Conoeing With Kids

Essential Tips For Canoeing With Kids

Posted by Corey Hunt on March 23, 2024

Springtime is perfect canoeing weather in the South! Here, an outdoor expert and mom shares tips she learned from their recent family canoeing trip in Columbia, South Carolina.

I love experiencing the outdoors with my kids. Maybe it’s because they are closer to the ground, but they always see things differently than adults. Whether a rock, root or weird bug, they are always overturning nature to discover the answers to mysteries in the outdoors.

We recently took a guided canoe trip in Congaree National Park, which is located about thirty minutes outside of Columbia, South Carolina.

You may be thinking that two young kids in easily capsizing boats spell disaster, but we had an amazing adventure thanks to Palmetto Outdoors and their guides.

This group will take kids as young as five years old canoeing down Cedar Creek, which is about a 3-4 hour trek. Thanks to our tour guide, Andy Byler, we came away with a new outdoor family experience and some tips for families interested in canoeing with their own kids.


Tip 1: Safety first! 

The first tip when canoeing with kids is to be safe and always wear your life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).

Before the canoes hit the water, Andy discussed what to do in a worst-case scenario. He explained that if one of the canoes flipped, we should try to retrieve our paddle, and he would help right the boat. Because we had life jackets on, the risk of drowning was almost impossible, but it’s always wise to be prepared.

The bigger safety concern was lurking below our feet.

In marsh bottoms, the ground isn’t solid but usually some concoction of water and pluff mud. Andy also explained that if we stood up in the creek, we could sink several inches into the mud.

In this scenario, our life jacket wouldn't be enough to keep us afloat, so until we were at the shore, we must resist the urge to stand up in the water.

Tip 2: Get a feel of the boat

The first thing my son did when he sat in the canoe was rock the bow hard from side to side to test the limits of the boat. Luckily, he is about half my size, so I could anchor us from the back, but it wasn’t a bad idea to know how much motion it could withstand.

Every canoe handles differently, and paddling a canoe with two people can be tricky if you aren’t synchronized.

The canoes tend to move away from the front paddler, meaning if you paddle on the right side, the bow will move left. The rear paddler functions best as a rudder to balance the front paddler.

More than one group on our trip spent half their time serpentining the creek rather than paddling straight due to the paddler at the stern of the canoe trying to paddle instead of steer.


Tip 3: Plan for the elements

Like any outdoor activity, the weather and environment are out of our control, but with some preparation, we can make it more enjoyable.

On this trip through Congaree National Park, our trip down Cedar Creek was mostly in the shade, so sunscreen was optional. However, knowing a little about the landscape you plan to paddle is essential.

We were prepared with spray for the bugs, long sleeve sun shirts to shield us from the sun and insects and water shoes for easily launching our canoes.

The guides at Palmetto Outdoors also brought extra dry bags for valuables.

Tip 4: Take your time

There is something so peaceful and relaxing about canoeing down silky water.

On this trip, our guides encouraged us to look around at the cypress trees, Spanish moss, wildlife and crayfish dens and to listen to the birds calling.

My kid's favorite part of the trip was scooping big leaves floating on the water while hanging off the front of the canoe and also seeing woodpeckers “dancing” around the trunk of the tree.

Andy mentioned that occasionally on trips, they see wild hogs, deer and an occasional alligator.


Final Thoughts on Canoeing With Kids

Canoeing with kids can be an enjoyable outdoor activity to add to your next trip.

If you are near Columbia, S.C., consider spending some time in Congaree National Park and even booking a canoe trip with Palmetto Outdoors.

The guides are friendly, knowledgeable and would love to tell you more about the flora and fauna that surround Cedar Creek.

Free Download: How Country Life Makes Children Strong and Resilient

Corey Hunt

Corey Hunt is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and photographer from the upstate of South Carolina, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in publications such as Dun Magazine, South Carolina Wildlife and other online publications. More on Corey’s writing can be found on the blog she writes with her husband,

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