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Oregon South Coast Canoe, Kayak and Stand-up Paddle Guide By Ron Wardman and Tom Baake
|It’s been a lot of fun over the years exploring the inland waters of this region. From the lakes and streams of the Oregon Dunes and the Coast Range, to the estuaries and rivers that meet the Pacific Ocean, this is a paddler’s wonderland, with opportunities in every season.|
Yet you’ll still see many vehicles with canoes, kayaks or
their roof racks seemingly headed somewhere else. We figured that
perhaps people weren’t aware of the many places to paddle
here, and that a guidebook might be helpful.
This book offers both saltwater and freshwater tours selected for their relatively easy paddling. For whitewater paddling information, check some of the sources listed at the back of the book. As for open-ocean kayaking, it’s highly recommended that you go with a guide or outfitter because the Oregon coast is dangerous.
While the beauty and diversity of the region figures into just about every paddling trip, this isn’t a comprehensive natural or historical guide of the area. Most paddlers are observant and appreciate their surroundings without a great deal of outside help. Those wishing to delve deeper into such subjects as birding and fishing will find some suggestions at the back of the book.
Paddling is potentially a dangerous sport. Lives can be lost when paddlers don’t follow safe paddling procedures. Know and respect your skill level. Never try to overdo it.
Paddlers should be aware of weather, tides, and currents. All the waters of this region can be cold, with temperatures ranging between 45 and 60 degrees. If you are immersed, hypothermia and death can quickly follow.
While these trips are relatively easy, you must be realistic regarding your skill level. Try to paddle with a partner. Consider carrying a two-way radio or cell phone.
Always carry proper emergency equipment and wear approved flotation devices. Flotation devices are mandatory in Oregon for children 12 years old and younger at all times in watercraft.
Always use caution when entering any water in an open boat or canoe. Don’t enter surf, bays or other bodies of water during storms or heavy chop.
Some of these trips are in working waterways, so watch out for ships, tugboats, barges and log rafts. They all create a significant water disturbance that can easily swamp open watercraft such as canoes.
Paddle clear of boats involved in any sort of fishing activity or shellfish harvesting. Don’t block boat ramps, access roads, launch points or shorelines used by anglers.
About the weather
Generally speaking, the wind blows from the north in summer, and from the south in winter. Summer afternoons are almost always windy, so plan exposed trips for the morning, if possible. The sun’s dazzling reflection on the water is another factor that can be minimized by paddling early on summer days.
Winter and spring storms are frequent but short-lived. It’s not unusual to experience several days of calm, warm weather between storms; the southern Oregon coast is often the warmest place in the state in wintertime. Some of the best paddling can be enjoyed during these balmy interludes.
Storms also add a great deal of water to the area, influencing currents and water levels. You may be tempted into flooded areas in winter and spring, and very often this is a fun experience, but it’s always a good idea to use caution until you’ve learned the lay of the land (and water) or you may end up “beached” – in mud.
About tides and currents
Many of the paddles in this book take place within coastal estuaries, where a twice-daily tidal inundation pushes saltwater far up the inland waterways. Except in times of heavy rainfall, the tides always overwhelm the freshwater flow, so whether it’s a flood tide (coming in) or ebb tide (going out), there’s a very real push and pull. You can use this to your advantage, or be at its mercy.
Tides and currents are actually two different phenomena. Tides, as we all know, are influenced by the moon. Generally speaking, there are two high tides and two low every 25 hours, occurring about 50 minutes later each day. The terms high tide and low tide refer to the horizontal level of the water. At high tide, the water reaches its highest point, stops rising (called slack tide) and begins to drop. In the larger tidal estuaries like the Coos, Coquille, Umpqua and Siuslaw, where tidal influence reaches more than 30 miles upriver, there actually isn’t a true “slack” time when the water is completely motionless; it’s either coming in or going out – albeit nearly imperceptibly so at the height of high tide or depth of low tide. It changes within the space of a moment . . .the water comes in (or goes out) slower and slower, until suddenly it’s changed directions and slowly regains speed.
Currents refer to the vertical motion of the water. Tides create tidal currents. Freshwater outflow from streams entering a bay or estuary also create currents. Hence at slack tide there may still be currents.
Estuaries with large rivers entering, such as the Umpqua River, have a strong outflow that sometimes hinders tidal inundation, so the flood current will be less swift. The ebb flow, however, combines outflow and outgoing tide to produce swift currents. In such cases there may not be true slack water.
Generally speaking, the current runs fastest in the middle of the channel, so if you want to take advantage of the current, that’s where you should be. If you find yourself fighting a current, move to the edges of the channel.
The speed of the water increases as the shoreline narrows or objects constrict the flow. Watch for signs of increased flow by watching the movement against stationary objects or debris in the water.
