Top 15 Best Places to Kayak in or near Portland

Portland is a remarkable city that offers up just about anything you could ever want from a wide range of gastronomic experiences to hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking and more.

With so many lush green spaces, mountains, rivers, glistening city lights and scenic beauty, it’s perfect for those who want to get out and enjoy nature.

If you’re planning on visiting Portland and kayaking is your thing, then here are the best places to kayak in and near Portland, Oregon…

1. Clackamette Park & Cove – a great kayaking location with varying class rapids

Kayaking Clackamette Park

The Clackamette Park & Cove is located at the junction of Willamette and Clackamas River. Equally popular among the beginners and the experienced rafters and paddlers due to its varying class rapids, this one is bound to take you on an adventure of a lifetime.

From offering a tranquil paddle along the Lower Clackamas and the southern section to an exhilarating ride along the northern section of the river, cruising along the Clackamas is a great way to experience kayaking during your trip to Portland.

However, due to the river’s proximity to the area, you can expect to see more people here at any given time as compared to other kayaking spots. 

Address360 SW Zobrist St, Estacada, OR 97023, United States.

  • Distance from Portland: 1 hour 20 minutes

2. Scappoose Bay – one of the best places for kayaking near the city of Portland

Kayaking Scappoose Bay

Have you been yearning for some peaceful time to yourself after a tough week at work? Why not enjoy the scenic beauty and magnificent wildlife at Scappoose Bay?

Scappoose Bay offers kayak rentals, a lot less boat traffic than other locations, and many exciting activities like ‘gunkholing’ to partake in.

This kayaking spot is just a half-hour drive north of Portland. You can even kayak from the bay to the Multnomah Channel and then on to the Warrior Rock Lighthouse from Sauvie Island if you please.

However, if you are looking for a longer ride, you can paddle out to the Columbia to St Helen’s Marina. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the ride!

  • Distance from Portland: 40 minutes

3. Willamette River – perfect for extended kayaking trips

Paddleboarding on the Willamette River

The Willamette River is a 185-mile trail spanning from Eugene to Portland and is perfect for extended kayak trips.

The Willamette is the best choice for beginners, featuring beautiful parks, ferries, scenery and wildlife. Pack your binoculars and enjoy the mesmerizing views along the way.

Although the calm waters would not pose any concern it is always wise to stay vigilant as you navigate through the river to look out for any changes in current.

  • Distance from Portland: 1 hour

4. Columbia Slough Watershed – a haven for nature

Kayaking Columbia Slough

Home to otters, turtles, and several birds, Columbia Slough Watershed is a haven for nature. The slough is almost a 20-mile channel running parallel to the Columbian river.

Given you have some time on your hand, a good starting point would be Kelly Point Park from where you could either reach the Willamette River or keep going up the slough.

If you are not sure when would be a good time to paddle, it’s recommended to save it for when the water level is running high in the springtime.

Address: 7040 NE 47th Ave, Portland, OR 97218, United States.

5. Tualatin River – a great place to cool off on a summer day

Kayaking Tualatin River

Never tried kayaking before? Need to cool off on a hot summer day? Looking for an exciting outdoor activity to try with your friends? Well, the Tualatin River is your answer for all of the above.

Towards the end, the river meets the Willamette River which means that as soon as you are done kayaking you can enjoy Willamette Park. A complete retreat!

  • Distance from Portland: 30 minutes

6. Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area – one of the nation’s best-kept secrets

Kayaking Smith and Bybee Wetlands

As unique as it sounds, Smith and Bybee is America’s largest wetland area also hosting the largest populations of bald eagles and beavers.

Be on the lookout, April through June, sunrise to sunset, the nation’s best-kept secret shouldn’t go amiss. One thing though, and it goes for all kayak spots on this list, before heading out make sure to always check the paddling conditions to avoid any disappointment.

  • Address 5300 N Marine Dr, Portland, OR 97203

7. Trillium Lake – kayak with the incredible backdrop of Mount Hood

Trillium Lake Kayaking

Trillium Lake has an area of 63 acres surrounded by beautiful wetlands and shorelines. It has a fishing pier and a few boat ramps, ideal for kayaking and walking along the 2-mile shoreline with beautiful views of Mt. Hood.

It is also popular for its campground in the conifer forest with about 60 sites.

If for some reason, you are a bit overwhelmed to kayak, you can obviously opt for a peaceful hike down the lakeside. Pro-Tip: if you try to avoid busier hours, then try leaving early in the morning on any mid-week day.

