Trying something new that’s a bit risky takes no small amount of courage – but if you’re eager to learn and you’re certain it’s right for you, a new activity can turn into exciting outdoor adventure.

Learning new outdoor skills is more accessible than ever before thanks to Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s program called simply, “Let’s Go.” It’s an open invitation for first-timers who want new adventures in the great outdoors at many Oregon State Parks. Camping, hiking, crabbing and clamming, disc golf, bird watching, astronomy or even cycling are some of the new experiences that you can try.

We joined a small group of first time paddlers and their lead guide, Andrew Brainard. He provided the paddles, the life vests, super stable flat water kayaks for each paddler and plenty of solid instruction. We were soon set to explore an overlooked corner of Estacada Lake at Milo McIver State Park. “Estacada Lake is calm water, there are no obstacles for us so it’s a leisurely place to paddle,” noted Brainard.

The Let’s Go program is designed to guide you into new adventures that are found at many Oregon State Parks. “The idea is to give the novice kayak user an introduction to kayaking and to give you a chance to experience the Clackamas watershed from a different point of view,” said Brainard.

Milo McIver State Park sprawls across nearly 1,000 acres alongside the Clackamas River. The park provides plenty of campsites in a wooded setting, plus hiking trails, disc golf and an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon hatchery that is open for you to explore.

While summer crowds fill the place on weekends, it’s surprisingly quiet on week days, according to Park Manager Guy Rodrigue. “Commonly, it’s a park that is just far enough off the beaten path that it doesn’t have heavy presence throughout much of the year. Summer weekends are quite busy though and a campsite reservation is advised.”

The park also includes a boat launch at Estacada Lake and it’s a fine place for paddling. Brainard said paddlers have many chances to cross paths with wildlife on a Let’s Go kayaking trip. “Oh, we’ve got a beautiful view up there right now of our resident osprey nest. There’s a pair of osprey in there with two babies that haven’t left the nest yet.”

You can also find peace and serenity far from the summer crowds. “One of my favorite places on the lake is a small cove that I call, Lichen Garden,” said Brainard. “You have this gorgeous moss and lichen clinging and draping from a huge maple tree – the lichen strands are just beautiful and paddling these small boats is the only way to get in here to see it up close. It’s very peaceful.”

First time paddler Krys Smith said she fell in love with the lake, the boats and her chance to try something new. “This is really good for me. I like it a lot and I think I’m going to try more kayaking – Andrew is really patient too, and takes his time with each of us.”

Smyth said she was also impressed that the lake and the park are only 45 minutes from downtown Portland and yet a world away from the city hub-bub and noise.

Rodrigue agreed and added, “You get the true meaning of what state parks are meant to be at Milo McIver; a place to relax and re-charge your batteries.”

about author Grant McOmie

Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

In this Grant’s Getaway

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