From the Chicago River to the Nippersink Creek, the rivers, creeks and lakes flowing through Chicago are perfect for a paddle.
"People don't realize what's in their backyard," says Ralph Frese, owner of the Chicagoland Canoe Base, who took his daughter for her first canoe ride before she could walk.
There's an art to canoeing with kids, parents and experts say. It's important to learn how to paddle around curves and respond to emergencies before you tackle the river. Valerie Smith of Mount Prospect took her niece, Jaclyn, 7, and nephew, Brandon, 10, to an Emily Oaks Nature Center beginning canoe class. "It's a fun time to spend with each other," Smith says. "It really promotes teamwork."
Before venturing on the river, be prepared. Bring sunscreen, snacks, water and appropriate clothing, including jackets and hats.
On the water, engage kids with nature. "Count how many wildflowers you can see," says Kim Caldwell, canoe instructor at the McHenry County Conservation District. "Turtles are always a big hit because it's very likely you will see one. Look for fish down in the water. Frogs are camouflaged; you've got to really search."
Or just play a game. Bring a rubber ducky and float it or toss it from boat to boat.
If kids get tired of sitting or paddling, head to the shore, stretch your legs and explore, Frese says.
Parents' enthusiasm is key, says Liam Durnan of Chicago River Canoe and Kayak. "If parents get excited about it, it rubs off on the kids."