Four Fun Ways to Explore Puget Sound by Water

Kayaking season on Ross Lake beats the heat
Kayaking season on Ross Lake beats the heat Robyn Minkler
Made Possible by
Curated by

When temperatures reach 80 degrees in the Puget Sound area, locals start to complain. Three days of sunshine, and folks start craving cloud breaks. Call it “summer seasonal disorder,” but one effective antidote is to explore Puget Sound on the water. Warm weather and sunny skies here launch a thousand ships, kayaks, rafts, and canoes, and this spring is no different. Here, four fun ways to explore Puget Sound the way Seattleites know best: via water. Grab a paddle; it's time to take a dip.

Paddle Around Bellingham Bay

Paddling schools abound on Lake Whatcom.
Paddling schools abound on Lake Whatcom. Whatcom Talk

Just a few years ago, no less an authority than Outside magazine declared Bellingham the best paddling city in the United States. With access to underappreciated Lummi Island, home to the Willows Inn Restaurant, considered the state’s finest rural kitchen, several of the San Juan Islands, and lovely Lake Whatcom, it’s no wonder so many get out and stroke types arrive and stay here. For the ambitious, the 10-mile long Lake Whatcom is also home to Brandon Nelson’s endurance kayaking world record: 146 miles in 24 hours. Should you prefer a mellower, social affair, check out Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts (WAKE), a local organization that is happy to share local secrets.

Slip into Diablo Lake, North Cascades National Park

Diablo Lake is a paradise for paddlers.
Diablo Lake is a paradise for paddlers. Chase N.

It’s easy to feel you’re the first visitor to North Cascades National Park, though the Salish peoples’ presence here dates back 8,000 years. There’s a sense of isolation that comes within this rugged 500,000-acre park on the British Columbia border and historical home to more than 300 glaciers. Just 20,000 visitors come here annually, compared to more than one million people who visit Mt. Rainier. Canoe across Diablo Lake to experience this alpine environment once favored by poet Gary Snyder, who began his writing career while manning a fire tower here. If seeing so many jagged peaks makes you dizzy, take a dip in this glacial-fed reservoir or neighboring Ross Lake National Recreation Area to wake up the senses, right quick.

Raft the Wenatchee

Come spring and early summer, the Wenatchee's whitewater makes for a fun outing.
Come spring and early summer, the Wenatchee's whitewater makes for a fun outing. Gene Bisbee

Imagine what rafting the Columbia River rapids must have been like before the mighty Columbia was harnessed to power our Northwest population and beyond. Today’s best whitewater experience begins in Bavarian-themed Leavenworth. This highly rated course begins at the confluence of the Wenatchee River and exuberant Icicle Creek, a lazy pace through the Leavenworth Valley before hitting Chumstick Canyon’s Class III and IV rapids followed instantly by the pinball alley known as Boulder Garden. Don’t wait to tour this route in August, when the strong sunbeam makes up a more mellow passage. All thoughts of relaxation disappear in the spring, when the Wenatchee whitewater moves to the head of the class. And don’t miss the post raft BBQ, de rigueur for the local experience.

Canoe the Little Spokane River

Wildlife also cool off on Little Spokane River. 
Wildlife also cool off on Little Spokane River.  Rick Donaldson

We tend to associate kayaks with the northwest and canoes with the northeast, but plenty of dug-outs were used to ply the rivers of British Columbia, Idaho, and eastern Washington. Paddling a canoe through the Little Spokane River Natural Area wetlands propels adventurers back to the early 19th century when no less an explorer than David Thompson may have j-stroked within these same waters, his boat loaded with beaver hides, his life dependent on his guide and translator, Jacques Finley.

Today, we stalk beavers with binoculars, a recommended tool for observing glorious migratory song birds like the common yellowthroat and heronry, tall wading birds that negotiate tree limb perches en masse, located in the cottonwoods along the 7.3-mile, 2,000-acre route.

Last Updated:

Next Up


Gearing Up for Cycling Season With the Elephant Rock Ride