Last Saturday, my 20 year old son Paul and I went to Tillamook Bay, Oregon for our first saltwater trip in our sea kayaks. It was a beautiful day, about 70 degrees, with wind from the north and west calm to 15 knots. The water in the bay was below 60 degrees.
Tillamook Bay is about 60 miles west of Portland, and is the largest estuary in Oregon. Most of the bay is quite shallow even for kayaks, so you want to time your trip to avoid the hours near low tide.
Before we put in at the public dock at Garibaldi, we drove out the road to the mouth of the channel at Bar View. The bar where the bay lets out into the ocean has large breaking waves. Not as bad as the mouth of the Columbia, but clearly life threatening in a kayak. We got a look at the tidal rip through the narrow channel, a couple hours after low tide, which was quite impressive.
Garibaldi is where the bay widens out. The incoming tide was noticeable here, but not strong enough to create any problems. We rode the tide for a couple of hours all the way down the east side of the bay, and into the Tillamook River. Wind waves never exceeded 2 feet, but did get pretty choppy at the windy south end of the bay. We saw several seals and lots of fish-hunting big birds.
We ate lunch at a ramp on the Tillammok River (a very late lunch). The wind had kicked up near the end of our trip out, so we did not want to go too far with the wind at our backs. Because of the strength of the incoming tide in the narrow river, we waited until the tide turned to begin our trip back.
On the way back, we hugged the south and west sides of the bay. The wind had lessened, and was largely blocked on these sides of the bay. The west side of the bay had an amazing profusion of sea life: seals, jumping salmon, ospreys, flocks of diving pelicans, Canadian geese. During fall Chinook fishing season, there are hundreds or thousands of boats fishing here, but there were none last Saturday. The floating toilet near the northeast corner of the bay had no traffic.
As we got near Garibaldi, we decided to head over to the channel leading out to the ocean, just to get a little taste of what that big current felt like. It did not look like much from the vantage point of our kayaks coming up from the south, nothing like the torrent we had seen from the car earlier. I went first, and as soon as I got out towards the center it was clear that this was one hell of a current. I stroked for all my worth to get right across to the other side, and it was nerve racking when my son did not keep close by. When I got over to the calmer water at the north edge, I looked back, and he was paddling as hard as he could, against the current, but still moving backwards out to sea.
After he gave that up and came over to me, we tried to decide if we should beach up on the rocks, walk down the road the mile or so to the dock and bring back the car. Since we were only a couple hundred meters into the channel, and the current was not too bad right at the edge, we gave a shot at paddling back. Getting out of the channel was a full sprint, and then we still had most of a mile of heavy paddling against moderate tide to get back to the dock.
This was a big day of kayaking, over 5 hours of paddling.
Large public ramp in the fishing town of Garibaldi, with toilets. There are a store and restaurants right by the dock.
$5 ramp fee.
From Portland, Highway 26 west to Highway 6. Highway 6 west to Tillamook, them Highway 101 north to Garibaldi.
Chart of Tillamook Bay.
- Trip Duration: Day Trip
- Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Water Type: Open Water/Ocean