One of the perks of living in Central Oregon is that an outdoor adventure is seemingly right at your doorstep. You do not have to make an entire day of it, and sometimes, you can explore the area before starting your workday.
That is exactly what my mother, Janet, and I did Wednesday morning. Around 8:45 a.m. with temperatures below freezing, we loaded into her red Old Town canoe and launched into the Deschutes River from Big River boat ramp.
Whenever canoeing with my mom, she likes to tell the story of how when I was a toddler and we would go camping, I would wake up before everyone else and rather than let me wake the rest of the family up, the two of us would go for a canoe ride on whichever lake we were staying.
Naturally, within 10 or so paddles of our trip down the Deschutes my mom begins, “this reminds me of when …”
As I suspect was the case on those rides over a quarter-century ago before the sun was up, there was not a soul on the water aside from several ducks, geese and killdeer birds that were taking a morning dip in the chilly water.
It could not go unnoticed how much lower the water of the river was with the Wickiup Reservoir draining to its bare bottom.
During one stretch, it was all too easy to hit the river’s floor with your paddle. At one particular shallow area, our canoe was nearly marooned.
The plan was for a short trip from the Big River area up to the River Meadows neighborhood near Sunriver. A rather short trip.
However, without much effort, we reached our initial destination far sooner than anticipated. With the water appearing to be still, enough so that reflections of trees and bridges were quite clear, we decided to turn the boat and paddle upstream.
At first, it felt like we were barely moving up the river. But with a little more effort and syncing up our paddles, the ride upstream went fairly smoothly. That’s one of the appealing aspects of canoeing.
“The flow of paddling is quite wonderful. There is a teamwork element to it,” said Courtney Braun, a naturalist guide at Wanderlust Tours. “The glide through the water is my favorite part of the canoe.”
“Canoeing is a traditional way to enjoy the water,” said Topher Robertson, the program director and shop manager at Tumalo Kayak and Canoe. “I would compare it to tele skiing (a combination of nordic and alpine skiing) versus the modern style of skiing. It takes a little more finesse and technique, but when it is done right, it is beautiful and paddles really well.”
The Cascade Lakes (specifically Hosmer, Sparks, Elk and Waldo lakes) and the Deschutes River are popular spots in Central Oregon to grab a paddle and explore, Roberston said.
People will even take white water trips from the Lower Deschutes up to the Columbia River with Class III, IV and V rapids, Robertson said.
Because it can carry a lot of cargo (including pets), canoes can be a fun way to expand camping trips and to explore the wilderness.
“Canoes are very classic and very versatile,” Robertson said. “Canoes you can often paddle by yourself or with another person ; they are just as capable of doing day trips or multiple day trips.”
Wanderlust Tours offers canoe and kayak tours of the Cascade Lakes, the Deschutes as well as starlight and moonlight tours. While the tours are the same, the experiences of the tours in the two different vessels are not.
“They are quite different,” Braun said. “In a kayak, you tend to be able to go a little bit farther a little faster, so you can explore more. You also tend to get more wet because it is a more active paddling experience. In a canoe, it is more technique-oriented and a lot of people like that aspect of learning how to steer the boat with proper technique. There is more to learn for steering a canoe.”