Canyoneering with Kids: Tips for Beginners
Canyoneering with kids, have you ever tried it? This adventure sport, born in France (where it’s known as canyoning), blends walking, scrambling, swimming, climbing, and abseiling skills to traverse flooded canyons. At the height of summer when the sun shines strong, nothing beats a day canyoneering down a cool river in a rocky gorge. It’s also an amazing way to explore gorgeous backcountry areas that are off-limits for most travelers. For kids, it’s a epic day and a fun way to do something different with a dose of adrenaline. Let me give you a few tips for beginners so that you can discover canyoneering with your family.
To give you a taste, here is how our own canyoneering family adventure started. “The water is great. Come and join me!” My 8-year old daughter was the first to jump 15 feet off a ledge into the cold waters of a gorge. With the air temperature around 30C, the river felt deliciously cool at 16-18C. We heard a splash, bubbles and then laughter. More laughter. Elated, she couldn’t stop giggling. One by one, our group of eight took the jump and started the 4-hour traverse of the Gorges de Colombieres in Languedoc-Roussillon. At the end of the day, we were canyoneering addicts.
These are my tips for beginners.
#1 Local Expertise is Essential for Canyoneering
If you’re an experienced climber with excellent knowledge of the canyon, you don’t even need to read this. If you’re like me, you’ll need local guides and their terrain knowledge. They need how deep the pools are, how cold the water is, where this or that rock tunnel leads and when jumping is safe. Canyoneering requires knowledge of rope work, rappelling, identification of gear, navigation, canyon hazards and a slew of rescue or safety standards. Given the remoteness and ruggedness of areas where canyoneering is done, that means hiring an experienced guide. Our guide was a certified mountain guide that we found through the local mountain guide bureau. He explained that he had specific canyoneering training, besides the regular climbing or via ferrata skills. That’s the type of person you want.
#2 Canyoneering Gear You Need
The good news is, you probably won’t need to bring any gear at all as guides provide all the equipment. You may have to carry it on your back to the start but wetsuits can be tied into convenient carrying backpacks for climbing hardware and helmets can go on your head. All we had on us, after we locked the car, was our swim suits, sun glasses and waterproof shoes. That’s it.
At the start, our canyoneering guide outfitted us with:
- wetsuit + long-sleeve rash vest (with neoprene hood for kids so they would be warm)
- waterproof harness + carabiner
- climbing helmet
After the essential security checks and a safety talk, we were good to go.
#3 What to Expect from Canyoneering with Kids
Our own canyoneering adventure started on a strong and bold note with a 15-foot drop into the canyon. Being afraid of heights, I was a bit intimidated but after my 8-year old jumped, there was no way I could not follow through and it was a lot of fun. The highlights of our trip included….
…going down narrow natural rock slides…
…going down bigger tunnel-type rock slides…
…abseiling down a waterfall…
…lazying in the sun…
…jumping off into deep pools…
…actually, you can never jump enough so we the kids did it again and again and again…
…and lots of swimming.
#4 Is Canyoneering for your Kids?
You know your kids better, but canyoneering can be a great fit for your family if your kids:
- like to try new things
- like water
- like being active
- are not afraid of heights
With beginner courses, there’s often a way to bypass a jump or a challenge by scrambling down the sides of the canyon. That’s a great option for kids who may start off not completely sold on canyoneering, but who can warm up to it gradually.
#5 At What Age can Kids Try Canyoneering?
For starters, this is an activity for older school-age kids who are fit and active as once you’re in, you have to do the full course. The minimum age of participants usually depends on the difficulty of the terrain, internal guidelines of the canyoneering outfitter and state laws governing mountain-guided activities. I’ve often seen canyoneering described as a teenager activity (because of the adrenaline rush, probably!) but our group included four children ages 7 to 9 years. Honestly, young children love having fun and love being active outdoors so I don’t see why they wouldn’t love canyoneering. It beats a water park any day, if only for the scenery!
#6 Where to Go Canyoneering with Kids?
Here is a short list of places where you can find canyoneering trips.
- California: San Gabriel mountains, Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park
- Utah: Zion National Park
- Arizona: Antelope Canyon, Paria River
- Copper Canyon
- Alpes Maritimes
- Spanish Pyrenees: Torall, Ordesa y Perdido National Park, Barranco de Papozosa, Sierra de Guara
- Blue Mountains
South Africa (it’s called “kloofing”)
- Cape Town
- Hakuba (Kamoshika Canyon),
- Minakami (Maple Canyon, Fox Canyon, Nishikuro Canyon)
Feel free to share your experience in the comments!