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7 Ways to Play on the Water

Fishing, swimming, houseboating & kayaking are in the summer mix

written by Jean Chen Smith

With warmer days ahead, we have some ideas on how to stay cool and have fun doing it. Whether you are a swimmer, fishing enthusiast or boater, here are the perfect water activities to keep you busy this summer!

1. Fishing at Foster Reservoir

SWEET HOME

Foster Reservoir in the Willamette Valley at daybreak.
Photo by Ryan Cummings

Located near Sweet Home, Foster Reservoir, also known as Foster Lake, is one of thirteen reservoirs in the Willamette Valley and was built by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers in the ’60s. The reservoir stretches 3 miles in length and offers a variety of activities for residents and tourists alike, but it is most popular for fishing. The reservoir is reportedly stocked with 40,000 trout annually. The lake also contains other fish such as bass, yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, Chinook salmon and kokanee. Situated close to I-5 and a great site for camping and picnicking, expect to spot wildlife such as the northern spotted owl and western pond turtle. In the cold winter months, the reservoir serves to control flooding for the area.

The reservoir is also a good old-fashioned fishing hole.
Photo by Linn County Parks & Recreation

COOL TIPS: The lake is open year-round and available for winter fishing. Bank access is easy and not crowded even during summer. Popular areas are near the dam and along the south shore. If more solitude is what you’re seeking, take a quick drive up Quartzville Road to Green Peter Reservoir, which offers an additional 10 miles of refreshing splendor.

Nearby Green Peter Reservoir is another great spot for solitude.
Photo by Melody Reese

2. Swimming Holes in McKercher County Park

BROWNSVILLE

McKercher County Park is a popular spot for swimming.
Photo by Linn County Parks & Recreation

McKercher County Park sits 6 miles from the town of Brownsville, conveniently off Highway 228. Visitors will find a series of plunge pools in the Calapooia River, shaded by picturesque Douglas fir trees, providing relief from the summer heat. The swimming holes vary in depth and size, some are shallow and safe for most children, while many are deep and require adequate swimming experience. The park has a small waterfall in addition to a sandy beach along the main swimming area, which is located downstream. Easy trails for hiking and meandering are abundant in the park as well as many areas for picnicking.

Thirty miles north of Eugene, McKercher County Park is a delightful retreat.
Photo by OregonDiscovery.com

COOL TIPS: Very popular in the warmer months, get there early. Other activities include hiking, rock jumping and fishing. Dogs must be on a leash and no camping is allowed in the park.

3. Kayaking and Paddleboarding at South Slough Reserve

CHARLESTON

The pristine South Slough Reserve National Estuarine area is the setting for a gorgeous day in kayaks.
Photo by South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Kayakers and paddle-boarders will appreciate the 7,000 acres of pristine nature and wildlife at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve situated along the Coos Estuary on Oregon’s southern coastline. The estuary was established in 1974 as the first of a network of estuary habitats protected and managed for long-term research, education, and coastal stewardship known as the National Estuarine Research Reserve System or NERRS for short. Visitors will find a system of open water channels, tidal and freshwater wetlands as well as forested uplands. The reserve supports research and holds education and stewardship programs through tours, classes, and events. The variety of wildlife is plentiful in this area. Water enthusiasts can look up to spy bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons along with egrets and belted kingfishers, or look down to see seals, jumping shiner perch and jellyfish floating through the channel. If you look closely enough, crabs can be seen crawling along the estuary bottom. Flora abounds due to the diversity of the reserve. Spot these during your visit: evergreen huckleberry, Pacific sword fern, Port Orford cedar, salmonberry, Roosevelt elk, salal, Sitka spruce, Baltic rush, fleshy jaumea, Pacific silverweed, salt grass, seaside arrowgrass and tufted hairgrass. If you discover skunk cabbage, you might want to head in the other direction as it emits an odor like its namesake.

Water enthusiasts can look up to spy bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons along with egrets and belted kingfishers, or look down to see seals, jumping shiner perch and jellyfish floating through the channel. If you look closely enough, crabs can be seen crawling along the estuary bottom.

COOL TIPS: Visitors can opt to bring their own kayaks or canoes or join a guided tour offered by the Reserve, during which they can be rented. Guided tours are offered several times a year. There are three water trails (Hinch and Back Trail, Sengstacken Arm Trail and Charleston to Hinch Trail) visitors can take. Always check the weather and tide conditions before heading out.

