Wintertime Kayaking and Paddleboarding in the Northwest? Yes, Please!

Gone are the long days of blue sky and warm breezes, endless Cascade views and sunbathing along the shores of our lakes and rivers – at least until next summer.

But just because the winter rains and chills have set in doesn’t mean you have to pack away your kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard for the season. In fact, winter paddling in the Northwest can be a refreshing and rewarding getaway that’ll keep you getting outside and on the water all year long.

“At least on Lake Union, and really a lot of the smaller lakes around here, it’s not nearly as busy once we get to October,” said Dylan Meyer, manager of Northwest Outdoor Center, a Seattle company that rents and sells kayaks and SUPs on the shores of Lake Union. “There’s hardly anyone, so it’s kind of nice. You can see the hustle of city life from the water, but you’re pretty much alone out there.”

The windows for good winter paddling in the Northwest are few and far between. But with the right preparation, equipment and attitude – not to mention a little sun break luck – a winter paddle will scratch your outdoor itch.

Key considerations

With the weather colder and windier this time of year, it’s even more important to check conditions before you head out. Meyer said even on a relatively calm body of water like Lake Union, a wind forecast at 12 miles per hour likely means gusts of at least 15 mph or more. That can be rough, and more so if it’s raining or cold out.

As for clothing, Meyer said warm, dry hands and feet are key for enjoying a winter day on the water. For feet, thin neoprene socks under waterproof boots or shoes can be helpful. For hands, thin neoprene gloves work well, as do Pogies, which are neoprene hand covers that Velcro on to kayak or SUP paddles. Meyer said he once was part of a group of paddlers who were Christmas caroling on the water on a night so cold that water dripping off their paddles froze to their boats. But his hands were in Pogies that night and they were warm and toasty.

Clothing-wise, normal outdoor layering will do the job: long underwear bottoms and tops, a mid-layer of fleece and an outer shell layer.

While the braver among us may take to their SUPs in the winter, most folks would do better to stick to a more stable kayak. Meyer said to take the same precautions this time of year as at any other times – check the forecast, let someone know where you’re going, wear a life jacket – and also be sure to protect your cell phone. Charge it up before you leave and store it in a waterproof hard case that you can attach to your life vest.

“If you’re going on a more remote outing, a VHF radio or a locator would be the next level,” Meyer said, “but if you’re just urban paddling, making sure your phone is protected is the biggest thing” when it comes to communications.

Where to winter paddle

Lake Union A great urban paddle that affords stunning views of the Seattle skyline and the surrounding terrain.

Lake Washington It can get a little rougher here than on Lake Union, but paddling the shores of this signature Seattle lake never disappoints.

Beaver Lake A quiet, 70-acre lake in Sammamish that’s great for an afternoon escape.

Spokane River This one’s for the hardcore cold-weather paddlers who’ll enjoy the rush and challenge of the Spokane River’s “winter surf season” at spots like Zoo Wave, Sullivan Hole and Trailer Park Wave

Image by july7th

Jon Bell

Jon Bell writes about the outdoors, fitness, health, and a range of other topics from his home in Lake Oswego, OR. He is also the author of "On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon's Perilous Peak."



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