12 Spectacular Things to Bring on a Kayak Trip With Kids

12 Spectacular Things to Bring on a Kayak Trip With Kids

Kayaking the beautiful pristine cool waters of the Texas Hill Country is something I have been passionate about for almost 20 years.  Boating downriver is an activity my whole family enjoys and getting lost downriver for several hours is incredibly freeing.  We have a very large family so it's imperative that we pack with a plan.  Also, being exposed to the elements on open water for several hours requires a few necessities you wouldn't want to be caught without.  This is a list of twelve extraordinary and essential things we think are the most important and should make any kayak trip fun and go smoothly without disappointment.

Austin and the surrounding Texas Hill Country are kept alive by aquifers and the rivers and streams that flow from them. These features also keep us having fun, especially when they run fast.

1. Water!

In order of importance, Water!  It seems like a no-brainer but needs to be mentioned when making the list. A while back we bought all the kids an Hydro Flask, these type of bottles are insulated and keep the water cold for a very long time and can be refilled. Dick's Sporting Goods has a great selection or you can get the one in the picture on Amazon, here. We also have an extra large insulated jug to carry water for refills. When you are on the water for several hours in the Texas heat people are going to ask for refills. A reusable water bottle is important to cut down on the amount of trash and waste but there are also some rivers that simply don’t allow disposable bottles and cans. Just do the right thing and buy yourself a quality reusable water bottle, it will last forever and your water will always be cold.

The state of Texas is the second largest in the United States. Although 15 major rivers and 3,700 named streams wind 191,000 miles through the state, the general nature of publicly accessible waterways are wide, shallow and smooth. However, with a little pre-planning, gentle riffles, frothy whitewater and heart-pounding hydraulics can be discovered and enjoyed.

2. Solid Shoes

I have had a lot of excellent river shoes over the years and none of them have ever been the water socks that are basically just closed-toed shoes you can get wet. I can’t handle closed toed shoes in real life and I don’t tolerate them in the water. Sperry makes a really excellent, non-slip, solid flip-flop, this exact pair, that I have always loved. If you are going on a long trip down the river you are going to want something that won’t slip off your foot if you have to get out and portage or climb a bank in rough terrain. Sanuk makes sandals out of yoga mats which are really comfortable and water friendly and they strap to your feet with quick drying fabric.  Academy Sports and Outdoors carries all the Sanuk styles.  I also have a pair of Wal mart flip flops I use when I’m just walking to the river which is great and inexpensive so if they break it’s no big deal!

Play in the standing waves at one of Texas' whitewater parks, such as Rio Vista Whitewater Park (no website; 555 Cheatham St., San Marcos, 512-393-8400) in the city of San Marcos. A manicured course ensures that there are no foot entrapments, sharp rocks or other hazards. All Texas whitewater parks are free and open 365 days a year where river flow permits. Rio Vista Whitewater park features nighttime lighting and a constant 70-degree water temperature year-round.

3. Flotation, flotation, flotation!

 A boat floats but you don’t! Adults need at least a life jacket somewhere in the boat just in case. Younger kids should always have their life jackets on and we usually blow up tubes to pull the kids behind the boats on long trips. It’s always fun to have extra flotation if you get to a deep section of the river and people want to get out in the water and body float the trip for a while. Ever thought of putting your life jacket on like a diaper? This is how our older kids ‘body surf’ rapids when we come upon them on a trip. I wish I had a picture to demonstrate this method but I do not. You will just have to use your imagination!  If you want to get yourself a nice paddling jacket I recommend one like this from NRS or Eastern Mountain Sports.

Rated as Class 2 or Class 3 on the International Scale of River Difficulty, intermediate whitewater is characterized by frothy rapids, large standing waves or rock gardens requiring basic maneuvering skills. The Guadalupe River near  San Antonio  offers one of the longest stretches of whitewater action in the state, totaling 75 miles. A popular day trip on the river begins in Center Point and ends 9.5 miles later in Comfort. A 45-mile weekend kayak-camping adventure continues directly downstream from Comfort.

4. Lots of Sunscreen

You have to put sunscreen on at least 30 minutes ahead of getting in the water to give it tome to soak into your skin and dry. We all know this from learning the hard way. Then you need to briefly reapply after you hit the water, almost every time. When you are going to be on the water, in the sun for an extended period of time your skin can really take a beating. Pay special attention to high-risk areas like nose, shoulders, upper backs, even arms.  If your health conscious don’t buy just any sunscreen! Most sunscreens contain ingredients that have been proven and linked to certain types of cancers and are hormone disrupters. Costco has a great multipack of safe sunscreen, Amazon has some, and it’s not that hard to make your own zinc oxide sunscreen if you are looking to save a few bucks.