4. Rent a Houseboat or Pontoon at Lake Billy Chinook

CULVER

The handsome Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon.
Photo by TravelOregon.com

Cove Palisades Resort and Marina in Jefferson County is situated on Lake Billy Chinook, a reservoir at the merging of the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius Rivers. The lake’s name pays homage to Billy Chinook, a chief of the Wasco Tribe, who joined the John C. Fremont expedition in 1843. There are two types of houseboats available for rent, the Palisades and the Cove, both with comfortable amenities such as an entertainment center, air conditioning, hot tub and barbecue. Rent a pontoon boat and set out among the Cascade Mountains, where you might spot a bald eagle or two as you take in the beauty of the steep canyon. The lake offers approximately 72 miles of shoreline where wildlife is abundant. The resort offers other recreation watercraft such as kayaks, paddle boats and stand-up paddle boards. There is a casual café that sells snacks and souvenirs.

COOL TIPS: The lake is a three-hour drive from Portland and an easy forty-five minutes north of Bend. Pets are allowed on some pontoon rentals for a modest fee.

5. Windsurfing and Kiteboarding in the Columbia River Gorge

HOOD RIVER

The mighty Columbia River and Hood River are the playground for wind-powered water sports.
Photo by Visit Hood River

Hood River is an easy one-hour drive from Portland and a popular destination for windsurfers and kiteboarders. On a typical windy day at the Hood River Marina, you will see an array of colorful sails and bright kites energetically cutting through the air. This is a prime spot for athletes, families and kids, so pack a picnic for the day or grab a bite to eat at the many restaurant offerings along the waterfront. Ferment Brewing Company makes a deliciously satisfying cheeseburger. Or head to one of the food trucks such as Solstice Pizza or Paco’s Tacos for your carb and Mexican food fix.

Hood River is an internationally sought destination for windsurfers.
Photo by Visit Hood River

COOL TIPS: Steady winds blow 10 to 25 mph and sometimes climb to 35 mph through the Columbia River Gorge, so if your hat has a chinstrap, use it!

6. Floating the Deschutes River

BEND

The new summer cool is floating down the Deschutes River and through Bend’s Old Mill District.
Photo by Katie Falkenberg/TravelOregon.com

This is a popular activity for kids and adults in summer. The Bend Whitewater Park is on the Deschutes River close to the Old Mill District, where there is a plethora of shopping and dining options. Choose between a two-hour float starting at Riverbend Park and ending at Drake Park or a one-hour float from either Riverbend Park to McKay Park or McKay Park to Drake Park. Rent your tubes from Sun Country Tours, which offers safe tubes with dual air chambers as well as comfortable seating with fabric covers. On the other side of the Deschutes, Farewell Bend has a beach launch as does McKay Park, just after the Bend Whitewater Park, where adventurists will be met with respectable waves. Opened in 2015, the park is an idyllic way to spend a hot summer day. Children younger than 12 must always wear a personal flotation device while moving on the water. Life Jacket rentals are free. For more safety tips and a detailed outline, head to the Bend Parks and Recreation website.

Bring or rent inflatables on the Deschutes River in Bend.
Photo by Bend Park & Recreation District

COOL TIPS: Parking is available at Riverbend Park, Farewell Bend Park, Miller’s Landing Park and Park & Float (which is located across from The Pavilion). Consider using the Ride the River shuttle service which leaves and returns to Park & Float, costs $5 roundtrip, runs mid-June through Labor Day, and saves you the effort of trekking with your water device of choice from the takeout point back to your car.

7. Whitewater Rafting on the Rogue River

MERLIN

Adrenaline kicks in on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon.
Photo by Chad Chase

For a longer getaway, spend three to four days rafting on the Rogue River with Row Adventures, taking in the wildlife by day and winding down at night at selected lodges where dinner and comfortable beds are provided. The spectacular Rogue River flows through canyons with intermediate drops in addition to serene pools where swimming is possible. Opportunities abound to see river otters, eagles and possibly even black bears! Beginning and ending in Merlin, Oregon, the guided trip takes individuals, families, and couples through scenic spots otherwise inaccessible to the novice. The season for this trip runs from May through September, so make sure to book early. Children who are 7 and older can participate and the intensity level is moderate. Tom Scarborough, ROW Adventures Rogue River operations manager, said that besides just being on the river, families will find themselves swimming, rock jumping and connecting with each other, which is priceless.

The spectacular Rogue River flows through canyons with intermediate drops in addition to serene pools where swimming is possible.

COOL TIPS: Merlin, Oregon, is approximately 20 miles northwest of the city of Grants Pass. The nearest airport is the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR). Weather can vary widely depending on whether you travel at the beginning or the end of the season. Early and late season trips can also have temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees. Make sure to pack layers and bring rain gear. Download a complete list from the website.

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