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Calm-Water Paddling in Southern Oregon

Eight places to soak up serenity on a float that’s great for beginners, too.

Southern Oregon may be world-famous for its frothy whitewater, but flatwater paddlers also have plenty of options. Placid lakes come ringed by shady forests and gentle creeks with little current flow under rolling mountains, making this an ideal place to float in a kayak or atop a paddleboard. Late summer and fall are ideal times to go, but all you need is a calm day any time of year. There’s no way you’ll stay for just a day, so book ahead for a relaxing getaway. Read on for eight places to dip your blade.

Lost Creek Reservoir (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A Paddler’s Oasis Near Crater Lake

The Lost Creek Reservoir on the Rogue River winds for 10 miles through paddle-friendly water with a big sandy beach at Joseph H. Stewart County Park that’s ideal for launching a paddle craft. Don’t have one? A marina at the park’s day-use area rents kayaks and paddleboards, as well as small fishing boats and pontoons. The park, near the town of Trail, is only a 40-minute drive from Crater Lake National Park and hosts about 200 sites. Hungry? The Joseph H. Stewart Resort Cafe does specialty subs, sandwiches and soft-serve ice cream. 

Fall is a fine time to see migrating birds as you paddle the serene Upper Klamath Canoe Trail northwest of Klamath Falls. Launch your boat at the Rocky Point Resort boat launch — where you can also rent a canoe or kayak — and glide along 9.5 miles of marked waterway. Roe Outfitters in Klamath Falls offers guided excursions along the trail out of Malone Springs, where you’ll float among 15,000 acres of protected marshlands in the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

Willow Lake (Photo courtesy of Rick Swart / ODFW)

Floating With Views of a Volcano

Tucked in the mountains northeast of Medford, Willow Lake County Park sits on its namesake and offers nearly 4.5 miles of shoreline. Bring your own board or kayak and paddle along it with views of snowy 9,493-foot Mt. McLoughlin rising to the east. Getting on the water in the morning can bring the calmest float, so consider staying at one of many campsites — or even a yurt that’s ADA-friendly — from mid-April to October. Anglers will be pleased that trout, bass and crappie all thrive here. On your way back to Medford, make a stop in the town of Butte Falls for pizza at the Historic Butte Falls Tavern.

Applegate Lake (Photo courtesy of Rick Swart / ODFW)

A Quiet Paddle on Applegate Lake

Set in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest about 25 miles southwest of Jacksonville, Applegate Lake stands out for paddlers as a motor-free haven of calm water and wilderness views. Hart-Tish Park on the northern part of the lake offers kayak and paddleboard rentals as well as a few tent and RV sites. Year-round campgrounds like Jackson Campground and Acorn Woman Lakes have reservable spots. The Rogue Riverkeeper program of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center sometimes offers beginner paddling sessions on the lake, as well. For another nonmotorized-access lake, try Lake Selmac near Grants Pass, where you can also play disc golf and hike.

Spring Creek (Photo courtesy of Oregon State Parks)

Ply the Crystalline Water of Spring Creek

Collier Memorial State Park sits about 32 miles north of Klamath Falls and makes for a great spot to start a paddle along the otherworldly blue water of Spring Creek. Park at the day-use area, open May 1 to October 15, and make your way leisurely upstream for 2 miles to the headwaters. Be on the lookout for Mare’s Eggs, a rare algae that only grows underwater in a few places around the globe. The park offers campsites, many with full hook-ups, from May 15 to September 30. 

While you’re there, extend your stay and check out the small-but-lovely Petric County Park on the east shore of Agency Lake, about 9 miles southwest of Chiloquin. The 2.2 acre sanctuary offers blissful floating among blackwater and lilypads. Sky Lakes Wilderness Adventures arranges tours in clear-bottom kayaks; Crater Lake Zipline in Klamath Falls also rents boats and organizes tours.

Emigrant Lake

A Quick Getaway From Ashland

Emigrant Lake County Park sits about 15 minutes by car from downtown Ashland, where you’ll find 1,467 acres of relaxation as well as 12 miles of lake frontage. Launch your craft and float under the gaze of Pilot Rock, a popular viewpoint just south of town. Two campgrounds — the year-round Point RV Park with full hookups overlooking the shoreline and Oak Slope Campground, open seasonally — are great places to set up for a leisurely stay.

If You Go:

In addition to a life jacket and your Waterway Access Permit, don’t forget the camping gear. Be sure to check for toxic algae warnings in the warmer months that affect activities like swimming and may harm your pup.