Kayaking In And Around Portland, Oregon: The 10 Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

Portland is the state of Oregon’s biggest city and a great place to explore nature. It sits between two rivers, the Willamette and Columbia, and has plenty of parks, bike paths, and outdoor activities to suit all skill levels. One of the key things you can do in Portland is head to some of the rivers and lakes nearby to do kayaking.

Thanks to the vast swathes of untouched land, there are plenty of options in this part of the country. You don’t have to travel very far to feel like you’re in a different world altogether!

For more kayaking ideas, check out our post on kayaking destinations in Oregon here.

1. Henry Hagg Lake, OR

Henry Hagg Lake is one of the few human-made options on our list and sits a mere 25 miles west of downtown Portland. An easy day trip, Henry Hagg Lake was made for recreational boating, although bigger boats are discouraged in certain areas. This setup means that there’s a no-wake area where even novice kayakers will feel comfortable.

Henry Hagg Lake has a picnic area and plenty of trails, so you can easily split up the day between hiking and kayaking if you want to. More experienced kayakers can venture into other parts of the lake where wake restrictions are lifted.

2. Tualatin River, OR

Tualatin River is a calm spot perfect for novice kayakers. It doesn’t have much of a current, and since it’s located relatively close to Portland itself, you can easily do it on a day trip. Expect to meet other water sport enthusiasts, like fellow kayakers or paddleboarders. Canoes are common, as are innertubes, so it pays to be aware and courteous of the other river traffic.

You can get into the river virtually anywhere, but Cook Park and Tualatin Community Park are two favorite entry spots. These are also good places for you to grab a quick bathroom break or set up a BBQ if you want to make a day out of it.

There’s plenty of aquatic life in the Tualatin River, including geese, ducks, and the occasional river otter. You can go on guided tours or go it alone. Kayak rentals are available.

3. Multnomah Creek, OR

Multnomah Falls is a famous tourist destination, but kayakers in the know understand that there is a whole other area to explore right above the falls. Multnomah Creek is a technically challenging stretch of water full of wildlife and many nooks and crannies to explore. Since it’s close to the falls, expect some currents and rapids.

It’s also not as popular as other places on our list, so there’s a good chance that you might have the creek to yourself. Since it’s relatively secluded, there are not many places to rent kayaks, if at all. Always go with a buddy on Multnomah Creek, even if you’re an experienced kayaker. 

4. North Fork Reservoir, OR

North Fork Reservoir is right off the Clackamas River corridor, and it’s an excellent place for people who want a calm kayaking experience and the chance to check out the wildlife. The waters here are tranquil and full of all kinds of aquatic animals like rainbow trout. Also, it’s an hour away from Portland itself and easily accessible for planning a day trip.

You’ll be sure to run into other kayakers and canoe-enthusiasts in the North Fork Reservoir, and you can access the water from virtually anywhere. There are several docks, a beach, and a ramp for larger crafts. Kayakers may enter the reservoir from the northern boat ramp near Highway 224. 

At 350-acres large, the North Fork Reservoir has tons of fun places to explore. The only things that you have to watch out for are larger crafts and their wakes. You can also rent kayaks right on site. 

5. Timothy Lake, OR

Travel roughly 50 miles south of Portland, and you’ll find stunning Timothy Lake. Timothy Lake is about 45 miles deep and chock-full of fish like brook trout, rainbow trout, and sockeye salmon. If you like fishing, and your kayak is conducive to holding freshly-caught fish, bring a pole and lure in some good eats. 

Timothy Lake is part of the Mount Hood National Forest. Go there, and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the mountain itself. During the summer, Timothy Lake is teeming with water sport enthusiasts. There are also 260 campsites within proximity to the lake itself, so you can easily make a weekend trip out of it.

The waters of Timothy Lake tend to be calm, but there can be larger craft out on the lake, so watch out for wakes. Also, the lake is relatively deep, and it’s a good idea to go with a partner. 

