Paddle Up and See the Coast by Boat

By Gretchen Ammerman | Monday, June 10, 2019

There’s something wonderful about talking to a person who loves their job, as I got to do recently when I called Lila Bowen at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. For visitors who have their own boat, Bowen takes them on free kayaking tours. Tours explore both the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Lincoln City, and the Nestucca Bay Refuge near Pacific City.

I just about got a hand cramp trying to capture her words as she animatedly told me why she’s one of the lucky ones who truly looks forward to going to work.

“It’s the best job ever,” she said. “I get to take people to explore amazing places and the weather is usually beautiful, even if it’s raining.”

Though Nestucca is Bowen’s favorite refuge, her preferred place to paddle is the Siletz Bay.

“The route is a loop, which I really enjoy,” she said. “It goes through different ecosystems like forested areas and marshes. It’s also great for birders – I’m usually shouting out bird names the whole time.”

When I asked if she scares the birds away with all the shouting, she laughed and said, “Okay, it’s more that I’m just whispering really loud.”

You can join Bowen at a scheduled tour, but for those who want to do it alone, there’s plenty of information on the USF&WS website that will help steer you in the right direction.


The bays and estuaries on the Central Coast are popular birding sites.

If you prefer to be guided and do not have access to a boat of your own, two companies provide both the means and the method for exploring Central Coast waterways.

Kayak Tillamook, as you probably can pick up from the name, primarily explores the waterways in the Tillamook area. Occasionally it also ventures south for private tours of the Siletz Bay and its regularly scheduled trips to the Salmon River Estuary.

The estuary is located next to the Cascade Head Natural Research Area, and together they make up a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. Efforts to restore it to its natural habitat have been going on for almost 50 years, so the chances to see native plants and animals here are quite good.

Guided tours include on-land instruction geared toward first-time paddlers.

Although I can’t really think of a place on the Central Coast I don't like, there are a few standout favorites, such as Newport’s Bayfront, with its bustling fishing industry, booty-kicking views and depending on the season, goofy sea lions that you can literally hear for miles. Up until last month I had only ever seen it from land. Enter the guided tours being put on by the Oregon Boating Foundation.

The tours wind through the docks and head to the Newport Bridge, and as good as they are, you also feel great about the fact that they were formed for reasons other than that it's a premium place to paddle and a venture still under the radar. Most of the tour guides are kids who attended the OBF's boating skills and safety camps, so they wanted a way to provide them with healthy summer jobs. And part of the proceeds are used to fund scholarships to give opportunities for more kids to attend the camps who may not otherwise get the chance. I call that a win win.

Newport paddle tours offer a new way to get a shot of the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Have you had any memorable boating experiences? Share it in the comments section below; we'd love to hear about it. And for other things to do before or after cruising the Central Coast by land or by sea, check out our Daytime Events calendar. For evening entertainment our Nightlife page steers you to the best places to be.

About the Author Gretchen Ammerman
Gretchen Ammerman received an Environmental Science degree from Humboldt State University and was soon running a state environmental agency in Hawaii. She gave it up for the glamorous life of the freelance writer. This led to steady employment as a newspaper editor in Lincoln City, OR, where she knew she was doing well when the paper was threatened with a lawsuit within a week. Though the work was rewarding, she returned to freelance writing to have more freedom to explore the beautiful state of Oregon with her adopted dog, Scout.