Boatpacking With Dogs: A How-To | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Boatpacking With Dogs: A How-To

A summer lakeside camping experience for water lovers and their favorite furry companions

Central Oregon is host to a slew of dog-friendly adventures, but there's one that stands out: boatpacking. It's like backpacking, but on a boat, and SUPs and kayaks are perfect personal transports! Local lakes including Sparks Lake and Waldo Lake make for great boatpacking trips complete with glorious evening stargazing shows.

Last summer, I loaded up my inflatable kayak with my three dogs along with a large dry bag packed with lightweight camping gear and food and paddled across Sparks Lake for the night with a friend and their dog. It's one of my favorite Central Oregon adventure memories and my dogs and I look forward to it again before summer's end. This local, micro adventure checks all the boxes!

click to enlarge Boatpacking With Dogs: A How-To
Robert Jenson
Dogs love a boat-in dispersed camping spot on the shore of Sparks Lake with mountain views.

Not just a trip for humans and their favorite furry companions, boatpacking is a family friendly venture for nature lovers alike. A family of six loaded up their kayaks at the end of July at the Sparks Lake boat ramp, camping gear strapped down to their six individual kayaks and paddled to the far southern shore of the lake to camp together, an alternative adventure from their usual Willamette River family camping vacation.

Just a short drive from Bend, both Sparks Lake and Waldo Lake allow for overnight parking. Free, dispersed camping is permitted around their shores in existing primitive, boat-in camping spots. Recreation passes are required for parking at both lakes, easily purchased as a Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Annual Pass.

Preparation is key for any camping experience, especially when transporting gear by personal boat, and even more so when dogs are aboard. Compact, lightweight camping essentials for each human and their pooch are strategically packed into a large dry bag that gets strapped to the boat, including a small, lightweight water filtration system to make safe drinking water for humans from the lake. Another perk of camping waterside with dogs is not needing to pack or filter extra drinking water for them; they'll drink straight from the lake, no filtering necessary! Soft kibble carrier bags easily store dry dog food on the go and pack well inside the large dry bag for transport. Smaller items like snacks, sunscreen and dog treats are carried in a dry bag backpack for ease of accessibility.

The scenic paddle is only the beginning of this unique camping trip. Central Oregon lakes hold a beauty unmatched. From their crystal-clear waters and tree lined shores, the views from a boat are spectacular. Once on the water, the scouting process is part of the fun, eyeing the shore for a suitable camping area where dogs can run and romp in the water. Most camp spots have soft sand and gradual beach entrances, making a good swim even more accessible. An abundance of trees make for a great shady haven and are ideal for hanging hammocks for a summer afternoon rest. Felled trees are usually already placed near an existing rock fire ring, creating bench seating as well as a place to dry wet towels and bathing suits.

click to enlarge Boatpacking With Dogs: A How-To
Robert Jenson
A boatpacker paddles across Sparks Lake with their three dogs and camping gear.

There's a picturesque charm to these primitive, lakeside camp spots with no crowds and neighbors not too close. Solitude, quiet and the sounds of nature create background music while playing cards or cooking meals. Views of nearby mountain peaks, birds flying overhead and gorgeous sunsets reflecting off the lake make for eye candy like no other. After a filling dinner for the humans and pups, and an evening swim or paddle to round out the day, the stars prove themselves worthy late-night attractions while dogs snore on the shore until bedtime. Patient, late-night onlookers can even catch shooting stars on a clear, dark evening.

A full day's adventure packed with sunbathing and swimming are primers for a cozy night's sleep. Even the most adventurous of pups are usually ready to plop down inside the tent for their evening snooze on their own dog-sized sleeping pad next to their favorite human.

The brisk morning air is a delightful treat to wake up to: fresh scents of the lake and pines wafting through camp, and eager dogs jetting from the tent for their morning sniffs and zoomies. A nourishing breakfast of oatmeal, nuts, some fruit and even tea or coffee fuel the day ahead, just like any good camping trip.

Whether they stay for one night or a few, pooches and their human companions have the time of their lives enjoying all the lakeside camping fun right in Bend's backyard.

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