Upper Klamath Lake has long been one of my family’s favorite paddling spots, with its sweeping views of the wetlands and wildlife amid conifer and redwood trees. About 25 miles northwest of Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon, its tributaries make up the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail. Since we have a 9-year-old and a 16-year-old, the calm waters make it a great spot for our varying experience levels. Here’s how to navigate this great spot with your family.
Navigating the Canoe Trail
The Upper Klamath Canoe Trail is 9.5 miles long and can be broken into four separate segments. You can start at either Rocky Point or Malone Springs day-use areas, the latter of which is designated for non-motorized boats, meaning fewer wakes. Rocky Point has a boat launch and two docks that are great to fish from or, as our kids like to do, jump off into the water to swim, and Malone Springs — four miles upriver — is quieter. You can choose from multiple directions to paddle, depending on what you’d like to see.
On a recent trip, we chose to drop in at Rocky Point and headed north into Recreation Creek, the water trail closest to land. We passed Rocky Point Resort on the left and emerald-green marshlands on the right, immediately captivated by the wide-open skies, views of far-off mountains and songbirds that were out in force. Red-winged blackbirds, hermit warblers and hermit thrushes were darting around the sky and poking their heads in and out of birdhouses that someone tucked among the marshland reeds. We even saw three American white pelicans — notable for their huge wingspan — that flew right over our heads and landed gracefully in front of us.
As we paddled through the clear water, we passed masses of wocus lily, a yellow water plant that is a historical food of the Klamath Tribes and a key species in the ecology of the Klamath Basin.
For a family traveling at a leisurely pace, it takes about 45 minutes to paddle 1 mile to Wocus Cut, where you can continue into Malone Springs or take Crystal Creek to loop around and back to the Rocky Point boat ramp. (If you want to paddle through Wocus Cut on either route, it’s best to paddle it in spring and early summer because it will often dry up by August.)
There’s a third option: Since it was fairly windy the day we went — and we were warned by a kindly sheriff that it could get windier the farther we got from shore — we decided to just head back the way we came up through Recreation Creek, the water trail closest to land. (Paddlers should always be aware of the current since it’s easy to get in trouble if you’re headed out with the current and plan to return against it.) As we paddled back along this beautiful route, we could spy Aspen Butte, part of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, in the distance. We caught a bit of headwind on our way back, but we were able to paddle without too much effort, greeting the pelicans we had seen on the way out.
Stay at Upper Klamath Lake
If you want to linger at Upper Klamath Lake, there are several possibilities for overnight stays. The Rocky Point Resort is near the boat launch, where you can rent rustic cabins and furnished RVs or reserve tent or RV spots. If you don’t have your own watercraft, you can also rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, pedal boats and more at the boat launch.
Another option is Harriman Springs Resort and Marina. It offers lakeside cabins, RV pads and tent sites with a restaurant on-site for breakfast through dinner. The resort is open May through December, and you can drop in your watercraft right by their front door. (Pro tip: Rocky Point cabins get booked but sometimes you can squeak in a reservation in their furnished RVs for rent, RV spots and tend spots. At Harriman Resort, make sure to plan ahead for the summer season.)
If You Go:
There’s nothing like smart preparation to ensure a family trip goes smoothly. Here are some top tips for your excursion:
- If it is an especially windy day, Upper Klamath Lake can get pretty choppy, making it harder for smaller watercraft like kayaks and paddleboards. If you are a beginner or with children it’s best to stick to the tributaries for safety.
- Go during the week. You will likely have the peace and quiet of the wetlands all to yourself.
- Please leave no trace in this beautiful area. That includes discarding apple cores and orange and banana peels in proper trash receptacles.
Here are more simple steps you can take to keep your whole crew safe in the water when you’re paddling:
- Wear a properly fitted life jacket — it’s required for ages 12 and under and are highly recommended to be worn for all paddlers. There must be a readily available life jacket for each person in any boat (including stand-up paddleboards), regardless of the paddler’s age, as well as a whistle or other sound-making device. Many lake areas have free life jacket loaner kiosks if you don’t have your own.
- Once you’re on the water, beware of changing winds or other boats creating large waves or wakes. Know how to maneuver into waves to avoid being swamped.
- Stay close to shore and avoid fast-moving waters if you are newer to boating.
- Finally, paddlers with boats 10 feet and longer are required to purchase and have on hand their Waterway Access Permit, which can be purchased online.