A city surrounded by mountains, rivers, and beautiful forests, Portland is a hotspot for outdoor activities. Environmentally-minded Portland is the perfect place to explore all that nature has to offer. Whether you are looking for peace and quiet or raging waters, these breathtaking spots are the best places to go canoeing and kayaking in Portland.
Portland is a vibrant community for outdoor enthusiasts. Teeming with energy and adventure, kayaking in Portland is an epic experience for all ages and abilities. Portland’s wide variety of waterways creates a diverse and thrilling way to explore nature. While paddling, you will have the opportunity to explore Portland’s vast forests and spot native wildlife. Kayaking down well known sites like White Salmon River, or hidden gems like Scappoose Bay, will excite any paddle enthusiast. Below is a guide we created to help you have an awesome time canoeing and kayaking around Portland.
Best Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in Portland
- Location: Oregon City to Eugene
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Portland Kayak Company
This epic waterway is one of Oregon’s most beautiful treasures. From petrified forests to acres of greenways, the Willamette River is one of the most popular places to go canoeing and kayaking in Portland.
Stretching hundreds of miles, each section of the Willamette River is calm enough for novice paddlers yet still boasts exciting scenery for all paddlers to enjoy. Drawing from the purest lake in the nation, Waldo Lake, Willamette River is not only a clean watershed resource but also home to nearly 50 different fish species (my favorite is rainbow trout). Also, while you’re paddling be on the lookout for shiny jasper and petrified wood!
No matter the season, Willamette’s smooth water is the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors. Around the river, visitors also enjoy swimming at Poet’s Beach, hiking around Forest Park, and exploring the famous Powell’s City of Books. Most importantly, Willamette Valley is known as an outstanding wine country! People from all over visit Willamette Valley to taste some of the best wine in the nation.
With tons of put-ins along the river, you can truly customize your water adventure. From city kayaking to peaceful tributaries, the Willamette River has it all. Docks in Oregon City and North Portland offer easy access to this beautiful waterway from downtown. If you need to rent a kayak or other gear, check out Portland Kayak Company.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to the Willamette River is to drive. If you are driving, take I-5 S and take exit 243 toward Ankeny Hill. Continue on Sidney Rd. S until you reach the river.
- Location: Estacada
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Clackamas River Outfitters
Just 20 minutes from downtown Portland, Clackamas River is the ideal river rafting, floating, and paddling destination for adventure-seekers. Each section of this river offers a different experience- the upper Clackamas has Class II-V rapids perfect for white water rafting trips. For those looking for a more relaxing paddle, the Lower Clackamas’ rambling waters make for a wonderful float trip.
Many paddlers really enjoy kayaking around a tranquil stretch of water beginning at the Olallie Butte which flows through stunning areas of Mt. Hood National Forest. This southern section of the river is perfect for lazy river float trips and relaxing summer paddles.
However, if you are looking for a thrilling water adventure, the northern segment of the river is home to epic rapids. Altogether, this stretch of rapids is about 13.5 miles. While some courageous kayakers attempt all 13.5 miles on one trip, it is popular to do a 4 mile-long run from Fish Creek to Bob’s Hole. Small yet mighty, Clackamas River is packed with adventure around every bend.
With so much to try so close to Portland, Clackamas River is a popular destination for canoeing and kayaking near Portland. The Barton put-in is closest to Portland, and therefore usually the most crowded. I’d recommend driving the extra five minutes to Mclver or Carver areas to start your journey.
You can launch your own boat from any put-in along the river. Or, if looking to rent gear or want to book a guided tour the Clackamas River Outfitters has everything you need. They are conveniently located at three locations: Estacada Outpost, Timber Park and Milo Mclver State Park.
How to Get There: The best way to get to the Clackamas River is to drive. If you are driving, take OR-224 E toward Clackamas. Continue on FS-4613 until you reach the river.
- Location: Scappoose
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Next Adventure’s Scappoose Bay Paddling Center
Catering toward beginners and families, Scappoose Bay’s intricate network of lakes, channels, and tributaries is a peaceful oasis for canoe and kayakers. Just 30 minutes from downtown Portland, Scappoose Bay is the perfect place to find some peace and quiet.
A haven for wildlife, this sheltered area is home to numerous species of birds and fish, most you can spot from your boat! Scappoose Bay’s flat waters truly make kayaking Portland easy, relaxing, and accessible to all ability levels.
Right on the shore, paddlers can rent gear from and enjoy Scappoose Bay Marine Park. Here, visitors can take part in “gunkholing”, which means to meander in and out of shallow marshes and streams. Along with this peaceful activity, Scappoose Bay is known to be an excellent spot for paddle board yoga and fishing.
