Kayaking the Lower Columbia River: Exploration and Discovery

Paddle along the basalt cliffs, Sitka spruce swamps, and tidal marshes of the Columbia River estuary with experts as you improve your kayak technique and learn about this grand region.
Rating (5)
Program No. 2288RJ
6 days
Starts at

At a Glance

Skamokawa is the ideal starting point for exploring the lower Columbia River by kayak. Paddle in a variety of habitats, from narrow sloughs winding through Sitka spruce swamps to wide-open expanses on the estuary of the Columbia. Walk among the giant trees of an ancient coastal forest. In addition to giving professional kayak instruction, your leaders are experts in local history, geology and wildlife.
Activity Level
Outdoor: Spirited
Kayaking in single or double kayaks up to six hours. No previous kayak experience necessary.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Weave your way through the long chain of tidal marsh islands that comprise the 35,000-acre Lewis & Clark National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Paddle along the 90-foot cliffs and waterfalls of the Lower Gorge, or through the quiet Sitka spruce swamps of the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge.
  • Enjoy two traditional music performances: “Songs of the Lower Columbia” and “River Songs."

General Notes

Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Andrew Emlen
Since starting Skamokawa's kayaking program in 1998, Andrew Emlen has led more than 250 Road Scholar programs. Andrew has a master's degree in environmental studies. A former instructor of environmental science, geology labs and field biology, he is well-versed on local birds, mammals, insects, plants and mushrooms. Andrew plays cello, guitar and several other instruments with his fellow local musicians during evening presentations that feature music of the lower Columbia River. He is a certified wilderness first responder.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Andrew Emlen
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Connor Emlen-Petterson
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Kyleen Austin
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Levi Helms
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West
by Stephen E. Ambrose
This biography of Meriwether Lewis is the book that rekindled interest in the Lewis & Clark expedition, a bestseller with footnotes. Don’t expect a great deal of information on the Columbia, however. A Montanan, Ambrose wrote twice as much text per mile on the Missouri River as he did on the Columbia. All the same, a nice complement to a week following Lewis & Clark’s trail along the lower Columbia.
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska
by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon
This is the best plant guide for our area. Organized by family, it has good photographs and drawings and rewards identification of each plant with a wealth of ecological information and notes on human uses.
Way to the Western Sea: Lewis & Clark Across the Continent
by David Lavender
Looking for one short, readable book that tells the entire Lewis & Clark story? Lavender encapsulates it all, adding interesting background and context for the events of the expedition. This is the book I was handed by the staff of Fort Clatsop National Memorial when I began volunteering there in 1992.
River of the West: Stories from the Columbia
by Robert Clark
This beautifully written book tells the story of the Columbia through the individual stories of its inhabitants, from Native Americans early and modern, explorers, missionaries, emigrants, fishermen and those seeking new lives during the dam-building era.
Naked Against the Rain: The People of the Lower Columbia 1770-1830
by Rick Rubin
This book is hard to find, but it is an excellent account of the Chinookan peoples native to the lower Columbia River.
Seeking Western Waters: The Lewis & Clark Trail for the Rockies to the Pacific
by Emory and Ruth Strong
These authors have done something unique. For each day of the expedition’s travel in the Columbia River watershed, they provide a journal excerpt, explanatory text, and a photograph. Nearly every page provides a photo of an artifact, landscape, plant or animal described in the journals of Lewis and Clark.
Northwest Passage: the Great Columbia River
by William Dietrich
Possibly the most comprehensive of the histories of the Columbia, broad in scope, thoughtful and thought-provoking.
Sky Time in Gray's River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place
by Robert Michael Pyle
Bob Pyle, a winner of the John Burroughs award for natural history (for Wintergreen), here has written what Kathleen Dean Moore best described as “a lovingly rendered ecology of people in their home place”, just west of Skamokawa in Gray’s River.
Beach of Heaven: A History of Wahkiakum County
by Irene Martin
Local historian, gill-netter and Episcopal priest, Irene Martin has won a Governor's Heritage Award for her books on local history. She lives in Skamokawa and will be an evening program presenter for our Road Scholar program.

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