The Clackamas River is the closest and most accessible whitewater that you can find near Portland. Experienced paddlers enjoy the Class III and IV rapids of the northern segment, and flat water floaters enjoy the less intense southern section.
The Clackamas River flows from Olallie Lake all the way to the Willamette River and was added to the Federal Wild and Scenic River System in 1988. At about 35 miles from downtown Portland, it doesn’t take long at all to get to the river. Two spots in particular draw paddlers. The North Fork is a renowned winter or spring kayaking run for experts only – lots of class 4.
What Makes It Great
The Clackamas River is the closest whitewater rafting/kayaking option to the Portland area. Its proximity makes it a perfect location for paddlers on a time budget. It is one of the most sought out river destinations in Oregon, especially in the summer. The river runs year-round and is easily accessible. It also has a few different personalities. In the summer it’s all beer and inner tubes, lazy river-style on the lower Clackamas. However, further upriver paddlers can discover a variety of class 3, and occasional class 4 runs.
The Clackamas River is known for both its paddling and the tubing that people enjoy in the Spring and Summer. There are plenty of places for either group to stop on a beach and have a snack or take a swim. If you choose to paddle the Lower Clackamas, there are several sections of river that are Class 2 or easier, which usually draws the canoe or tubing crowd, the most popular being a put-in at Barton park and the take-out in Carver park. Both kayakers and rafters enjoy the most popular Three Lynx segment, especially the run that goes down to Memaloose Weigh Station, which is about 13.5 miles long. This route can have some more technical Class 3 sections, with popular rapids such as “Hole in the Wall, ” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Toilet Bowl,” and “Bob’s Hole.” On the North Fork, there is a Class 4 section called “Killer Fang” for expert paddlers only.
For food and drink, the Fearless Brewing Company in Estacada. They do not have any overly fancy food, but they have really good, cold, beer.
Who is Going to Love It
Because the Clackamas River runs year-round, which is an oddity compared to other rivers in Oregon, you can decide to get technical in low-water conditions or enjoy the big water of the off-season. Because the river only has a peak of 3500’, ideal time to run it is in the Spring and Summer for lager rapids and later Summer for a more technical run. The variety in runs throughout the river allow for the previously mentioned 13.5 mile long run down to Memaloose Weight Station as well as the four-mile popular run from the Fish Creek put-in to Bob’s Hole.
The variety allows for lots of options from a full day trip to a short after work trip and a solid day for experienced paddlers to a trip for inexperienced paddlers or casual tubers who can pick and choose the route based on their level of comfort.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are many stops along the river to put-in, which are sometimes just pull-offs on the side of the road. There is a wonderful article by Oregon Live that lays out some of the most popular sections of river and their most well known rapids.