“Paradise is anywhere with a kayak,” says the T-shirt slogan, proven true by the number of kayaks on roof racks speeding toward watery destinations. The popularity of kayaking, a relatively easy, accessible water sport, has grown by leaps and bounds — or at least several paddle-lengths. The number of kayakers in the United States grew from 6.1 million in 2006 to 16.62 million in 2019, according to www.statista.com.
If you don’t own a kayak, you can rent one at businesses strategically located on Lake River, Lacamas Lake and the Columbia River. Before you embark on your kayak adventure, however, local paddling enthusiast Glenn Wright has tips for newbies as well as ideas for places that regular kayakers can explore from their floating vantage point.
“It’s the best investment I’ve ever made, as far as recreation goes,” Wright said of his sturdy, thick-skinned 10-foot kayak. In Southwest Washington alone, he’s explored at least 14 different locations, returning again and again to his favorite spots.
“The first few years I had my kayak, I went out every weekend,” he said.
Before you get in a kayak, consider taking a safety class. Wright said he paddles once a year with Portland Parks and Recreation and the trip begins with safety instructions. Clark County puts out a guide to paddling the Lewis River and Vancouver Lake water trail that includes safety tips. Alder Creek’s Ridgefield Kayak Rentals (5 Mill St.; 360-727-4520) offers basic kayaking classes.
Wright never leaves the shore without a personal flotation device or life jacket, a horn to alert larger watercraft to his presence, a 24-square-inch neon flag, a fully charged phone in a waterproof case and a spray skirt (a flexible waterproof covering for the kayak’s opening that stretches out like a skirt from the paddler’s waist). If you’ve got your safety gear and have mastered the basics, Wright suggested three Clark county waterways with scenic delights.
Lake River toward Salmon Creek from the Felida Boat Ramp
You’ll be asked to pay $5 on the honor system to use the boat ramp and park ($4 for the ramp, $1 for parking). Open the red gate yourself before driving down and unloading your boat, then park in the lot. Wright said he wouldn’t put his kayak in using the concrete ramp but would instead use the muddy, gravelly place off to the side. Once you’re in and headed north toward Salmon Creek’s convergence with Lake River, Wright suggested turning your eye toward the bank.
“The houseboat moorage is interesting because of all the things that people do with their decks and patios,” Wright said.
The water is generally calm, Wright said, and there’s a small tide that comes in and out, common on the Columbia River and its tributaries. Look out for occasional motorboat traffic, limited to 5 mph. If you do encounter a wake, said Wright, keep the kayak at a 45-degree angle from the waves and stay away from the shore, which can push waves back at you. You might see or hear trains chugging along parallel to Lake River. (“To me, that’s kind of a plus,” Wright said.) Mostly, however, you’ll be treated to local wildlife.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not seen a bald eagle on that paddle. There’s always at least one,” Wright said.
He said he’s also spotted beavers, noticeable for their orange teeth and the way they flap their tails when disturbed, as well as otters, lots of Canada geese, and, in the fall, what are probably sandhill cranes.
“My favorite paddle of the year is down Lake River and the Salmon Creek area in November because of all the birds. Lots of birds, just thousands of them,” Wright said.
If you go south on Lake River, you might run into carp — literally.
“If you go into Vancouver Lake when it’s carp breeding season, which is right about now, your hull will get flapped by breeding carp,” Wright said. “It’s kind of startling at first but it’s also kind of fun.”
Paradise Point State Park on the East Fork Lewis River
The park is right under Interstate 5 with a wide, sandy shore, offering many places to put in. Enter the park with a Discover Pass ($30 for an annual pass, available at www.discoverpass.wa.gov and local sporting goods stores) or purchase a day pass for $10. There’s no rental facility here so it’s definitely BYOK (bring your own kayak). Once you’re in the water, either head west toward the Columbia River or east toward farmland. Wright prefers heading west, following the main branch of the Lewis River before it spills into the Columbia.
Put in to the side of the boat ramp to make way for larger watercraft. Wright said to pay attention to the current, which is influenced by the Columbia’s proximity, especially as Lake River bends toward the confluence point.
“The current really depends on the tide,” Wright said. “If the tide is coming in, the current is going south. If the tide’s going out, the current is going the other way.”
If it’s not the season for leaf-peeping, you might spy other natural wonders.
“I’ve seen coyotes along the shoreline a couple times,” Wright said. “I’ve been paddling since 2009 and have seen coyotes only twice.”