The Adventure: Freshwater Boating

Freshwater boating
May 20, 2016

Got boat? Or a hankering to go boating?

Kayaker devotee, sailor, canoe enthusiast, motorboat fan, or just a paddleboard partisan—whatever your craft preference, chances are this is the time of year you are dreaming of tacking and jibing, gliding over glassy waters, going for a wild ride on white water, or jetting out for a fast-paced run down a river.

While Washington is famous for its marine waters, it’s also home to some of the most beautiful and bountiful—and even historic—freshwater lakes, streams and rivers. With access to gorgeous waters and boating conveniences galore, your lake and riverside Washington state parks in central and eastern are THE places to launch! Some state parks even offer boat rentals for your convenience.

New to boating in Washington? Or just looking for a new spot to add to the favorites list? Here’s a few great parks and put ins to try on the east side of the Cascades! And since

National Safe Boating Week

kicks off tomorrow (May 21-27), we’re including some helpful tips for staying safe, so you can have even MORE boating fun!
Freshwater boating
The boating is bountiful on Banks Lake in Steamboat Rock State Park. Photo: Benjamin Scott

Sacajawea Historical State Park

The location: At the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers in Pasco
The stats: Two boat ramps drop in to a protected freshwater lagoon, and you can moor at any of the 200 feet of open dock space that dot the park’s 9,100 feet (that’s nearly two miles) of freshwater shoreline.
The skinny: Small park – big fun! Sacajawea packs an entertainment wallop for being just 284 acres. Water ski, fish, canoe, kayak, sailboard, stand-up paddleboard—if you can do it on the water, you can do it on the wide-open waters at Sacajawea. Or if you just want to enjoy the water, use the ample beach to swim or cast your line from the docks. When it’s time to dry off, head in to one of the two kitchen shelters or 130 picnic tables for a barbecue. Then visit one of the coolest interpretive centers in the northwest, or reflect on the past in one of the seven Story Circles, an art installation by Maya Lin commemorating the Corps of Discovery, the people who came before them and the history of the land itself.

Potholes State Park

The location: On the Potholes Reservoir in Othello
The stats: Four boat ramps give you access to a wide swath of recreation-ready waters under Columbia Basin’s brilliant blue skies. Water levels fluctuate dramatically depending on the season in the Potholes Reservoir—also known as O’Sullivan Reservoir—which irrigates local farmland. A roomy parking lot easily accommodates boat trailers. Travel tip: this park can get WINDY, and storms can come up fast. The reservoir can get choppy. Know the weather before you go!
The skinny: Potholes State Park is a true oasis! Drink in the warm desert weather as you cruise the open waters under sapphire skies. In addition to all the human and motor-powered craft and, of course, fishing, you can enjoy on the wide waters, there are places for whitewater rafting and kayaking. These can vary in quality depending on the season. Make a weekend of it and—stay for the night.

Steamboat Rock State Park

The location: On the shore of Banks Lake in Electric City
The stats: Seven boat ramps in three locations give you access to the protected waters of the Devil’s Punch Bowl or Osborn Bay. From there you can explore long, narrow Banks Lake all the way up to the Grand Coulee Dam. A large parking lot accommodates boat trailers. You’ll find five mooring buoys at the north end of the park and a portable toilet station. A 320-foot dock is available for short-term boat handling only.
The skinny: This park was MADE for boating. So that’s JUST what you should do. Another desert jewel, Steamboat Rock State Park is a 3,500-acre playground with all the amenities that make family fishing and boating a breeze. Basalt columns rise dramatically from all sides of this wild-west water wonderland. Fish, water ski, even sail board! Let the kids swim on the sandy beach if they get too warm on the playground equipment. After a day on the water, have a picnic or barbecue on the wide green lawns.  Stay the night and enjoy more time on the lake, or even enjoy the other activities the park is known for, including rock climbing, mountain biking or just a game of basketball on the park’s court!

