Five Ways To Enjoy the River With Your Kiddos


My little boy is almost two, and loves being outside. Add water, and he’s in heaven. Recently, we were in Grand Teton National Park, and he could have spent all day playing on the shore of Jenny Lake.

It reminded me of the times I spent as a child, playing in our backyard stream. What are your favorite childhood river memories?

You don’t have to go to a famous national park, or world-class Wild and Scenic River, or even a designated blue trail, to enjoy the great outdoors with your little ones.  Nearly every American lives within a mile of a river or stream, so chances are there’s lots of fun waiting in your own neighborhood.

Here are five fool-proof ways to introduce your kids to the magic of rivers (and have fun yourself!)

  1. Match the size of the river to the size of the child — especially if you have a small child, consider taking them to a small stream as opposed to a big river. I recently took my little guy for a ride on a motorboat on Portland’s Willamette River. While he seemed to enjoy the ride, it was kind of like a water version of the interstate. He can interact and explore much better by getting his feet wet in a tiny rivulet that’s more his scale. Look for ideas in state and local parks, and through your local river or watershed conservation group.
  2. Watch wildlife — you don’t need moose and bears to generate excitement — for little kids, beetles and butterflies do the trick. Let them turn over rocks and get down close in the grass to search for bugs and minnows. Give older kids a small net, magnifying glass or binoculars to enhance the hunt.
  3. Set free your inner artist — bring a camera, sketchbook, crayons, or water colors. Draw what you see, and let nature inspire you. Kids are wonderfully creative and aren’t hampered by the self-consciousness we adults suffer.
  4. Get wet and dirty.  Kids are masters at getting dirty, so why not join them? Splash each other. Bring squirt guns. Paint your faces with mud and crushed berries. Just bring towels so you don’t get the car dirty on the ride home.
  5. Tell a story — Where does the stream come from? Where is it going? Who lives along it? Who lives in it?  If you know the answers, great. If not, find out – or make them up! Everyone loves a good story.

And this should go without saying — there is no fooling around when it comes to kids and water safety. The Red Cross and Safe Kids have good tips to make sure everyone stays safe and has fun.

So, how do you like to enjoy the river with your kids? Do you have a favorite river memory?