Stand up for parks: Paddling expert shares his favorite state parks

Feature photo: SUPs on beach at Deception Pass State Park

For Washington state’s first-ever Paddle Safe Week (July 20 – 28), we’ve called upon stand up paddleboard (and kayak) pro Rob Casey to share his favorite state parks for paddleboarding and some important safety tips. Rob owns Salmon Bay Paddle, is the director of the Professional Stand Up Paddle Association and serves on our Boating Program’s Paddlesport Advisory Committee. He authored two paddling guides, including “Kayaking Puget Sound & the San Juan Islands.” Rob also contributes to The Inertia, Outdoors NW, SUP Magazine and Stand Up Journal. Follow Rob on Instagram @salmonbaypaddle. 

July 23, 2018

When I kayaked past a stand up paddleboarder on Puget Sound in 2006, I thought the activity looked hard and slow. I wondered why anyone would put themselves through that.

Soon after, my friend Bob showed me his 11-foot inflatable paddleboard. Unlike sitting in a kayak, you can see all the sea life below you on a stand up paddleboard (SUP). You can sit, kneel, lay on your belly or stand. You’re much more visible to powerboaters on busy waterways. 

Always open to a challenge, I tried Bob’s board. On my first SUP paddle to West Point Lighthouse in Seattle, I saw a harbor seal gliding directly below me in 3 feet of water. When I caught a small boat wake, I was amazed to watch the sand and marine life below my board as I was pushed effortlessly toward shore. I was hooked.

Stand up paddling is among the country’s fastest growing water sports, with SUP races springing up locally, nationally and globally. In addition to racing, SUP paddlers have found other ways to enjoy their boards:  SUP yoga, SUP fitness, running rivers, endurance racing, fishing, surfing and long expeditions or races such as the Race to Alaska (R2AK). By 2015, more than a dozen businesses in the Seattle area alone were offering SUP lessons and rentals.

I think the Pacific Northwest offers some of the best paddleboard opportunities in the world! Paddlers can enjoy numerous lakes, slow and fast-moving rivers, the Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the outer coast.  

Here are four of my favorite Washington state parks for paddleboarding:

Deception Pass State Park

Oak Harbor

Guest blogger Rob Casey on stand up paddleboard off Deception Pass State Park

Not for beginners: Rob Casey's GoPro camera caught him catching some tidal rapids action while paddling toward Deception Pass bridge. You'll definitely want to have a lot of paddling experience before you try this!

Known for it's swift tidal currents, Deception Pass also has several of the most protected bays on Puget Sound. In this paddler’s paradise, you can explore the craggy, tree-lined shores of Bowman Bay, sea caves and pocket beaches around Reservation Head. If you have solid river skills, run the tidal rapids below the bridge.* If you seek fresh and calm waters, you can paddle Pass Lake (above Bowman Bay), known for its fly fishing. Or take a SUP yoga class on Cranberry Lake on the south side of the park with Sound Yoga and SUP.

* Note from State Parks: Only attempt the tidal rapids if you are an expert-level stand up paddler.

Deception Pass State Park launch sites:

  • Bowman Bay
  • Cornet Bay
  • Rosario Beach
  • Pass and Cranberry lakes
  • West Beach – For experienced paddlers only; launching here puts you directly into the current and/or incoming swell from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.


Blake Island Marine State Park

Kayaks on beach at Blake Island State Park By ELDAN GOLDENBERG

Kayaks rest on the beach at Blake Island State Park with the Seattle skyline in the background. Photo by Eldan Goldenberg

Located off the south end of Bainbridge Island in Yukon Harbor, Blake Island Marine State Park is accessible by private or tour boats only. Once you get comfortable paddling in open water, you can paddle to the island  from a host of launch sites including:

Please note that the waters near and around the island are heavily used by commercial vessels, from container ships and ferries to charter boats, as well as other recreational vessels. Knowing the rules of the road is critical to a safe and enjoyable passage.

Blake Island has 44 standard campsites and three campsites on the Cascadia Marine Trail. Even with the park’s popularity, you can find solitude on the many forest-lined foot trails, empty beaches and the dirt road circling the island. It’s not uncommon to see harbor seals offshore, deer and the island’s many raccoons.  

