The North Fork of the Nehalem River converges with the main stem just before the river reaches the town of Nehalem and spreads out into Nehalem Bay. Though the upper reaches of the river are small and technical, the river has a larger, slower flowing character near the convergence. This section is a great paddle for beginner and intermediate paddlers looking for a scenic exploration of a quintessential coastal waterway. While there are no technical spots in this lower section, paddlers will have to take weather and tidal conditions into account.
Because the North Fork enters the main so close to the river’s mouth, tidal influence is a factor here. Likewise, the geography of Nehalem Bay frequently allows for some very powerful winds to dominate the area by early afternoon. All of this provides both challenges and opportunities for a paddler in the area: if you can set a shuttle at the bridge and paddle with the incoming tide, you can easily follow a tidal current "upstream" for a few miles at a pretty fast pace. This upstream pace can be even faster when wind from the bay picks up by mid-morning and begins to push up the river.
River access for shuttles on the North Fork is complicated, however, for most of the land on the river is privately owned. Consequently, to access the North Fork one really must consider a round-trip paddle, and the uppermost access is via the City of Nehalem Public Dock. Mornings can be still and beautiful, which keeps the wind variable out of your equation. The tide is all that is left to consider, though paddling against the tide isn’t too difficult and really just takes a little more effort.
For instance, our paddle began at 8:30 a.m. in calm conditions with an incoming tide. The paddle upstream was effortless and beautiful, even in the early morning costal fog. Fishing boats worked the main Nehalem at slow speeds, observing the no-wake limit, and a great blue heron from one of the North Fork rookeries worked the bank for its own catch. About a mile from the dock the North Fork splits left, and from here the time and distance you paddle are up to you. Our turn around was approximately 4 miles from the dock, past the rookeries and into the more agricultural section of the river. Returning meant working against both the incoming tide and a light breeze that began by 10:30 a.m. (making a 7 a.m. departure look like a better choice!). And even with these factors our return took only slightly more time than our outbound trip, though it required more and harder paddling.
If conditions aren’t ideal or you are looking for an easier paddle, take the short trip down to Lytle Lake. Nehalem State Park is also nearby and offers access to the bay in addition to several camping options.