Eight Great Northwest Winter Kayak Tours

The days are short, and it’s cold. Most peo­ple are ski­ing. But win­ter is often the best time for sea kayak­ing the inland water­ways of the Pacif­ic North­west. There are no crowds or jet-skis, just you and tons of wildlife and a ther­mos of hot cocoa. Here are eight great win­ter day trips in the North­west suit­able for short days when you’re bun­dled up.

Hope Island, near Olympia, WA
Hope Island is sit­u­at­ed at the South Sound’s inter­sec­tion of Ham­mer­s­ley, Tot­ten, Pick­er­ing, and Squax­in pas­sages. This inter­sec­tion makes for near­ly infi­nite route options. Hope Island itself is also inter­est­ing to explore on land: an old orchard, camp­grounds, and no road access. Ham­mer­s­ley Inlet, with strong cur­rents, often sports active fish and eagle pop­u­la­tions. If you don’t want to “aban­don Hope” at the end of the day, you can camp at the island’s Wash­ing­ton Water Trails site.
Access: Boston Har­bor, near Olympia, or the “Shel­ton Shut­tle”: launch at Shel­ton at high tide, and ride the ebb cur­rent to Boston Harbor.
Skill lev­el: Begin­ner to inter­me­di­ate, depend­ing on weath­er and currents

Smith & Bybee Lakes, Port­land, OR
Smith and Bybee Lakes are Portland’s secret wildlife refuge, hid­den in an indus­tri­al dis­trict and dif­fi­cult to access except with a canoe or kayak. The Lakes are actu­al­ly one of the nation’s largest urban wet­lands, and they’re at their best in win­ter. The high water opens many intri­cate jun­gle-maze pas­sages, and the leaf­less trees make spot­ting the vast num­bers of herons, egrets, hawks, and eagles easy. Keep an eye out for otter and beaver as well.
Access: Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area on North Marine Drive
Skill lev­el: Beginner

Willamette Nar­rows, West Linn, ORNarrows
Willamette Nar­rows is a strange spot on the Willamette Riv­er south of Port­land. Dur­ing the Ice Age Floods, mas­sive walls of water fun­neled through this nar­row spot, scrap­ing the area down to rocky bare islands with oak trees, bisect­ed by nar­row maze-like chan­nels. When the current’s low in sum­mer, the Nar­rows are a placid pad­dle. But when the water gets high, the nar­rows become a play spot as the cur­rent zips and eddies amongst the rocks. Keep an eye on the gauge.
Access: Put in at Hebb Park and take out at Willamette Park in West Linn
Skill lev­el: Begin­ner at low water, advanced at high water.

The Three Graces, Garibal­di, OR
The Three Graces, known to locals as the Har­le­quin Duck Rocks, are a series of rocks just inside the mouth of Tillam­ook Bay. As the nick­name implies, they’re a hot spot for birds, and also a great place to pad­dle amongst the rocks with­out hav­ing to ven­ture into the open ocean. It’s also a good launch­ing spot for explor­ing the rest of the Bay—just be sure you’re not hang­ing out at the bay’s mouth dur­ing an ebb cur­rent. It’s also a good spot for kayak fish­ing and crabbing.
Access: Garibal­di, OR.
Skill lev­el: Inter­me­di­ate, unless there’s a big storm at sea or a full moon.

Jim Crow Point, Skamokawa, WA
Skamokawa is where the low­er Colum­bia Riv­er starts to feel like an inland sea—which, near it’s mouth, is basi­cal­ly what it is. From Vista Park, pad­dle west along the cliffs and coves around Three Tree Point, explore Jim Crow Creek and pad­dle around Jim Crow Point to a big sandy beach with a small cave. If you’re feel­ing adven­tur­ous and con­di­tions are good, cross to Jim Crow Sands.
Access: Launch at Vista Park in Skamokawa. Either return to the take­out or leave a car at Pil­lar Rock downstream.
Skill lev­el: Intermediate

Lum­mi Island, WA
South­ern Lum­mi Island is unin­hab­it­ed, steep, and pro­vides great views east to the Cas­cades and west to the San Juans. Pad­dle across from the main­land and climb atop the rocks near the Wash­ing­ton Water Trail Camp­site for views to the west. If con­di­tions are good and you have enough day­light, extend the jour­ney to the Lum­mi Rocks in mid-chan­nel to the west. Keep an eye out for seals, por­pois­es, and the occa­sion­al Orca.
Access: Larabee State Park
Skill lev­el: Inter­me­di­ate

pho­to: Ricar­do Mar­tins, CC by 2.0

Decep­tion Pass, Fidal­go Island, WA
Decep­tion Pass and the islands near it offer pad­dling for any skill lev­el. Advanced pad­dlers will like­ly want to play in the cur­rents, eddy­lines, and whirlpools where cur­rent fun­nels through Canoe Pass and Decep­tion Pass at up to 8 knots. Less adren­a­line-ori­ent­ed pad­dlers can tour along the rocky cliff faces between canoe pass and north of Bow­man Bay, explore Decep­tion Island in the Strait of Juan De Fuca, or vis­it Straw­ber­ry, Skag­it, and Hope islands (a dif­fer­ent Hope Island than the one near Olympia). After your pad­dle, walk out to the top of the bridge and pho­to­graph the spec­tac­u­lar ear­ly win­ter sun­sets over the Strait and the Olympic Peninsula.
Access: Bow­man Bay, or trips on the west side of the pass, or play on the ebb cur­rent, or Cor­net Bay for trips to Straw­ber­ry, Hope, and Skag­it Islands, or the flood current.
Skill lev­el: Begin­ner (Hope & Skag­it Islands from Cor­net Bay), Inter­me­di­ate (Decep­tion Island and cliffs to the north, in most con­di­tions, Advanced (play in the pass)

Miller Island near Big­gs, OR
Miller Island is in the dry, desert east­ern sec­tion of the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge, and a good place to get a sun­ny break from the gray win­ter rain. The island is an eight-mile loop that begs for explo­ration on foot: it hosts pic­tographs, sand dunes, and easy grassy scram­bles atop basalt cliffs for spec­tac­u­lar views. Be aware of the wind forecast—on calm days, it’s an easy pad­dle. When the wind ris­es, it can become chal­leng­ing to inter­me­di­ate pad­dlers and a play­ground for advanced kayakers.
Access: Put in at Deschutes Riv­er State Park, OR. On a west wind, leave a car at Mary­hill State Park, WA.
Skill lev­el: Begin­ner to Advanced, depend­ing on the wind.