Adventure Action Adventure Ideas

100 Outdoor Adventure Activities for Families – Part 1: Water Sports

Wild Water Rafting, Center Parcs, Het Heijderbos
Written by Stuart Wickes

100 Outdoor Adventure Activities for Families – Part 1: Water Sports

To kick off the year we have put together our ultimate list of 100 outdoor activities for families. Because 2019 is the year to get out more, right? But it isn’t called the great outdoors for nothing. The world is packed with opportunities for adventure and it’s hard to know what’s right for you and your family, especially if you are novices. We’ve been getting out more with our kids for almost two decades now and have had a go at most things as a family, either as guided experiences or independently. Some outdoor adventure activities with our kids have been a wild success while others – well, not so much. But all have got us out there together and increased our heart rate if not our skills.  To make our list of ‘100 things to do before they grow up’ more navigable we’ve broken it down into chunks of ten themed ideas. To launch the series, here are ten suggestions for family water sports including canoeing, sailing and rafting, with advice for getting you set up…

100 Family outdoor adventure activities - part 1

Family outdoor adventure activities are good for you all. But how do you choose?

How can I get my family outside more?

Outdoor sports and activities with the family are a delicate balance between your collective knowledge and skills, your sense of adventure and your willingness to try new things and learn together. If you choose the right sport or adventure for your family, the payback is immense. You will connect, you will cooperate, you will laugh and grow together as a family. And you may just discover a shared interest that will keep you connected for decades to come. But there are a lot off sports and activities out there, and many come with equipment and skills costs. You need to have a look around and see what’s out there.

Marine inspired textile work by Astrid Andreasen at Faroe Marine

Draw up some ideas for you family activities

Do your research

Decide where you’d like to have your family fun and draw up some ideas. For example snorkeling in Cebu in the Philippines was a very different experience from learning to wild swim on Windermere in my experience. Do your research about skills and costs and consult family members about what they want. But don’t chat for too long; better to book onto some short taster courses or find an open day and see what opportunities present themselves. Mountain and outdoor festivals are good for ideas.

Zorb Balling at Keswick Mountain Festival

Keswick Mountain Festival – good for throwing around some ideas or giving an activity a spin

Have a go together

You’ll never know until you have a go. If you try something and it doesn’t work for you, just put it down to experience and try something else. And remember, outdoor adventure with toddlers is different from outdoor sport with tweens and teens. What doesn’t work now for your family may work at a later date. Now let’s get on with that list of 100 adventures…

Kayak slalom training at National Watersports Centre Nottingham

Kayak slalom training at National Watersports Centre Nottingham – you may want to begin on something a little less wild!

Try one of our 100 outdoor adventure family activities – part 1: water sports

1 Follow a canoe trail

With the right boat, some skills training and careful choice of trail to suit your experience, you can have amazing family bonding experiences travelling by canoe. It might sound crazy to take three kids aged five and under canoe touring but by rigging a catamaran out of two Canadian canoes we made a craft stable enough that two bouncing toddlers and a baby could not capsize it. Our kids were just eight months, four and five when we spent a happy week as pirates exploring the canoe trails of Dalsland in Sweden. To keep the baby amused, the boys carved fish out of carrots and dangled them into the water behind the boat. We slept on a different island each night and laid treasure hunts by day. It was an idyllic week and a great kids’ adventure.

How to have a canoe adventure with your kids:

You might think you have to save up and buy a yacht before you can get your kids out on the water. But the truth is you don’t necessarily even need your own equipment. In busy tourist spots outfitters can gear you up, give route advice and even drop you off and pick you up. All you have to do is paddle. Don’t go for exciting white water trip to begin with. Choose a lake or river where you can float gently from A-B. One of our most fun canoe adventures lately took us through the city of Leipzig on rivers and canals. Read the post below for more information. And we often go paddling on the canal just five minutes drive from our home. It’s also not essential to give a week up to practise your skills. You can paddle on a weekday with some careful planning and advance notice to the canoe hire company that you will be picking up a boat at the end of the day and dropping it before work.

If you want to gain some skills before setting out, try your local adventure centre to see if there are any weekend or holiday courses. If you live anywhere near Nottingham in the UK you may like to visit the Pierrepont Nottingham National Watersports Centre – a national centre of excellence that can offer individual or family coaching.

Read more:

48 hours in Schloss Colditz and Leipzig; a Great Escape in Saxony  

A Nottingham weekend of sport

Adventure kids water activities

Canoeing with the kids in Dalsland, Sweden. We found the sticks but where are the carrots?

