Paddle Boarding The Emerald City
When you talk about the best places to go standup paddle boarding in the US, there might be a lot of debate, but there isn’t a conversation which doesn’t include Oregon. Recently, Bend, Oregon was voted the Best SUP Getaway by Outside Magazine.
Central Oregon is packed with a variety of prime paddle boarding destinations from the iconic Deschutes river, to easily-accessible pristine lakes, and surf-able whitewater parks. The scenic landscape really amps up these unique paddling experiences with towering Ponderosa pines and the magnificent volcanic mountains of the Cascade Range.
The town of Bend (pop 80,000) is centrally located as your home base with the Deschutes river flowing through town and the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, a 66-mile historic highway easily accessing 14 alpine lakes with countless more throughout the adjacent wilderness. The relatively dry and sunny high-desert climate allows for a longer paddling season, which goes from Memorial Day weekend, when the Cascade Lakes Highway opens, through late October/early November when it closes again due to snow.
We narrowed down the multitude of options to five of the best Central Oregon SUP destinations.
#1: Elk Lake
A short 30-minute drive up Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway gets you to Bend’s summer playground of Elk Lake, which wins over the crowd thanks to great beaches, epic views and the amenities at Elk Lake Resort. The hallmark of the lake is definitely the incredible views of towering Mt. Bachelor and South Sister, which are especially epic if you get out on your paddle board for the morning and evening glass off. This isn’t the place to go if you’re looking to get away from it all, but it is the go-to place for meeting fun like-minded locals and visitors.
Throughout the summer the resort features free live music every Saturday night on their outdoor stage and also offer a sampling of the abundant local microbrews on tap. The ragged shoreline features lots of little inlets and coves to explore when you’re finally able to take your eyes off the mountain views. Lakeside camping is available at the first-come first-serve campgrounds.
#2: The Deschutes River
The Deschutes River gently flows through Central Oregon heading north toward the Columbia River. The temperate river features plenty of opportunities for scenic SUPing. A good starting point is to put in at Drake Park right in heart of downtown Bend and paddle in the slow moving current upstream past riverfront houses and parks to the new Bend Whitewater Park where you can check out the action on the new surf wave.
Another popular stretch extends from Riverbend Park downstream along the Old Mill District and the outdoor Les Schwab Amphitheater (plan your paddle to catch some live music) and then head back upstream for solitude and an instant immersion in Central Oregon’s high desert landscape. On both of these stretches consider heading out in the morning to get a serene experience before the river gets packed with afternoon floaters.
Another solid choice is launching from the marina in the resort community of Sunriver 15-miles south of Bend. There are several more stretches of calm water to choose from, but these are a great start to exploring the Deschutes.
#3: East Lake At Newberry National Volcanic Monument
East Lake is located in Newberry National Volcanic Monument (a designation similar to a national park) just 30 minutes south of Bend. A ten-dollar access fee gets you into the Monument which is home to the Newberry Volcano—the largest volcano in the Cascade Range, as well as waterfalls, lava caves, hiking and mountain biking trails, and two major lakes—East Lake and Paulina Lake. East Lake is a little further into the park and a bit quieter. It encompasses 6,371 feet and has a depth of 185 feet surrounded by breathtaking forests and plenty of sandy beaches.
The lake is known for it’s fishing, which includes massive brown trout as well as rainbow and brook trout, and Kokanee and Atlantic salmon, so definitely bring your rod. Road access, day use areas and campgrounds wrap around the south and east shores, while the private beaches and wooded shorelines of the distant north shore are definitely worth exploring. The campgrounds are known to book out 6 months in advance so plan ahead if you’re hoping to stay overnight.
#4: Devil’s Lake
This relatively diminutive lake alongside Cascade Lakes Highway packs a big experience. The draw is obvious from the multitudes of cars pulling over for a snapshot of the crystal clear turquoise water set off by the white pumice bottom. Central Oregon’s volcanic geography figures prominently on the east end of the lake where a long ago lava flow of black volcanic rock towers overhead.
As you paddle across, plentiful rainbow and brook trout are visible in the clear waters and eagles sightings are common overhead. Despite the relatively shallow waters—the depth maxes out at ten feet—the water stays extremely cool throughout the hot summers. Mount your GoPro or bring a waterproof case for your camera—you’re definitely going to want to snap some pics on this photogenic lake. Be aware that parking can be a challenge as the lot acts as the trailhead for the popular Three Sisters Mountain summit.
#5 Suttle Lake
This natural lake is another popular recreation area set deep in the Deschutes National Forest 30 miles north of Bend on Highway 20. The lakeshore is crowded with Northwesty lodgepole pines and Ponderosas as far as the eye can see. At just over 250 acres, there’s plenty of lake to explore although powerboats are permitted on the lake so expect some wakes; the lake also has a reputation for wind, so your best bet is early mornings or evenings. This area has a great hiking trail circumnavigating the lake and world-class mountain biking trails accessible from the lake if the wind does come up.
Suttle Lake has three campgrounds, of which Blue Bay is your best bet as it’s away from the motorized launch areas. The lake also has two day use areas with sandy beaches if you’re just passing through. The Suttle Lake Lodge re-opened this summer with new owners and an Ace Hotel-style hip vibe; the boat house restaurant is also scheduled to open this fall and is expected to be an awesome addition to the lake.
We hope that you are inspired by the idea of planning a trip out to the beaver state after our highlights of some of its amazing lakes! If you are an Oregon local, or an adventurer who has passed through and have experiences to share, we would love to hear about them! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the pictures you have captured and stories you are stoked about.