  • Distance from Portland: 1 hour 18 minutes

8. Sparks Lake – a perfect family location to unwind from the stress of city life

Kayaking on Sparks Lake

A nature’s wonder formed thousands of years ago from Mount Bachelor’s volcanic eruptions, Sparks Lake is an exhilarating place to go canoeing and kayaking.

Craggy terrain with a view of the Deschutes National Forest and availability of campsites on the shore for overnight trips makes this lake stand out from the rest.

Shade giving pine trees, sparkly blue lagoon water, bumpy cliffs, altogether make this place even more unique. A depth of only 10 feet means that children, as well as beginners, can enjoy this wild beauty.

A perfect family venture spent out in nature unwinding from all the stress and chaos of the city life. It won’t get better than this.

  • Distance from Portland: 4 hours

9. Henry Hagg Lake – a nature-lovers dream with wildlife observation decks

Kayaking Henry Hagg Lake

Henry Hagg Lake is a convenient no-wake, man-made lake for novice fishers, paddlers, and families with small children. It is located in northwest Oregon with an area of about 4.67 km2.

It has a 15-mile trail for biking and a 15-mile-long shoreline.

En route, this lake offers wildlife viewing and year-round fishing. Private picnic points, boat ramps, and fishing docks are also an attraction to this place.

Address: 50250 SW Scoggins Valley Rd, Gaston, OR 97119, United States.

  • Distance from Portland: 45 minutes

10. Hood River – a short drive from Portland, but a world away

Kayaking Hood River

Hood River is located at the junction of Hood River and Columbia River. It has many lakes and rivers surrounding it. It is well-reputed for kiteboarding and kayaking. The best times to visit it are summers and early fall.

It has a George paddling center and Hood River SUP and kayak facilitating a great day at the river.

Whether you want a thrilling kayaking experience in the riveting river currents or a peaceful paddle in the calm water surrounding the river, either way, you won’t be let down.

Address: The Hook, Portway Ave, Hood River, OR 97031, United States.

  • Distance from Portland: 1 hour

11. White Salmon River – a 44-mile tributary of the Columbia River which is great for kayaking rapids

Kayaking White Salmon River

White Salmon River falls from the glacier of Mt. Adams and is spread over an area of 44 miles. White Salmon River’s water is crystal clear and often rapid waters and is best for experienced rafters and kayakers.

The gradient is 75 fpm and the difficulty i Class III – IV (depending on flow). 

The experience is very raw and close to nature as it is surrounded by a forest, there’s no internet connection, and the shoreline, as well as the forest, is inaccessible.

It is renowned for Husum Falls which is the largest waterfall being commercially run in the United States a great test for experienced kayakers. 

  • Distance from Portland: 1 hour 10 minutes

12. Sauvie Island – take on the scenic 50-mile round trip

Kayaking Sauvie Island

Sauvie Island is spread over an area of 11,643 acres which is best for kayaking, wildlife viewing and hiking. If you want a beautiful mountain view, remember to stop by Sturgeon Lake.

It has so many places to explore like the smallest lighthouse which is Warrior Rock Lighthouse and a fort named Fort William. It is approximately a 50-mile trip to circumnavigate Sauvie Island by kayak. 

  • Distance from Portland: 40 minutes

13. Ross Island – kayak and enjoy the Portland skyline

Kayaking Ross Island

Ross Island is a magical place to view the incredibly beautiful skyline of Portland. As a matter of fact, there is no better place to view the city lights and skyline than Ross Island.

This privately owned refuge for canoers and kayakers alike, right in the heart of downtown Portland. Housing over 100 species of birds and sporting a large cove, this 5-mile loop should be on everyone’s list.

  • Ross Island, Portland, OR 97202, USA

14. Fort Stevens – a disused American military base that once guarded the mouth of the Columbia River

Kayaking at Fort Stevens

Fort Stevens is a popular military-turned-state park in Oregon spread over an area of 4,200 acres.

This kayaking hotspot also has other water activities like swimming to cater to everyone’s choice.

One of its major attractions is the historic fort, shipwreck, exploring various habitats and trails for biking and hiking which cover 9 and 6 miles respectively.

  • Distance from Portland: 1 hour 50 minutes

15. Clear Lake – a sparkling gem in the Willamette National Forest

Clear Lake - a sparkling gem in the Willamette National Forest

Clear Lake is a small lake situated in the Cascades that covers an area of about 142 acres and has an average depth of 175 ft. As its name implies, it is well-known for its clear cold water.

The place offers plenty of room for adventure as it has trails nearby for hiking and wildlife viewing. This place has straightforward navigation with restrooms and places to dine around.

  • Clear Lake, Oregon 97759, USA
  • Distance from Portland: 2 hours 30 minutes

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