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Paddling the Tillamook County Water Trail
Published: 03/02/2013

A walk on the beach, a drive along a coast highway, a hike over a headland - these are all great ways to explore the Oregon Coast - but to get a duck's eye view of the wildlife-rich wetlands, estuaries and bays, there's no other way than paddling on a guided eco tour.

The Tillamook region, from Manzanita in the north to Salmon River in the south, is home to more than a dozen locations that are naturals for flat-water kayaking, safe even for novices. Going out with an experienced, licensed guide who provides an orientation and all the gear you need is the key to the optimal experience. Marcus Hinz, owner of Kayak Tillamook, is dedicated to providing his guests with safe and amazing experiences on the water, showcasing the extraordinary natural areas along the coast and teaching paddlers about the importance of conservation.

Hinz operates Kayak Tillamook in a region that's tantamount to kayaking heaven. The newly dedicated Tillamook County Water Trail, an official National Recreation Trail, consists of 250 miles of navigable waters for non-motorized watercraft on estuaries within the county, including Nehalem, Tillamook and Nestucca Estuaries and Netarts Bay.

One of the most popular routes offers diverse scenery and wildlife viewing. With the highest tides at certain times of the year, kayakers can circle Whalen Island in the stunning coastal estuary of Sand Lake. This estuary is a shallow waterway, dominated by clear water from the Pacific, allowing visitors to peer clear to the bottom and view sea creatures such as Dungeness crab, harbor seals and flounder moving in with coastal tides. Raptors and sea birds are commonly spotted and, occasionally, curious river otters make a surprise entrance.

"The tidal water disappears rather quickly once the tide turns, so knowing where the deeper channels are and plan your return accordingly is crucial," says Hinz about Sand Lake. "Even at the highest tides of the season you only have a couple hours to paddle around and enjoy this unique coastal waterway."

In cold weather seasons, Kayak Tillamook warms up the experience with individual thermoses of hot apple cider, with a fresh cinnamon stick. And paddling groups gather several times during a tour to learn about local history and wildlife. To book a tour with Kayak Tillamook, go to or call (503) 866-4808.

– Allen Cox is a travel and lifestyle journalist living in Tacoma, Washington. - By Allen Cox

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