For Dave Nissen, founder of Wanderlust Tours, coming up with new ideas is a group effort.
"We at Wanderlust often find ourselves hanging out, sipping on suds at the end of the day, and brainstorming what would knock people's socks off," he said.
After 23 years in business, Nissen and his team of guides and naturalists may have hit on the one-two, sock-knocking combo. Next week, Wanderlust is launching its Summer Nights Dinner Canoe Tour, an evening outing that combines fine dining and lake exploration.
Eating on the beach
"This thing came about simply by putting ourselves in the shoes of our guests and saying, 'What could we do that would inspire with the natural world, and create something that people probably aren't going to do on their own?'" he said.
As an answer to that question, Wanderlust started Dinner Canoe Tours a few years ago. Guests enjoy a chef-prepared meal along the lakeshore, then step into canoes and paddle into the night.
Instead of a simple campfire cookout, chefs from Any Occasion Catering and Deschutes Brewery cook the meal on site, and serve it alongside local beer and wine. (Guests are limited to two drinks, since they will be canoeing afterward.) Guests sit riverside under the trees at linen-covered tables set with fancy flatware, and situated to serve up an expansive view of the Cascade Mountains.
"For being out in the forest, having someone prepare a spectacular meal for you and eating on linen is pretty darn sweet," he said.
From the table to the water, dinner is only the beginning
"If the body is satiated with a magnificent meal, then the soul becomes satiated with the spectacular unfurling of Mother Nature's daily activity," said Nissen.
To capture Mother Nature at her finest, the tours head to either Elk Lake or Paulina Lake, chosen for their natural wonders and suitable shorelines. Nissen explained, "Being able to have dinner on the beach next to the lake, there aren't too many bodies of water that allow that to happen."
He continued, "The forest comes alive at night in a way that's different from the daytime. The bats start flitting around; owls fly overhead; sometimes, deer bathe in the lake; sometimes we'll watch otters cavort in the water; fish are jumping after flies. It's just spectacular stuff."
Groups paddle for an hour-and-a-half before returning to shore for freshly baked desserts and, if the weather permits, a campfire.
A one-of-a-kind tour
The tour usually takes groups of 14, and while it is recommended for ages 8 and up, Nissen said the Dinner Canoe Tour is an all-ages experience.
"We typically have lots of families. One family might book out the whole trip," he said. "(Then) you might have six or seven couples making up one group. It varies, but it's totally family-friendly when the occasion calls for it."
Guides also provide crash courses on how to paddle and maneuver canoes, since "most folks haven't paddled a boat since they were in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts," Nissen joked.
Tours start at $125 per person, including food, drinks, canoes, gear, and transportation to and from the lakes. Guests depart from the Wanderlust Offices (by the Fred Meyers on 3rd Street) at 6pm and return by 11pm. The first Dinner Canoe Tour of the year is scheduled for Sunday, July 3, with future tours scheduled for July 9 and 30, and Aug. 13 and 27. To reserve your paddle, visit wanderlusttours.com or call 541-389-8359.