Travis Williams is Executive Director of Willamette Riverkeeper. He knows the Willamette almost by heart, and has paddled many of Oregon’s other rivers, lakes, and estuaries.

John Day River

The allure of the John Day—one of America’s longest undimmed rivers—can be found in its solitude. With the sound of rushing water in the background, one might awake in their tent in early May to the sound of a colorful Bullock’s Oriole working the tops of the pine trees for food as the morning sun shines off of the basalt canyons. The John Day is prized by those seeking a multi-day river journey on one of Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Willamette River—Eugene to Corvallis
From Eugene to Corvallis (45 miles), the Willamette is a swift, ever-moving river. This section contains richly vegetated banks in places supporting towering black cottonwood trees, along with Oregon ash and Pacific willow—and an abundance of wildlife. There are many camp sites and access points, a legacy of the Willamette Greenway Program. They’re perfect for a summer overnight trip, with a good fire going in the fire pan, and the red sunset casting out over the rippling current.

Waldo Lake
Nestled deep in the Cascades, Waldo is one of the most pristine lakes in the United States, offering spectacular views of adjoining mountains. The essence of Waldo Lake is its quiet and clarity—when one paddles out from the forested shoreline on a sunny day, the shadow of your canoe can be seen on the light colored sand of the lake bottom, even through 50 feet of water (though Waldo is over 400 feet deep in places). On a clear night, due in part to the altitude of the Lake, the radiance and clarity of the stars is simply amazing.

Siuslaw Estuary
The Siuslaw Estuary is replete with wildlife and provides an abundance of scenery. On a calm morning as the tide is coming in, one can paddle upstream from Old Town as water reclaims the mudflats, and great blue herons punctuate the shoreline. One can also take the reverse route as the tide goes out. This estuary is approachable for a range of paddlers with some experience, though as with any large water body, one must be cognizant of sometimes powerful tidal currents and wind driven waves.

Columbia River—Puget Island
For experienced open water paddlers, the trip around Puget Island in the Columbia River makes for a great day-long getaway. As you paddle, one’s mind can wander to the wonderful history found along this section of the Columbia; it’s not hard to imagine a large Chinook Canoe plying these waters 200 years ago. This section of the Columbia is very scenic, and a range of bird species can be seen, with the big open water framed by the tree and shrub-lined shorelines interspersed with sandy beaches.

For more information on paddling the glorious waterways of Oregon, please visit our Outdoor Recreation section.

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