One of Blake Island’s unique features is Tillicum, a Coast Salish-themed building operated by Argosy Cruises with a restaurant and native music and dances.  Keep your packing light by reserving a seat for the salmon dinner—at least one hour before meal time.


Sun Lakes - Dry Falls State Park

Coulee City

Paddleboarder at Dry Falls State Park

Get a paddler's-eye-view of the geological marvels at Sun Lakes - Dry Falls State Park. Photo: Rob Casey.

More than 13,000 years ago, a waterfall four times the size of Niagara Falls poured into this basalt canyon near Coulee City. You can experience this awesome sight from the lake below the magnificent rock walls surrounding Dry Falls. In summer, the canyon air and water temperatures can reach into the 80s to 90s, with cooler conditions and fewer crowds in fall and spring.

A few miles to the southwest of Dry Falls is the Sun Lakes - Dry Falls State Park campground.  From here, you’ll find additional paddling opportunities on several connected lakes – Deep, Blue, Park and Alkali. To the southeast, Lake Lenore is known for basalt caves seen in the cliffs above the lake. 


Lyons Ferry State Park


Lyons Ferry State park dock

Get your feet wet here: Lyons Ferry State Park offers a calm, protected area for beginning paddlers to test the waters. Outside the breakwater, more challenging waters await the adventurer. 

At the confluence of the Palouse and Snake rivers, Lyons Ferry State Park provides paddlers with protected access to these eastern Washington waterways. The area inside the breakwater is a great spot for novice paddlers wanting a calm place to get their bearings. Those wanting more of a challenge can venture out into the Snake River. Be on the lookout for motorized vessels: jet skis, motorboats and commercial tour boats share the river with paddlecraft. Depending on conditions, experienced paddlers also can head up the Palouse River canyon for a few miles, depending on conditions. Washington State Parks asks that you not go near or in to the plunge pool at the base of the 198-foot Palouse Falls. This area is extremely dangerous.

A day-use only park, Lyons Ferry has picnic tables and restrooms. Camping is available at the Starbuck / Lyons Ferry Marina KOA across the river from the park.

Paddle safe — and have fun!

Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) and leash

Paddle Safe Week graphicWhenever and wherever you paddle in Washington State, you must always carry — and preferably wear — a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest. PFDs designed especially for SUP use are comfortable and allow for unhindered paddling. In addition, a leash attached to your ankle or waist will prevent a long swim to shore, especially in windy conditions.  Also required is a sounding device, such as a whistle.

Dress for the water temperature

One of the most common mistakes paddlers make is not dressing for the water temperature. Despite warm air temperatures, water temperatures in the Salish Sea and most rivers in the Pacific Northwest remain cold most of the year. Full 4/3 mm and 5/4 mm wetsuits or dry suits are essential in cold water conditions. Farmer John wetsuits are an option in mildly warm waters.

Deciding what to wear for a trip? Make your final decision when you see the water. It may be sunny and calm at home, but it could be blowing 30 knots on the water!

Rob’s suggested resources for learning to paddle:

Before embarking on a kayak, SUP, canoe or raft adventure, consider taking a lesson from a certified paddling instructor or school to learn how to have more control and understanding of your local or regional waters. Some suggestions include:

Other paddling resource recommendations from Rob:

  • Washington Water Trails Association (WWTA) – Provides great information about the myriad water trails in the state, including the Cascadia Marine Trail.
  • U.S. Coast Guard Float Plan. It’s always a good idea to let people know where you’re going, who’s going with you, when you’ll return and what to do if you don’t return at that time. Share the float plan with a trusted friend or relative.
  • Coast Guard’s Navigation Center. Because understanding right of way is every vessel operator’s responsibility.
  • Marine Traffic. An indispensable website and/or app if you’re padding in waters with commercial boat traffic.
  • Wind condition apps, such as WindAlert or, give current wind readings from multiple points on land or sea, worldwide.
  • NOAA Tide Predictions — Washington.

During Paddle Safe Week, July 20 through 28, the Boating Program will share safety tips on our Facebook and Twitter pages using the #PaddleSafeWeek hashtag. Follow along!

Do you have a passion for paddlesports and Washington state parks?
We’d love to hear from you…and see your pictures! Share your story here

Feature photo: Stand up paddleboarders prepare to launch at Deception Pass State Park. Photo by Rob Casey.