There are few more soothing experiences than kayaking and canoeing through the calm waterways that fill the region. As you find a steady rhythm with your paddle, lapping against the water with each stroke, it's hard not to find yourself becoming fully in tune with the present moment.
Although the activity might not feel quite so peaceful for those with little ones in tow, it does create an excellent educational opportunity for learning about and connecting with nature. Of course, floating downstream also often brings plenty of swimming opportunities.
Whether you seek to get out on one of the rivers that runs right through Philadelphia or wish to paddle through a less urban environment, get ready to work those arms (and back, abs, and legs, too) with a de-stressing workout on the water.
Paddle around the Schuylkill — for free — every Saturday (11 a.m.–3 p.m.) with Bartram's Garden at its communal boathouse. Through Oct. 27, the National Historic Landmark invites everyone to hop in a rowboat or kayak and explore an eight-mile stretch of the river, running from the Fairmount Dam at the Art Museum to the Delaware River confluence. Kayakers are permitted to cruise around for 30 minutes and those who choose to rowboat are given 45 minutes. Dress to get wet, and feel free to bring your pooch along for the ride. Well-behaved dogs are welcome to join, although no doggie life jackets are available.
5400 Lindbergh Blvd., free on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., bartramsgarden.org
Whether you wish to end your kayak cruise with a local beer or an outdoor movie screening, Hidden River Outfitters offers an array of opportunities that invite you to do more than just paddle. There are two departing locations: one under the Walnut Street Bridge along the Schuylkill Banks (where you can book a tour on a movie night at the Banks and end just before showtime) and one just outside the Manayunk Brewing Company (where tours conclude with brunch or lunch at the brewery). All tours include an instructional lesson, a kayak rental, and a guide, and are available on select dates through the end of September. A full calendar can be found online.
Manayunk Brewery Dock and at the Schuylkill Banks under the Walnut Street Bridge, $40-$65 per person depending on the tour, 267-588-3512, hiddenriveroutfitters.com
For those looking to delve into a more serious summer of boating, the Philadelphia Canoe Club can serve as an excellent place to start. The nonprofit paddling community offers kayaking and canoeing classes that span anywhere from seven hours to two days in length, and include introductory whitewater options, too. The club also has a trip schedule that runs through October, joining together fellow paddling enthusiasts to embark on overnight campout paddling trips, day-trips from the Schuylkill River to Valley Forge, and more. All trips are are open to both Canoe Club members and non-members, and equipment is available for rental
4900 Ridge Ave., workshop prices start at $80 and vary depending on the class, 215-487-9674, philacanoe.org
For the most casual of the area's boating opportunities, head to the Penn's Landing Marina where single and tandem kayaks can be rented by the half-hour. (Rowboats are available, too, as are paddle boats in the form of a swan, pirate ship, and dragon design.) The paddle-permitted area is small with notably calm waters, making this a great spot for families and those who don't want to commit to a full afternoon. Paddle Penn's Landing is open daily (3 p.m. to dusk on weekdays and noon to dusk on weekends) and is situated conveniently next to Spruce Street Harbor Park, where post-paddle beers and hanging hammocks await.
Penn's Landing Marina, 301 S. Columbus Blvd., $8 per person for 30-minute rental, 215-922-2386, delawareriverwaterfront.com
South Jersey's Pine Barrens run rampant with rivers that offer some of the most serene boating adventures in the area. Located in the region's Wharton State Forest, Pinelands Adventures invites you to float down some of the waterways with self-guided trips that range from two to eight hours in length. Along the way, you'll pass through dense forests filled with pitch pines, red maples, and other arboreal gems, possibly spotting a turtle or river otter drifting through the waters. Guided opportunities are available, too, with a naturalist who will dive into the history, plants, and animals of the Pine Barrens region.
1005 Atsion Road, Shamong, N.J., $50-$75 depending upon the boat, pinelandsadventures.org
Also located in the Pine Barrens, Mick's Canoe and Kayak invites you to explore the calm waters of the Wading and Oswego Rivers through a variety of trip options ranging from two to eight hours in length. Swimming holes and picnic areas are scattered throughout the designated routes, which are lined by forests and picturesque landscapes ideal for the photo-taker in your crew. One-seater kayaks and canoes capable of seating three adults (or two adults and two small children) are available for rental.
3107 Route 563, Chatsworth, N.J., $40-$60 depending upon the boat, 609-726-1380, mickscanoerental.com
North Brook Canoe Co. offers several options to get out and paddle in Chester County's Brandywine Creek, the scenic waterway subject of many local landscape-style paintings. Choose among self-guided trips that range from around one to two hours in length or set out on one of the company's guided tours. Opportunities include a family canoe trip, inclusive of on-shore games, as well as a brand new canoe-and-dine pairing where paddlers are invited to enjoy a 90-minute paddling excursion followed by a full meal concluding in s'mores around a bonfire. All trips will take you through what's known as the area's "horse country," where you'll pass by farms and open fields that line the creek with beauty.
1810 Beagle Road, West Chester, $40-$80 per canoe or kayak depending on the trip, 610-793-2279, northbrookcanoe.com
In business since 1967, River Country's canoe and kayaking trips take you along a six-mile stretch of the Delaware River, offering a wide and calm body of water through which to paddle. The route is lined by forests and 300-foot cliffs that bring majestic views from start to finish. A variety of both kayak and canoe styles are available for rentals, including ocean-style kayaks where you sit on top of the boat as well as tandem kayaks and canoes that can fit two or three people. Keep your eyes peeled for eagles flying overhead, and turtles and fish floating along with you in the water.