person kayaks at the Meydenbauer Bay boathouse.
We sunscreened and brought along water bottles and small snacks to enjoy on the lake, but all other equipment, including paddles and life vests, were included. In a pinch, the boathouse also offers assorted snacks for sale. The staff even provided waterproof bags in which to store our phones, keys, purse, etc.
We checked in with staff (while the kids marveled at the strange contraption right at the boathouse's entrance — a phone booth with an actual working phone), then we headed to the nearby shoreline where another staff member helped us into our boats and pushed us into the water.
Paddling with kids
Once upon a time, in our pre-kid days, my husband and I frequently kayaked in South Puget Sound; it felt like riding a bike as we got reacquainted with our paddles in the water. This time, however, we were admittedly a little nervous, each of us with a kid in our kayaks. But at ages 8 and 5, the kids are now at ease playing in the water with life vests on, and they were great with heeding safety instructions. We only really had one rule: stay seated.
We paddled our way to the far side of the swimming area by the shore, followed the length of the pier that protects that area from the choppier waters on the bay, and headed northwest, following the shoreline just past Clyde Beach Park.
Whalers Cove to the southeast is also a good paddling destination for families, and many of the REI boathouse classes are conducted there.
The bay affords beautiful views of Lake Washington as well as water-side vistas of some of the nicest waterfront homes in the area. Most of the homes had docks prominently marked as "private".
We did our best to keep a decent distance while staying out of the main channel. There are plenty of private motorized vessels out on the water on nice warm days, creating waves that thrilled my son but made me a bit nervous.
My son, age 8, lounged happily in the front seat of the kayak he shared with his dad. Though he asked for his own paddle, it turned out he was still too small to use it efficiently and so kept it on his lap for the duration of our adventure. My daughter, age 5, did not think the fancy houses were a big deal. She wanted to go back into the protected area where she could people-watch the kids playing on the beach.
A one-hour rental time was perfect for our family. I don't think the kids would have tolerated sitting in one position much longer. They were both itching to try out the super-fun-looking newer playground, too.
Tips for parents
The watercraft are rented out all day long to the general public so expect them to be all wet right from the start of your rental. Some kids, like mine, are more sensitive to this and it affected the overall experience. Kayak paddles also drip as you paddle. If it's hot enough, just put the kids in swimsuits and bring dry clothes. Mainly, prep your kids ahead that they shouldn't expect to stay dry.
There is no minimum age requirement for boat rentals as long as a parent or guardian signs the liability waiver. This means kids can be on their own stand-up paddleboards as long as they’re accompanied by an adult.
There is a minimum weight limit on life jackets that REI provides: 35 pounds. If your child weighs less than that, you'll need to bring your own. Target sells life jackets for about $30.
We lucked out with finding a parking spot right in front of the new boathouse. But parking at Meydenbauer Bay Park is limited and on busy weekends, cars are lined up uphill from the park all along Lake Washington Boulevard. Give yourself plenty of time to find parking in advance of your reserved rental.
If you go...
Open hours: Both boathouses are open Thursday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. (check website for seasonal changes in hours).
Rates and reservations: Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards rent for $29 and up per hour. Longer rental periods are available. Book online.
Questions: Contact the Enatai boathouse at 425-902-9508; contact the Meydenbauer Bay boathouse at 425-902-9045
Classes: REI offers classes and tours at both locations. Take a look at offerings and book online at REI's classes and events page. Filter for "watersports" to find kayaking and paddleboarding events.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2019 and updated for 2021.