4 Must-Visit Destinations for Watersport Families

By | September 20, 2016 |
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Choose your own adventure at these watersport meccas. From leisurely lake paddles to wild whitewater rafting trips, these family-friendly destinations boast fun attractions perfect for water lovers of all types and ages.

Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii

Green sea turtle with diver in HawaiiAdventure awaits the water enthusiast on the island of Oahu. Enjoy high-adrenaline pursuits like surfing, parasailing, jet packs and submersible scooters or low-key activities like snorkeling, stand up paddleboarding and kayaking.

Take your crew on a banana boat ride or race down waves on outrigger canoes. Venture into secluded sandbars, sea caves and cliffs in a reef-protected bay by kayak, or go guided on a three-hour kayak and snorkeling adventure to spot giant sea turtles and tropical fish in the turquoise waters.

One of the world’s best beginner surf spots, Waikiki is ideal for taking your first surfing lesson. The gentle rolling waves of the protected bay make it fun for kids and grown ups. Those who don’t want to surf can stand up paddleboard. No special skills are required, and you can learn fast in a beginner lesson — you may even see a turtle as you paddle over the reef.

Pensacola Beach, Florida

happy boy surfingEmerald-green waters and sugar-like sand make this Gulf Coast island beach a favorite of many. Families can venture into the water aboard kayaks, paddleboards, surfboards and even a trimaran sailboat. Adults and kids as young as six can learn to surf at an hour-long lesson, or work on stand up paddling skills on Little Sabine Bay. Walking distance from the beach, this calm bay is a perfect place for families thanks to its safe, shallow waters. Fitness fanatics can try stand up paddleboarding yoga here, too.

Cap off your day with a relaxing sunset cruise around Pensacola Bay on a rare 40-foot racing trimaran. Dangle your toes in the water or watch for dolphins, and don’t worry if you’re prone to motion sickness. The stable ride is a far cry from a sailboat’s rock and roll.

Portland, Oregon

Kayak PortlandAn adventure town at heart, Portland is surrounded by waterways waiting to be explored. Fifteen miles from downtown Portland, visitors can paddle to North America’s second most powerful waterfall, Willamette Falls. The falls were the final wagon stop of the Oregon Trail — the best vantage point is found by renting a kayak or stand up paddleboard and taking a guided one-mile paddle upriver through fish and sea lion-filled waters. Kids eight and up can paddle alone, while younger children must go tandem with an adult or lap sit.

For thrill-seekers, whitewater rafting the Clackamas River is a must. Although the Clackamas is just 30 miles from Portland, it feels like a wilderness escape. You’ll take on playful rapid after rapid on this clear, untamed river while passing tall canyon walls and lush old-growth forests. During spring, runoff water levels can be too high for young children, but in summer it becomes family friendly for kids as young as six.

Northwest Arkansas (Springdale, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs)

Photo credit Shane McNair, Flying Lens Visuals

Photo credit Shane McNair, Flying Lens Visuals

Arkansas’ 600,000 acres of lakes and 9,700 miles of streams and rivers have inspired its nickname of the “Natural State.” Kayaking, canoeing and rafting throughout the interconnected towns of the northwest welcome beginner and expert paddlers alike. Start by renting a kayak or paddleboard and exploring glistening Beaver Lake, the region’s largest, in the Ozark Mountains near the town of Rogers. An easy paddle takes you past stunning limestone cliffs, a natural shoreline perfect for snorkeling and forested islands. You can finish the experience at Hobbs State Park on Beaver Lake with a sunset pontoon boat cruise.

Meanwhile, the refurbished Lake Atalanta Park offers all-day family fun, featuring playgrounds, a stream for swimming, natural splash pad, fishing piers, bike trails and an all-ages mountain bike park.

But the adventurous set flocks to Northwest Arkansas for the free Siloam Springs Kayak Park, where engineered rapids built on the Illinois River can be kayaked, tubed or rafted. Experts hone their skills on the Class I rapids, while kids enjoy just floating or swimming through them and splashing in the park’s calm pools.