Best Places for Kayaking in Oregon (Especially Near Portland!)

kayaking in portland oregon

Night kayaking near downtown Portland, Oregon.

Oregon is a beautiful and mountainous state located on the West Coast of the USA, between California and Washington State. For nature lovers, it really doesn’t get much better than Oregon. All along the coast you can visit beautiful beaches and coastal towns; while further inland you can see beautiful mountains, immense rivers, and gorgeous lakes. Add that to Oregon’s interesting cultural appeal, and it’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with this incredible state.

So we’ve established that there is a lot to do and see in Oregon, but given the title of this article, I’m going to assume that you’re here to read about kayaking opportunities in this awesome state. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Kayaking in the Portland Area

The city of Portland, located at the northern end of Oregon right near the Washington border, is the biggest and most populous city in the state. It’s a beautiful and interesting area for nature lovers, foodies, and hipsters alike. The city itself is a very fun place, where you can sample delicious beers from any of Portland’s 50+ microbreweries, or enjoy tasty meals (unless you brought your own easy camping meal) from any of the city’s 500+ food trucks. Portland is also an excellent setting-off point for various outdoor activities.

Columbia River

If you want to explore the city of Portland by kayak, the best way to do that is to head for the rivers. The Columbia River is located on the northern end of the city, and actually provides the physical border line between Oregon and Washington. The Columbia is a HUGE river, which is a good and a bad thing for river kayakers. On one hand, there is plenty to explore, see, and do. On the other hand, the Columbia is a major shipping line, so you will have to share the river with huge cargo boats, as well as a variety of smaller speed boats. In short, the Columbia is a good place to kayak, or even do some kayak fishing, but it’s NOT going to be a relaxing nature experience.

Willamette River, Oregon

Willamette River, Oregon

Willamette River

The Willamette is another large river that cuts through the heart of downtown Portland, running north/south. It’s a beautiful river, and it’s much less crowded than the Columbia. That being said, you will still find lots of other boaters on the Willamette, so don’t expect to be alone! It’s a great river for an enjoyable river cruise, but there are definitely better spots to go fishing in the area.

To me, the Willamette is a great place to kayak in tandem, because it gives you that wonderful contrast between nature and city life, something you want to share with a friend or a loved one. Make sure you get the right tandem kayak as there are quite a few different ones available. I find it very relaxing and enjoyable to cruise down a gently flowing river while enjoying scenic views of a metropolitan area. If that’s the kind of kayaking adventure you enjoy or if you want spend romantic night with your partner, be sure to check out the Willamette!

Scappoose Bay

Clackamas River Oregon

Clackamas River, Oregon

Scappoose Bay, located about 30 minutes northwest of Portland, is a long channel that feeds back into the Columbia River. It’s a beautiful place, and it’s far enough away from the city that it’s teeming with wildlife. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy kayaking Scappoose Bay greatly. Be on the lookout for blue herons and bald eagles! Also, during certain seasons this bay can be a great place to kayak fishing for steelhead and salmon.

Clackamas River

The Clackamas River is located about an hour southeast of Portland. It is widely considered one of the best places in Oregon to river kayak and whitewater raft. Depending on the section of river and the time of the year, you will find rapids all the way up to class 4 – sometimes even class 5 if it’s been raining heavily.

Because of the rapid and intense nature of this river, we recommend you go with a tour guide. Unless you are a very experienced river kayaker, the Clackamas can be a dangerous river. Be safe out there!

Kayaking in the Bend/Cascade Lakes Area

Sparks Lake, Oregon

Sparks Lake, Oregon

Bend, Oregon is located in central Oregon, about 4 hours southeast of Portland. It’s a great city to check out for a number of reasons, but mainly because it’s a great starting point for a huge variety of outdoor activities. Bend is near the Cascade Lakes region of Oregon, which is home to hundreds of lakes of all sizes. Plus, the Deschutes River flows right through downtown Bend, and there are many more rivers in the immediate area.

Sparks Lake

Sparks Lake is widely considered one of the best lakes for fly fishing by kayak in the region (you will need a sturdy angler’s kayak for this). It’s beautiful, secluded, and full of wildlife (including my favorite fish, trout!) There are a huge number of little inlets, nooks, and crannies on Sparks Lake, so it’s easy to spend a whole day exploring and enjoying the scenery. Best of all, there are NO MOTORS allowed on Sparks Lake, which means you can enjoy this natural wonder in relative peace and quiet. It can get somewhat busy during high tourist season, but it’s a big enough lake that it’s easy to get away from it all.

Todd Lake

Located just past Mount Bachelor, and just a 30-minute drive from Bend, lies Todd Lake. This relatively small but incredibly beautiful lake is becoming more popular in recent years, but still lies well off the typical tourist track. For those of us who enjoy a more peaceful paddle, Todd Lake is an excellent choice. It’s also surrounded by a variety of hiking and mountain biking trails, if that’s your cup of tea!

Chetco River Image Courtesy of westerrivers.org

Chetco River Image Courtesy of westerrivers.org

Chetco River

For those seeking a more rustic and rural river kayaking experience, the Chetco River  is an excellent choice. This little-known and remote river is a fantastic place for whitewater river kayaking and rafting. And, best of all, it’s not yet overrun with people and guided tours, so you can really go out and enjoy nature. The only downside is that you have to hike in to get to the Chetco. But if you make the trek, you will be well rewarded with more than 20 miles of class III and IV rapids and some incredibly beautiful surroundings! The Chetco also provides excellent fishing opportunities during the right salmon run season.

Keep in mind that this list is far from complete. There are SO MANY amazing places to kayak in Oregon that we couldn’t possibly list them all. But we hope that this list gives you a good place to start, and gets you in the mood to go out and explore!