Best River Floats in Portland – Hello, Summer!

Clackamas River float

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.

Clackamas River float


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).

Float times:

  • 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

The most popular route on the Sandy is Dabney State Recreation Area to Lewis & Clark State Park (see map below). You can also start at Dodge Park and continue to Lewis & Clark.

Best river floats

Things to Bring to the River:

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!


  • I’m hoping to float either the Sandy or Clackamas this week with some visitors we have in town. They have kids ages 8-12. It looks like the Upper to Lower McIver on the Clackamas would be best because of the shorter duration, but I’m wondering if anyone has a suggestion who has been recently and can comment on how high/fast the water is. Is it safe for kids? Are life jackets a must or is the water very low? I know when I’ve floated the Sandy before it was very low and barely moving. Are there any other short trips that would be good with kids?


  • Hey! My sister and I are planning a river float while vacationing in portland. Since we will not have ready access to two cars do you happen to know if the Clackamas or Sandy rivers over a shuttle service or have a bus line running near them? We will probably be renting one car but I was wondering about how to get to the beginning of the river run after parking at the finish.

  • Though it’s not required, it’s probably a smart idea to wear a life vest. The water is very cold, especially early in the summer and even the strongest swimmer can drown in a light current. Inner tubes can leak and that life vest may be the only thing keeping your head up till you can get to shore.
    I work at a local hospital and last year a young man in his 20’s died while trying to cross the Clack. He made it across but on the way back the cold made his muscles stop working and he drowned. It was awful… no parent should have to bury their child when it could have been avoided with a simple pfd. Be safe and have fun.

  • We just floated down from the Lower McIver ramp to Barton and it took 3.5 hours. So nice!

      • When you drive into the park turn left at the first fork and follow the signs downhill to the lower ramp.

        • Hey! How’s the temperature right now? It’s no where near as hot as it was last year.

    • We just did the Sandy float yesterday and it was a ton of fun! We were thinking it would take us 2-3 hours to float from Dabney to L&C, but it actually took us nearly 5 hours. We took a 30-ish min break for some food, but that’s about it. At some points the river comes to nearly a stand-still. The water feels really cold at first, but you appreciate it after awhile of the 90+ degree heat!

  • It should be noted that if you’re in a raft (which you can fit multiple people into), not a single floatie (just for one) you’re required to wear a life jacket, and the sheriffs have been known to ticket people lately for failing to comply.

  • One thing I would add is that the Sandy is a very cold river. It’s much colder than the Clack which originates from much further away, closer to Mt Jefferson. The Sandy glacier is maybe 40 miles from the stretch of river outside of Troutdale. On the Sandy I would opt for a small raft over a tube where your rear is in the water all day or your rear will be COLD.
    The Sandy has also traditionally been the most deadly river in Oregon for the very reason that it is so cold and also so popular.
    Take care on both rivers.

  • Thank You! This is great information! I have floated the Clack River in the past with my last float being 3-4 years ago. On a whim, my boyfriend and I decided to make the most of the heat and what better way than to do so via float on the river (Barton to Carver). When looking online for info, laws/regulation changes, etc. I stumbled upon your site. By following your tips/suggestions, our spontaneous trip appeared to be anything but that, it gave an outward appearance that we were experienced and/or frequent “floaters” who methodically planned out their float, as we had all necessities in tow. It was an amazing day of fun, relaxation, nature/wildlife (Osprey, Ducks, Geese, Bald Eagles(2), Turkey Vultures, Fish – (Trout, Fry) and even Wild Turkeys(2)…YES! Wild Turkeys!! just to name a few). AMAZING! We enjoyed people watching at its finest, made some new acquaintances and rescued an extremely deflated raft & its stranded passenger/floater (rafts air valve unexpectedly & unknowingly opened?? – REMINDER: **DRINK RESPONSIBLY!**)

    Again, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to share this fab info, it truly facilitated in the making of a great day into a spectacular day!!

  • I’ve been looking/hoping to find such a comprehensive “Tubing For Dummies” article as this that covers everything from launch spots to conditions encountered on the water for family safety and increasing challenges and distances/times: heck, even where to get the best prices/selections for adequate tubes, etc. This week, Dabney to Lewis and Clark. Next week, Niagara!

  • Hi!
    How long is the float from dodge park to Lewis and Clark?
    Also I hear its illegal to drink on the clackamas river now? I’m debating
    On where to tube on the 4th of July. Thanks!

    • Hi Holly, I’ve only done part of the Dodge Park to Lewis & Clark route. I think you’d need to start pretty early and it would be a long day!

      Yes, it is in the park and you can have your coolers searched etc. But just like Portland parks – you’re usually fine if discreet and not acting ridiculous. ;) ie. take 1-2 drinks, not a float dedicated to a case of beer.

    • In late July of 2014 Dodge Park to Oxbow Park on the Sandy took about 5 hours. This year the River is lower with more shallows so I would add on a bit of time for that.

    • Yes! No alcohol allowed on the Clackamas because people are stupid and dump their trash in our beautiful river.