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Best Places to Kayak in Portland (Interactive Map)

Kayaking in Portland, Oregon, is a great way to explore the city’s natural beauty and surrounding areas. The many rivers, bays, and waterfalls offer breathtaking views that can’t be seen any other way.

Whether you are an experienced kayaker or just getting started, this blog post will show you some great places to go on your next adventure.

Portland is a city that offers plenty of opportunities for adventure, and kayaking is one of the best ways to explore the waterways.

In this blog post, we share some of the best places to go kayaking in Portland.

Before you head out, make sure you have the appropriate gear and skills. Also, be sure to check out the conditions.

Best places to kayak in (and around) Portland

There are a lot of waterways to explore in and around the Portland area. Below we share some great places to paddle. We also included various kayak destinations outside of the Portland area, but they are too good to leave off the list.

If we missed your favorite kayaking spot, please leave a comment below!

Also, if you are in the market for a great kayak, we highly recommend the Sea Eagle 380x.

Fort Stevens State Park

If you are up for a bit of a road trip, Fort Stevens State Park is located on the Oregon Coast, about 90 miles from downtown Portland.

Morning at Coffenbury Lake in Fort Stevens State ParkPin
Photo credit: Flickr

Fort Stevens State Park was initially built and used as a military fort back in the 1800s. It has since been turned into a state park and is one of the most popular parks in Oregon.

The park offers miles of beautiful coastline with diverse ecosystems. In addition to kayaking, you can enjoy other activities like swimming, hiking, and fishing, to name a few.

There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing as well as fishing along the shoreline or paddling up close to see bald eagles nesting atop sentinel trees or migrating gray whales feeding at sea.

Kayakers can also enjoy exploring the wetland areas to watch ducks swimming through dense vegetation while osprey dive for fish.

Whether you like open-water sea kayaking or maybe a calm freshwater lake is more your speed, everyone has something.

Coffenbury lake has two swimming areas and a boat ramp. In addition, two neighboring lakes are great for fishing and/or kayaking.

Henry Hagg Lake

Henry Hagg Lake is a man-made lake located about 25 miles southwest of downtown Portland, in Grove, OR.

The lake sits at the base of Oregon’s coastal range, and this multi-purpose waterway provides irrigation and drinking water to locals.

The lake offers year-round fishing (fully stocked) and boating. Kayakers will love the lake’s no-wake area, which is excellent for newbies or parents kayaking with young children.

Restrooms are available at various recreation areas on the lake. In addition, the park offers two boat ramps, fishing docks, and picnic tables.

The lake has a lot of sandy shorelines with easy access points, so it’s perfect for lunch or beginners who want to take a break.

If kayaking is not your jam, or you want another way to enjoy the scenery, there are also trails for hiking and biking around the waterway.

Henry Hagg Lake offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing with many open spaces for bird watching or spotting deer meandering through the forested areas along its shoreline.

Henry Hagg Lake is just a short drive from the city. You can quickly get out of the hustle and bustle and enjoy some time on the water.

Clear Lake

If you are new to the world of kayaking or just want a break from paddling up and down the rivers in and around Portland, then Clear Lake is something that should be on your list.

Located about 2 1/2 hours southeast of Portland, Clear Lake is worth the drive.

It’s an easy-to-navigate lake with plenty of places to stop for lunch or enjoy some wildlife viewing along the way. Restrooms are available at campgrounds and day-use sites around the water.

Clear Lake is a small, deep lake with just over 142 acres and sits at an elevation of 3,012 feet. It has the distinction of being one of the clearest (thus the name) and coldest lakes in the Cascades.

Clear Lake is a great place for kayakers of all levels to explore and enjoy calm waters, but if you are looking for some adventure, Clear Lake also has trails nearby for hiking or biking.

Since no motors are allowed on Clear Lake, it’s ideal for kayaking, canoeing, SUP.

Fishing is a strong point on Clear Lake. The lake’s brook trout and cutthroat trout are native species that reproduce naturally. Rainbow trout are introduced each year to increase the population.

If you are into kayak fishing or a relaxing day of paddling, be sure to check out Clear Lake.

Smith and Bybee Wetlands Area

Located northwest of downtown Portland, the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Area is the perfect place to kayak. Located by the Portland International Airport, the area is hidden among industrial buildings and terminals.

Don’t let the location fool you. It’s a peaceful, serene location on the Columbia River Gorge, with plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing. You’ll see a fantastic variety of birds in their natural habitat. Many species of birds have been spotted in the wetlands.

