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? Most kids love water — and lots of grown-ups do, too — but maybe you're not ready to invest in actual watersport vessels or equipment.
Local outdoor giant REI is making it easy for families to try out a variety of water sports this summer, without that lofty expenditure. REI has recently opened two boathouses, each with a variety of watercraft for rent. The boathouses are located at Bellevue's Enatai Beach Park and Meydenbauer Bay Park (don't miss this park's fantastic updates).
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.
Both REI's Enatai boathouse and Meydenbauer Bay boathouse offer a variety of vessels for rent, including stand-up paddleboards, canoes, kayaks and pedal boats. Prices range from $25–$35 per hour for REI members, depending on the type of vessel. Rates are higher for non-members. There are also options to rent for a full day, as well as a full weekend.
On a recent sunny Saturday, our family of four called ahead to reserve two 2-person kayaks at the Meydenbauer Bay boathouse, not long after it opened. (Reservations are recommended for the busy summer season.)
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 easily 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-looing new playground too.
Tips for parents
The watercraft are rented out all day long to the general public so expect them to all be wet. 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. (One kink being worked out when we visited: There weren't enough life vests for small children. The staff assured us more were being ordered.)
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 Blvd. The staff person we made our phone reservation with also warned us to arrive at least 15 minutes early to scout out parking.
If you go...
Summer hours: Both boathouses are open Wednesday–Sunday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. (check website for holiday hours and year-round schedule)
Rates: Single kayaks and stand-up paddleboards cost $25 per hour for REI members and $30 per hour for the general public. Canoes and tandem (2-person) kayaks cost $35 per hour for REI members and $40 for the general public. Longer rental periods are available.
Reservations: Contact the Enatai boathouse at 425-902-9508; contact the Meydenbauer Bay boathouse at 425-902-9045
Classes: REI offers a variety of classes at both locations, in addition to rentals. There are minimum age requirements of 13 or 14 years old, depending on which type of class. Visit either the Enatai Beach Boathouse or Meydenbauer Bay Boathouse for more information including rates, schedules and activities offered.