6. Willamette River, OR

Willamette River is one of the two rivers that embrace Portland, and you can access it close to the northern part of the city. It’s a popular kayaking destination, totally accessible, and suitable for kayakers of all skill sets. The area near Ross Island tends to be reasonably calm and ideal for beginners.

If you want to embrace urban kayaking, you can cut right through downtown and check out the barges near St. Johns. The Willamette River is magnificent during the fall months. Leaf peepin’ is a fun recreational activity for the whole family on the Willamette River Water Trail. 

The trail itself stretches 187 miles, and most of it is fully accessible to kayakers of all levels, although much is still very wild. Make sure that you bring a map, extra water, and plenty of sunscreen.

7. Columbia Slough, OR

The Columbia Slough waterways are a mere 19-miles long, but it deserves a special place on our list. This channel runs alongside the Columbia River and is full of natural splendor. See cottonwood trees, wetlands, and wildlife.

The Slough itself is a tangle of waterways and shallow ponds that are simply perfect for exploring. However, some of these areas can be shallow or have aquatic plant life, making kayaking difficult. Additionally, the corridors of the slough are narrow and might be difficult for novice kayakers to navigate. 

Wildlife abounds in the Columbia Slough. There are 170 different types of birds, turtles, and dragonflies. Access the slough from Site P4, or 116th and Airport Way. You can also drop your kayak in Kelley Point Park, although you’ll have to paddle further to get to the heart of the Columbia Slough.

8. Sauvie Island, OR

Sauvie Island deserves a special place on our list because it’s a unique place to paddle, and you get some spectacular views of the island itself. Only minutes from the heart of Portland, Sauvie Island is a hiker’s paradise, but the waters around it are incredible too.

Sauvie Island is not for novice kayakers. The currents here can be unpredictable, and the weather is always a gamble. So go with a group or at least one other experienced kayaker. You can access Sauvie Island from the Multnomah Channel. 

Once you’re out there, you can see the island itself and some wildlife that lives on and nearby its shores. 

9. Lake Harriet, OR

Lake Harriet is another reservoir near Timothy Lake, roughly an hours’ drive southeast of Portland. Like Timothy Lake, it’s part of the iconic Mouth Hood National Forest, and you can see beautiful views of Mount Hood while you’re exploring the lake. Lake Harriet is 22-acres wide and full of all sorts of tasty fish, like brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout.

If you head out to Lake Harriet, expect to see plenty of anglers. Their boats will probably be larger than your kayak, so watch out for wakes. In addition to the fishers, Lake Harriet is a favorite spot for paddleboarders, kayakers, and canoers.

There’s also a small campground at the lake’s head. The campsite is the ideal place to put your kayak in the water and a good home base to keep any food, water, or other items while you’re out on the lake. There are kayaks available for rental.

Unfortunately, Lake Harriet is currently closed due to the wildfires in Oregon. Check their website for more information on closures and when you can get out to enjoy this beautiful slice of nature. 

10. Scappoose Bay, OR

If you want to see Mother Nature in her full glory, check out Scappoose Bay. This tidal bay is full of wetlands, sloughs, and tiny islands. It’s also a great place to spot wildlife, as plenty of reptiles, amphibians, and birds of all kinds call Scappoose Bay their home. Salmon regularly migrate through the bay as well.

Travel 25 miles up Highway 30 from Portland, and you’ll hit the 85,000-acre bay. Drop your kayak in the Lower Columbia River Water Trail and paddle towards St. Helens Marina for a several-hour tour of the bay. In about four miles, you should be close to the bay itself.

Alternatively, you can drive out to the bay and launch your kayak from several different places on the shore. If you don’t have a kayak, you can rent one right at Scappoose Bay.

Summing up the Best Places for Kayaking Near Portland Oregon

As you can see, Portland has a multitude of great places for kayaking in and around the city. This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of options available too.

We hope our article has helped inspire you for your next paddling trip. Have fun, and stay safe!