Kayak and Zipline Adventures Near Crater Lake

Pair a quiet guided kayak trip with thrilling adventures in Southern Oregon.
May 17, 2024
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I arrive at the forested headquarters of Crater Lake ZipLine, just outside Klamath Falls, shortly before 9 a.m. on a balmy summer morning. It’s the perfect day, in other words, for an outdoor adventure exploring Oregon’s Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, which contains the largest freshwater body in Oregon. I’m here for the guided Skyak outing, a seven-hour excursion that includes a kayak paddling tour of the quiet Upper Klamath Canoe Trail, lunch, then some adventurous fun with a sky-level zip-line ride. 

Since it’s a warm day, our guide, Cheyenne Reichert, suggests starting with a laid-back paddle at nearby Malone Springs. While she loads a trailer with brightly colored kayaks, our group of a half-dozen mills about headquarters — where a large parking lot sits surrounded by fir and ponderosa pine trees. I look up, see empty zip lines crisscrossing the tree canopy, and imagine the happy shrieks and laughter that will fill the forest air later today.

Paddling Malone Springs

Explore the Waterways of the Klamath Basin

Just 10 minutes later, our caravan arrives at the Malone Springs Day-Use Area at the far northwestern corner of Upper Klamath Lake. Reichert gives a quick safety overview and passes out life jackets before sliding our hard plastic kayaks into the water and showing us how to hop in. Before long, my bright-red kayak slices through the glassy Crystal Creek.

We’re not heading onto the open waters of Upper Klamath Lake this morning, but rather paddling a portion of the 9.5-mile Upper Klamath Canoe Trail. The trail traverses a small portion of Upper Klamath lake, the largest of its kind in Oregon, and part of a national refuge. Established in 1928 for its importance to birds and wildlife, it’s now one of six such refuges across the broader Klamath Basin.

Today the family-friendly path heads through a variety of ecosystems — a chilly freshwater marsh, riparian forests and the waters of Pelican Bay — that hint at the refuge’s rich natural diversity. The trail’s location, away from Upper Klamath Lake, protects it from strong currents and makes it accessible to beginners in search of a relaxing paddle. 

White pelicans on Upper Klamath Canoe Trail (Photo by George Ostertag / Alamy Stock Photo)

Spy Wildlife and Natural Sights Along the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail

Even without rollicking currents, our 90-minute tour quickly leaves the shore behind and enters a channel lined by grasses that rise above our heads. Reichert points out wocus plants at their base and explains that the pretty yellow-flowered water lily is a traditional source of food for the Klamath and Modoc people who have called this region home for thousands of years. On this sun-kissed morning, its bright blooms stand out against the surrounding greenery like stars in the night sky.

Soon after, a regal white egret takes off from a floating log just out of sight, crests the towering grasses around us and soars directly overhead — close enough for us to feel a breeze in its wake. A few of us break up the silence and let slip an awe-inspired “Whoa.”

As Reichert explains, roughly 300 species of bird have been documented around Upper Klamath Lake. Some of the most common species include pelicans, bald eagles and great blue herons. This region sits on the Pacific Flyway, a massive migratory bird route that runs between Alaska and the farthest reaches of South America. Native and migratory species alike take shelter and eat well in the Klamath Basin’s wetlands, mountain rivers and riparian forests. In all, nearly 1 million birds visit the refuge every year.

I go long stretches without paddling, letting the lazy current nudge me along at an almost glacial pace. Views to the east are obscured by the wetland grasses that line our channel, while Pelican Butte, a dormant shield volcano, rises above the forested hillside to the west. 

After about 45 minutes, we turn around and begin our return to Malone Springs. At one point, Reichert points out a muddy jumble of sticks, twigs and branches stacked on the shoreline. What looked to my untrained eye like a scattershot collection of driftwood is actually a working beaver lodge — providing habitat for Oregon’s state animal. We keep an eye out for American beavers entering or exiting but must satisfy ourselves with only spying the dome-shaped structure. Missing out on a beaver sighting, after all, gives us a good reason to return again soon.

Crater Lake ZipLine

Soar Among the Treetops at Crater Lake ZipLine

Back on dry land, we head back to Crater Lake ZipLine for more fun. Soon, most of us are in harnesses for the outfitter’s most popular offering — its zip-line tours, each of which lasts two to three hours. The thrilling course comprises nine zip lines and two sky bridges. Two controlled descents course through the Fremont-Winema National Forest tree canopy and offer wide-open views of nearby Mt. McLoughlin and Upper Klamath Lake. A second course for children ages 5 to 12, Sasquatch Hollow, features four zip lines, a bridge and other fun obstacles.

For those who choose not to do the zip line, there are plenty of attractions available. Enjoy local craft brews in the yurt where visitors check in, or purchase wraps, salads and nachos from an on-site food cart. One of the most recent additions is an outdoor axe-throwing arena, where eight lanes are adorned with circular wooden targets. 

Skyak tours are offered between April and early October, while zip-line treks are available March through November.

About The
Author

Matt Wastradowski
Matt Wastradowski is a travel and outdoors writer living in Portland, Oregon. He’s written about the outdoors, craft beer, history, and more for the likes of Outside, Portland Monthly, and Northwest Travel & Life—and has written three Oregon-centric guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides.

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