2 Take a rib ride

If you like your water fun fast and furious with a chance of getting wet then you’ll love a rib ride. These high powered souped-up inflatables are the kind of thing you see James Bond bombing around the water in. But this is unlikely to be a self drive experience, you want to be in the hands of a professional. We took a rib ride on the Menai Straits while visiting North Wales and not only did we get an education in speed and tight turning circles, we got new hair styles and learnt a lot about the special marine environment of The Straits. Not just thrills, a little bit educational too. And not too wet. Check out our video to see how we got on.

How to book a rib ride as a family

Try tourist information for activity providers offering this. You may find a quirky tour in places you least expect; for example we enjoyed a rib tour of the Thames in central London that began with guided commentary on the landmarks before upping the speed. Make sure you check on age restrictions before you go; some tours are geared towards the whole family while others require children to be older, for obvious, bone shaking reasons.

Read more:

Rib ride on the Menai Straits, heading across the Swellies towards the Britannia Bridge

Rib ride on the Menai Straits – one of our hundred things to do before they grow up

3 Go fishing for your supper in a motor boat

I am no fisherman and the kids have never had to work for their supper but the third in our list of 100 adventure activities for families in the outdoors is fishing. This was a real novelty for us. In Eskifjordur in East Iceland we rented a motor boat and fishing tackle and headed out onto a fjord to try and catch our tea. We don’t remember the supper, nor the fish (for we never caught one) nor the hunger pangs on our trip out. But we do remember the incredible scenery, the fun we had circling around in our little boat and the drama when the weather turned and we had to motor quickly back to shore.

How to go family fishing for the first time

You don’t need a lot of experience to go fishing as a family although it helps if you have someone in the boat who knows how to start the engine! We gave it a go with very little clue about either motor boats or fishing. Our youngest was just six years old and everyone got involved with casting and steering. Ask the owner of the tackle and the boat for a few tips and then just give it a go, although you might want to stay close to shore if you are a family of novices. You might also want to have a plan for what you will do if anyone manages to catch a fish. We were a little freaked out by the possibility of it wriggling about at our feet.

Read more:

Eskifjordur Iceland

Eskifjordur Iceland; could you manage a little motor boat and go fishing?

4 Go white water rafting

Sticking with Iceland, our first family white water rafting experience was on a glacial river there. We paddled as a team, rescued each other and jumped off rocks into the fast moving water. I was thankful we could avoid the ‘Beast from the East’ and take on the milder Western glacial river yet it was still quite a challenging kids adventure, with the only relief from the adrenaline rush when we stopped for a hot chocolate made from the hot spring water.

How to go white water rafting

If you like your water activities exciting and think you can work as a family team, then you’ll love white water rafting. You might be under the impression it’s mostly for teens but our kids were 6, 10 and 11 when we first did this. Unless you’re a pro paddler yourself, you’ll need to go with a rafting company and guide. They’ll help you choose a river suited to your ages and experience. White water comes in different grades from I to V. Grade I is a float trip, Grade II will get you splashed. Grade III and you’ll be working hard and undoubtedly panicking inside, while your adventurous children will be holding on tight and having a ball. We’ve tried rafting in many different places including North Iceland, the Soca River, Slovenia and Nottingham and on the River Inn, Austria.

Read more:

Rafting with kids on the Soca River, Slovenia

The rapids on the Soca River in Slovenia are more technical in low water which makes for an exciting ride.

5 Kayak on a bore

There’s nothing like a bore to get the heart pounding. And no I’m not referring to Dad! A bore is a large wave caused by the constriction of the tide as it enters an inlet. At our local beach the bore comes an hour or two before spring/high tide, depending on the height of the tide. Its size is affected by wind strength and direction, the moving sand and the volume of water coming down the river Kent.

How to paddle on an incoming wave

Our daughter first did this aged six but Stuart was already an experienced paddler. You do not want to try this unless you have some experience with a boat and white water. If you are qualified then research tide and bore times online. According to our local canoe club, the best chances of catching our local bore at Arnside is to set off up to three hours before high tide and paddle south west to where the wave may be found and caught for a mile or so back to the village. Your local canoe club might be able to help you gear yourself up for this and they’ll certainly be able to offer experience and advice.

Sunset Arnside Pier Cumbria

Calm now but people will be riding the bore again before long

6 Go whale watching

There is little more pleasurable in life than seeing wildlife in the wild. And with a whale watching tour you also have the thrill of the chase. We enjoyed whale watching water activities in the north of Iceland, where many firms guarantee a successful  spotting. Sadly as we left  the boat, we also saw signs for whale served in the restaurants. Iceland’s Husavik is a magnet for mammals roaming about in cold water, and for tourists roaming about on whale watching boats trying to spot them. North Sailing offered a novel yet traditional slant on this increasingly popular tourist show, so we climbed on board one of their twin masted schooners.