Take some time out and explore this hidden gem. From mid-April to late June, you can enjoy paddling one of America’s largest urban wetlands by canoe or kayak.

Parking and restrooms are available, so you can easily access the lakes and paddle all day if you choose.

Keep your eyes peeled as you paddle. Beavers, river otters, black-tailed deer, ospreys, bald eagles, and Western painted turtles are just a few of the animals you might see in this park.

Take note, though, the water levels will rise and fall with the water levels of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Therefore, it’s always best to check the paddling conditions before you head out.

Rogue River

Okay, the Rogue River is NOT close to Portland, but the Rogue River is one of the most beautiful rivers in America. It’s also an excellent place for kayaking.

The Rogue River begins in Crater Lake National Park. It winds its way southwesterly through a remote part of southwestern Oregon before spilling into the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach on the southern Oregon Coast after traveling 215 miles from its source. Along the way, it meanders through forests, farms, and ranches.

One of the first Wild and Scenic Rivers designated in the United States, the Rogue River was recognized for its exceptional natural, cultural, and recreational qualities.

Known for whitewater and rugged scenery, kayaking the Rogue River is not for beginners or the faint of heart.

Kayak schools like Sundance Kayak can help you get on the water with a customized experience, no matter your age or skill level.

A kayaking progression exists for everyone, whether they’re a novice on their first day out in a whitewater kayak or an advanced paddler who just wants to have more fun.

The Rogue River is one of the best places to kayak in Oregon. The river is beautiful, majestic, and rugged, just not necessarily near Portland, but we couldn’t justify leaving it off the list.

Lost Lake

Kayaking at Lost Lake is a great way to explore the beautiful scenery. The lake is located due east of Portland in the Mount Hood National Forest.

There are plenty of spots for kayakers of all levels to explore. Paddlers can expect to see various wildlife at the lake, including bald eagles, osprey, and blue heron.

Make sure you have your camera ready because these creatures are quite beautiful.

Lost Lake is a great place for kayakers to explore some truly breathtaking scenery and experience some local flora and fauna that they may not have seen before.

The lake is bordered on the east by Lost Lake Butte at an elevation of 4,468 feet, while Preacher’s Peak lies to the southwest at 4,566 feet.

Kayak (even some clear bottom boats), canoe, and SUP rentals are available at the Lost Lake Resort. One of the best things about kayaking at Lost Lake is there are no motorboats allowed on the lake.

You can enjoy a fine day of paddling and fishing in peace and quiet. You and the other paddlers, of course. You can also enjoy the miles and miles of hiking and biking trails in the area.

You can spend a day or a week paddling your heart out at Lost Lake, which makes it one of the best places to kayak near Portland.

Trillium Lake

Trillium Lake is a beautiful lake located 60 miles outside of Portland, Oregon. The lake is incredibly scenic with the majestic views of Mt Hood. You can see the reflection of Mt Hood on the lake, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

You can enjoy kayaking on the lake or on some of the surrounding rivers that go to the lakeside.

One of the best things about Trillium Lake is that you can enjoy fishing and boating, as well as camping and swimming.

As a result, you’re able to explore this serenely beautiful environment at your leisure and with your friends and family members.

The lakeside also has a lot of exciting hiking trails for those looking to explore more than just kayaking or fishing in Trillium Lake.

Kayak rentals are available if you need them, or you can certainly take your own boat with you.

If you like to kayak and fish, or just paddle (and with Mt Hood as the backdrop), Trillium Lake is one of the best places to kayak near Portland.

One word of caution, this place gets busy during peak season. If you have the opportunity to paddle mid-week or early in the morning, that’s your best bet.

Chetco River

The Chetco River is one of the best places to kayak in Oregon. Getting to the river can be a little tricky, but it’s well worth it once you’re there and ready to explore.

The Chetco is an extensive, powerful river system that attracts boaters and fishermen to its world-famous salmon and steelhead runs. In addition, this difficult-to-reach river has attracted paddlers due to its incredible scenery and trophy salmon and steelhead runs.

The scenery is nothing short of spectacular, with crystal clear water surrounded by towering cliffs and mountains. Paddlers can enjoy wildlife like otters, bald eagles, osprey, and more while exploring this breathtaking area.

This is not a destination for the average weekend paddler. It is very technical, including Class III and IV rapids. Hardshell and inflatable kayaks can run the Chetco River depending on water flow.

Another great thing about kayaking on the Chetco River is that it’s not too crowded because it’s hard to get to. You may run into some other paddlers, but you aren’t likely to encounter a ton of people, if any at all.

