Washington’s Top 10 Paddling Routes

From ocean kayaking to freshwater rivers and flatwater lakes, Washington State is a paddler’s dream, offering opportunities for everyone in their choice of non-powered watercraft. Kayakers can travel along the western shores of the state and explore the many options in the San Juan Islands while canoeists can travel the Columbia, Similkameen and Okanogan Rivers, to name just a few, while thousands of lakes, many with easy access, offer even more paddling options. Here are a few of the BRMB teams favourite paddling destinations.

Kayaking on Crescent Lake, Olympic Park

Baker Lake

Easily reached in under two hours from Seattle or Bellingham, the 9 mile (15 kilometre) long, skinny, turquoise lake offers some scenic canoeing and kayaking within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. While you could paddle the lake in a day, there is both formal and dispersed camping available to extend your stay. You can expect this lake to be busy, but the phenomenal scenery is well worth it.  

Washington State Backroad GPS Maps

Cascadia Marine Trail

The Cascadia Marine Trail travels over 140 miles (225 kilometres) from the Canadian border to Puget Sound near Olympia. This salt-water trail offers 66 campsites and over 160 day-use sites spread throughout the entire system, letting kayakers explore the Hood Canal and the San Juan Islands.

Kayaking the Cascadia Marine Trail

Greater Columbia Water Trail

Encompassing over 500+ miles (800+ kilometre) of water trails from the Tri-Cities in south central Washington all the way north to the Canadian border, the Greater Columbia Water Trail runs 400 miles (645 kilometres) on the Columbia River, a further 18 miles (29 kilometres) on the Similkameen River and another 82 miles (132 kilometres) on the Okanogan River. The route, with numerous access points, is broken down into sections primarily based on the locations of dams with a north, central and southern segment.

Washington State Backroad GPS Maps

Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan is Washington’s largest natural lake with over 6,000 feet (1,820 meters) of freshwater shoreline to explore along its 55 mile (88 kilometre) length. Set in the Stehekin Valley, paddlers can explore an old hotel and native pictographs along the western shore. There are fourteen campsites along the lake and paddlers need to be prepared for strong winds which can shift at any time.

Lake Chelan, Washington State

Lake Ozette

The third largest lake in Washington, Lake Ozette is found in the northwest corner of the state. While only 8 miles (13 kilometres) in length, it is full of large bays to explore. There are several established campgrounds around the lake, the best being on Tivoli Island near the south end. Being a rainforest area, be prepared to get wet.

Washington State Backroad GPS Maps

Lake Wenatchee

This glacial fed lake, surrounded by mountains, is located just two hours east of Seattle. The lake, which is 5 miles (8 kilometres) long, takes about three hours to paddle on a calm day and is best done in the morning as winds pick up later in the afternoon. There are several put-in points, the largest being from the campground on the eastern side of the lake.

Lake Wenatchee, Washington State

Pend Oreille River Water Trail

Found in the northeastern part of Washington State, this 70 mile (112 kilometre) water trail begins in Oldtown, Idaho, traveling north to Boundary Dam, about a mile south of the British Columbia border. Paddlers will have numerous opportunities for wildlife viewing and there are many scenic backcountry campsites on a route that is well-sheltered from winds, making for a relaxing paddle.

Pend Oreille River, Washington State

Ross Lake

Ross Lake is one of the most scenic places to paddle in Washington State. Amid the backdrop of the spectacular North Cascades, paddlers launch from Colonial Creek Campground and head 5 miles (8 kilometres) up Diablo Lake to the dam. After portaging around the dam, nab one of the nineteen campsites spread around the lakeshore, set up and explore. Plan a hike up Desolation Peak – since you’re here, you might as well enjoy the summit views!

Washington State Backroad GPS Maps

Widgeon Creek National Wildlife Area

Located a short distance from Vancouver, Widgeon Creek is a great location for those new to paddling. Except for Grant Narrows which is subject to the tide, it’s all smooth flatwater. The Widgeon Creek campsite has ten designated sites and a hiking trail from here leads to Widgeon Falls. If you hit the water early, you will be rewarded with plenty of wildlife from beavers to bears to eagles.

Beaver swimming down Widgeon Creek, Washington State

Willapa Bay

Located in southwestern Washington, this protected bay offers excellent kayaking with access from several points off Highways 101 and 103. The southern part of the bay is most popular as it is a short paddle to Long Island, home to scenic campsites and old growth forests. It is also possible to paddle up the Naselle River from here for about 6 miles (10 kilometres) and the seven rivers that drain into the bay offer some excellent salt marsh paddling with abundant wildlife sightings. Be sure to consult tide charts before heading out, as there are extensive tidal flats in the bay that create a risk of getting stuck far from land.

Willapa Bay, Washington State

With so many great paddling destinations throughout Washington State, we have but scratched the surface.

Have a favourite spot that we missed? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to check out the Washington State GPS Maps for over 900 miles (1,450 kilometres) of clearly marked paddling routes. And keep your eyes out for the Washington State Backroad Mapbook, coming soon!