Wintertime Adventure: Kayak the Coast

January 6, 2012 (Updated January 19, 2021)

Editor’s note: Face coverings (ages 5 and up) are required at all indoor and outdoor public spaces statewide, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more here

Not a snow person? Then you’ll be happy to hear that the mountains aren’t the only place for wintertime adventuring. Oregon’s Coast is the perfect destination for wintertime kayaking.

There are many reasons to try winter kayaking on the Coast. For one thing, the water levels in rivers and streams are higher, which means you can paddle farther upstream into the hidden creeks and forested waterways. Plus, recreating in the fresh air while keeping physical distance from others on the water means increased COVID-19 safety. (Remember to wear your face covering from start to finish, including while picking up or returning rental equipment.) Fewer people means you can get up close to hawks, eagles, elk, river otters and other wildlife. And sometimes the Coast is notably warmer than inland areas, especially during an inversion. What’s better than driving out of the fog into the cheerful winter sunshine? 

Before you head out, dress in waterproof layers and make sure you check the tide tables — it’s very easy to get stuck if you’re not paying attention to the tides. Know that life jackets are required on all watercraft, and always paddle with a friend since winter conditions can be more unpredictable. Read up on how to paddle the Coast safely and tips for visiting the Coast responsibly.


Portland to the Coast via the Columbia River

While the Lower Columbia River Water Trail stretches 146 miles west from the Bonneville Dam, the section that runs from Portland to the Pacific Ocean packs in some kayaking fun. This stretch of waterway allows kayakers to paddle alongside barges, sailboats and cruise ships, getting an up-close look at the industrial side of the river. If you’re in for a more relaxing excursion, you can also find an island beach or riverside park to stop for a picnic lunch or to just sit and watch the motorized boats go by. 

This section of the river has a rich history as a trade and transportation hub, so why not join Columbia River Kayaking on one of their tours or educational programs, which range from half-day to multiday excursions? These owner-guides live right in the area, so they are steeped in the kind of knowledge that only comes from local experience. 

North Coast Waterways

Start your exploration on the Tillamook County Water Trail, 200 miles of navigable water for a variety of skill levels, from flatwater beginner to whitewater expert. The nonprofit Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP) has mapped the Nehalem and Tillamook Bay areas. Download maps and information from the TEP website. (As always with kayaking, conditions can change dramatically with the weather and seasons. Know before you go, and be prepared.)

If you’d prefer a guided start to wintertime kayaking, check in with the folks at Kayak Tillamook, which is currently only offering private-group experiences. Following a half-hour of land instruction, the two-hour guided tours come with all needed gear as well as a thermos of hot apple cider for each boater. Rain or shine, it’s a wonderful way to explore the Coast and enjoy the season.

Paddling the Central Coast

For visitors to the Central Coast, a delightfully calm kayaking excursion is the Siuslaw Estuary Water Trail, which runs more than 30 miles along the Siuslaw River from Mapleton to Florence. Here, paddlers get to glide through coastal forests and past sand dunes, and can explore dozens of coastal lakes and offshoot rivers. The estuarine experience also offers the chance to see sea otters, blue herons and ospreys. The water trail’s website offers an interactive Google map, making it an easier excursion for kayakers to plan. 

The waterways near Lincoln City are also great to explore, including the calm, glassy waters of Siletz Bay and Devils Lake, home to bald eagles and beavers. For kayakers looking for something different, head to Salmon River Estuary, just north of town. Paddling with the beach on one side and a sheer rock face on the other is a wow-worthy experience. You also stand to catch a glimpse of sea lions and falcons, making it the ideal spot for families and birders. In fact, the area is the most popular kayak tour for Safari Town Surf, whose experienced guides know all the best spots and answers to all of your questions.

Wild Waters of the South Coast

Kayaking on the South Coast is an experience in its own class. With sea stacks at nearly every head turn and four pristine rivers as your playground, the region is sure to leave you with an incredible experience. You can witness the stunning Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor from the water and explore the natural arches and sea caves at your own pace. Other great waterways include the Rogue and Coquille rivers and the South Slough near Coos Bay. Though there aren’t many tours in the winter months, be sure to check out the wide selection of kayak tours through South Coast Tours, which run May through November.

About The

Eileen Garvin
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere in Oregon.

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