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My Top Three Places in Oregon to Paddle

Paddlers I come in contact with often ask me, “What is my favorite place to paddle?” That’s really a loaded question and one that is difficult for me to answer. I actually have three favorite locations I love to paddle for various reasons. Distance plays a factor in the one I paddle the most. Now my favorites may vary greatly from other paddlers’ choices; we all pick our favorite place(s) to paddle based on innate qualities we look for. Those qualities can be objective, subjective, or both. I have listed my choices based on mileage from Portland, with the closest being listed first.

Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek is a charming 2.5-mile creek on the central Oregon coast. The creek is located about eight miles south of Newport. It meanders through the Beaver Creek Natural Area, an area consisting of beach, marshland, woods, and pastures. Many side channels branching off from the main stem of the creek afford the paddler ample areas to explore, though some of these channels might be a tight squeeze for boats longer than 14 feet.

I lead frequent tours of the creek and find that each time I do the scenery and nature seem to change. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the wildlife I spot on the creek.

Visitors to the creek in the spring are likely to spot a breeding pair of osprey perched on the high voltage powerline pole just past the bridge where Beaver Creek Road crosses over the creek. By fall, the young ospreys have fledged and left, and the nest is pretty much just a stick or two. Springtime also affords the visitor the chance of spotting nutrias and muskrats, great blue herons and green herons. Winter rains may have pushed new logs down the creek, requiring careful navigation around them.

Summertime brings the migrating birds that wintered in the south. Male red-winged blackbirds perched on cattails can be heard calling their mates. You might catch a glimpse of a garter snake as it gracefully swims across the water’s surface. The trees are fully leafed.

My favorite time of year to paddle Beaver Creek, however, has to be the fall. The low, southern sun bathes the marsh grasses in amber light. It’s the perfect time to photograph the creek. A visit to the creek in the fall is especially magical for one reason: the river otters. Of all the times I have paddled Beaver Creek, which span all four seasons, fall is the only time I have spotted the river otters on the creek. The otters typically are spotted in the lower marshland within three-quarters of a mile of the Highway 101 bridge.

In early November if you hit the creek at the right time of the day when the tide is highest, you may be fortunate enough to observe Coho salmon skimming across the shallow water where the creek and ocean meet. The salmon are on their way upstream to spawn. It’s a treat watching the salmon as they swim by just below your boat. It’s also at this time of year that you’re likely to encounter powerboats on the creek. Not to worry. The speed limit on the creek is 5 m.p.h.

After you’re done paddling the creek, pull up alongside Brian Booth State Park for a picnic, or land your boat on the beach and have your picnic there. There’s a boat ramp, restrooms, and eventually a walk-in campground at the creek. For now camping is close by in Newport and Waldport.

I highly recommend a visit, or two, or three, to Beaver Creek. The drive is worth it.

Hosmer Lake

Eloquent words can do little justice describing Hosmer Lake. Tucked in the central Oregon Cascades along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and surrounded by South Sister, Broken Top, and Mt. Bachelor sits one of the most beautiful lakes in all of Oregon. A 2015 survey released by the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department listed Hosmer Lake as the more visited lake in central Oregon by paddlers. It’s no wonder.

Launching from the boat ramp on the south section of the lake, paddlers get a nice view of Mt. Bachelor. The lake is somewhat narrow in the middle and heavily populated with rush and wocus. Watery trails meander through the rush and wocus. The north end of the lake is wide and shallow and provides nice views of South Sister and Broken Top.

Besides magnificent views of mountains, South Sister in particular, the crystal clear water and shallow depth of much of the lake affords paddlers the opportunity to observe rainbow and brook trout swimming just feet below the water’s surface. In fact wildlife is what draws many paddlers to the lake. Visitors can spot yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, common mergansers, dabbling ducks, osprey, bald eagles, river otters, and deer.

No motorized boats are allowed on the lake; the only sounds you’ll hear are those of nature and the gurgling sound of your paddles as they carve through the water.

The popularity of Hosmer Lake is also its downside. Summer weekends will find the parking lot so crowded that if you don’t arrive early you may find yourself having to park a few hundred yards from the water.

Upper Klamath Canoe Trail

Though the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail (UKCT) is a six-hour drive from the Portland metropolitan area, the drive south to the trail is well worth the time. Rocky Point is the main launch site for those who visit the canoe trail, which sits at the northern end of Upper Klamath Lake.

There are 9.5 miles of paddling trails that meander through rush and wocus and past woodlands and willow. Paddlers are treated to magnificent views of Mt. McLoughlin to the west and the south rim of Mt. Mazama (location of Crater Lake) to the north. There are four segments to the canoe trail: Recreation Creek, Crystal Creek, Malone Springs, and Wocus Cut. The latter is only navigable through mid-summer before the water level dips too low for paddlers to enter the Cut.

The Klamath Basin, home of the trail, is a major flyway for migratory birds and home to a large population of bald eagles and white pelicans. Over 260 species bird species have been identified in the region. The basin is also home to beavers, muskrats, and river otters. Wildlife species vary depending on the time of year. In earlier summer, look for western grebes, harlequin ducks, yellow-headed blackbirds, and Forster’s and black terns; in the fall you’re more likely to spot bald eagles and river otters. While white pelicans are visible on the canoe trail summer and fall, the largest concentration is seen during the fall.

The UCKT and Pelican Bay, which sits at the southern end of the canoe trail, is home to monstrous rainbow trout that can reach 30” in length. Fishermen are only allowed to keep one a day.

While it is possible to paddle the entire trail system in one day—I have done it—paddlers should plan on spending a couple of days paddling the trail; paddle the lower half one day and the upper half the next.

The best time to paddle the trail is in the morning when winds are calm. It is not uncommon for afternoon winds to pick up and make paddling difficult, if not impossible, and turning Pelican Bay into a choppy morass.

Waterfowl hunting is allowed starting in mid-October. Paddlers are advised to avoid the trail during the hunting season.

Powerboats are also allowed on the trail but are not allowed to exceed 10 m.p.h. Paddlers should understand and follow normal Coast Guard navigation rules.

Camping is available at Rocky Point Resort, which is located on the trail. There is a decent restaurant at the resort if you’re too tired to fix your own meal after a day of paddling.

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