Great Places to Float Near Portland Before Summer's Out

The Sandy River is a popular float destination, given its bucolic setting and relatively close proximity to Portland.
The Sandy River is a popular float destination, given its bucolic setting and relatively close proximity to Portland. Eli Duke
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Temperatures have, more or less, consistently flirted with the 90-degree mark (if not the 95-degree mark) since mid-June in Portland. Given the high temperatures, it’s no wonder Portlanders are inflating their inner tubes and heading for their favorite waterways in droves this summer.

And, given its low barrier to entry, it's no surprise floating is popular among locals. The fun summer activity requires little more than a float (widely available at outdoor retailers and big-box stores such as Walmart and Fred Meyer), personal flotation device (not technically required on individual rafts or floats, but nevertheless strongly encouraged), and transportation for shuttling between launch and end points.

Everyone has their favorite float, but most Portlanders generally head for one of two locales: The Sandy River or the Clackamas River. The former offers a mix of fast-moving and laid-back routes in the midst of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, while the latter’s overwhelming popularity creates a communal, party-like vibe most weekends. Wherever you wind up, here’s what to know when you go.

Sandy River

The Sandy River is a popular place to float among Portlanders.
The Sandy River is a popular place to float among Portlanders. Eli Duke

Sections of the 38-mile Sandy River Water Trail , fed by Mount Hood’s Sandy Glacier, offer myriad options for floaters looking to enjoy the summer sun.

The four-mile section between Dabney State Recreation Site and Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site, which ends just east of Troutdale, is among the most popular routes for on-a-whim floaters. Even with occasional stops for food, drink, or sunbathing, the mellow section of river only takes about 2-3 hours to complete.

More experienced floaters can find adventure along the stretch between Dodge Park and Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site, which can take up to six hours to float. (Some floaters opt for a shorter jaunt and stop at Oxbow Regional Park, rather than continue onto Lewis and Clark.)

The banks along the upper Sandy River are awash in thick, green forests.
The banks along the upper Sandy River are awash in thick, green forests. Eli Duke

Take note: A class III rapid about a half-mile down from the Dodge Park drop-in might give floaters pause, and smaller rapids are common until Oxbow Regional Park.

The seven-mile float between Oxbow Regional Park and Dabney State Recreation Site is another popular route for floaters seeking swift currents, thanks to the presence of several class I rapids.

No matter the route, floaters may see a variety of wildlife, including osprey, ducks, geese, and wild turkeys.

Clackamas River

Milo McIver State Park is among the most popular float launchpads in the Portland area.
Milo McIver State Park is among the most popular float launchpads in the Portland area. brx0

The Clackamas River is, far and away, the most popular place to float near Portland. Rising temperatures draw tubes and rafts by the dozens (if not hundreds), creating a festive atmosphere on and off the river (not to mention occasional trouble for local law enforcement). Residents along the river will sometimes barbecue and play music on its banks, and floaters routinely stop to talk, sunbathe, drink, and eat. The stops are often necessary, however, thanks in part to the crowds that clog the waterway every weekend. (You’ve been warned.)

Roughly 45 minutes from Portland, Milo McIver State Park is perhaps the most popular launch pad in the region. Floats between the park’s upper ramp and Barton Park or Carver Park take between 2-9 hours, while floats between its lower ramp and Barton Park or Carver Park take 5-8 hours.

The slow pace of the Clackamas River makes it a popular destination for floating.
The slow pace of the Clackamas River makes it a popular destination for floating. brx0

Those are only a few of the many floating options along the Clackamas River, though. The 5.5-mile stretch between Barton Park and Carver Park is popular, thanks to the occasional class II drops, and floaters looking for an easy afternoon can float between the Milo McIver State Park’s upper and lower ramps in about two hours.

No matter which route you opt for, Clackamas River floaters can expect to enjoy a mix of thick, green forests and occasional rocky outcrops.

Clackamas River floaters should be aware that water levels are lower in 2015 than in past years, which may lead to more punctured rafts and injuries. Take caution to avoid rocks and remain aware of your surroundings along the way.

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