Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), both the flatwater and whitewater varieties, has become a popular pastime for Portlanders over the past eight years or so, and it’s easy to see why. With ample access to numerous and varied waterways, a vibrant outdoor culture, and mostly agreeable summer weather, the Portland region is an ideal destination for burgeoning and seasoned paddlers alike.
Paddlers have plenty of waterways to choose from, whether deep in the Columbia River Gorge, along the Willamette River, or up the Clackamas and Sandy rivers. The variety gives newbies and advanced paddlers alike the chance to try the sport, practice in relative solitude, hone their skills, or challenge themselves in rougher waters. And with the overwhelming number of regional waterways within an hour’s drive of Portland, paddlers are rarely pressed for new and interesting destinations.
The mild summers also give paddlers plenty of opportunities to practice their craft. Portlanders never have to worry about fighting unbearable heat, struggling with oppressive humidity, paddling in to whipping winds, or navigating difficult currents. In fact, the biggest complaint among paddlers each summer is struggling with the wake emanating from motorboats.
Beyond that, there’s something elemental and basic about the sport’s appeal. Quite simply, it’s easy to get started. Would-be paddlers need only a personal flotation device, board, and paddle to get started—all readily available for purchase or rental from numerous retailers in and around Portland—see our recommended list of shops in your area. Lessons can also help paddlers learn proper balance and stroke techniques, and several outfitters offer regular classes on local waterways. You can also check out BIC SUP’sHow to SUP page to get a better understanding of the sport.
Given the innumerable destinations in the Portland region, here are three SUP destinations that appeal to beginners, seasoned paddlers, and thrill-seekers alike.
Elk Rock and Elk Rock Island
Elk Rock, sandwiched between Milwaukie and Lake Oswego, is an ideal spot for beginners and those new to Stand Up Paddling. The water is relatively shallow, so most of the jet boats and speedboats don’t venture much further south than Ross Island, leaving beginners to learn without struggling with constant wakes. The secluded feeling is furthered by the forestland that hugs both sides of the river.
Elk Rock Island itself is a natural wonder worth exploring. The island, accessible by foot during the summer (when water levels are low), is what remains of an ancient volcano that erupted millions of years ago.
The Elk Rock area is certainly a quiet area to practice paddling, but jagged rocks (formed by waterflows) are common, and the summertime water levels can leave paddlers scraping the river’s bottom if they aren’t careful.
Willamette River and Ross Island
The Willamette River near the southern tip of Ross Island is popular with water-sports aficionados of all stripes: Kayakers, canoeists, and stand-up paddlers alike frequent the area, which is hidden amongst houseboats and forestland and tucked away from the wake left by speedboats and jet skis. “You get to spots where you feel like you’re out in the woods,” Higgins says. “It feels secluded.”
The area is plentiful with wildlife, and it feels quite secluded. Sightings of bald eagles, osprey, blue heron, salmon, sturgeon, beaver, and deer on Ross Island are not uncommon.
Yet for all its seclusion and solitude, paddlers are never far from Portland’s urban core, and there are great views of the city and plenty of places to grab local food and drinks after your paddle.
Lower Clackamas River
The Lower Clackamas River offers a mix of whitewater paddling to challenge thrill-seekers and a handful of slower sections to appease flatwater paddlers. The river is dam-controlled, ensuring consistent water levels throughout the summer (unlike the Sandy River, where water levels can fluctuate wildly), making it a reliable destination. It also offers an unexpected benefit for nature-lovers: Stand Up Paddlers are afforded an up-close view of the river’s vaunted salmon run. You get a great perspective of all the fish coming up the river.
Several local retailers provide paddlers with the latest gear, information, tours, and more. Get started with these shops.
2nd Wind Sports, 2nd and State, Hood River, OR (541) 386-4464
Hood River is one of the most popular paddle and wind sport destinations in the country. The store offers a wide selection of paddle products, as well as equipment rentals and demos.
Gorge Performance, 7400 SW Macadam Ave, Portland (503) 246-6646
Just south of downtown Portland along Macadam Avenue, this shop offers information on racing, clinics, gear for sale, and repair services. Willamette Park, just north of the shop, is an ideal launch point.
Next Adventure, (877) 838-2816
Next Adventure is home to a dedicated Paddle Sports Center, sells a wide variety of paddling gear; offers clinics, classes, and SUP yoga lessons; and leads daylong adventures throughout the Portland area.
REI, 1405 NW Johnson Street, Portland (503) 221-1938 or 12160 SE 82nd Ave, Portland (503)659-1156
REI is a top outdoor retailer offering everything you need to cover your next big adventure outside. REI carries paddleboards and gear and also offers SUP lessons through the REI Outdoor School