How to go whale watching

There are companies all over the world offering whale watching sightings. Many offer you a free trip if you don’t sot the mammals first time around. The Telegraph picked its top ten whale watching destinations if you need some ideas. If you are really lucky you might even get to swim with them in the wild. In this article, travel writer Helen Ochyra describes the thrill of swimming with humpbacks in Western Australia.

Read more:

Our Whale watching in Iceland

Whale Tail, Husavik Whale Watching

Whale Tail, Husavik Whale Watching – one of our top 100 ideas for family adventure fun

7 Learn to family sail 

You might think you need a big yacht to fit two adults and two toddlers for a week. But we learnt to sail in Kakapo, a simple boat that smelt a bit but was quite nippy in the water. While some friends looked after the boys for two days our instructor took us out into New Zealand’s Bay of Islands and literally taught us the ropes. Only one of us had ever crewed a boat before, but nevertheless we were deemed competent enough to take the boat on our own and the kids joined us on board. It was an idyllic few days, learning how to control a sail boat without anyone looking over our shoulder. The kids crewed in their own way by colouring and squabbling downstairs or slept or joined us in their life vests to look for wildlife. On the last morning as we got up with the dawn to sail back in, a school of dolphins followed us home. Stuart and I had our own kids adventure as we watched the fins tumble about in the water and chase the white horses behind us.

How to learn to sail

The best way to get started with this complicated water sport is to take a course. Several years after our New Zealand experience we signed up to a course in Scotland so we could all get our competent crew certificates. Or that was the idea. Read the following post to find out what happens when you aren’t a very competent crew. But don’t worry, I’m sure it won’t happen to you.

Read more:

High and dry at the end of family sailing school

Tiny Kakapo was our home for our sailing adventures in New Zealand

8 Check out gig racing

Pilot gigs are traditional wooden sea-faring rowing boats, crewed by six people. They are raced in all sorts of places across the world but the best place to see them in action, or if you are lucky have a go in one, is on the Isles of Scilly. It’s huge fun to be out racing on the water in one of the 32 foot work boats that used to ensure safety on The Atlantic. But it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Crewing a boat of this size is back breaking work, and we were out with a boat full of professionals who do it every day! Watch the video to see our experiences.

How to get yourself out with a rowing team

If you don’t have a gig team in your local area or a pilot boat you can use, then head down to your nearest lake, hire a couple of wooden boats for an hour and have a race to an island. Or take a look into dragon boat racing in your area.

Read more:

Scilly style gig racing

Gig Rowing in St Mary's, Isles of Scilly

Gig Rowing in St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly

9 Go late night canoe camping

I love that time of day when the sun is setting, the light is fading and darkness asserting itself. It’s a fabulous time to be outdoors. And you don’t need to take a day off work to do it. Our best overnight paddle took us over to Windermere, where we camped for the night before making our way back for breakfast in a hotel. In the early morning light, with the lake a mirror, it was easy to believe we were the only people in the world. A true Robinson Crusoe experience.

How to go canoe camping

Find a lake and hire a kayak. If you don’t have skills then you’ll need to go with a guide or someone experienced. Lots of outdoor adventure companies offer group canoe and kayak trips in the UK and abroad. Don’t set out in the dark on your own if you don’t know what you are doing. Choose long summer sunsets to practice and stay close to the shore on your first adventures.

Read more:

Paddling into the heart of darkness

A Windermere kayak microadventure

Kayak waits to launch at Waterhead on Windermere, Lake District

Family kayak overnight trip from Waterhead on Windermere, Lake District

10 Go island hopping on a self drive motorboat

The ultimate freedom for island hopping comes with a motor boat. You don’t need to be an expert sailor to hire one. We had a quick lesson and were off; sailing around St Agnes, Tresco and more on the Isles of Scilly. Here are some of the highlights of our day trip.

How to go island hopping

Our motor boat trip was facilitated by Stuart who has some experience of tides and handling a boat. It can be nervy if wind and sea conspire against you; we left our boat tied up when we went to the pub and found one of the locals had helpfully moved it to prevent an accident when the tide changed. Find a local provider and make sure they give you all the necessary information you need and a number to call in case of emergency.

Read more:

Five mini adventures on the Isles of Scilly

Shell collecting on the Isles of Scilly

Hiring a motor boat and exploring the Isles of Scilly -just one of our 100 outdoor adventure activities.

Check out more of our 100 adventure ideas in the following posts in the series:

10 winter sports for families

10 animal experiences and wildlife days

10 ways to keep cool in the hot weather

10 father and son bonding experiences, trips and breaks

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About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...

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