One of the best ways to experience the stunning Southern Oregon Coast, both in the summer and the shoulder seasons, is to grab a paddle and hit the water. The region is blessed with four pristine rivers — the Umpqua, Rogue, Chetco and Coquille — in addition to more than 140 miles of dramatic coastline. If you don’t have your own raft, kayak or stand-up paddleboard, no problem. You can easily book guided trips with locals who are eager to share the South Coast’s magic and mystery with you.
No matter where you go, be mindful of others there to enjoy the water too. That means leaving behind zero trash and always work to leave the site better than you found it. Your furry friends may love the water too, but consider leaving them home, along with any drugs or alcohol.
To stay safe in the water, it’s wise to follow a few guidelines. If you’re bringing children, give them your full supervision and remember to wear a properly fitted life jacket — it’s required for ages 12 and under and highly recommended for others regardless of age. It may just save your life if you end up splashing into the water unexpectedly, especially in cold water temperatures. Take frequent breaks from the water to warm up to prevent muscle cramping. Many lake areas have free life jacket loaner stations if you don’t have your own. Once you’re on the water, beware of changing winds or boats creating large waves or wakes.
Guided paddle tours include life jackets, instructions and gear. Here are a few to consider.
Ocean Kayaking and SUP
South Coast Tours offers a variety of kayaking and SUP options from Coos Bay, Port Orford and Brookings. Some of these tours combine paddling with snorkeling or fishing. If you’re really up for an adventure, consider the 22-mile, two-day paddle from Gold Beach to Whaleshead Beach along the so-called Banana Belt (an area of milder temperatures). The route includes the Arches territory adjacent to Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor with numerous natural arches, sea caves and coves to explore. It’s a rugged, jaw-dropping stretch that draws kayakers from around the world.
River Rafting, Kayaking and SUP
Some of the best river rafting in the state can be found in Southern Oregon. And where you can whitewater raft, you also can kayak. All the outfitters below offer both options to visitors on half-, full- or multiday trips. If whitewater rapids aren’t your speed, slow things down with a flat-water paddle.
Consider an easy 4-mile, 1.5-hour kayak and SUP tour on the Rogue with South Coast Tours. Trips start from Quosatana Campground about 15 miles from Gold Beach and run May through mid-October. South Coast Tours also offers a 5-mile, two-hour kayak and SUP tour that leaves from Foster Bar Campground.
For those looking for a hard-core adventure, a kayaking trip down the Wild and Scenic Chetco River will not disappoint. Northwest Rafting Company runs two multiday guided tours: the Lower Gorges of the Chetco and the Upper Chetco River, which begins with a 10-mile hike through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Practically untouched, the upper portion is defined by green canyons, boulder-congested rapids and green pools of crystal-clear water; the lower portion transitions to a broad river channel through lush forests on its way to the Pacific. Trips start in Grants Pass and run June to September.
Alternatively, you can flat-water kayak on the Chetco River estuary in Brookings with South Coast Tours from May to mid-October. Be on the lookout for pelicans, kingfishers and seals.
The Coquille River in Bandon is a prime spot for flat-water kayaking, as well. South Coast Tours offers an estuary tour through the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. See the historic high docks and shipwrecks as well as shorebirds, migratory birds and seals. Tours are offered May through mid-October.
If You Go:
If you plan to raft, kayak or SUP on a paddlecraft that’s 10 feet long or larger, you’re required to purchase and carry a waterway access permit while the craft is in use; however, paddlers aged 13 or younger are exempt from this rule. You can obtain the permit in advance online from the Oregon State Marine Board.