Paddling Central Oregon | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Paddling Central Oregon

Summertime means floating on the river or a mountain lake

Summertime in Central Oregon means dipping your paddle in the Deschutes River or one of the High Cascade lakes. Between the river, subalpine lakes and a couple of large reservoirs, there are options for everyone, from tubing to wakeboarding. If you're inclined to avoid the motorized crowd, here are a few options for a flatwater adventure; Stand up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes are recommended for these sections.

The Upper Deschutes River empties into Wickiup Reservoir before it begins its long journey, 252 miles, down to the confluence with the Columbia River. One of the less-frequented flatwater stretches of the river is an 8.5-mile-stretch from Tenino boat launch to the Wyeth campground. This wild and scenic stretch starts just below Wickiup Dam and ends just above the tumultuous Pringle Falls. Watch for bald eagles soaring above or river otters swimming across the river as you float past summer cabins and pine woodlands. Warning signs alert boaters to pull out at the Wyeth Campground just above Pringle Falls. An easy shuttle follows Forest Road 44 from the campground to the boat launch.

click to enlarge Paddling Central Oregon
Damian Fagan
A paddler enjoys the scenic view on a mountain lake.

The Tetherow logjam along the Deschutes creates a mandatory portage around a sinuous stretch of the river that is packed with logs and debris. However, just below the logjam there is Tetherow Boat Launch, a put-in for paddling down to La Pine State Park. This 4.2-mile-stretch is short but very scenic, as the river passes by old-growth ponderosa pines and the state park's campground before the exit on river left just below the park's bridge. For those wishing to make a longer float, continue past the bridge to the Big River boat launch, 9.4 miles farther downstream. You'll have to do some navigating through sections where the river is braided; this is where the downloadable Deschutes Paddle Trail maps, available through the Avenza app or the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance's website, make navigating easier. You'll also need the map to locate the unmarked Tetherow launch off County Road 4330 and Forest Road 600.

Paddling the shoreline of Elk Lake offers great views of Mt. Bachelor, South Sister and Elk Mountain, the small peak just west of the lake. Named after the long-legged creatures that inhabit the area, Elk Lake has a couple of put-in locations for paddlers. Though the resort's ramp or the nearby put-in at the Elk Lake Campground are options (often very busy), consider using either the day-use area's boat ramp or the Fawn Lake Campground launch on the east side of the lake. These two put-ins have shallow water, so it's easy to get up on an SUP or climb into a canoe.

Boating traffic on the 405-acre Elk Lake is mostly paddlers, sailors or flat-bottomed party barges that maintain a minimal wake speed, thus not creating waves for paddlers to deal with. Bald eagles and osprey wheel overhead as they scan for fish, and you might encounter some river otters also in pursuit of a fish dinner or crunching down on a crayfish.

click to enlarge Paddling Central Oregon
Damian Fagan
A boater enjoys the day on Elk Lake.

Starting July 6 with Pacific Roots, boaters can enjoy the 11th annual Playing at Elk Lake Summer Music Series from the serenity of the lake. The music starts at 5pm and if you launched from somewhere other than the resort, you won't have to fight the parking madness.

Hosmer Lake is beautiful but can be very busy unless you're there early in the morning or later in the afternoon. The scenic nature and quality fishing make this a popular choice for paddlers.

Like Hosmer, Sparks Lake is very popular due to the incredible beauty of the surrounding peaks and the small, intimate channels that invite boaters to explore some nooks and crannies. Numerous camp spots along the lake's edge provide boaters a spot to spend the night and maybe take a night paddle under the stars or during a full moon.

No matter which river run or lake you float, remember to recreate wisely, and have the proper gear, including personal floatation devices, food and water, clothing, navigation devices and a Waterway Access and Aquatic Invasive Species permit for SUPs or boats more than 10 feet long, available through the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Happy floating!

Bend Paddle Trail Alliance

Damian Fagan

Damian Fagan is a freelance writer, outdoor enthusiast and avid birder. He is the author of several wildflower field guides including "Wildflowers of Oregon" and "Wildflowers of North America." Fagan lives in Bend with his wife, Raven, and a pollinator-friendly garden.
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