The Smith and Bybee Lakes area is the nation’s largest urban freshwater wetland. Tucked into North Portland’s industrial area, this is perhaps the best place to spot wildlife, specifically birds, within the city.
Hidden in the middle of the warehouses and port terminals of the North Portland peninsula, the Smith and Bybee Wetlands are home to several wildlife species, including some you might not expect. Bald eagles, beavers, and one of the last remaining large populations of Western painted turtles in Oregon all take up residence in the wetlands. A long list of the usual suspects also call the natural area home, including the black-tailed deer and an ever-changing list of seasonal birds.
What Makes It Great
With over 2000 acres of interconnected lakes and channels that don’t allow motorboats and that almost nobody knows about, you’re pretty much guaranteed a peaceful paddle. From the put-in, the area is your oyster, but navigation can be a bit tricky, so take note of your surroundings once in the water.
The peace and quiet and bird life make this a great escape from the city, while not actually leaving. I’m not claiming that you’re out in the middle of a pristine wilderness, void of humanity or anything. You’re going to see the occasional plane from PDX and you might hear cars racing over at PIR, or a truck heading down Marine Drive. But in terms of an urban paddle, this is about as peaceful as you’re going to get. Nobody knows it’s there, it’s vast, and no motorized engines!
Water levels vary greatly by season, from flood-level stage in late winter to muddy bog in late summer. As a matter of fact, the paddling is possible, but potentially very difficult by the end of summer. Your best bet is to head out anytime in spring or winter, which happen to offer the most excellent wildlife viewing anyway.
Who is Going to Love It
Anybody that is a fan of a good paddle will appreciate this outing. Beyond that, folks that don’t have a lot of time, but would still like a quality paddle will enjoy this quick trip that is so close to the city. If you’re in a time crunch, North Portland isn’t THAT far away, no matter what your friends living in inner southeast say. And if you’re into wildlife viewing, particularly bird watching, this spot is one of Portland’s birding Meccas.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are a few places around the lakes where you can put-in, but the official put in has restrooms, and those are good to have.
The put in is open from legal sunrise to legal sunset.
As mentioned, water levels are very erratic. It can be easy to get stuck in the mud during low water, so be forewarned.