Hit the water

You never want to be up a creek without a paddle when kids are involved, unless you’ve joined one of the many local canoeing and kayaking experts who can make sure you know what you’re doing.

“Canoeing is so much fun for families,” says Margaret Frisbie, executive director of the Friends of the Chicago River. The group offers guided canoe trips through the Chicago River, educating families about canoe safety and Chicago history.

But before jumping into a canoe or a kayak, parents might want to investigate lessons first.

Ryan Rushton, owner of Geneva Kayak Center in Geneva, has been kayaking for 13 years and has been on the water with his 1-year-old daughter.

“I’m an expert, so I know how to be safe with her,” he says."Parents new to the sport can kayak in tandem with kids as young as 4 or 5.”

Safety is key with any water sport. Experts recommend that children know how to swim before kayaking and everyone, even adults, should wear a life jacket while on the water.

Rushton also advises parents to take a class before kayaking or canoeing for the first time. Qualified instructors can be found through the American Canoe Association (www.americancanoe.org) or the British Canoe Union (www.bcuna.com).

Once your family is ready to hit the water, expeditions can be found all over the Chicago area. From as far south as the Kankakee River to the northern lakes, families have choices of outings that fit their skills and sense of adventure.

In conjunction with the Chicago Park District, Friends of the Chicago River offer tours throughout the year that cover the length of the river so families can have a new experience each time they participate.

“It’s a way of seeing nature in the city that most people don’t even know is there,” Frisbie says.

Gear for either canoeing or kayaking can usually be rented at your chosen destination, but Frisbie always recommends families bring water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and bug spray—and always be prepared to get wet.

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