Adrenaline junkies will enjoy class 4 and 5 whitewater coursing down narrow creeks in  Texas  hill country. The sport is best enjoyed when springtime and late summer rains swell small waterways with steep gradients. Little Walnut Creek is a popular urban run, with class 4 whitewater dropping 32 feet per mile through the city of Austin. For a more rural setting, Cherokee Creek near Colorado Bend State Park offers up hardcore hydraulics for much of the year.

5. Sunglasses and a Hat

Your sunglasses need floaties too! You can bring a pair of cheap sunglasses if you don’t want to worry about losing them. My eyes are really sensitive so I prefer a good pair of polarized sunglasses and a floater to protect them from sinking if they end up in the water. I have had these Ray Bans for years and they have held up through plenty of outdoor activities and trips so they were totally worth the investment. There are lots of other great brands on the market to check out. A hat is nice to bring along even if you don’t think you will wear it. It’s just a nice thing to have in your bag if needed.

Texas whitewater rafting in the Hill Country rivers typically offers the opportunity to run some short whitewater rapids, small waterfalls, and across some boulder gardens. The Guadalupe River offers the best chance for white water rafting if it's running high and most of the tube rental companies have rafts for rent.

6. Boats

This one is possibly a no-brainer if you are going on a boat trip but, you would be surprised. Just kidding, if you forget the boat on a river trip that’s called swimming. You need to pick a boat that fits your needs and serves you well. Some boats are plastic, some are inflatable, some you sit on top and there are boats with gasket skirts that seal you in. Boats can come with pockets, cup holders, storage compartments, straps, handles and all kinds of gadgets. When we are planning on fishing it’s nice to have a boat with pockets for bait and supplies, when we are bringing lunch it’s nice to have a boat with large lockable dry storage compartments. If you are new to boating you will want to exit the boat quickly in an emergency and if you are an experienced kayaker you can wear a fitted boat skirt and lock the water out for playing. Some good places to check out boats here locally in the Texas Hill Country is TG Canoe or The Olympic Whitewater Center in San Marcos, ask for Ben, he is the best.  He also offers rentals, classes, and tours.  For retail boats, I recommend shopping around at Cabelas, Academy or Dicks, but you will end up paying a premium.  Buying a local boat will save you a lot of money and most people in the boat business are pretty cool to talk to and usually have great tips of their own. Take some time to research the boat you plan to use and make sure it fits your needs.

Running the Texas rivers is scenic with tall bald cypress, sycamore, pecan and live oak trees, and cliffs are crowned with mesquite, cedar and yucca and the Guadalupe River has rocky bluffs and rolling hills. Bottom line - try white water rafting in Texas on the Rio Grande River in Big Bend or try tubing down the Texas rivers or kayaking.

7. Paddles

I feel silly putting paddles on a list for a ‘boat’ trip but what I really mean is get yourself a decent paddle because it matters. I have a fiberglass feather fast Werner paddle from my racing days and it is the paddle all the kids want to use on a trip, but it’s Mamas. They like it because it’s light, maneuvers easily and is engineered to get around in the water quickly. It should also be noted I have had it for probably 20 years and it’s lasted, so don’t be afraid to spend a little money on a good paddle. Maybe when the kids can learn to keep up with their shoes we will consider purchasing them a nice piece of equipment like this. 

This section is dedicated to the best rivers in Texas for kayaking and canoeing. Texas Streams and rivers meander through 191,000 miles of Texas landscape. These vastly important aquatic ecosystems play a major role in protecting water quality, preventing erosion, and providing nutrients and habitat for fish and wildlife. Along the way, water that eventually flows into seven major estuaries, supports over 212 reservoirs, countless riparian habitats, wetlands, and terrestrial areas. Bottom line, there are lots of places to river kayak and enjoy the water, scenery, and camaraderie. Kayak fishing is growing leaps and bounds and Texas rivers have some fish just waiting for you, so give it a try.

8. Food

Well planned out food and great snacks can really add to the value of a river trip. We like to take the time to construct personalized sandwiches made to order with each person's name on the bag so there is no confusion. It’s kind of like an assembly line for sandwich making. Everyone gets the spreads, meats, cheese and any add on’s they think make a sandwich great and the personalization makes it tastes that much better when you are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wilderness and water.  Pack some extra crunchy snacks and some fruity drinks to go with and it will feel like your having brunch in a tropical oasis.

