By Dusty Trails
Bend is a paradise for water sports, including kayaking, canoeing, boating, and rafting, just to name a few. But one of the more obscure sports, stand-up paddle boarding, is quickly making its way into the heart of Central Oregon culture. And the best part is you don’t need any prior experience. So it is easy to get out on the water and try something new and exciting.
There are plenty of alpine lakes and rivers in Central Oregon perfect for hopping on your paddleboard and exploring. Here’s a list of our top picks:
1) Riverbend Park
The classic stretch of river between the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge and the spillway by the Old Mill District where most aspiring paddleboarders get their feet wet, so to speak. The water is calm and fairly warm at this point in the summer, and the location is easily accessible. Sun Country Tours sits right on the edge of the river and provides SUP rentals to Bend locals and visitors 7 days a week, and Tumalo Creek rentals are just down the way. It is at RIverbend Park that you can take private classes, classes just for women, moonlight excursions, and even SUP yoga classes for the more brave (and balanced) souls among you from Standup Paddle Flatwater. And it’s not uncommon for Bend-ites to hop on their board with a lawn chair and a dog and anchor in on the river by the amphitheater for a free show–and the best seat in the house.
2) Elk Lake
For those already comfortable on a paddleboard, Elk Lake marina offers equipment rentals for use on the lake for a change in scenery. They even host the Gerry Lopez SUP Race Series for the more avid SUPers among us.
3) Sparks Lake
There’s nothing like being able to rent a paddleboard, throw it on the car, and speed on out of town for a relaxing day at Sparks, or even just a couple hours in the morning or evening for an easy getaway of epic proportions. The water is placid and clear, and it’s nice and cool in the mountain air, even on a hot day. And it’s a great place for exploring. There are a handful of islands to paddle out to and wander about. Last time I was there, I even saw a deer on one! Don’t ask me how it got there–I’ll never know. Furthermore, a number of lava formations line the edges of the lake, providing the perfect playground to climb on and kayak behind. Sparks isn’t round: it has a couple long “arms” with little inlets and coves that make the perfect place to find a secret little beach to enjoy that could only be accessed by boat. Talk about an escape!
4) The Upper Deschutes
If you’re not into the summer crowds down at Riverbend Park, head over to the stretch of river between Dillon and Benham falls, just minutes from Bend. Here, the water is calm and doable for paddleboarders of all ages and skill levels. Sun Country even offers 1.5 hours SUP tours of the area for a fun family excursion with more of a secluded feel.
5) On a glacial pool
For the more adventurous (and athletic) paddlers out there: grab an inflatable paddle board and take a hike up to a glacial pool! They inflate in minutes into a board that mimics the rigidity of the hard ones surprisingly well. And the ability to take a paddleboard out onto a body of water that perhaps has never before been explored by boat is exhilarating. You just have to be willing to carry a good 35 pounds on your back up to No-Name Lake on Broken Top, or any number of other secret spots. But trust us–it’s an unforgettable experience that is well worth the effort.