Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Our first kayaking adventures in Bend

Sept. 19-26, Bend, Oregon

We finally got our kayaks in the water this past week!  A big factor in getting out has been the reduction in smoke in this area due to 75% containment of the Pole Creek Fire. The air quality improved to a moderate rating (one level below good) and you are now able to see the foothills in the distance—something you could barely see a week ago. 

Our first kayaking adventure was the most local—putting in the Deschutes River at Riverbend Park, a park with a public river access in the Southwest part of town.

Vic and I unloaded the kayaks (something we are mastering with the help of a step stool for me) and used our one set of plug-in wheels to roll each one down to the river. My friend Pam came and met us there, so she and I took the kayaks down river through the Mill District area to the Colorado Street dam which marks the end of where you can safely kayak due to the spillway there. We opted to paddle on this leg of the trip since we had the current going with us downriver, but on the way back we were thrilled to have the pedaling option to help navigate upriver and against the wind. It was perfect weather, about 80, but the water was definitely on the chilly side. I was amazed at the number of fellow adventurists on the water on a late afternoon weekday; most were paddle boarders, followed by kayakers, and canoeists. There were also quite a few people just floating downriver on large inner tubes. They would reach the end and then just walk back on the river trail a mile or so and do it all over again. I even saw a few people sculling—definitely all good ways to enjoy the great outdoors in this active lifestyle town.

After Pam and I finished our hour-long trip, we met Vic back at the park and he and I went upriver alongside the Deschutes River Trail.  We discovered we could only go about twenty minutes further before hitting more turbulent water, but it was fun to experience the trail from the water perspective. I thought we would see more wildlife, but mostly it was just a lot of geese and ducks who were joining us on the river. I also learned that what I thought were ducks, were actually Coots--members of the Rail family of marsh birds (not ducks).

We have heard that floating on the Deschutes River outside of town near Sunriver at dusk is the best place to see more wildlife such as river otters, beavers, deer, and elk. Definitely another plan for our to-do list before we leave here in a few weeks.

Two days after kayaking in town, we made it out to Sparks Lake, one of the Cascade Lakes that is well-known for fly-fishing (cutthroat and brook trout), kayaking, and canoeing. The lake is located 25 miles west of Bend about a mile off the Cascade Lakes Highway, along the popular scenic drive of Hwy 46.

Byway Standard Map B

This alpine lake is surrounded by peaks of the South Sister, Broken Top, and Mt. Bachelor mountains, creating a stunning vista for the many hikers, photographers, and water enthusiasts who frequent the area. The lake was formed from the lava flows of the eruption of Mt. Bachelor 10,000 years ago. One of the mysteries of the lake is where the water goes because there is no visible outlet. These signs helped us understand and appreciate the lake’s geological history:


The road leading to the boat landing ended up being 1.6 miles of a very rough gravel  with some pretty big holes to navigate around. The condition of this road explains why access to the lakes ends fairly soon as the entry roads are too rough to stay open year-round. Once we arrived around 11 a.m. on a weekday morning, we found about four or five other groups in the midst of putting in or taking out canoes and kayaks at the boat landing.  After a short wait of about ten minutes, it was pretty easy to back up the Jeep to the landing, unload the boats and walk them a short distance to the water.

One unfortunate discovery for us was the depth of the water. As I later read on their website: “Low water levels at Sparks Lake late in the season can cause difficulties for boaters.”  The biggest difficulty for us was the use of our Mirage Drive Turbo Fins which draw 14 inches of water.  Several places on the lake were less than a foot deep.


We also did not know to head south on the lake where the water is deepest. The first half hour or so of our adventure was in the shallower water to the west which required us to flatten the mirage drive by hooking it with a bungee cord, pull up the rudder, and use our paddles both to move through the water and sometimes to launch ourselves off the bottom—even out in the middle of the lake! Once we discovered where the deeper water was, we were able to pedal again which was good as the wind picked up and would require paddling into a headwind if the water was still shallow. Other than the shallow water challenge, we marveled at the picturesque scenery, the crystal clear water and peaceful atmosphere on the lake. Again, I had hoped to see more wildlife, but the middle of the day is not the best time to see anything other than birds (again mostly ducks and geese).  I packed a picnic lunch which we enjoyed out in the middle of the lake while just drifting around hooked up to each other’s kayak. The weather was a little cooler here than in the town—mid 70s maybe—but warm enough for just a t-shirt and shorts. (Vic’s kind of weather!)


With ten other lakes to explore in the Cascade region, we should have plenty of opportunities to get back to this area before we leave. I am also interested in fishing here, but need to get a fly rod which isn’t in the cards right now. Many of the lakes and rivers here are restricted to fly-fishing catch and release only with barbless hooks. I have to admit I am more motivated to spend the money on a license and gear when I can catch something we can eat, so for now I am happy to enjoy gliding along these tranquil and scenic waters.


  1. Great views...thanks for sharing pics! So happy you are having a blast in Bend! When do you guys leave? We leave San Diego Oct 15th (Maybe) I am thinking I might could do another month here lol! Miss ya!

  2. Oh boy does this look like a great place to be. I love your kayak fins. I've never seen anything like those. What unique kayaks. Seems like a lot of the blogs I follow are in Oregon now. From what I can see, I'd love to be there too. This must be the best time for weather as everyone is having a great time and no one is complaining about the weather.


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