Breaking News
More () »

Paddle through Oregon's famed dunes on a placid river trail

The Siltcoos River Canoe Trail cuts through the heart of the Oregon Dunes, providing a 3-mile paddle through sandbanks and nesting shorebirds.

FLORENCE, Ore. — There’s something special about seeing the great outdoors from a river’s point of view! 

Along the southern Oregon coast, it is easy to explore a river that is filled with wonder and surprise; a river that reaches from freshwater to the ocean in a short 3-mile stretch.

The Siltcoos River Canoe Trail is in the heart of the Oregon Dunes.

We joined local paddler Marty Giles, the owner/operator of eco-tour business Wavecrest Discoveries, who said you need little more than a kayak, a paddle, a life jacket and a “spirit of adventure” to travel the Siltcoos River Canoe Trail.

Giles noted that the nature of the Siltcoos River is little current and no rapids along a 3.5-mile-long protected water trail that can be paddled in half a day.

“It flows through the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area,” said Giles. “People come from all over to experience 32,000 acres of sand, forest, rivers and lakes amid the only temperate sand dunes in North America.”

The Dunes NRA stretches more than 42 miles from Florence to Coos Bay and it is an Oregon landmark for outdoor recreation.

You may well wonder just where all the sand came from, too.

“It came from the mountains,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Gayle Gill, “the Cascade Mountains. Thousands and thousands of years ago, glaciers melted and carried the debris — sand sediments — to the ocean and deposited them out there. There are no rocky headlands to prevent the sand from coming back out of the ocean and so the waves and wind pushed it back up on the land and that’s what we have today.”

Many visitors plan vacation time at one of the oldest parklands in the state called Jessie Honeyman State Park, located just south of Florence.

Camping in the park’s campground reaches back nearly 80 years to the days of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) that was made up of thousands of young men from the East Coast who built the park in 1933.

Our starting point was the USFS Lodgepole Wayside; a day site along the Siltcoos River and just a stone’s throw from Honeyman State Park. Yet along the Siltcoos River, it felt a million miles away from human hubbub and noise.

The river zigs and zags sharply at low tide and many of the river bends are framed by huge sandbanks. At ebb tide, we watched for logs and branches that were silent and sobering reminders that we had to negotiate on an adventurous trail.

“It courses from a narrow freshwater stream environment out to the estuary and close to ocean,” said Giles. “The character of the riverway changes quite a bit — like most coastal streams there will be a lot of branches and logs and woody debris in the stream.”

Cyndy Williams and her husband JC Campos had never done anything like this trip before, but they loved each minute of it.

As the pair paddled, they soon discovered that the Siltcoos River offered intimate moments where nature’s touch restored the soul.

“Ohhh, I am hooked,” noted JC with a smile. “Kayaking is now one of our new choices to get around Oregon.”

Before long, our downriver journey slowed across a much wider waterway with tall sedge grasses that seemed to wave us along from shore.

We noticed important warning signs along the estuary shore too, plus roped areas that marked a beach closure in effect from March 15 to September 15.

It’s an important area to protect nesting sites for small shorebird called snowy plovers that are protected as endangered species.

We were soon three miles from the start and in the heart of the estuary. It was a view that offered sneak peeks across the sand of the crashing ocean surf. We also noted varied shorebird species that were probing muck of the marshes — often they were right by our sides.

It is the sort of adventure that will set your clock back, guaranteed — perhaps to a time that will leave you refreshed and ready for more adventures. The Siltcoos River Canoe Trail is open anytime.

A general-purpose Oregon Waterway Access Permit is required for all non-motorized craft in Oregon waters, but there's no specific additional permit needed to paddle the Siltcoos River Trail. Lodgepool Wayside also requires a U.S. Forest Service Northwest Forest Pass (available for day or annual purchase). Siltcoos River Kayak Rentals in Florence can provide boats, paddles and life jackets.

Be sure to watch the weekly half hour program of Grant’s Getaways. The show airs each Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m. on KGW.

For something different, you can follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast. Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

The book collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

You can reach me: Gmcomie@kgw.com

Before You Leave, Check This Out