This means you can enjoy your time exploring in peace and solitude while still getting an awesome workout during your trip.

Permits are required to float the river all year-round.

It’s beautiful all year round, and there are always new things to discover about the Chetco River.

Columbia Slough 

Kayaking the Columbia Slough Watershed offers a kayaking experience close to downtown Portland. The beauty of this area cannot be conveyed through words alone. It must be experienced firsthand to truly appreciate its natural splendor.

This stunning watershed offers kayakers many unique opportunities for exploration and discovery.

The 19-mile main channel of the river that runs east-west parallel to the Columbia River is the slough, and more than 30 miles of secondary waterways drain into the slough from the south.

The area has been restored to its natural environment, and ow supports a variety of wildlife, including river otters, painted turtles, dragonflies, and hundreds of bird species. The best time to kayak is in late spring when the woods are bustling with activity and water levels are good.

If you are up for a long paddle, a good launch spot is Kelly Point Park, then you can paddle out into the Willamette River or continue up the slough. The Columbia Slough Watershed Council offers paddling guides for kayakers and canoeists.

Tualatin River

Portland is an excellent city for kayaking. There are many different rivers in the area that offer some of the best paddling opportunities around. The Tualatin River is one of these places, and it’s just a short drive from downtown Portland.

Trees lining the calm water of the Tualatin RiverPin

Although the Tualatin River runs almost 80 miles from the headwaters to the Willamette River, only the lower 40 miles are accessible to paddlers. 

The current in the summer is almost non-existent, making this an excellent spot for beginners or families with small children.

If you want to get away from all the hustle and bustle of Portland life, this river offers just what you need. It’s perfect for those who love fishing or wildlife viewing as well as kayaking because it has both to offer.

There are many different places to access the river, so you can choose your own adventure depending on what kind of experience you want.

You will paddle through all kinds of different areas, including suburbs, farmland, and a wildlife refuge.

There are many spots to launch a kayak or canoe on the Tualatin River, including Browns Ferry Park, and Jurgens Park, with nice docks for canoes and kayaks. There are canoe and kayak rentals available daily in the summer at Browns Ferry Park.

This river is a fantastic place to kayak, with lots of different features to explore. It’s easy enough for beginners but offers things that more experienced kayakers will enjoy as well.

Sparks Lake

Located in Central Oregon, Sparks Lake is one of the most beautiful places to kayak in Oregon.

Sparks Lake is on the northwest side of Mount Bachelor, and it’s the first of the high lakes you see when traveling west on the Cascade Lakes Highway from Bend.

Although Sparks Lake is a popular destination with locals, the road is kind of rough, so it never gets too crowded and is perfect for paddling with family or friends.

The lake is only 10 feet deep, so it’s a great place to learn how to kayak or take smaller kids if you are going out as a family. It’s also a great place to drop a line to catch trout.

Sparks Lake is surrounded by pines trees that shade you from any sun during your trip. The lake has rocky cliffs along its shores and offers a unique sparkly blue color due to the minerals in the water.

Sparks Lake is full of hidden coves and passageways that are fun to explore in a kayak. You will find canoes and SUPs as well. The lake does allow motorized watercraft, but the speed limit is 10 MPH, so it’s not a nuisance.

If you have an opportunity to kayak Sparks Lake, you won’t be disappointed.

Clackamas River

The Clackamas River is a great place to kayak, especially for beginners. It’s about an hour from Portland, making it a perfect destination if you’re looking for a quick trip with family or friends.

The Clackamas River starts in Mount Hood National Forest and flows about 80 miles to the Willamette River near Gladstone.

If you want to use your kayak or canoe, the Estacada Timber Park non-motorized boat launch is an excellent place to go.

The rapids on this river are mild and perfect for those new to kayaking, but some more challenging sections of the river will provide a decent workout if you’re looking for it.

Kayaking down a peaceful stretch of water that begins at the Olallie Butte, which flows through beautiful areas of Mt. Hood National Forest, is a favorite pastime for many paddlers. The southern section of the river is ideal for leisurely float trips and summer paddle outings.

Many locations to put in and out along the upper Clackamas River region are accessible to whitewater enthusiasts. However, this northern section is for the more adventurous folks out there.

The variety of paddling experiences is one feature that makes the Clackamas River a great place to kayak near Portland.

Scappoose Bay

Located just 25 minutes north of Portland, Scappoose Bay gives you a peaceful, flatwater paddling experience.

Scappoose Bay is a large bay on the northeast side of Sauvie Island, where you can find all kinds of wildlife.

