Paddle the Willamette

September 16, 2013 (Updated July 30, 2014)

Fall is a beautiful season to get out on Oregon’s rivers in a canoe or kayak. The forests, aflame with fall color, come alive with migrating birds and other wildlife on the move. The Willamette River Water Trail, which comprises 187 miles of the valley’s major waterway, is a great place to dip your paddle.

What is it: A national water trail, The Willamette Water Trail covers 187 miles as it winds its way north from Eugene to Portland. The trail passes through parks and greenways, offering multiple points of entry. Its calm waters are great for those new to boating.

What you’ll see: Farmlands and floodplains adjacent to the river are excellent wildlife habitat. Birdlife abounds; osprey, bald eagles and kingfishers scan the water for chinook, Oregon chub and winter steelhead. Sandpipers sprint along the shoreline and wood ducks and mergansers come in for splash landings. It’s not uncommon to see black-tailed deer, beavers, river otters and coyotes.

What you need: A personal flotation device, a whistle, a light and an invasive species permit for boats longer than 10 feet are required. Don’t forget a map, extra clothing, food, water, a hat and sunglasses. Many local outfitters offer boat rentals and guide services.

Where to go: Beginners will enjoy Wallace Marine Park to Willamette Mission State Park in the Salem area, a 9-mile stretch with great wildlife viewing and scenery. Peoria to Corvallis, also 9 miles, is a family-friendly route with infrequent swift current. Harrisburg to Peoria, 19.5 miles, offers a view of Marys Peak, and passes Norwood Island, Sam Daws Landing, Buckskin Mary Landing and the Snag Boat Bend unit of the William L. Finley Refuge. This is a good trip for intermediate boaters.

Join in on the annual Great Willamette Cleanup, hosted by Willamette RiverKeeper on the first Saturday of October.  Stay safe and have fun!

About The

Eileen Garvin
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere in Oregon.