: Safari Town Surf

Guided Paddling Adventures in Oregon

No experience needed to see scenic waterways from a kayak or a paddleboard.
April 17, 2024

With so many postcard-worthy lakes, thousands of miles of rivers and 363 miles of spectacular coastline, Oregon is undoubtedly one of the nation’s great water states. With summer here, it’s time to grab a paddle and go for a float. Here are some ideas to get you on the water safely and confidently with experts who’ll have you bobbing along in a kayak or atop a paddleboard in no time. 

Several people kayaking on a river towards a view of rushing waterfalls.
Kayaking with views of Willamette Falls (courtesy of Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory)

Enjoy a Paddling Adventure Near Portland

Alder Creek Kayak, Canoe, Raft & SUP has Oregon river roots going back to the 1980s, when it first began opening shops offering gear to get people paddling. Today the Portland-based outfit offers guided tours on rivers and wetlands around Portland and the Willamette Valley. Sign up for a three-hour kayaking tour through the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area, a vast marsh north of downtown not far from where the Willamette and Columbia rivers meet, and you’ll get to float among one of the largest urban marshes in the country. These are beginner-friendly waters with little current and no rapids, and they will give you plenty of time to look for beavers, otters, raptors and more. Alternatively, sign up for a beginner kayaking or paddleboarding class from Jantzen Beach in North Portland to learn the skills and techniques needed for safe trips on your own.  

Based in Oregon City, eNRG Kayaking offers paddling tours to view the 40-foot-high Willamette Falls — one of the widest falls in the world — in kayaks and on paddleboards. The trip takes about 90 minutes and is great for beginners and kids 5 years old and up. Be on the lookout for ospreys and herons. The company offers the same tour at night, too, when the city lights up. 

Located in Mill City near Salem, Fur Sure Outfitters takes paddlers from around the world on the North Santiam River, where you’ll find easy Class I and II rapids that serve as a good introduction to whitewater paddling. Hop in an inflatable kayak and the guides will show you how to navigate gentle currents and riffles on a 9-mile float to the Mehama Bridge. Also near Salem, choose from a dozen locations to book a guided tour with the experts at Salem Kayak Rentals — check out their especially lovely sunset tour and night tour, with colorful LED lights to help illuminate the night. Clackamas River Outfitters runs whitewater trips as well as guided trips on Estacada Lake for flatwater paddlers. 

People kayaking on a calm body of teal blue water.
Crystal clear on a tour with Sky Lakes. (courtesy of Sky Lakes Wilderness Adventures)

Float on Pristine Oregon Lakes

The Gorge may be world-famous for its wind-powered sports like kite boarding and windsurfing, but guides at the Gorge Paddling Center in Hood River also know where to find the more protected places for paddleboarding and kayaking. Book a two-hour sunset tour or go during the day. You’ll stop at a small beach and, if you’re lucky, find some wild blackberries to pick along the way. 

If you’re looking for awesome views of the high Cascades to fill your sunglasses while floating atop pristine lakes, head to Bend and book a trip with Wanderlust Tours to paddle the Cascade Lakes. Guides will take you out with naturalists who can explain the rich ecosystems and help you tell the difference between an osprey and an eagle. You can also book a moonlight paddle under the stars or opt to have beer tastings of local brews on the lakeshore. 

The Upper Klamath Basin is one of the richest birding areas in the world, and Sky Lakes Wilderness Adventures can get you out on the water for a duck’s-eye view of the action. Even cooler, book a three-day, three-river trip and guides will have you paddling crystal-clear waters like the Wood River and the Williamson River, where you’ll glide over underwater lava formations.

Several people on lit up kayaks paddle on a calm lake at night.
Nighttime kayaking experience in Joseph (courtesy of JO Paddle)

Adventures on Water From the Wallowas to the Coast

Jo Paddle in Joseph offers a unique twist on kayaking on Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Lake, with boats made of transparent plastic that allow you to see through the bottom. You can book a guided trip and take the boats out at night to see what lurks below. You can also rent a boat or a see-through paddleboard for daytime adventures, no guide required. The company will show you how to use both and let you cast off on your own into the calm, protected waters of the lake. 

On the Oregon Coast, you can paddle the estuaries and wildlife refuges with guides from Safari Town Surf, who’ll help you spot seals, sea lions and river otters from the cockpit of your boat. Tours include trips into the Salmon River Estuary, the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Devil’s Lake in Lincoln City, among others.

Farther south, South Coast Tours offers paddling adventures from Coos Bay to Brookings, including flatwater paddles on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, as well as sea-kayaking excursions to look for seals and starfish along the headlands of Port Orford. Book a 2.5-hour trip into the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve near Coos Bay to look for harbor seals and bald eagles. For more Rogue River paddling options, Orange Torpedo Trips offers outings in inflatable kayaks as well as rafting and raft-supported hiking adventures.

About The

Tim Neville
Tim Neville is a writer based in Bend where he writes about the outdoors, travel and the business of both. His work has been included in Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing and Best Food Writing, and earned various awards from the Society of American Travel Writers and the Society of Professional Journalists. Tim has reported from all seven continents and spends his free time skiing, running and spending time with his family.

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