By Rhonda Carrier
Canoeing and kayaking are great ways to spend time as a family outdoors, far from the madding crowds. Tuition and guided trips are widely available around the country, but these are activities you can also easily do independently – with a few basic instructions, lifejackets and a safe stretch of water, it's perfectly plausible to head out exploring under your own steam. We've rounded up the best places to canoe or kayak with kids in some of the UK's most popular family holiday destinations.
This atmospheric harbour town is a great place for a family break, with several fantastic beaches (Gyllyngvase, Swanpool and Castle being the most central and most popular) and a choice of water-sports centres hiring out canoes and kayaks for setting forth in search of secret beaches and coves in this lovely area. See our feature on a kids' day out with Elemental UK water sports in Falmouth.
Portland Bill, Dorset
Lovely Portland is a safe, accessible spot for family water sports, either with tuition or with independent equipment hire. And it's also a great place for setting forth to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast with all its geological treasures. Several local companies offer instruction and guided kayak tours and safaris taking in Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon. Along the way, spot wildlife including nesting terns and colonies of hares. Read our feature on a family camping holiday at Weymouth, Dorset.
This 5.5km-long island with its powdery-white beaches and old forts is a splendid place for sea-kayaking – the Alderney Wildlife Trust even has transparent canoes so you can get a proper eyeful of the marine life and relics such as the remains of a Roman breakwater in Longis Bay. See our feature on a family break on Alderney.
River Thames, Buckinghamshire
For a sortie just an hour from London, and a quick drive off the M40, head for Bisham Abbey. From here you can set off upstream towards Henley-on-Thames, through Temple Lock and Hurley Lock. Along the way, paddle, picnic, and spot beautiful houses including the Harleyford Estate and many stunning private riverside houses. The reward is an ice cream from Marlow's riverside park on your return. Moose Canoe, Kayak & SUP hire has large Canadian canoes perfect for a family of four, single and double kayaks, SUP paddle-boards (SUPs) and smaller boards for children. Hurley campsite is great for overnight stays.
River Wye, Herefordshire
Canoeing is a delightful way to explore the Wye Valley AONB, with everything from centre-based and half-day trips to multi-day and rapids excursions. You can combine them with plenty of other outdoorsy fun in the valley and the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, including climbing, archery, high ropes and zip-wiring.
Beacons Water Trail, Wales
This route was launched by the Brecon Beacons National Park and Brecon Canoe Club to get people out and about on the River Usk and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Sights en route from Brecon to Talybont-on-Usk include the Brynich Aqueduct and the Ashford Tunnel (for which you'll need a torch to keep a lookout for oncoming narrowboats).
River Mersey, Northwest England
This iconic river running 112km from West Yorkshire to Liverpool is best known for its ferries but is an equally great spot for a paddle. Sections especially worth discovering include the Mersey Canoe Trail – the first National Canoe Trail in the UK – running 27km from Stockport to Carrington but with an easy 5.5km from Heaton Mersey to Northenden in Manchester that's great with younger kids. Alternatively, paddle past the National Trust's Tudor Speke Hall near Liverpool, Liverpool John Lennon airport, and/or the Royal Albert Docks in central Liverpool.
Canoeing is a wonderful means of taking in the stunning scenery of one of Cumbria's largest bodies of water, located just south of Keswick, with solo, tandem, family, rafted and voyageur canoes all available. Wild swimming is also popular in this lake, so remember to bring your swimming gear or a wetsuit.
Owned by the National Trust, this Victorian house, gardens and woodland is known for its kayaking, canoeing and SUP paddle-boarding, with guided lake tours, lessons, hire and kids-only events all available on Tumbleton Lake.
Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Scotland
The spectacular waters of mainland Britain's largest body of freshwater are a blissful canoeing and kayaking destination, with plenty of islands, bays and narrow straits to explore without coming into contact with other people. Other spots within the National Park include Loch Long and Loch Goil for some coastal sea-paddling, and sheltered, beautiful Loch Lubnaig.
Lough Erne, Northern Ireland
One of the most popular canoe trails in Northern Ireland thanks to its suitability for all levels of ability, including beginners and families with young children, Lough Erne is a glorious maze of bays, narrow channels, islands and peninsulas dotted by wildlife including kingfishers, otters and herons. The quiet shore and some of the islands are ideal for the true wilderness experience of wild camping, but there are some landmark buildings to visit too, especially Enniskillen Castle, Devenish Tower and the Crom Estate.
See more of our hand-picked family activity holidays in the UK.