This week marks the official start to summer! As the weather heats up – yes, it gets into the 90s in Portland – city folk run for the Oregon coast and the nearest rivers. If you’ve been dreaming of a leisurely day on the water, here’s everything you need to know to get out on one of our many rivers.
Which Portland river to float?
While there are many rivers that you can swim and play in near Portland (including parts of the Columbia and the Willamette), if you want to do a proper float — from point A to point B — your best bet is to head to the Sandy River or the Clackamas River. Both rivers have several parks that you can base yourself from and either swim/wade in the water or go tubing. The Sandy is a little closer to central Portland, but the Clackamas is my favorite. You can also float on the Willamette River in July during The Big Float event.
First, you’ll need two cars if you plan to float from one park to the next (your other option is to bike or hitch a ride back to the upper parking lot). Here’s how:
1. On your way to the river, either drop Car #1 off at the float STOPPING point (and have driver #1 jump in Car #2) and drive Car #2 to the START point. OR have everyone meet at the STARTING point and then while everyone is getting ready, Driver #1 and #2 take both cars to the STOPPING point as detailed above.
2. When you arrive at the end of the float, either fit everyone into Car #1 and go get Car #2 at the STARTING point OR send both drivers to rescue Car #1. And everyone else gets to start a picnic. (Hope you put the food in Car #1).
Remember, the drivers need to keep their keys with them on the float!
Where to buy or rent tubes in Portland:
Most outdoor stores (Next Adventure etc.) in Portland have inner tubes for river floats (and stores like Fred Meyer do too). As summer heats up, it can be difficult to find tubes in stock and/or at a reasonable price, so plan ahead (I was quoted $60 for the cheapest tube at one big box sporting goods store in town one year). As much as I like to shop local, I decided to buy inner tubes on Amazon (and with Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping, you don’t have to plan ahead that far), which makes the adventure much more affordable!
Best Routes: Clackamas River Float
You have several options for floating the Clackamas River, as there are three typical start points and three end points. The most popular launch is from Milo McIver State Park‘s Upper Ramp near Estacada, Oregon (see map for details).
- Route 1: McIver Upper Ramp to McIver Lower Ramp – 2hrs
- Route 2: McIver Upper Ramp to Barton – 6-7 hours
- Route 3: McIver Upper Ramp to Carver – 8-9 hours
- Route 4: McIver Lower Ramp to Barton – 5-6 hours
- Route 5: McIver Lower Ramp to Carver – 7-8 hours
Best Routes: Sandy River Float
Things to Bring to the River:
- float inner tube
- air pump
- dry box – like Otterbox or Pelican – (for keys, phone etc)
Newbie Tubing Tips:
- McIver State Park and Carver County Park both close at 9pm; Barton closes at 10pm. Keep this in mind when you’re planning which route to float.
- Most routes pass through several sets of small rapids (depending on the time of year, water levels and speed vary), so not recommended for small children.
- You’ll need to purchase a $5 day use pass for both cars (main and shuttle).
- If your car key is a fob and not an old school key, you’ll need to have a way to keep that key dry, by using an Otterbox etc.
- Bring water! The idea of drinking a beer while floating the river might sound fantastic, but you’ll want water as well.
- Bring a lunch! There are a few convenience stores on the way to the parks, but after your first hour or two of floating you’ll be glad you packed a picnic.
- Just because you can drunkenly lay in a tube and float in water, doesn’t mean you can swim, maneuver small rapids, and/or help someone else if they need help. Drink responsibly!
- If you get a fancy-schmancy tube you’ll need a pump to inflate the main intertube and a bike pump or your mouth to inflate the backrest.
- Go see what the river looks like at the STOPPING point so you don’t float by.
- You’ll learn this tip quickly: when you’re approaching rapids (and rocks), lift your butt out of the water!
- Have fun, but be smart – every couple years someone dies on the river. Take safety seriously.
River Float Map:
View Portland Tubing: River Float Map in a larger map
Have you been river floating near Portland?
Leave your favorites in the comments. Float on!