Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A lovely day floating the Willamette River

July 28, 2013
Corvallis, Oregon
Chez Cook’s RV Pad


The town of Corvallis sits on the Willamette River, one of the main Oregon rivers and one with the rare distinction of being a north-flowing river. Last year when we were here, we kayaked a stretch of the river from Peoria Road to just north of downtown Corvallis, about a ten-mile float downriver with fairly gentle currents. Local friends, Phil and Cheryl, who go back in my life almost thirty years, also have kayaks and were enthusiastic about doing this trip with us once again this summer. This trip required having multiple cars for a shuttle. Fortunately, they were able to bring their two cars along so we could get back to our cars at the put-in.

The Willamette is not known as one of Oregon’s swift moving rivers like the Rogue, Deschutes, or the McKenzie but there are places where the current would be too swift us—especially further south near Eugene. You also have to be careful of woody debris (logs, roots wads, etc.) or rocks as you kayak downriver but for the most part this stretch is a peaceful paddle with a current of about 3-5 knots. There are several places on the Willamette that require much more diligence in terms of fast currents, eddies, and riffles, so it’s important to do some research and know what to expect before kayaking most Oregon rivers. The Willamette Water Trail guide is a useful resource for help in planning trips and providing details about water conditions for paddlers.


The river and its tributaries extend almost two hundred miles forming the Willamette Valley, one of the most fertile agricultural regions in North America. This area spans an area south of Eugene all the way to Portland where the Willamette pours into the Columbia River. Before settlers arrived on the Oregon Trail, many Native American tribes--the Calapooia, Tualatin, Santiam, Yamhill, and Luckiamute—lived in villages along the river but their populations were decimated by smallpox and malaria epidemics in the late 1700s and early 1800s. As settlers arrived, towns sprang up along the river becoming the major population centers of Oregon today as 70% of Oregon’s population lives in the Willamette Valley. As a result, the river has faced many challenges in terms of bridges, dams, and pollution. When I moved to Corvallis in the 1980s, the river was highly polluted due to discharge from pulp mills, raw sewage from flooding, pesticide run-off and other industrial pollutants. In a state that prides itself in its efforts to promote sustainability, it always seemed somewhat shocking to me to learn about the severity of the pollution in the Willamette. One section of the river near Portland was even designated a superfund site in 2000 due to heavy metal and PCB deposits. The challenge of human settlement and industry has clearly taken its toll on the river but there seem to be many more action-oriented groups such as the Willamette Riverkeepers who are raising awareness and doing much to protect and restore this precious resource.

Seeing people out on the river enjoying its natural beauty is heartening in itself. Twenty years ago, I don’t remember seeing much recreation on the river due to its reputation for being polluted. Now it is common to see more people floating the river in tubes, paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, and even fishing. (I still wouldn’t eat fish from the Willamette though.) 

Maybe one of the best signs of the river’s restoration is seeing wildlife return to its natural habitats. This particular day was not great for variety but seeing two bald eagles made up for my disappointment in not seeing any beavers or blue herons.


We also came upon a row of merganser ducks but I struggled holding my camera steady enough to get a good shot as we flowed past them with the current.


Seeing the Oregon State Rowing Teams practicing along the river is also a popular sight, but you are less likely to see this form of wildlife (my apologies to the women's team) in the summer so I borrowed this photo from their website. It is beautiful to watch the synchronicity of the rowing. I think I would have enjoyed doing a sport like this in college.

Just before I retired, I learned about a local Corvallis Rowing Club that is open to adults who complete their 6 week rowing course. They now have over 50 members ranging from age 21 to over 70, so there is still hope for me.

I did manage to get a photo of the OSU crew facility which was just across from our take out area at what is known as Michael’s Landing near downtown Corvallis.


The weather for this day of fun on the river was perfect again with temps in the high 70s to low 80s and not a cloud in the sky. Although our Hobie kayaks have the mirage drive (pedal power), we opted to use our paddles most of the way due to some shallow depths and the ease of floating downriver with the current. The ten-mile float took us less than three hours. In retrospect, we wished we had planned to go another ten miles to the Albany take out at Hyak Park, but adding almost another hour for the three of them to drive back to our get our vehicles made it a fairly full day.


After they returned with the cars and we packed up all our gear, we headed to McMenamin’s, a local brew pub for some adult beverages and fish ‘n chips. A fitting way to end a great day with our friends.



  1. That looks like a perfect day. WONDERFUL pictures of the bald eagle. Life is good here in the Willamette Valley.

    1. Yes, especially in the amazing summertime!

  2. Gee, I love the flat water! We took our new kayak out again the other day because the river was quite calm. We rowed around for about an hour. The bay was perfectly flat and we could really feel the difference in our speed. With that only being our second outing, I am still playing with the best hand position. I watched several instructional videos which really helped. I did comment to John that I could really see the benefit to your kayaks. What a great workout for the overall body!

    How nice that you had some friends accompany you! What a fun day!

    1. I need to learn to be a much better paddler--there is definitely an art to it. Pedaling requires much less skill!

  3. What a wonderful time!!! We missed Corvallis and it looks like we really missed something.

    I want to try to kayak but am a bit afraid. If the water is as calm as yours, I don't think I would be so fearful. Looks lovely.

    Beautiful photos of the eagle!

  4. Looks like a great day on the water! We miss McMenamin's!

  5. What an awesome day! Great friends, great weather, and great water. That is an amazing picture of the eagle...a WOW! for sure.

  6. A nice halcyon day on the river.
    PS - Is the covered bridge in Corvallis? I think my son took me to that area when I visited there.

    1. Yes, it is the Irish Bend bridge in Corvallis. Vic proposed to me there on a walk, so it is a special place for us. It is quite close to the OSU campus so it is likely you went there with your son.

  7. I'll take a bald eagle sighting any day! (They are making a comeback here in central Pennsylvania.)

    1. Thanks, Jill. Good to know that we may see them in Pennsylvania!

  8. So sorry to hear about the beautiful river's troubles. It surprised me since I always think of Oregon as a leader in environmental concerns. But those bald eagle pictures were fabulous and a good indication that things are improving. I am really glad to hear about a flat water river in Oregon since those are the only kinds I paddle. Now if you would just be out there to provide another car for the shuttle that would be perfect!!

  9. Glad to hear the river has improved and people and wildlife are enjoying it. It looks like a wonderful place to paddle. I'm not into fast flowing rivers, and this one was right up my alley.

  10. Any day that includes a sighting of bald eagle is a good one in my opinion.

  11. When are you leaving for Glacier? Will you be posting along your route? I was hoping you use you as a resource to see where the good parks are along the way. The park reviews are ok in Kalispell/Hungry Horse, but east of that they're pretty dismal.
    Great pictures of the eagles. We have 4 up the hill from us, but they're always too high to see.


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