Canoeing with Kids in Oklahoma - MetroFamily Magazine
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Canoeing with Kids in Oklahoma

by Mae Kiggins

Reading Time: 5 minutes 

There is no shortage of beautiful lakes and rivers in Oklahoma and an early morning canoe trip with a midday swim is the perfect way to enjoy them during the hot summer months. Yes, even with the kids. The older your child, the more they can be involved but even your young kids will enjoy the ride and view. But if you are new to canoeing it does require some planning and forethought. 

This article covers the basics of canoeing, safety and comfort tips and offers a few suggestions for scenic trips here in Oklahoma. 

Canoeing vs. Kayaking

Canoes and kayaks are both hand-powered boats. Technically, kayaks are a type of canoe. The main differences are:

  • In a canoe, the person sits on a seat and in a kayak the person sits on the bottom of the boat. 
  • Single-bladed paddles are generally used in canoeing while double-sided paddles are used in kayaking. 
  • Canoes are open while kayaks are enclosed except for an opening for a person to sit. 
  • Because canoes are open, they are ideal for families. Young kids can sit on the floor of the canoe and there is still room for gear. 
  • Canoes are more stable or harder to tip than kayaks. 

Safety First

  • Most places that rent canoes allow patrons to use life jackets free of charge. But call ahead and verify they have the jacket size needed. 
  • Wind creates waves in lakes, making canoeing difficult and possibly dangerous. Some canoeing outfitters don’t rent canoes in high wind (over 17 mph) which can happen pretty often in Oklahoma. Check the weather or call the outfitter before making the trip. 
  • Motor boats create waves, too. Either find a motor boat-free area or try starting the trip as early as possible. It is also much more peaceful when there are no motor boats. 
  • When near the shore or in shallow water, have the kids get used to how the canoe rocks and moves when they move. Sudden and jerky movement will make the canoe more likely to tip. Let them experience some of the rocking in a safe place so they will know exactly what movements to avoid during the trip. 
  • Sit in the center of the canoe to make the canoe more stable. 
  • Talk with kids ahead of time about what to do if the canoe tips. The best option is to have the kids hold onto the canoe and work with the parents to push the canoe back to shore. Keeping the kids with the boat makes it easier to ensure each one makes it back to shore. Plus even a canoe full of water can float. 
  • Ask employees for tips before taking to the water. Most outfitter employees have a wealth of information. Don’t be afraid to ask for a demonstration or voice your concerns.

Comfort Second

  • The bottom of the canoe will get water in it. There is no way to avoid it. Bring life jackets or something foam to sit on if you don’t want your seat to get wet. 
  • Wear shoes and clothes that will be comfortable when wet. 
  • Tie all your equipment to the canoe. 
  • Place cell phones and valuables in a waterproof bag.
  • Wear lots of sunscreen, hats and sunglasses. The glare off the water can be intense. 
  • Bring water and snacks. Canoeing can burn a lot of calories. 

Two types of canoeing trips: 


These are generally the easiest canoe trips because you put in and take out at the same point. This also makes them the most flexible in terms of length of time. The disadvantage is that there can be motorboats and they can make canoeing less enjoyable. The best option is to find a lake that doesn’t allow motor craft. There are a few around Oklahoma that are listed below. 


There is nothing like canoeing a river. Much less effort is required as you move with the current. But the trip will require a little more planning. The length of the trip is pre-determined because a car has to be dropped off at the take out point. The easiest way to canoe a river is to use an outfitter. Employees will drop you off at a location up river and pick you up down river at the end of the trip. Always call ahead to check that there is not a minimum age requirement. Keep in mind the current of the river will affect how the canoe handles. Sometimes it is easier because the forward momentum is created by the current. The other side of that is trying to control the boat if the current is especially strong. 

Two types of rentals:

Rent at destination 

There are plenty of outfitters that rent canoes at different lakes and rivers around Oklahoma. The limitations are that the canoe can only be used at that lake or river and canoes are only available during business hours. Early morning canoeing trips to watch the sunrise may be out of the question. The advantage is the renter does not have to take care of transporting the canoe to the destination. Even if the outfitter isn’t on a lake or river, they have the means to transport renters and canoes there. 

Bring to destination

Canoes can be rented at home and taken to a destination. The advantage is the flexibility. If a canoe is rented at the destination, the only place it can be used is there. The times of use can also be dictated and you won't need to worry about canoes not being available when you arrive. Bringing a canoe also allows you to explore multiple lakes and rivers in the area. The disadvantage is transporting the canoe. They can be strapped to the top of the car or you can rent a trailer. Before leaving to pick up the canoe, check that they provide straps and pads for tying the canoe to the roof of the car. Pads are not absolutely necessary but do protect the roof from scratches. 

OKC Rentals:

Oklahoma Kayak

Canoes and kayaks can be rented by the day, weekend or week. They do provide straps but not pads. 

OKC Trips: 

OKC Boathouse District – Lake Overholser and North Canadian River

Lake Overholser is a quiet lake located on the west side of OKC. Both the lake and the North Canadian River can be accessed from the boathouse. 

OKC Boathouse District – Oklahoma City River

Explore the urban landscape from the river running straight through Oklahoma City.

Arcadia Lake 

This is a beautiful and peaceful lake located in Edmond/Arcadia. UCO offers a small boathouse off a small cove that is perfect for exploring without having to encounter motor boats. 

Lake Trips:

Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur

Lake of the Arbuckles provides ample views of the National Recreation Area and surrounding mountains but motor boats are allowed on the lake. Veterans Lake is moto rboat-free, but there are no canoe rentals attached to the lake. It may be worth bringing a canoe from OKC to enjoy the quiet lake. 

Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge in Indiahoma

Rentals available with Shady Oaks Boat Rentals

This is one of the most fun outdoor destinations in Oklahoma. There are a number of lakes that wind through hills and valleys and there is an abundance of unique wildlife. 

River Trips: 

Illinois River in Tahlequah

The Illinois River runs through the Cookson Hills of northeast Oklahoma and is one of the most picturesque rivers in the state. With no shortage of wildlife and a variety of trees, any time of year will bring memorable views. There are blooming redbuds to see in the spring and fall leaves in autumn. 

War Eagle Floats 

Minimum Age: 2 years old with normal river levels. 10 years old during high river levels. 

Minimum Group Size: Two adults

Diamondhead Resort 

Minimum Age: 5 years old

Minimum Group Size: Two adults

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