A Kayaker's Guide to Lewis & Clark Widlife Refuge

The refuge sits near the mouth of the Columbia River, spanning both Oregon and Washington. Containing over 20 islands and an extensive network of waterways, the area has some of the best paddling in the country.

Today I'm launching from the Knappa dock at close to high tide, heading into the Nature Conservancy protected waters of Blind Slough, to ride the current back out after the tide turns. Early morning's the best time to paddle here, before typically heavy inshore winds start to pick up around midday. The sloughs offer protected flat water for novice paddlers. The Columbia river mouth though can be treacherous, referred to as the graveyard of the pacific. Beware the main river channel on an outgoing tide with afternoon winds, as waves can get steep.

The area serves as key habitat for migrating waterfowl. Other common species here include Osprey, Bald Eagles, Kingfishers, Blue Herons, Sea Lions, Otters, Racoon, Deer, Beaver & invasive Nutria. The refuge is also home to some of the last pristine Sitka Spruce forests on the Oregon and Washington coast. As the largest of all spruces, they were heavily logged throughout the 1800s.

Remnants of the area's historic past dot the waterways. At it's peak, the Blind Slough Station logging camp employed 300 loggers, before being abandoned in 1924. Fishing remains the other primary industry here, although Salmon populations are a fraction of what they were. The Columbia once supported spawns of up to sixteen million fish. Today that number is about one million. While regional creeks serve as important spawning habitat, this stretch of the Columbia also hosts new hatchings as they acclimatize to salt water before moving to the ocean. This key habitat is critical for sustainable populations.