The sight of orca whales, humpbacks, bald eagles and sea lions are only a few of the many attractions in the Pacific Northwest. Kayaking, in all its forms and variations, is one of the most popular pastimes across the entire region. No matter the season, paddlers are out there plying the ocean and exploring the countless inlets, tributaries, rivers, bays and coves that make this region of the country a favorite destination.
The waters of the northern Pacific and inland are usually chilly and caution is advised no matter the time of year. Other safety rules also apply. But smart preparation to remain safe, warm and dry will be well worth the effort. This is paradise for beginners and experienced kayakers alike.
Below are a few of the most popular paddling day trips to be found in the Pacific Northwest. You’ll find many more with a little searching; longer expeditions are available too, of course. These spots, however, will get you started on thinking about the adventure of a lifetime when you choose the Pacific Northwest as your next paddling destination.
✔️ Scappoose Bay (57420 Old Portland Rd, Warren, OR 97053)
Kayakers from far and wide travel to Scappoose Bay in the warmer months for very good reason: It’s a nature lover’s dream come true. An important wildlife habitat for many animal species, the Bay is also crucially important for birds on the Pacific Flyway.
Many of them rely on the protected shorelines of Scappoose Bay as a stopover during their long treks between the Arctic tundra and South American wetlands. In the fall, the Bay is also a resting stop for migrating steelhead trout and salmon that move through the connecting tributaries each year.
Just 25 miles north of the City of Portland, the Bay itself is an 85,000-acre tidal area loaded with many surprising places to discover – small islands, wetlands, tide channels, streams and more. Locals recommend paddling early in the morning for the best opportunities to see and hear the wildlife that can often be found in and among the trees of the gravelly shores of this Oregon kayaking wonderland.
✔️ Quillayute River (La Push, WA 98350)
Pinpointing the very best places to kayak on the Olympic Peninsula is nearly impossible. There are just so many. But the Quillayute River ranks right up there, mainly because it’s so gorgeous for paddlers. (Quillayute is also spelled Quileute.)
Shallow and slow-moving, the waters of the Quillayute offer a feeling of being far from civilization in remote wilderness rarely found in other parts of the country. Put in at the Native village of La Push, the 1 square mile area that the federally recognized Quillayute Tribe has called home for thousands of years. From there, they’ve hunted kwalla, the mighty whale and told stories in the tribe’s unique language about bayak, the legendary raven who placed the sun in the sky when the earth was created.
The only boats you are likely to see on the Quillayute River are other kayaks, canoes or SUPs; the depth of the water does not allow for motorboats. Look forward to the natural quiet of the space and to seeing your share of otter, bald eagles, salmon, flounder, small birds of all kinds, herons, ravens, crows, ducks and more. Though small, the village of La Push has oceanfront lodging, a seafood company, fish hatchery and a revamped marina. Lovely Rialto Beach is close by.
✔️ Port Townsend (Fort Worden Boat Launch, 200 Battery Way, Port Townsend, WA 98368)
Downtown Port Townsend is the perfect place to launch your kayak when you’re looking for that Old Victorian Era vibe as part of your adventure. Nestled on the northeastern tip of the Quimper Peninsula, Port Townsend was once a maritime center for independent boat builders and other skilled craftsmen. Today, the Port Townsend Historic District is a U.S. National Landmark teeming with fun things to experience, including world class restaurants, theater, shopping and lodging.
The Fort Worden public boat launch can get busy during the mid-morning hours in spring and summer, but is generally easy to access at all times of year. Alternate site put in spots include Pope Marine Park (Northwest Wooden Boat Center), Rotary Park or Port Townsend Boat Haven. All of these are easy to access and except for the occasional ferry wake, are calm and enjoyable to paddle.
Launching from Fort Worden pops you into more open water than the waterfront does, but you can hug the shore and still have more than enough scenery to soak up. Beaches, the Point Wilson Lighthouse and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center are all part of the landscape as you paddle on by.
At the end of the day, stop into the Pourhouse for the best local craft brews, live music and hanging out in the glorious atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest.
✔️ Saltwater State Park (25205 8th Pl S, Des Moines, WA 98198)
Just two miles from Interstate 5, Saltwater State Park is convenient to reach from Seattle proper and a great spot to put your kayak into the sparkling Pacific for the day. It’s a popular park, so plan to arrive early for the best parking. There is a fee for parking, so be prepared to purchase your spot at the automatic pay station in the lot, or purchase a one-day Discover Pass. Kayaks are available for rent and concession food is available on shore.
Once in your boat, you’ll be treated to 1,445 feet of saltwater shoreline on Puget Sound, halfway between Tacoma and Seattle. Expect to see plenty of activity on shore, along with soaring bald eagles, herons, osprey and other wild bird life.
✔️ Lake Pend Oreille (Farragut State Park Boat Launch, 13550 E Highway 54, Athol, ID 83801)
Prepare for magnificence when you put in at the southern end of beautiful Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho's largest lake at 65 miles long. Situated in the northern panhandle of the state, this is the fifth deepest lake in the country measuring 1,150 feet deep in some areas with 111 miles of uncrowded shoreline. Fed by the Clark Fork River, Lake Pend Oreille is popular with paddlers for its wide open feel, lush forested shores and super clean water.
Given this lake’s sheer immensity, you can easily plan for a multi-day trip if you want to cover it all. But spending even just a few hours here will be a trip you’ll remember forever.
For example, start at the Farragut State Park Boat Launch, with a goal of paddling to Garfield Bay. See the jaw-dropping mountains that plunge straight down into deep water. Be alert, too, for the sight of eagles circling high overhead, hawks and many other birds. With no houses or beaches anywhere in sight, you’ll feel like you fell off the edge of the earth in this remote, wild expanse of paddling heaven!
Again, the trips listed above represent only a small sample of the endless options the Pacific Northwest offers the intrepid traveler.
Will you and your family be the next explorers to discover why this region of the U.S. is a top destination for paddlers near and far?
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