Southeastern Washington can heat up quite a bit in the summer, and taking advantage of one of many waters is a welcome way to beat the heat. There are plenty of opportunities to raft, kayak, and paddleboard in the area. From thrilling rapids to flat, calm water, outdoor enthusiasts can tailor their adventure based on skill and comfort level. There are a number of outfitters in the area that have both the equipment and expertise to navigate more remote areas, and conditions vary based on time of year and snow pack to name a few. Getting out on the water is truly a three season affair. Don’t let the summer’s dry, hot reputation fool you; the Walla Walla valley is appropriately named that for a reason.
Likely the best place to experience a river trip is based out of Minam, Oregon. Guided rafting trips on the Wallowa and Grande Ronde Rivers are a fun way to gather the family. Of course, kayaking is also a great option for those rivers. If you are local, Whitman College offers open kayak nights that are instructor led sessions in the Harvey Pool on campus, also open to the public. With a large concentration of Wild and Scenic Rivers in northeastern Oregon, finding ways to cool off in the summer heat is a breeze.
Another fun way to experience water in the Blues is by paddleboard. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than paddling Wallowa Lake while gazing up at the Eagle Cap Wilderness area. Several access points to the Snake River reveal stunning vistas from a perspective not attainable from the shore. There are a handful of other campgrounds throughout the mountains and valley that have access to water. Take Jubilee Lake for example—close to town, nice trail around the lake, ample camping spots, and plenty of lake to share with the fishermen. Packing a cell phone on any water adventure isn’t wise, so enjoy a few hours away unplugged. Just make sure to visit our website when the WiFi works again.
If you have a competitive streak, there are a few events sprinkled throughout the valley that require a bathing suit. The City of Waitsburg’s Swim the Snake is open to brave swimmers, paddleboarders, and kayakers. The event occurs between Lyons Ferry Marina and Lyons Ferry State Park, crossing the Snake River. Not only is this a great way to spend a hot August day, but it is also a fundraiser, so recreate for a cause. The Onion Man Triathlon is another event that involves taking a dip. Celebrating over a quarter of a century of Onion Man Triathlons, this event takes advantage of our local outdoor recreation at Bennington Lake. Swim laps around the lake, bike out Mill Creek Road, and run laps at Rooks Park. This is a USA Triathlon Sanctioned event if you are ready to pick up a new hobby; otherwise, it is just a great way to compete outside.
Perhaps when you think of water in Washington State, you think of Puget Sound, the beach, or rainy Seattle weekends. With the Snake and Columbia Rivers under an hour away and essentially our regional border on three sides, water plays an integral and dynamic role in the Blue Mountain region. Water carved the Blue Mountains, charges the aquifers, and irrigates the land. It also means there are a variety of ways to engage with it--we are starting with paddleboarding, kayaking, and rafting. To truly appreciate those opportunities, allow us to suggest a few resources: Many Waters: Natural History of the Walla Walla Valley and Vicinity and The Blues: Natural History of the Blue Mountains of Northeastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington. Both books capture our natural resources in an accessible way thanks a collaborative effort between scientists, artists, poets, and local historians. Pick up your copies at Book & Game downtown Walla Walla--the investment in knowledge will transform your water adventures.
The kids enjoying a clear day in Joseph, Oregon at Wallowa Lake. The crystal clear mountain lake water and sun-warmed dock provide a welcome break to the trails hiked earlier that day. During the summer, the lake is a fantastic place to rent a kayak or paddleboard and enjoy views of the Wallowa Mountains with peaks reaching over 9,000 feet.
In 1987, the River Rangers program was initiated. This program continues today and is charged with monitoring conditions of the river, overseeing projects, administrative duties, and providing information for river enthusiasts. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) River Station is located in Minam, Oregon. This particular part of the world is home to a cluster of Wild & Scenic Rivers. Boating permits are required for those rivers and are free. If that is where the day’s adventure takes you, it is highly recommended that the water craft of choice is suitable for river conditions and during certain parts of the year only attempted by highly skilled paddlers. Always call the River Station or Minam Store to check current conditions, or take advantage of any number of outfitters actively guiding trips down the river.
Both of these rivers are busy May through July. Rescue efforts are extremely difficult in this part of the world, which reinforces the urgency to make smart, safe decisions even before your journey begins. Primitive campsites are sprinkled along the river. A portable toilet is required as are fire pans. Please dismantle fire rings if you see any. Both the Forest Service and BLM prohibit motorized vehicles and equipment along the Grande Ronde River within a quarter of a mile. If you are just earning your river legs, make sure to take advantage of the incredible resources from federal agencies to local businesses who know the river and take safety very seriously.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission offers watercraft launching at more than 40 state parks all across Washington. Fees are charged year-round for use of watercraft launch sites at Washington State Parks. The daily fee is $7 for use of watercraft launches. To save money, you can buy a Natural Investment Permit, valid for one year from date of purchase. The fee is $80. Since we talk mostly about recreating via paddleboard or kayak, we called to ask a few clarifying questions. To summarize, if you use a boat launch, you must pay the fee. If you don’t use the boat launch, you don’t have to pay the fee. So for example, at Lyons Ferry State Park if you launch a paddleboard from the shoreline, you do not have to pay the boat launch fee. The representative stated that folks are only limited to the boat launch if there is a sign that says no launching (outside of marked boat launches).