Touring the Wetland
Snowy egrets, beaver dams, seagulls, pelicans and more.
From our kayaks were views that ranged from peeks into tule-thick vegetated marshes to expansively open waters offering wow-inducing sightings of the Cascades, including peaks surrounding Crater Lake and the series of high points running through the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area.
Up close or faraway, there’s a lot to see kayaking Wood River Wetland.
It’s an area friends and I have paddled before, but this time I joined a tour led by Corey Brooksher of the Chiloquin-based Sky Lakes Wilderness Adventures. With just two exceptions, the others in the group of nine were from the Medford and Ashland area. That was no surprise to Mark Cobb, who launched the business five years ago. He estimates people from the Rogue Valley typically make up a large percentage of his clients, along with people from across the western states and, of course, the Klamath Basin.
“All over really,” Cobb says of the 1,000-plus kayakers his business serves during a typical May to October paddling season. “Many people visit Crater Lake for a day or two, and then they start looking for other things to do.”
Other things to do include a range of kayaking choices with Sky Lakes Adventures, which offers 10 different put-in locations. The most popular are guided paddles that begin at Jackson Kimball State Park and Spring Creek at Collier Memorial State Park. The busiest months are July and August, but the season extends into October or, for those willing, chillier winter months.
Fall outings are popular, especially in Wood River Wetland, because of routinely plentiful sightings of migratory birds and waterfowl. From the wetlands launch site or from a launch site at nearby Petric County Park, the paddle begins along a wide corridor through a portion of the 3,200-acre wetland. After passing under a bridge, the route merges with the Wood River and, a short distance later, the open expanses of Agency Lake.
As Brooksher explained, the Bureau of Land Management acquired the property in 1994 and has focused its efforts on wetland and river channel restoration by manipulating water to enhance the habitat for wetland plants while also improving the water quality for fish and wildlife. The wetland is flooded by the Wood River, which begins from a large natural spring at Jackson Kimball that feeds from an aquifer in the east side drainage of Crater Lake National Park.
Depending on the season, sightings of pelicans, herons, egrets, grebes, ospreys, bald eagles, seagulls, cormorants, wood ducks and other waterfowl and birds are common. We saw a good cross-section, but especially memorable were a pelican and, just downstream, a snowy egret. Both seemingly posed for photos along the Wetland.
Other sightings included hundreds of side-by-side seagulls on the lake and an osprey that cruised and circled high overhead. Brooksher and Cobb said they’ve sometimes also seen beavers, marmots and river otters.
The Wetland tour is especially popular with beginning boaters because of the easy paddling. From the boat launch, we passed near a beaver dam — going within 100 feet is not allowed because beavers have been known to attack and defend their homes — and thickets of tules and other vegetation. After passing underneath a bridge, the watery trail joined the inflowing Wood River, where no paddling was required until reaching the east edge of Agency Lake.
It’s at the lake that the views exposed the Cascades, from Mount McLoughlin, Union Peak, the mountains surrounding Crater Lake — Garfield Peak, Mount Scott, Applegate Peak, Hillman Peak, Llao Rock — and, farther off, the distant tippy-top of Mount Thielsen.
Just past where the Wood feeds into Agency Lake, the water is so shallow that Brooksher stepped from his kayak onto the hard-pack lake floor and towed semi-grounded kayaks to slightly deeper waters. Because the usual passage around the tules was too shallow to paddle, we took an alternative route back to the Wood River. The downstream current that had allowed kick-back cruising to Agency Lake made the paddling more challenging, with some kayakers having to be briefly towed by the hardworking Brooksher.
But no one was complaining after reaching the languid Wetland waters, where the posing egret and pelican nonchalantly strutted their stuff. For them, it was just another day, but for our group of kayakers it was three hours of sweet sights and delights.
Sites for Sky Lakes Wilderness Adventures’ other guided kayak tours include Shoalwater Cove, Malone Springs, Williamson River, Wood River headwaters, Lake Ewauna and the Sprague River. Kayak rentals also are available, along with guided bike and fishing tours. Winter snowshoe walks are held at Crater Lake National Park. For more information, see skylakeswild.com or call 541-891-0435.
Wood River Wetland is about 81 miles from Medford. Take Highway 82 toward Klamath Falls. In about 60 miles turn right onto Modoc Point Road and, in another 2 1/2 miles, turn left to stay on Modoc Point Road and drive to the signed entrance to Wood River Wetland or another 2 miles to Petric County Park.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.