The Willamette River is one of the most accessible rivers for water-related outdoor activities in the entire Pacific Northwest region. Snaking its way 187-miles through some of Oregon's more populous areas (including right through downtown Portland), it is said that roughly 70 percent of Oregon's population lives within 20 miles of this river playground. Yet even with this close proximity to civilization, taking a multi-day flat water paddling trip down the Willamette Water Trail is a recreational experience that will leave you feeling worlds away, and it's a classic river adventure that all Oregonians should consider doing at least once.
What Makes It Great
This particular trip will take about 4 days depending on your pace. Along the way, you'll pass rolling farmlands, dense cottonwood forests, and plenty of wildlife sanctuaries bustling with bird activity (think ospreys and bald eagles) and other river animals.
The Willamette is loaded with access points, so you can cater a paddling experience to suit your own needs and desires- whether it's a 12-18 mile day trip from Dexter Reservoir to Springfield, or an inner-tube float down the somewhat faster-flowing waters outside of Eugene. We recommend a roughly 50-mile stretch from Buena Vista Park, just south of Salem, to San Salvador, just east of St. Paul. Keizer Rapids Park at Mile 79.5 has camping with lots of wildlife viewing as well as restrooms. For the rest of the nights on the river, there are plenty of primitive campsites on the sandbars, islands, and beaches lining the river, but remember that you'll need to have all of your supplies with you in your vessel (food, sleeping systems, water filters, etc).
For more information, the Willamette Water Trail website is an excellent resource, as is local outfitter, Next Adventure.
Who is Going to Love It
The paddling itself is generally pretty manageable even for novice paddlers, but basic wherewithal and safety measures should be taken (e.g. wearing life preservers and being on the lookout for log jams and strange currents). You should also take in to consideration that the river has a fast current in certain areas and may contain swift current, riffles, and strong eddy lines. You should be well versed in how to handle those river features. In planning your trip, keep in mind that your speed on the river not only depends on the speed of the current, but also the ability of the paddlers. It is a good idea to have several camping options just in case you are running behind schedule.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to the Buena Vista Park from Portland, take I-5S toward Salem to exit 260A for OR-99E BUS/Salem Parkway. Continue on OR-99E BUS S, then continue on Commercial Street NE. Take a right on Marion Street NE and continue on OR-22 W/Morian Street Bridge. Take a left on OR-51 S and continue straight on S Main Street, then continue on Corvallis Road. Turn left on Buena Vista Road/Hartman Road then turn right to stay on Buena Vista Road. Take your first left to stay on Buena Vista Road, then left on Sequoia Street. Take the first right on Riverview Street and the Buena Vista House will be on the right. The park has a boat ramp and dock. Buena Vista Park is open from sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.