You can enjoy paddling around this flat, shallow area in about 3 hours. If you are looking for a longer paddle, visitors are encouraged to keep paddling to St. Helens Marina which is a few more miles down the Columbia River. Canoe, kayak, and paddle board rentals are available from Next Adventure’s Scappoose Bay Paddling Center.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Scappoose Bay is to drive. If you are driving, take I-405 N and take exit 3 on the left for U.S. 30 W toward Saint Helens. Continue on Old Portland Rd. to the bay.
- Location: Hillsboro
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe
A cool, mellow river to cool off in during those hot summer days, Tualatin River is truly a place where outdoor lovers gather to enjoy Portland’s natural resources. With easy access from Tualatin Community Park, Tualatin River is a nice place for novices to try kayaking in Portland.
While most visitors enjoy paddling around the park area, those looking for more challenging waters should paddle down to the last 2 miles of the river. There, small rapids offer a fun change of pace as Tualatin River joins the Willamette River. Soon after the rapids, kayakers can pull aside and enjoy Willamette Park.
Maintained by the community, Tualatin River’s pristine waters are the culmination of the riverkeepers’ hard work. Truly a community effort, when paddling around Tualatin Community Park kayakers will feel a strong sense of unity and belonging among other outdoor enthusiasts.
If new to paddling or looking for a quiet spot, Tualatin is a wonderful place to go canoeing and kayaking in Portland. If you need to rent gear, check out Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe.
How to Get There: The best way to get to the Tualatin River is to drive. If you are driving, take I-405 N and Take exit 1D for U.S. 26 W toward Beaverton. Continue on SW River Rd. to the river.
- Location: Bend
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Bend Kayak School
If you are in the mood for adventuring into true wilderness, paddling around Sparks Lake should be at the top of your list. Formed 10,000 years ago from Mount Bachelor’s volcanic eruptions, Sparks Lake’s ancient beauty is a wonderful place to go canoeing and kayaking near Portland.
This shallow lake is ideal for novice paddlers and those who want to explore rugged terrain. Not only is the Deschutes National Forest a breathtaking backdrop for your water adventure, but Sparks Lake also has tons of campsites on the shore for overnight trips.
Sparks Lake is the perfect spot for beginners and young children because the lake is only 10 feet deep! Bonus- many visitors also enjoy the 2.5 mile-long hike along Sparks Lake’s volcanic shoreline (the trailhead is named Ray Atkinson Hiking Trail). Connecting to the Deschutes River, Sparks Lake offers a quiet oasis from the otherwise busy river.
From its formation to now, Sparks Lake embodies the joy of getting outdoors and exploring nature’s beauty. You can explore this volcanic lake on your own free of cost. Or, you can rent gear from Bend Kayak School.
How to Get There: The best way to reach Sparks Lake is to drive. If you are driving, take I-5 S and Take exit 138 toward Downtown/Mt Bachelor. Continue on Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway to the lake.
- Location: Brookings
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Smith River Kayaks
An oasis for advanced outdoorsmen, Chetco River’s rugged terrain and hidden location offer a total getaway from the busy city. Sandwhiched between two famous whitewater runs, North Fork and the Illinois River, Chetco River offers equally challenging whitewater kayaking without all of the crowds.
Known for its water being “as clear as gin”, outdoor lovers are drawn to Chetco River’s unique scenery and intense paddling. Chetco River and its surrounding ecosystems were majorly impacted by the Biscuit Fires of 2002. To this day, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness is still recovering, so please paddle with caution during your trip!
While Chetco River’s private location fosters some of the most beautiful scenery and wildlife in Oregon, it also makes it a little difficult to reach. However, with some planning it really is no problem! Most visitors access the river from Slide Creek which is a 4 mile downhill hike to Chetco. Or, more adventurous paddlers enjoy accessing Chetco from Babyfoot Lake, a 9 mile hike from the river. Either way, kayaking down Chetco River is truly an outdoor adventure- from hiking to paddling this journey has it all!
You can portage your own canoes to these access spots free of charge. Or, you can rent gear from Smith River Kayaks. This shop, and many others nearby, rent kayak gear and offer whitewater kayaking tours of the area.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to the Chetco River is to drive. If you are driving, take I-5 S toward Crescent City. Then, continue on N Bank Chetco River Rd. to the river.
