: Melanie Griffin / EugeneCascadesCoast.org (Pictured is the Willamette River)

Top Paddling Spots for Families

July 9, 2020

Editor’s note: Call businesses before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.

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. So grab a PFD (personal flotation device), a paddle and your sense of adventure.

Oregon City Paddling
Paddle for the day on a tour with eNRG Kayaking in Oregon City. (Photo credit: Mountains Legacy)

Portland Region

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.

Paddling on Trillium Lake
Mt. Hood Outfitters will deliver kayaks to Clear, Frog, Timothy or Trillium lakes for you and your family. (Photo credit: Modoc Stories / hood-gorge.com)

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.

Paddling Alton Baker Park in Eugene
Paddle the canoe canal that bisects the 413-acre Alton Baker Park in Eugene. (Photo credit: Credit Melanie Griffin / EugeneCascadesCoast.org)

Willamette Valley

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.

Paddling near Tillamook
Explore Tillamook Bay, Netarts Bay or the Nehalem RIver near Tillamook with your family. (Photo credit: Visit Tillamook Coast)

Oregon Coast

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.

Two adults and a child smile from a canoe.
The peaceful waters of LaPine State Park make for an easygoing family paddling trip. (Photo by Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe)

Central Oregon

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 (scheduled for September and October 2020).

Note: As of July 17, 2020, travel to Bend is discouraged through Labor Day (September 7, 2020) to protect the health of the community during Oregon’s COVID-19 state of emergency.

Night Paddling in Wallowa
Take a night tour in lighted, glass-bottom kayaks with JO Paddle on Wallowa Lake. (Photo credit: JO Paddle)

Eastern Oregon

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.

Emigrant Lake County Park
Emigrant Lake County Park is an easy place for newbies to learn on rented paddleboards. (Photo credit: Jak Wonderly / Travel Southern Oregon)

Southern Oregon

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.

Two people prepare for kayaking while wearing life vests and face coverings.
Face coverings are required where physical distancing is not possible. (Photo by Dylan VanWeelden)

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.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Oregon now requires face coverings outdoors when physical distancing is not possible. (Exceptions include children under 12 and people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing a face covering.) In addition to understanding a county’s phased reopening status, land managers recommend staying local and checking the recreation site’s status before leaving home; if you’re counting on rentals be sure to confirm your reservation ahead of time. Follow more outdoor recreation tips for summer 2020.

About The

Shellie Bailey-Shah
Shellie Bailey-Shah is travel writer who has the distinction of having visited all seven continents, but she favors her home state of Oregon. She lives with her husband and sons in Portland and has logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family's RV.

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