Bend, Oregon throwback: Annual Holiday Lights Winter Paddle Parade on the Deschutes River

December 23, 2021

A look back at a local PNW paddling tradition.
Bend, Oregon throwback: Annual Holiday Lights Winter Paddle Parade on the Deschutes River


Pro Tip for participants of holiday paddle events: Battery-powered Christmas lights can be found at Ace HardwareFred MeyerLowe'sThe Dollar Tree and other retailers.


Eddyline Kayaks often notes Bend, Oregon as their spiritual headquarters, and for good reason. Easy access to breathtakingly beautiful, kayak friendly waterways, an outdoor oriented culture, and incredible paddle events like the annual Holiday Lights Winter Paddle Parade. Although the parade hasn’t happened in a few years, we’re hoping it isn’t a permanent casualty of COVID. Here’s to looking back on some special memories at this memorable parade. 

Imagine marrying National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with kayaking enthusiasts. Then, release these holiday bedazzled water fairing folk and their vessels in the Old Mill Districts’ scenic urban paddle corridor. As participants launch their vessels in the parade, a sea of Santa beards, elvish hats and ugly Christmas sweaters paddle upstream and approach the crowded flag bridge. 

Legend has it, as told by the original ringleaders, the first holiday disembark was in Mirror Pond, a stones throw downstream from the Old Mill District. On the historic maiden voyage, participants had to daringly chip ice to create a through passage, “Iceberg, right ahead!” Presently the parade has been happening for over 20 years - save for the years where it was canceled for bad weather, or for COVID related concerns. 

Eddyline Kayaks are favorites around the Bend area, especially for this event. Their stability matched with a responsive design keeps captains steady as they pull over curbside at the flag bridge to cash in on hot bevys. Depending on the year, a mystery pit crew takes it upon themselves to re-supply kayakers with toddies, cider and mulled concoctions via a lowered cardboard six-pack on a string. 

And don’t forget your doggo! Many a kayaker brings along a furry friend to first mate, also in holiday duds. Although observers enjoy the lights, ornaments, garlands and at times outlandish costumes, like attractive ladies dressed as Santa, it’s hard to beat an adorable fur baby poking their head out of a cockpit with an antlered hoodie or micro-sized holiday sweater. 

Though the spirits are flowing and the cheer is palpable from both paddler and terrestrial spectator, under their giant Santa bellies, water goers still dress for success, specifically the cold. Tipping over is never a goal, but it can happen. A dry suit is highly recommended during winter months - which is totally waterproof. Picture a Gore-Tex Power Ranger-esque pajama onesie they come in red and green. Back up options are wetsuits, splash tops and splash pants, and insulating, non cotton base layers. Worst case, layer up in your burliest ski or hunting gear. Whatever is on hand. 

One and all agree, the Holiday Lights Winter Paddle Parade is one of the top kayaking events in the area that paddlers look forward to every year. For longtime Bend local watercolor river artist and wound care nurse, Christina McKeown, previous year's postponement due to inclement weather, thick ice sheets and now COVID has been pretty devastating. "The Christmas lights parade is the best way to celebrate our love for the rivers, our tight-knit community, and Christmas." 

Eddyline Kayaks and Bend, Oregon paddlers are crossing their fingers for a big comeback for the Holiday Lights Winter Paddle Parade in years to come. We even put it on our Christmas wishlist to Santa - and we were extra good boys and girls this year!

Do you participate in any local paddling traditions in your community that you'd like us to highlight for this upcoming year? Email us that info at or DM the author on her instagram @guerrillamediabend