Henry Hagg Lake
- Location: Tualatin Valley
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe
Just 30 minutes from downtown Portland, Henry Hagg Lake is one of the many beautiful waterways in the Tualatin Valley. Known for its epic fishing, Henry Hagg Lake is the perfect spot to finally try kayak fishing.
One of the best parts about Henry Hagg Lake is that half of the water is a dedicated no wake zone. Therefore, these flat waters are perfect for novice paddlers and famailies paddling with young children. With 15 miles of sandy shoreline, paddlers can choose from tons of beach banks and have a private picnic spot.
This quiet lake is a wonderful spot for any ability to try canoeing and kayaking in Portland! From kayak fishing to sandy shores, Henry Hagg Lake is an idyllic paddling spot for all! Besides being a super convenient paddling spot, visitors also love Henry Hagg Lake’s 15 mile-long bike path along the shoreline.
You can launch your own boat at Henry Hagg Lake. Or, check out Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe for kayak gear rentals, tours, and lessons.
How to Get There: The best way to get to Henry Hagg Lake is to drive. If you are driving, take I-405 N and take exit 1D for U.S. 26 W toward Beaverton. Continue on SW Herr Rd. to the lake.
- Location: Mulnomah and Columbia County
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Scappoose Bay Paddling Center.
Full of history and charm, Sauvie Island is certainly an outdoor lover’s dream! With tons of wildlife and natural areas, a trip to Sauvie Island will truly immerse you in Oregon’s nature.
Sturgeon Lake on the north end of the island is the best spot for canoeing and kayaking on Sauvie Island. There, paddlers can see views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and Mt. St.Helens right from their boats! Sturgeon Lake connects to two other waterways which are also great for paddling. Because this is island kayaking, some experience is necessary to paddle with ease around the island.
Kayakers looking for a challenge can paddle in the open water around the island. Otherwise, many visitors love paddling to Oak Island, a peninsula with epic hiking trails. Whether you have Oak Island as destination in mind or just want to paddle freely, there is no shortage of outdoor activities at Sauvie Island! Bonus- there is a pumpkin patch and blueberry farm on the island!
In addition to beautiful waterways, Sauvie Island is home to amazing historical landmarks. Visitors can explore Fort William and Warrior Rock Lighthouse, the smallest operational lighthouse in Oregon! There are also tons of hiking trails to lead you around the island (we recommend the Oak Island trail).
You can launch your own boat at Sauvie Island. Or, you can rent canoe and kayak gear from Scappoose Bay Paddling Center.
How to Get There: The easiest way to reach Sauvie Island is to drive. If you are driving, take I-405 N and take exit 3 on the left for U.S. 30 W toward Saint Helens. Continue on Sauvie Island Bridge to the island.
Smith and Bybee Wetlands Area
- Location: North Portland
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Portland Kayak Company
Located between the Columbia River and Slough, Smith and Bybee Wetlands Area beholds some of the most breathtaking sights as America’s largest protected wetland area.
Sprinkled with lakes and streams, this wetland area is a hotspot for canoeing and kayaking in Portland. The lakes are usually visitors’ go-to spot for paddling, but smaller waterways offer a unique glimpse of the wetland’s ecosystem and wildlife. If bird watching and spotting critical species is up your ally, then kayaking through these serene wetlands is the perfect place for you to explore.
This easy-going paddle destination is a haven for endangered wildlife and holds one of the largest populations of bald eagles and beavers in the nation! An immersive nature experience, canoeing and kayaking around Smith and Bybee Wetlands Area is sure to be an eye-opening journey.
You can launch your own boat on the preserve and can even paddle down to Kelley Point Park which connects the wetlands to the Columbia River. Or, you can rent gear from the Portland Kayak Company. Throughout the year, the Portland Zoo also offers tours of the area!
How to Get There: The best way to get to the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Area is to drive. If you are driving, take I-405 N and take the Interstate 5 N exit toward Seattle. Continue on Marine Drive W to the preserve.
White Salmon River
- Location: Hood River
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Wet Plant Whitewater Rafting.
With rapids galore it is no wonder that White Salmon River is one of the most visited places to go whitewater rafting and kayaking in Portland each year! Mostly Class III rapids, White Salmon River is a fun challenge for intermediate paddlers.
Besides the legendary Class III, IV and V rapids throughout the river, White Salmon River is known for the beautiful Husum Falls. Said to be the largest commercially run waterfall in the U.S., Husum Falls is a thrilling obstacle for rafters and paddlers to overcome.
Nestled in a forested canyon, White Salmon River is surrounded by densely packed forests and lush green lands. If you are looking for a thrilling outdoor adventure, then White Salmon River has the perfect conditions for your next journey.
