Life in Portland Blog

The Five Best River Floats In and Around Portland

 Bull Run River in Oregon: Highly Float-Worthy

Bull Run River in Oregon: Highly Float-Worthy

Floating the Summer Days Away in PDX

Most of the things that PDX is so well known for -- predominantly beverage-oriented -- Portlanders do very well with an overabundance of them. This includes microbrews, independent coffee shops, bagpipe playing unicyclists, or rain.

But one thing that many Portlanders do not do well with is an overabundance of hot, sunny days. So if you’re looking around for something to do this summer when the dog days finally hit, then consider grabbing a six pack of tall boys; your swimsuit, sunscreen, and sunhat; an inner tube or inflatable raft or mattress, and float one of our many nearby rivers.

1 – The Big Float – The Willamette

Once upon a time, the Willamette River was known for being polluted, but that's not so much the case anymore. In fact, unless it’s been raining hard for a couple of days, the river is almost entirely free of waste at this point. Just don’t go down to the bottom and muck around in the er… muck, and you should be fine.

In fact, the city that allowed the river to become polluted in the first place, wants you to know that it’s safe now so badly, that they’ve staged a publicity event every summer for the last few years where the city’s elected officials and other noteworthy Portlanders spend a lazy afternoon tubing across the river from the East end of the Marquam Bridge to the bowl at the North End of Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

 The Big Float: Willamette River Is the Official Home

The Big Float: Willamette River Is the Official Home

If you’d really like to tube the Willamette, consider putting in upstream near Oaks Park at Sellwood Waterfront Park and pulling out at the Hawthorne Boat Dock during the Big Float.

2 – The Sandy River

The next closest river float option features a much cleaner, much narrower, and much faster river just outside Portland in the suburb of Troutdale. The Sandy river, from Dabney State Recreation Area to Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site makes for a full afternoon on the water and is only twenty or so minutes from downtown.

Note: this is not a good float for smaller children as it can get a bit dicey toward the end as the river passes through some rapids near Troutdale.

 Floating the Sandy River. Maybe Not for Little Ones?

Floating the Sandy River. Maybe Not for Little Ones?

3 – The Clackamas River

If you’re looking for more of a party, then floating the Clackamas River might be more your speed. A well known spot with both hipsters from the inner city and all kinds of Portland suburbanites, your tour of the Clackamas River can start from either of the Milo McIver State Park boat ramps in Estacada, and finish in either Barton or Carver downstream, depending on how many hours you have to kill. 

4 – The Washougal River

Many Portlanders forget that there are nearby rivers in Washington, as well, including the Washougal, which is just an hour from Portland, northwest of Vancouver. The drive is pretty enough, the river not nearly as crowded as any of those closer to the city, and the water is refreshingly cold.

Seriously, save this one for the hottest days. Put in at one of the spots near milepost three on Washougal River Road and take out a couple of miles downstream.

5 – The Lewis River

Another Southwest Washington gem, the East Fork of the Lewis River is beautiful, less crowded than anything closer to Portland, and a bit colder than some of the others on this list. Put in at Lewisville Regional Park just a few minutes north of Battleground, and take out at Daybreak Park near La Center.

Five PDX Spots to Cool You Off This Summer

There you have it, our five picks for the best river floats in and around Portland. Whether you choose to brave the urban waters of the Willamette, or would prefer the scenic beauty and colder rapids of one of the outlying sites, get out there and cool off while exploring the regions rivers on the back of an inflatable tube. It'll definitely help you beat the heat this summer!