The Lower Columbia Water Trail

columbia riverCall­ing all res­i­dents of Port­land, Ore­gon: do you know that you live mere miles from one of the best water trails in the Unit­ed States?

The Colum­bia Riv­er, which is the largest mov­ing body of water in the Pacif­ic North­west, orig­i­nates in the Rocky Moun­tains of British Colum­bia. It flows north­west then south, final­ly turn­ing west to form most of the bor­der between Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon before emp­ty­ing into the Pacif­ic Ocean. It’s more than 1,200 miles long. It col­lects the water from a drainage basin the size of France. And it flows right through the city of Port­land, Ore­gon.

The last 146 miles of the riv­er flow freely—meaning they’re not dammed—and have recent­ly been named the Low­er Colum­bia Riv­er Water Trail by the Low­er Colum­bia Estu­ary Part­ner­ship, a Port­land-based non­prof­it devot­ed to “pro­tect­ing and restor­ing ecosys­tems and enhanc­ing clean water for cur­rent and future gen­er­a­tions of fish, wildlife, and peo­ple.” Part of that mis­sion? Inform­ing Ore­go­ni­ans that the Colum­bia boasts world-class recre­ation­al opportunities—right in their own back­yards.

Kayak­ers, canoers, rafters, and oth­er boaters are free to put in and take out at any park or pub­lic dock along the riv­er, and lots of recre­ation­al­ists enjoy day pad­dles. But an increas­ing num­ber of recre­ation­al­ists are choos­ing to trav­el the whole length of the low­er Colum­bia, begin­ning at Bea­con Rock (just west of the Bon­neville Dam) and pad­dling through the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge toward Port­land and Van­cou­ver. From there the riv­er turns north­west toward the Lewis and Clark Nation­al Wildlife Refuge, then ends at Fort Clat­sop near Asto­ria, which was the win­ter encamp­ment for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Dis­cov­ery from Decem­ber 1805 to March 1806. Depend­ing on weath­er, wind, and group fit­ness, the 146 miles can take any­where from 4 to 10 days.

columbia riverCamp­ing is avail­able at river­side camp­grounds and unin­hab­it­ed islands, and the Low­er Colum­bia Estu­ary Part­ner­ship has com­piled a handy guide of camp­sites and oth­er resources. They even list the ani­mals that pad­dlers are like­ly to encounter, includ­ing salmon, sea lions, eagles, and oth­er sea birds.

All boaters need sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate equip­ment (includ­ing per­son­al flota­tion devices for every­one in the par­ty), prop­er train­ing in self-res­cue, and accu­rate weath­er fore­casts, of course. But no per­mits are required, and boaters are encour­aged to uti­lize the riv­er year-round. And while the warmer tem­per­a­tures of the sum­mer months make the riv­er crowd­ed dur­ing June, July, and August, experts sug­gest sched­ul­ing trips in the shoul­der season—April-May and/or September-October—for mild tem­per­a­tures and decreased boat traf­fic. Just watch out for the tug boats haul­ing barges, which always have the right of way.

For more infor­ma­tion about the Low­er Colum­bia Riv­er Water Trail, check out The Lewis and Clark Colum­bia Riv­er Water Trail: A Guide For Pad­dlers, Hik­ers, and Oth­er Explor­ers, by Kei­th Hay.