You can launch your own rafts and kayaks, but make sure to bring a helmet and be prepared for the rapids! Otherwise, you can rent gear and book trips and tours through Wet Plant Whitewater Rafting.
How to Get There: The best way to get to White Salmon River is to drive. If you are driving, take I-84 toward Mt. Hood/White Salmon. Continue on WA-141 N to the river.
- Location: Portland
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Portland Kayak Company.
Many people think in order to have a great kayaking experience you must travel far to get immersed in nature. But when it comes to kayaking in Portland, there are tons of flat water opportunities right in the heart of downtown. Ross Island is one of the best places for novice paddlers to explore the outdoors right in downtown Portland.
Most paddlers put-in at Sellwood Riverfront Park. Launching right off of the park’s sandy beaches, visitors can enjoy the easy 5 mile loop around Ross Island. While paddling on Ross Island’s calm waters, you will see blue herons, bald eagles, and of course, ospreys.
Besides stunning skyline views, paddlers can also kayak past the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. Here, outdoor lovers can catch a glimpse of the critical species that call Oregon home. With the Portland skyline in the distance and wildlife all around, kayaking at Ross Island really is the best of both worlds. Bonus- it is so close to downtown Portland you can easily fit a paddle trip into your busy schedule!
Even though Ross Island is privately owned, you can launch your own boat from Sellwood Riverfront Park. Or, you can rent kayak gear and book tours of Ross Island through Portland Kayak Company.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Ross Island is to drive. If you are driving, take OR-99 E and continue straight onto SE McLoughlin Blvd to the lake.
- Location: Galice
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Northwest Rafting Company
Ranked in the top 8 best rafting and white water paddling in the world, Rogue River has a range of rapids and calm waters that will bring adventure to your next paddling trip. Rogue River’s waters are accessible to all ability levels, but intermediate and experienced paddlers will especially love the consistent Class III rapids.
Most kayakers choose to put-in their boats at Grave Creek Bridge. From there, its a wild ride! Class III rapids will guide you downstream (with a dash of calmer waters mixed in). Eventually, paddlers will reach Rogue River’s epic challenge: Rainie Falls. Beyond Rainie Falls, kayakers can continue cruising downstream and even spot bears in the surrounding forests.
A known setting for early adventure writing- from authors like Zane Grey- a day spent at Rogue River will undoubtedly be full of adventure! There are tons of outfitters that offer guided rafting trips down the river to help you navigate these rushing waters.
You can launch your own boat at Grave Creek Bridge, and remember to be mindful of the rapids! Or, you can rent gear and reserve guided tours through Northwest Rafting Company. From Class III rapids to quiet streams, Rogue River will certainly keep your next paddle trip interesting!
How to Get There: The best way to get to Rogue River is to drive. If you are driving, take I-5 S and take exit 48 toward Savage Rapides Dam. Continue on Berglund St. to the river.
Alton Baker Canal
- Location: Eugene
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Northwest Canoe Tour
University of Oregon students and faculty get ready- Alton Baker Canal is calling your name! Stretching from Eugene to Springfield, Alton Baker Canal is a super accessible canal perfect for beginners to test out their skills! Only a few miles long, the Alton Baker Canal is ideal for a quick paddle full of beautiful scenery.
A quick walk from the University of Oregon campus and Autzen Stadium, Alton Baker Canal is easy to get to (especially for college students)! Along the canal, there is the opportunity to portage, but it is not necessary. Avid fishermen will also love the canal because it is stocked with trout.
Whether you are looking to practice your flat water kayak skills or want to escape into nature, Alton Baker Canal is a wonderful spot for all ability levels- especially people on campus looking for an easy paddle trip!
You can launch your own boat from the ramp near the stadium. Or, you can rent boats from Northwest Canoe Tour.
How to Get There: The best way to reach the Alton Baker Canal is to drive. If you are driving, take I-5 S toward Eugene. Continue on Day Island Rd. to the river.
Upper Deschutes River
- Location: Bend
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Tumalo Creek
Both paddling and floating down the Upper Deschutes River are popular ways of exploring Oregon’s natural beauty! From grassy plains to volcanic formations, the Deschutes River is full of intrigue and adventure.
The Upper Deschutes River, near Bend, is the calmer portion of the river. Here, paddlers can enjoy up to a full day of paddling around beautiful scenery. The river’s flat waters and gentle current also make it ideal for float trips!
As the river flows downstream, the water becomes a bit more challenging. Therefore, it is recommended to stay near the Dillon Falls area where visitors can explore Paulina Peak’s volcanic formations. A truly breathtaking place for outdoor adventuring, all types of paddlers enjoy the Deschutes River and its surrounding aspen groves and mountain views.