The marina has a public boat launch and a separate dock for kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards adjacent to miles of flatwater estuaries secluded from boat traffic.

In Scappoose Bay, you can paddle through beautiful forests and see fascinating animals in a family-friendly atmosphere suited to all levels of boaters, particularly beginners.

Scappoose Bay is a great place to explore by kayak. Scappoose Bay has lots of spots that offer fantastic scenery and wildlife for those who explore by kayak, and it’s only 25 minutes north of Portland.

It’s also very easy because you don’t have to worry about boat traffic and the flat water is great for beginners.

Hood River

Hood River is well-known as a haven for watersports enthusiasts. Of course, the big draw to Hood River is kiteboarding, but you can also explore the area by kayak.

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Photo credit: Flickr

There are a lot of locations to paddle on the Hood River. You can kayak in the city of Hood River itself or several smaller waterways in Washington state (right next door), as well as a few beautiful lakes with hiking routes. 

The best time to kayak Hood River is summer and early fall. But beware, this place can get jam-packed in the summer since it’s just an hour’s drive from Portland.

If you can wait until fall to kayak Hood River, you will be rewarded with fantastic scenery and fall colors (and a lot fewer people).

A couple of things to watch out for are the wind, and the river currents, which can be unpredictable. Also, if you are not an experienced kayaker, consider looking for some easier stretches.

But there are plenty of calm water areas to kayak around Hood River. This place has some of the most beautiful scenery to enjoy from the cockpit of a kayak.

Willamette River

Portland is a beautiful city with lots of things to do, but if you’re looking for someplace to kayak near the city, you might want to head up north.

Two red kayaks on the Willamette RiverPin
Photo credit: Flickr

Kayaking the Willamette River is a great way to explore the Portland area. The scenery and wildlife are spectacular, and it’s very easy for beginners. However, if you’re new to the sport, this river is perfect for you.

The Willamette River Water Trail meanders its way about 187 miles from Eugene to Portland, and it’s a fantastic place to get your paddle on! This is an excellent spot for longer kayak outings.

The route runs through beautiful parks and other greenways. There are numerous access points along the way. Its tranquil waters are ideal for people who have never been on a kayak before or families with young children.

There is a ton of wildlife to see including, bald eagles, deer, river otters, to name a few. The area is also great for fishing.

A great family-friendly route is Peoria to Corvallis, with calm water for a relaxing day on the water. Another great kayaking spot for beginners (in the Salem area) is Wallace Marine Park to Willamette Mission State Park. Again, you can expect calm waters and lots of wildlife as you paddle.

Timothy Lake

When you are looking for a place to go kayaking near Portland, Oregon, Timothy Lake is a fantastic spot. It’s just about an hour southeast of the city, and it offers calm waters and lots of wildlife.

The scenery around here is gorgeous too. You won’t regret coming out to explore by kayak. The best time to come out here is in late fall when fewer people visit, but summer can be great too if you are okay with lots of people.

In addition to kayaking, there are also many other opportunities for adventure, including hiking, fishing, biking. If you are going to camp at Timothy Lake, be sure to reserve your site early so you can be close to the water.

The water at Timothy Lake is crystal clear, which makes it great for kayaking, SUP, swimming, etc.

There are several places where you can pay $5 to park for the day, with plenty of parking and a short walk to the water. The lake might be a little choppy in certain sections, but there are also lovely secluded bays.

If you are looking for a beautiful place to kayak in the shadow of Mt. Hood, Timothy Lake is worth the drive.

Sauvie Island

Kayaking is a great way to explore Portland and the surrounding areas. That’s why we recommend Sauvie Island as an excellent place to paddle.

Located about 10 miles north of Portland, Sauvie Island is the largest island in the Columbia River and one of the largest in the US.

You can paddle the Multnomah Channel or on the Columbia River, but both present some challenges, including boat traffic and even ocean-going vessels. If you want a little more peace while paddling, Cunningham Slough is a good option for kayaking.

Sauvie Island and the surrounding area is a great place to spend the day by kayak and explore. The scenery is spectacular, with wildlife everywhere you look, including eagles, osprey, and all kinds of waterfowl.

Conclusion

Portland is a great area to explore by kayak. There are plenty of calm water areas around the area that offer beautiful scenery and wildlife for those who explore by kayak. These places include Hood River, Willamette River, and Timothy Lake in Oregon, among others.

Many places offer kayaking year-round, but some of the best times are spring, summer, and fall. Fall is a great time to avoid crowds.

If we missed your favorite place to kayak in or around Portland, please let us know in the comments.

Steve, Founder of Paddle About
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.

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