Oregon Adventure: Paddling the Rocky Point Canoe Trail

Oregon adventure following the Rocky Point canoe trail

written and photographed by Juliet Grable

The sky seems twice as big in Rocky Point, especially from a kayak. Mirrored clouds framed by marsh grasses expand from the horizon in both directions, obliterating such petty human concerns as unanswered emails.

A trip on the Rocky Point Canoe Trail is an adventure of the gentle variety, one that offers up its treasures to those willing to slow to a paddler’s pace.
The canoe trail is a signed route through 9½ miles of creeks and sloughs buffering the west side of Upper Klamath Lake northwest of Klamath Falls. You can access the trail from either the Rocky Point or Malone Springs boat launch.

If you’re into birds, bring binoculars. Before you even dip an oar into the water, you’re likely to hear the hard chatter of a kingfisher or the trill of a red-winged blackbird calling from the tules. Even novices will have no trouble spotting egrets and herons, grebes, white pelicans, osprey and other raptors. The bald eagles are downright nonchalant, just as likely to watch you from a close perch as fly away.

Launching from Rocky Point, you can head north on Recreation Creek, past Rocky Point Resort, or turn south and follow the eastern shore of Pelican Bay until you find the entrance to Crystal Creek.

If you take the resort route, you’ll likely encounter more traffic in the first quarter-mile than you will the rest of the day: kids swimming, people fishing off the docks or from small watercraft, and paddlers of all varieties. You’ll pass the resort restaurant perched above the slough and the lush lawns and private docks of the cottages lining the western shore. But soon enough, the channel narrows and the crowd thins. Then it’s just you, your boat and the expansive sky, doubled in reflection—a lovely, simplified landscape that constantly changes as clouds shift and wind ruffles the water.

Experience nature on the Rocky Point Canoe Trail


The trail is part of the Upper Klamath Lake Wildlife Refuge, which comprises nearly 5,000 acres of freshwater marsh and open water. Fed by cold springs that channel through pockets of pumice, it’s a haven for avian residents and the thousands of birds passing through along the Pacific Flyway.

Dragonflies dip. A song sparrow repeats its distinctive trilling song. A kaleidoscope of blues, greens and golds swirls in the wake of the boat ahead. In the Wocus Cut, the channel narrows and the boat glides through mats of wocus, a pond lily with heart-shaped leaves and large, waxy yellow blooms.

There’s a world under the water, too. Young fish thrive in the tangle of wocus stems. Beavers shuttle from their lodges, impressive mounds that push up above the marsh grasses. A beaver dam at the intersection of Recreation Creek and Crystal Creek may require a portage when the water is low.

Paddling south from Malone Springs, a mosaic of vegetation flanks the western shore. The creek is lined with rushes and cattails, and behind them, willows and cottonwoods. In the distance, conifers blanket the slopes of snow-capped mountains. Lost in this landscape, imbued with the pungent fragrances and soft sounds of the marsh, it’s easy to forget Westside Road parallels the trail for much of the way.

A couple of loops are possible, a shorter one via Wocus Cut, or a longer one up Recreation Creek and back down Crystal Creek. Or you can paddle from Pelican Bay to Malone Springs and back—a total of 8 miles. Whichever route you take, allow plenty of time and keep an eye out for the sometimes inconspicuous signage (some of the signs are bent or turned backward). If you finish your journey at Pelican Bay, be warned that the wind picks up in the afternoon and can create decent chop on the open water.

When you’re through paddling, travel a few decades backward and enjoy the hospitality at the Rocky Point Resort—it’s only open April to November, but the full-service resort offers RV hookups, tent camping, and cabins, a store for provisions and a restaurant. You can also rent one- and two-person kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats for half or full days.

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