With miles upon miles of kayaking available, most paddlers turn canoeing the Deschutes River into a half or whole day outdoor experience. This scenic river will absolutely not disappoint! You can launch your own boat near Dillon Falls. Or, you can rent gear and book tours through Tumalo Creek.
How to Get There: The best way to get to the Upper Deschutes River is to drive. If you are driving, take I-84 E and take exit 14 for Fairview Parkway. Continue on Jackson Trail Rd. to the river.
Fort Stevens State Park
- Location: Hammond
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Wheel Fun Kayak Rentals
Fort Stevens State Park is home to two hidden gems in the Portland area! With beaches, lakes and camping grounds, Fort Stevens State Park has everything you need for an epic outdoor trip!
The park’s main lake, Coffenbury Lake, is known for its unique formation. Coffenbury Lake is a dune lake, meaning that is was formed between two dunes as rainwater filled the basin. Usually, dune lakes only last about 100 years (due to erosion) so kayaking at Coffenbury lake is a real treat! Although small in size, Coffenbury Lake is an excellent place for novice paddlers to explore and you can spot elk right on the shore!
Fort Stevens State Park’s other hidden treasure is Crabapple Lake. Although too much vegetation has made it un-kayakable, this small pond is a hotspot for wildlife. Crabapple Lake is a nice spot to break up a long day of paddling and hopefully see some awesome wildlife! Bonus- Social Security Beach is an awesome fishing spot!
Kayaking around Fort Stevens’ Coffenbury Lake is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The crystal blue waters and insane geological features make this park a must-see. Visitors can launch their own boats at the park. Or, you can rent gear from Wheel Fun Kayak Rentals.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Fort Stevens State Park is to drive. If you are driving, take I-405 N and take exit 1D for U.S. 26 W toward Beaverton. Continue on Columbia Beach Rd. to the park.
- Location: Bend
- Rentals Available: Yes, at Wanderlust Kayak Tours
Kayaking in Portland doesn’t get much better than the Cascades Range. A series of mountain lakes, the Cascades Range has bodies of water ideal for all types of paddlers.
The North Cascades is the place for outdoor thrill-seekers! Known for its whitewater kayaking, there are tons of outfitters to help you navigate the Class III, IV and V rapids in the North Cascades.
The Cascades Range has other waterways (that are a bit calmer) still with breathtaking mountain views. Many paddlers enjoy kayaking the Skagit River and the Skykomish River alongside Highway 2. Also, the Wenatchee River along the eastern side of the Cascades Range. All of these options offer a unique way to interact with this massive mountain range!
Kayaking around high-elevation lakes is an awesome experience. These, crystal clear lakes and mountain views of central Oregon are unbeatable- especially from the seat of a canoe! You can launch your own boat at these lakes. Or, you can rent gear and book tours through Wanderlust Kayak Tours.
How to Get There: The best way to get to the Cascades Range is to drive. If you are driving, take I-84 E and take exit 44 for US 30 E toward Cascade Locks. Continue on NF-68 to the lake.
From mountain lakes to whitewater rapids, kayaking in Portland is a wonderful way to interact with Oregon’s environment. Now that you are in the mood to kayak, check out our destinations page to see where else your boat can take you! Need some more inspiration before heading outdoors? Check out these motivational outdoors quotes. Happy paddling!
What to Pack for Kayaking in Portland
- Swimsuit: Wearing a swimsuit is essential for being out on the water! When canoeing and kayaking, chances are you are going to get wet, so best to be prepared! Click here to compare styles and prices for our favorite swimsuits.
- Sunglasses: Being out on the water is beautiful, but the water can really reflect light! Make sure to bring a pair of sunglasses and croakies to keep them from falling off.
- Hat: It’s best to keep the sun of your head to keep you cool. Whether you prefer a nice bucket hat or a vintage baseball cap, keeping cool will ensure an awesome trip.
- Water Bottle: Keeping hydrated is no joke! Paddling is a great way to exercise and relax, but that means it takes a lot of energy too! Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your trip with these cool water bottles.
- Sunscreen and Bug Spray: Don’t let the elements stop you from having an amazing paddle! I recommend bringing sunscreen and bug spray in the boat with ou to ward off any pests and sunburns.
For a more complete packing list, check out our ultimate kayaking packing list to help you prepare for all of your outdoor kayak adventures. These essentials will make your time kayaking and canoeing in San Diego an unforgettable experience!