The Best Places to Kayak in the Pacific Northwest

Imagine being in an area so scenic and remote, it feels like any form of civilization is merely a distant memory.

Opulent greenery, stupendous rock faces, sensational mountain ranges, bright blue, crystalline water and of course, picturesque scenery are just a few things one finds when kayaking in the Pacific Northwest. 

Sharon Saltoon is a kayak instructor and reservations and communications manager at Wet Planet Rafting & Kayaking, the center for rafting and kayaking in the Columbia River Gorge.

She has curated her top three kayaking spots in the Pacific Northwest including two different spots on the White Salmon River and Klickitat River in Washington State. 

Shannon Valdez is a multi-business owner, wife, mother of five kids. She is the owner of Salem Kayak Rentals LLC and she thrives to teach her kids to follow their dreams. All is possible when there is a passion, she says. 

Valdez also assembled a list of some of her top picks for kayaking in the Pacific Northwest. These include Hosmer Lake, Waldo Lake, Beaver Creek and Estacada Lake, all in Oregon.

Steelhead Falls, Washington

Pictured is a kayaker paddling at Steelhead Falls on the lower portion of White Salmon River. Photo by Wet Planet Whitewater. 

“White Salmon, Washington, is a true whitewater kayaking mecca; with access to year-round paddling. Many people choose to live in this area specifically for kayaking,” Saltoon said. 

Saltoon said she is one of those people too. Whitewater kayaking in the White Salmon River area is bountiful and has many options for kayakers at all levels, she said. Ranging in experience from a Class II to a Class V kayaker, the White Salmon River has opportunities for growth.

Additionally, the gorge, she said, has a wonderful community of people ready to go on kayaking excursions at any time, Saltoon said. Finding paddling partners is definitely not an issue here. 

However, one cannot forget to mention maybe the most important factor. The river is breathtaking.

“It’s incredibly gorgeous, with crystal clear blue water flowing down from Mt. Adams, stunning basalt canyons, and lush Pacific Northwest foliage,” Saltoon said.

Husum Falls, Washington

Pictured is an individual whitewater kayaking at Husum Falls along the upper portion of the White Salmon River in Washington. Photo by Wet Planet Whitewater.

Although White Salmon River might not be the best for first time kayakers, this area does pose some challenges and going with guides is recommended for beginners. Of course, Saltoon suggests if you are in the area and fit these conditions to contact Wet Planet Whitewater for a session on the river. 

Hosmer Lake, Oregon

Photo of Hosmer Lake, Oregon, in the central Cascade Mountain Range. Photo by the owner of Salem Kayaking LLC, Shannon Valdez.

Off of Cascade Lake Highway, Hosmer Lake is a splendid paddling trail through tall grass, Valdez said. This calm and relaxing lake also connects to a creek and paddling up it leads to a charming waterfall. She gave a friendly forewarning that this spot is closed during the snow season, due to Cascade Highway closing during this time and additionally, adventurers will need a parking pass. However, it is a wonderful place to go “from when the snow melts, till it snows again,” she said.

Waldo Lake, Oregon

Pictured is Waldo Lake, also in the Cascade Mountains. Photo by the owner of Salem Kayaking LLC, Shannon Valdez. 

Valdez said this natural alpine lake off of Highway 58 is “one of the top 10 clearest Lakes in the world and warm enough to swim in.”

For those looking for good scenic views and a bit of exploration, Waldo Lake has sapphire water, little islands to paddle to and explore, and is great for families looking to venture, she said.

Additionally, this lake also requires a parking pass, but is lovely to go to after the snow melts. 

Beaver Creek, Oregon

Pictured is Beaver Creek in Lincoln County, Oregon. Photo by the owner of Salem Kayaking LLC, Shannon Valdez.

One perk to Beaver Creek, compared to others on this list, is beach access. Valdez said a paddle trail on the left of the boat launch at Beaver Creek goes directly to Ona Beach. She loves the beautiful ocean view. 

She said she likes to take her children paddling in this spot and this is a perfect area for beginner kayakers. As well, she said there is no parking fee, the wind is kept to a minimum because the mountains block the majority of it and she suggests paddling at this location in the morning for the best experience. 

Klickitat River, Washington

Pictured are student kayakers learning to navigate the Klickitat River in a beginner course. Photo by Wet Planet Whitewater.

Klickitat River, according to WhitewaterGuidebook.com, has stunning scenic views, with columnar basalt walls and plenty of Ponderosa Pine trees. As well, they state this river starts in the Goat Rocks Wilderness and passes through the Yakima Reservation before hitting the most common kayaking areas of the river. 

“For those looking to learn to whitewater kayak, taking a class is highly recommended,” Saltoon said. 

Klickitat River is a great place for beginners to start their whitewater kayaking adventure. She also mentioned that Wet Planet Whitewater has novice courses along this river and gaining a solid foundation of the fundamentals is essential. She said in terms of experience, Klickitat River is perfect for Class I to Class II kayakers.

Estacada Lake, Oregon

Pictured is Estacada Lake in Milo McIver State Park and one of the waterfalls in this area. Photo by the owner of Salem Kayaking LLC, Shannon Valdez.

hat makes this spot so marvelous is the waterfalls. 

She said one “Can easily feel like you are in a different state once you reach the Waterfalls and paddle up to the double waterfall.” She also said there is another waterfall just past these. 

She recommends this spot for stronger paddlers having some experience kayaking. However, it is still a wonderful place for novice kayakers to go to as well, she said.

Finding good paddling in the Pacific Northwest is not the problem; narrowing the many excellent options is the hard part. These are just a few of the many places to explore. 

However, keep in mind the need to keep these places looking as pristine and remote as possible. Enjoying these magnificent places is great, but leaving as minimal of a mark on the environment is of utmost importance. Check out the Leave No Trace website to learn more about how you can do your part to preserve the wilderness while traversing it.

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