Riverside State Park/Nine Mile Recreation Area

The location: On the Spokane River in Nine Mile Falls
The stats: Three boat launches give you dam-to-dam access to this winding waterway flowing through a 10,000-acre swath of classic Eastern Washington forest. Use caution putting in at the launch near the Little Spokane River, where waters can be turbulent. The Little Spokane is ideal for whitewater rafting and kayaking but NOT inner tubing. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the Nine Mile Recreation Area for $25 a day from May 15 to September 15.
The skinny: A river runs through it – and makes it a ton of fun! Riverside State Park is an outdoor entertainment mecca, and the boating and fishing are superb. A word of caution to newbies: The Spokane River can get rough in some places and at certain times of year. Check in with park staff, or do a couple of runs with a local before trying it on your own. If you prefer calmer waters, stick to the north end of the park where Lake Spokane offers opportunities for water skiing and paddling. Park staff say NOW is the time for fishing on the river, where trout, bass and perch have been abundant. Recently, a few catfish also were caught from the 120-foot boat dock! A large park with plenty of camping and lots of other amenities, this is the ideal park for planning a family boating vacation!

Freshwater boating
Kayaking is a popular paddle sport on the Spokane River. Photo by Uncle Jerry.
The Chatter
Check out this video on the importance of wearing your life jacket!

The Basics
Freshwater boating
C’mon wear your lifejacket! Everyone is doing it. And they should be! (Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.)
As with any sport, boating carries certain risks. Exercising a little wisdom and a lot of precaution makes your paddling, fishing, kayak or water skiing trip go all the more swimmingly, and that’s just more fun. Whether you are an old salt or just a fresh fish, check out these tips for staying safe on the water.
Get out for trout

Wear it!

Wear your life jacket. Seriously. Just wear the thing. It could save your life. If you don’t have enough for everyone on your trip, get one or borrow one from a loaner kiosk. Washington State Parks’ Boating Program has several life jacket loaner stations throughout the state. If you’re going rough river paddling, wear a helmet. When it’s your skull verses the rocks, the rocks always win!
Get out for trout
Don’t drink and boat. Or for that matter, don’t use anything stronger than soda and attempt to pilot a craft. Boating under the influence is a crime—and it’s just not safe. Designate a sober skipper, too!
Get out for trout
A ready boat is a steady boat. Before you go out for the season, make sure you do all the necessary checks to make sure your craft (whatever it is) is ready for the water. Don’t forget all your licenses and registrations.
Get out for trout
Be prepared. Weather, water temperature and type of water body are all important considerations before going out. Make sure you choose the right area for your type of craft, and vice versa. Know which bodies of water allow what crafts. Check the weather before you go. And remember: it may be  late spring, but it’s still spring. Water that is warm on the surface is cold underneath. Hypothermia can set in quickly. So wear a wet and/or dry suit when you go out, especially for kayaking, paddleboarding or canoeing.
Get out for trout
Lakes and streams are not swimming pools. They can be deep. Or not. Or swift or calm. Or not. You never know how shallow or deep or turbulent a body of water can be until you are caught up in it. Don’t go diving off a boat if you don’t know the depth or what lies beneath… Also, don’t take your boat into places that were not meant to be ridden on. Staying out of the water, unless you are on a designated swimming beach, is tantamount to staying safe.

Washington State Parks Boating Program

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission administers the state’s Recreational Boating and Clean Vessel Act programs.  Our great state is fortunate to have some of the most beautiful and FUN places to play on the water in the world. Our goal is to reduce accidents and fatalities, keep Washington waterways nice and assure that recreational boating is a safe, accessible and enjoyable pastime. Partners include law enforcement agencies, state agencies, marinas and boating organizations across Washington.

Visit the Boating Program online or call (360) 902-8555.
Want to know more about National Safe Boating Week? Follow these hashtags on social media: #WearIt #safeboating 

Love boating in Washington?
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Feature photo: Sun Lakes