Fighting against currents can be made worse by strong headwinds. Winds are generally stronger in the afternoon, so try to paddle in exposed places in the morning.
If you have your heart set on an estuary paddle and you’ve arrived at a time when the tides are not cooperating or it’s too windy, don’t push it! Instead, consider paddling on a less-exposed lake or more-protected estuary arm.
You should obtain a tidebook (available at local stores) and use the corrections for the places where you’re paddling. Local newspapers print daily tide charts.
There are many online sources and software programs for tide charts, as well as applications for handheld devices and tablets. Highly recommended is www.tide-forecast.com because it shows wind speeds. It’s hard to top NOAA’s site, https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/. For iOS users, the free Tide App is popular.
For paddles in tidal areas, approximate corrections for high tide are provided, but land observations can be helpful. High tide is later as you go upriver. As noted, the tidewater head can be as far as 30 miles up, with high tide as much as three hours later than at the ocean.
The best advice is to paddle on an incoming tide. That said, you’ll notice a couple of tours suggest using the last part of an incoming tide to take you up a tidal slough, and the outgoing for a return. On those trips, be sure you know where the channel is, since you could get caught on mudflats as the tide falls.
Ah yes, about the mudflats. In such places as Coos Bay, they consist of sticky ooze that’s very difficult to wade through. Moreover, most tidal inlets and sloughs have steep embankments that become exposed as the tide goes out. It can be tricky to get in and out of small craft. This is particularly true in Coos Bay’s South Slough and Catching Slough.
Don’t get stranded!
About waterway hazards
Coursing down freshwater streams and floating in with the twice-daily tides of coastal estuaries are partially-submerged logs, tree limbs, weatherbeaten lumber and other assorted junk, so always be on the lookout.
Pilings along sloughs and lakeshores are a remnant of the logging era. They’re often rotted near the waterline, or may be partially submerged during high tide or high water. Keep alert for them, as they can capsize, pierce or otherwise damage watercraft. In general, they were placed in a straight line, equally spaced. When in doubt about missing or submerged pilings, paddle close to one you can see, and try to judge the distance to the next one.
You might see stately blue herons and snowy white egrets browsing the mudflats for a meal, or maybe scare up some noisy crows or fierce-looking turkey vultures. Ducks and geese are everywhere these days. You might spot playful river otters, or watch osprey build their distinctive nests built atop pilings and old snags. Multitudes of tiny shorebirds and colorful songbirds abound.
Needless to say, keep a respectful distance from all of them. The western snowy plover, a threatened shorebird, nests in open sand around ocean estuaries. They’re easily disturbed by humans, so several places are closed to public access from March 15 to September 15. Closed areas are well marked by signs, ropes, flagging and fences. At this point, no waterways are restricted, just the riverbanks and beaches. I’ve noted the areas that currently have seasonal closures, but new locations may be added and year-round closures are being considered.
A Bit About Vessels and Gear
Few sports have as much variety and choices in vessels and gear as paddling. Do you just want to float around on a lake in an inflatable? Does tidewater touring or ocean kayaking sound like fun? Or are you going to take on whitewater in a nimble little keelless boat? How about fishing from a pedal-equipped kayak? Then there’s still the original question: do you prefer a sit-inside kayak, or sit-on-top? In this climate, an SOT usually calls for a wetsuit because of cold water and frequent inclement weather. A sit-inside with a spray skirt – or water-resistant clothing – does well for most people.
The booming popularity of stand-ups brings more choices in style, weight and size, and the sport continues to develop, with such accoutrements as ice chests that double as seats, special rigging for fishing, even small motors. Here again, our relatively cool climate and hypothermia-inducing water makes a wetsuit pretty much mandatory using an SUP.
About launch sites, distances and times
Launch site conditions are provided for each trip, as well as mileages and approximate time needed. You can follow recommended trips or tailor your own trek, whether doing an out-and-back trip or using a vehicle (or bicycle) shuttle.
Paddling times are based on fairly easy paddling of about 3 miles per hour, with time for observing points of interest. River and tidal currents can be used to increase speeds.
Multiple trips using GPS devices have been used to determine tour distances, seemingly always with some slight variation. In many cases waterway mileages vary from shoreline mileages, or, in the case of lake paddles, shoreline perimeters.
In the back of the book are US 101 mileages along the Oregon coast and highways over to Interstate 5 and other locales.
A note about the chapter maps: Because of their limited scope, they include mostly information pertinent to paddling. For example, not all surface roads and connections are shown, nor are all landscape features. They are, however, all generally close to scale and reasonably accurate. Some waterways have been widened for clarity.
So be safe and have fun . . . Let’s paddle!
Coast Canoe, Kayak and Stand-up
By Ron Wardman and Tom Baake
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