From sea level at the coast to high alpine lakes, Oregon is home to some spectacular waterways. It’s easy to escape the convenience of the major cities and find yourself surrounded by natural beauty. Pack up your paddle board, here are ten places you won’t want to miss in the Beaver State:
There is no shortage of exploration potential at this incredible location. Numerous creeks and estuaries feed into the bay, providing a seemingly endless maze of places to discover. Pick your route wisely to avoid downed trees that make travel challenging, as many of the waterways can be narrow and must be navigated with caution. The Bay can be enjoyed year round, but locals recommend early spring as the best time of year–runoff from the surrounding snowpack melt inundates the Bay, causing the water level to rise and permitting paddlers the unique chance to paddle amongst alders and other trees that are temporarily flooded with spring melt. Well worth the 30 minute drive from Portland, this is a must-visit destination if you’re in the area.
Located 35 miles west of Portland, this man-made lake is fed by multiple rivers and creeks and offers an excellent paddling opportunity as well as surrounding amenities. There are picnic locations dotted around the lake’s shore and boat ramps for easy access to the water. Since the lake is stocked with trout, it becomes a popular fishing destination when it opens for the season in early March. Waterfowl and birds of prey are common sights and can make for some impressive entertainment as you paddle the serene waters of this area.
This 4.5 mile waterway is easily accessible by a Wildlife Management Area (though it charges a $7 fee for parking) and is a mecca for watersports enthusiasts of all types. Paddlers and boaters aren’t the only ones who flock to this area–a large population of wildlife such as bald eagles, blue herons, river otters, beavers, walleye, bass, and sturgeon are known to inhabit the area as well. Make sure to check the tide charts before visiting the river as water levels can change seasonally.
If you are interested in an extended trip that will provide exciting changes in scenery, the Tualatin is an outstanding option. Because the size of the river varies, larger craft are not able to navigate the waters which makes for a peaceful cruise. Starting in the Coast Range and flowing almost 80 miles east to its confluence with the Willamette, the river passes through several towns along the way. Plan a stop in Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin, Lake Oswego, or West Linn for a snack as you enjoy fishing and bird watching along the way.
Estacada Lake (River Mill Reservoir)
Nestled pristinely at the base of the Cascade Range sits Estacada Lake. This lake is a favorite destination for Portland residents who want to experience a more peaceful environment without a long drive. The nearby Milo McIver State Park is a popular camping destination, so you can spend all day exploring the area and spend all night recharging for a repeat the next day. The lake is stocked with trout and is open from the middle of March through October. In autumn, the hillsides are awash with the colors of fall, making for a truly spectacular experience.
Willamette River Water Trail
Most people are familiar with the Willamette River as one of the major waterways in the state. Flowing almost 190 miles north from Eugene to Portland, and passing through the cities of Corvallis and Salem along the way, history is steeped in the waters of this river that has shaped the past, present, and future of Oregon. Once a major travel route for steamships and riverboats, the river is now a favorite destination for adventure seekers of all types. Plan a short day trip or make preparations for a longer multi-day journey. No matter how long you spend, a trip down the Willamette is sure to be unforgettable.
Like its name implies, this spring-fed lake is crystal clear and thus is teeming with wildlife. No motorboats are permitted which contributes to the peacefulness of the area. Geologic features such as lava flows line the eastern shore of the lake, and it is possible to see remnants of the sunken forest that once covered the region. There are campsites dotted around the shore, as well as cabins for rent at the Clear Lake Resort, but make sure you reserve early as this popular destination is a hotspot for outdoor enthusiasts. There’s also a restaurant at the Resort so you can grab a bite when you’ve worked up an appetite. If you want to stretch your legs and take a break from being on the water, take a stroll around hiking trails that encircle the lake’s edge.
Whether you’re an experienced paddler or just taking your first strokes, Hosmer Lake is an excellent place to experience the best of Oregon. Located on the eastern side of the Cascades and a short drive from Bend and Sunriver, Hosmer is a long, narrow lake that is off-limits to powerboats so you can enjoy calm waters in peace. Along the way, you will be astounded by views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, and South Sister off in the distance, while in closer proximity you will spot numerous species of ducks, river otters, geese, and other songbirds. Fishing is permitted but is restricted to fly fishing. After a long day, be sure to check out some of the surrounding campgrounds in the area where you can rest and recharge and do it all over again the next day.
This is a not-to-be-missed destination if you are adventuring in Oregon. Situated at over 5,400 feet elevation, Waldo Lake is 10 square miles of liquid incredible. The shoreline is crenulated with numerous coves and inlets, and multiple islands dot the inside of the lake, providing a seemingly endless array of places to explore. The water is crystal clear and on a calm day it’s not impossible to see down over 100 feet to the lake bottom. The indigo waters provide the perfect mirror off of which reflect majestic views of the North and South Sisters, Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, Diamond Peak, and Mt. Yoran. Plan ahead for camping at some of the surrounding campgrounds, and bring your hiking shoes or even your mountain bike as there are trails around the lake perimeter when you’re ready to change it up. The weather can change rather rapidly here to make sure to be prepared for all conditions–you won’t want to miss a moment on Waldo Lake!
If you’re a beginner to the sport of paddle boarding, Trillium Lake is an outstanding place to hone your skills. No motorboats are allowed which preserves the gentle peace of the water so you can focus on your technique. The 65-acre lake is fairly shallow and affords incredible views of Mt. Hood which towers regally in the distance. There is a day-use area as well as primitive camping around the water’s edge, so make sure to plan ahead if you want to make a multi-day adventure.
From pristine high mountain lakes to calm meandering rivers, Oregon has some of the most exciting paddling opportunities available. Whether you are making a quick day trip from Portland or planning an overnight adventure, you won’t want to miss these incredible places. Bring your camera, we’d love to see where your paddle board takes you!