When you’re in Central Oregon, the question isn’t whether to hop in your kayak or canoe—it’s where to get on the water. No matter the type of paddling experience you’re after, you’ll find plenty of options around the region.
If alpine lakes and epic mountain views are your thing, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway offers plenty of both near Bend. Further south, not far from La Pine, paddlers can choose among two scenic lakes in the heart of a still-active volcano. And near Madras, The Cove Palisades State Park sits where three of the region’s most iconic rivers meet to form a massive man-made reservoir in the heart of Central Oregon’s high desert.
So as you make plans for this summer’s outings, we break down some of the best places to launch your kayak or canoe in Central Oregon—along with a few helpful tips to have fun and stay safe.
Kayaking and Canoeing Near Bend and Sunriver
The Deschutes River courses through the heart of Bend, and the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway offers access to more than a dozen alpine lakes in Central Oregon, all just a short drive from town. So it’s no surprise that kayaking and canoeing are popular pastimes when summer arrives. Here are a few ideas for making the most of your next paddling adventure around Bend and Sunriver.
Deschutes River: Who says you have to head out of town to enjoy some time on the water? You can get on the Deschutes River in the heart of Bend—and if you don’t have your own gear, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe offers rentals all summer long. After setting off, you can paddle into the rocky canyon at the southern edge of Bend, head through the Old Mill District, and enjoy a bit of the city’s bustling downtown core. The Deschutes River’s slow flow through town makes this a great option if you’re looking to enjoy a lazy paddle—and the close-in location is ideal if you’re pressed for time.
Sparks Lake: Some 10,000 years ago, lava flows blocked the upper Deschutes River—creating Sparks Lake, one of the most visited (and most beautiful) lakes anywhere in Oregon. Sitting along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, the shallow Sparks Lake is open to motorized and non-motorized craft—and boasts some of the best views of South Sister anywhere in Central Oregon. Friendly warning: Mosquitoes and biting flies are abundant and relentless between May and early July.
Devils Lake: The shallow Devils Lake sits where the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway turns south—and is known for its vibrant turquoise hue on sunny summer afternoons. Rentals aren’t available, but Devils Lake nevertheless remains a popular destination for beginner and casual paddlers; its remarkable clarity is mesmerizing, motorized craft aren’t allowed on the water, the shallow depth caters to newbies still learning the sport, and mountain peaks rise beyond the lake’s bustling shoreline.
Elk Lake: Just a half hour from Bend, Elk Lake Resort sits on the shores of its namesake lake at the western edge of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. In addition to campsites and cabins, the resort offers canoe and kayak rentals on a first-come, first-served basis—affording paddlers epic views of Mount Bachelor and other nearby Cascade peaks.
Kayaking and Canoeing in Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Yes, it’s entirely possible to canoe and kayak inside a still-active volcano in the heart of Newberry National Volcanic Monument, where two shimmering lakes sit inside the caldera of Newberry Volcano.
Newberry Volcano is the largest volcano, by volume, in the Cascade Range—a volcanic chain that extends all the way from southern British Columbia to northern California. Roughly 75,000 years ago, the volcano sent basalt lava flows all over Central Oregon, which emptied out its insides and caused the volcano to collapse in on itself. When the dust settled, two hollowed-out bowls began to fill with water—creating Paulina Lake and East Lake as we know them today, both ringed by rocky forests of fir and pine.
Paulina Lake is the first lake drivers come to when entering the Newberry caldera—and is home of Paulina Lake Campground, which hosts 68 campsites—making it the busiest of the lakes within Newberry Volcano. For its part, the brilliant blue-green East Lake hosts several campgrounds near its shore, making the lake another popular canoe and kayak destination within the caldera. If you don’t have your own gear, you’re in luck: Paulina Lake Lodge offers kayak and canoe rentals on Paulina Lake between mid-May and late September, while East Lake Resort sits on the shores of its namesake lake and offers kayak and canoe rentals throughout the summer. From La Pine, it’s a 30-minute drive to the Newberry caldera; keep in mind that admission is $10 for a three-day pass.
Kayaking and Canoeing Near Sisters
Sisters sits at the foot of the Cascade Range, where the sagebrush of the high desert gives way to forests of fir and ponderosa pine. And with that change comes plenty of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing. Here are a few favorite destinations.
Subtle Lake: Just 20 minutes west of Sisters, Suttle Lake sits surrounded by towering forests and offers wide-open views of nearby peaks—the quintessential Cascades experience. At its eastern shore, Suttle Lodge and Boathouse rents kayaks and canoes in one-hour, two-hour, half-day, and full-day increments to ensure you enjoy all the time you’d like on the shimmering lake. At the boathouse, you’ll also find light breakfast dishes, sandwiches, and a variety of snacks—as well as a versatile drink selection that includes soda, cocktails, wine, and beer.
Clear Lake: Some 40 minutes west of Sisters, in the heart of the Cascades, sits the appropriately named Clear Lake—noted for its vibrant turquoise hue and remarkable clarity. There, Clear Lake Resort offers rowboat and kayak rentals in hourly or full-day increments; paddlers with their own watercraft, meanwhile, can get on the water for just a $5 launch fee.
Kayaking and Canoeing at The Cove Palisades State Park Near Madras
Just 20 minutes southwest of Madras sits The Cove Palisades State Park at the confluence of the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers. More than 50 years ago, Portland General Electric built a hydroelectric dam along the Metolius, flooding the park’s canyons and creating Lake Billy Chinook. Today, the lake—along with those rivers—offers incredible kayaking and canoeing opportunities in the heart of Central Oregon’s high desert.
If you want to get on the water, sit-on-top kayak rentals are available from Cove Palisades Resort & Marina between April and October in four- or eight-hour increments. The waters can get choppy at the height of summer, when motorboats cruise around the waterways, but there’s a lot of room to escape the crowds.
And if you have your own watercraft, boat launches are available at three day-use areas within The Cove Palisades State Park; two of those launches—the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River launches—offer wheelchair-accessible kayak launches. Note that there is a $5 day-use fee for visiting The Cove Palisades State Park.
Curious about the waterways that collide in The Cove Palisades State Park? Learn more about the rivers in Central Oregon.
What to Know About Canoeing and Kayaking in Central Oregon
You’ll want to keep a few tips in mind before getting on the water and enjoying popular summer activities in Central Oregon.
Life jackets: By law, personal floatation devices (PFDs or lifejackets) are not required for adults in Oregon; that said, they are strongly encouraged whenever a paddler is on the water. (Learn more about selecting the right life jacket from the Oregon State Marine Board.) U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs, meanwhile, are required for all children 12 and younger whenever their boat is underway.
Proper permitting: If you’re paddling your own canoe or kayak—and if it’s 10 feet or longer—you’re required to carry an Oregon State Marine Board Waterway Access Permit. Fees from the permit ($7 for a seven-day pass, $17 for an annual pass, $30 for a two-year pass) help stop aquatic invasive species from entering our delicate ecosystems and fund programs and grants to expand paddling access around the state.
Appropriate clothing: Even if it’s a warm, sunny day in Central Oregon, regional lakes and rivers (many of them fed by snowmelt) typically remain chilly all year long. As such, you’ll want to wear layers so you adjust to whatever Mother Nature is throwing your way on any given day. In addition, be sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect against sunburns.
Boat docks: Due to fluctuating water levels, boat docks may not be installed on all lakes managed by the U.S. Forest Service; see a list of boat docks on U.S. Forest Service-managed bodies of water and whether they will be installed this summer.
Explore Nature’s Beauty
From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.