Texas kayakers are blessed with a number of great waterways, lakes and reservoirs perfect for paddling in the Lone Star State. The kayaking spots on this list vary from peaceful, urban waters to secluded, rapid-filled rivers. So anyone from the beginner to the experienced kayaker will find a perfect place in Texas to kayak

9. Waterproof Phone Case

You are going to want to document all the fun and adventure you are having downriver so bring a waterproof phone case.  If you want to get really fancy you can buy waterproof digital cameras nowadays, just be sure to get the camera a floatie too.  Don’t learn this the hard way, like we did.  Amazon carry’s waterproof phone sleeves, like this one, with lanyard necklaces so you can even keep your phone close by while you paddle.  I swim underwater with ours all the time and have never had an issue with leakage.  This is a great tool to use anytime you are on the water to keep those expensive phones safe and still useable!   

With reasonably mild winters, parts of Texas can offer paddlers  some amazing opportunities  to get out on our rivers. Our views are second-to-none, the peacefulness can hardly be beaten, and the exhilaration (translation: exercise) ranks right up there as well. Here are three great year-round river adventures that will appeal to kayakers throughout Central Texas.

10. Fun Stuff

A three-hour river trip with a toddler can end up being like a 3 hour trip in the car. Their concept of space and time just doesn't kick in. In the event enjoying nature and swimming gets boring for them, you will want to have some backup ideas.  Bubbles are great and I suggest splurging a little on bubbles for any life situation and getting the Gymboree bubbles from Amazon. These bubbles are strong, float in the air what seems like forever and when they do land they don’t pop. Hours of fun. The dollar store always seems to have a variety of fun summer stuff so pack a fun bag and keep it in your boat for when it’s needed.

Angelina River    Blanco River    Bosque River    Brazos River    Colorado River    Concho River    Canadian River    Guadalupe River    James River    Lampasas River    Lavaca River    Leon River    Little River    Llano River    Navidad River    Neches River    Nolan River    Nueces River    Frio River    Paluxy River    Pease River    Pedernales River    Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River    Red River    Rio Grande    Devils River    Pecos River    Sabine River    San Antonio River    Medina River    San Bernard River    San Gabriel River    San Jacinto River    San Marcos River    San Saba River    Sulphur River    Trinity River    Wichita River    White River

11.  Goggles!

This is my favorite thing to pack.  There is no activity I love more than being under the water. Most rivers in our area have clear enough water and things worth seeing under there. I could stay underwater for hours looking at fish, catching fish in nets, exploring under rocks, and looking for treasure. Finding treasure isn’t too far fetched if you are boating in a higher traffic area like Gruene or New Braunfels. I have met a few scuba divers that commit their spare time to comb the larger water features along the local rivers for foolish people who didn’t put floaties on their expensive items. A good pair of goggles is oodles of fun!

No doubt, the Frio River is by far one of the most beautiful rivers I have been on in Texas. Huge Cypress trees with crystal clear water flowing through the best of the Texas Hill Country is hard to beat. I really enjoy the pure rock surroundings, as you will not find much dirt in this area (this is partly why the water is so clear). Although the Cypress Trees block a lot of the views of the hills / small mountains, every once and a while you will catch a glimpse of some amazing scenery outside of the banks of the water.

12. An Open Minded Attitude

Hey, things are not always going to go as planned. So don’t get too settled in your agenda for the day when you are on a boat trip. Especially if you haven’t personally scouted the entire stretch yourself recently. Boats get holes and you have to bail water every 30 minutes until you make it to your destination. Water levels get really low in the summer and you end up portaging a good portion of your trip. Also, when your traveling with kids anything can happen, so a first aid kit may need to be on your list also, but band-aids don’t really work when you are on the water. You have to have a lot of blood to get a bandaid out of me so I usually don’t bother bringing them.  If it’s that bad we better just go to the emergency room, also a possibility. Just be careful and use good sense, everyone will have a great time and your kids will always remember the adventures you took them on!

Many don’t realize that Texas is home to 3,700 named streams and 15 major rivers, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. While there is only one natural lake in Texas, over a hundred reservoirs have been created resulting in beautiful lakes throughout the state. What makes paddling in Texas so unique is that you can be floating waters that meander through cactus-strewn deserts and 1500 ft. canyons to cypress lined swamplands and coastal waters all within a days’ drive. These diverse environments lend themselves to a variety of paddling opportunities that many would have to travel outside of theirs states to discover.

Do you like to go on adventures downriver?

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