Oregon is blessed with alpine lakes, coastal estuaries and rushing rivers fed from her snowcapped peaks. And where there’s water, there’s paddling fun to be had, whether it’s kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddleboarding. While you’ve got a near endless number of options around the state, we’ve chosen the following paddling spots as ideal for families. Each location offers knowledgeable outfitters to provide guidance and gear.
Before you go, however, it’s crucial to keep yourself and your whole crew safe by taking some simple steps.
- Wear a properly fitted life jacket — it’s required for ages 13 and under and highly recommended for others regardless of age. It may just save your life if you end up splashing into the water, especially in cold water temperatures. Many lake areas have free life jacket kiosks if you don’t have your own.
- Once you’re on the water, beware of winds or boats creating large waves or swells.
- Ask an expert about the right type of leash to purchase for your board, since the wrong type can be fatal if you fall and get tangled. Quick-release leashes attach to your life jacket and board, and are highly recommended when paddling on any moving water with obstructions like fallen trees from riverbanks.
- Stay close to shore and avoid fast-moving waters if you’re newer.
- Finally, stand-up paddlers are required to purchase and have on hand their Waterway Access Permit, which can be purchased online.
Load up your family along with your sense of adventure and get paddling.
Kayak: Just 20 minutes north of downtown Portland, Next Adventure-Scappoose Bay Paddling Center offers paddling away from the busy boat traffic of the mighty Columbia River. Opt for the family evening or nocturnal guided tours to discover the nighttime habits of the wetlands’ wildlife with glow sticks and lighting provided.
SUP: While you can SUP on the Willamette River in downtown Portland or the Tualatin River with Tualatin Riverkeepers, families may opt for a tour with eNRG Kayaking in Oregon City. Take an introductory SUP course here within earshot of thunderous Willamette Falls, the second largest waterfall by volume in the Pacific Northwest and the official end of the historic Oregon Trail.
Mt. Hood & the Columbia River Gorge
Kayak & Canoe: Experience one of Oregon’s most popular alpine lakes by renting a canoe or kayak at Lost Lake Resort and Campground. Then simply glide across the placid water that boasts a stunning, Instagram-worthy reflection of Mt. Hood. Or have Mt. Hood Outfitters deliver kayaks to equally scenic Clear, Frog, Timothy or Trillium lakes.
SUP: The flat sections of the Clackamas River near Milo McIver State Park are ideal for SUP. We love the two-person monster boards that you can rent from Clackamas River Outfitters, suitable for a parent and younger child.
Kayak & Canoe: Discover part of the 187-mile Willamette River National Water Trail on a tour with Cascadia Expeditions. The water trail is a network of properties with accessible paddle spots flowing through the region’s forests, meadows, parks, farms and communities, with miles of shoreline birds and secret camping spots on gravel bars. Make sure to check the water trail page for recommended gear, guide and shuttle services, safety info and river etiquette before you go.
SUP: Just across the Willamette River from the University of Oregon, you’ll find 413-acre Alton Baker Park in Eugene. Here you can rent a paddleboard from Northwest Canoe Tour and travel the 2-mile canoe canal that bisects the park.
Kayak: Depending on your kids’ endurance, choose from a paddle on Tillamook Bay, Netarts Bay or the Nehalem River near Tillamook in search of clams with Kayak Tillamook. Your kids will love digging for dinner in the muddy tidal flats.
SUP: Rent paddleboards from Nestucca Adventures on the Nestucca River in Pacific City or Safari Town Surf on Devil’s Lake in Lincoln City. Or take a private family lesson with SUP Manzanita on the flat waters of Nehalem Bay.
Kayak & SUP: On a sunny summer day, hundreds of people float, kayak and SUP from Farewell Bend Park to Drake Park in downtown Bend; skip the crowds with gear rentals at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe and paddle along a tranquil bend of the Deschutes at LaPine State Park, about 30 miles south of the city. Or head to Prineville Reservoir State Park, a 15-mile-long lake filled with water flowing from the Ochoco Mountain Range, with rentals from Ochoco SUP. To the north, The Cove Palisades State Park in Culver hosts ranger-led kayak tours along the Deschutes River arm of Lake Billy Chinook.
Kayak & SUP: Wallowa Lake in the northeastern corner of the state is so clear, you can often see the fish swimming below. With the dramatic sight of Wallowa Mountain’s peak and the Oregon Alps all around, you can rent kayaks and SUPs from Wallowa Lake Marina. But for a truly unique experience, bundle up for a night tour in lighted, glass-bottom kayaks with JO Paddle. Keep your eyes peeled for Wally, the creature who — according to Nez Perce tribal legend — lives in the lake.
Kayak: North of Klamath Falls, you’ll find the stunning turquoise waters of Spring Creek in Collier Memorial State Park. Kids delight in seeing the “dancing sands” (where the underground spring bubbles up) and Mare’s eggs, rare freshwater algae that only exist in a few places around the world. Book a tour with Sky Lakes Wilderness Adventures or ROE Outfitters.
SUP: Just minutes from Ashland, Emigrant Lake County Park is an easy place for newbies to learn on rented paddleboards. Afterward, your kids will make a beeline to the park’s popular water slide.
If You Go:
Come prepared with a personal flotation device (PFD), picking the life jacket style that best fits your water activity. In Oregon, all children 12 and under must wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device while on a boat that is underway — and it’s a good idea for adults, too.