written by Lindsay McWilliams photo by Eli Duke

When the weather heats up and Oregon’s rivers become swimmable, blow up your inflatable device and set aside a day to float downstream.

Sandy River

Route: Dabney State Recreation Area to Lewis & Clark State Park
Access: No permit needed

Start at Dabney State Recreation Area, an accessible drop-in point with large, sandy beaches, picnic tables and scenic views. Float to Lewis & Clark State Park, located on the Historic Columbia River Highway for a trip of about three hours. Travel this Class 1 run under the Stark Street Bridge, through rugged canyons lined by conifer forests.

Deschutes River

Route: Riverbend Park to Drake Park
Access: No permit needed

There are many popular activities on this river, including rafting, kayaking and paddleboarding. Conveniently, floaters glide along the calmest part of the river through Bend, starting at Riverbend Park and taking out at Drake Park. At Riverbend Park, rental companies offer floating devices, and, because of the river’s popularity for floating, a shuttle service is available at Drake Park to take you back to the drop-in site. This scenic water trail offers views of the mountains and the Old Mill District—but don’t expect solitude. Fortunately, the masses of people floating this river are happy campers.

McKenzie River

Route: Harvest Landing to Armitage Park
Access: Parking permit needed (not available on site)

Beginning in Springfield (Eugene’s lesser-known neighbor), the float along the McKenzie River is beloved by University of Oregon students and local Eugenians alike. Begin at Harvest Landing in Springfield and take out at Armitage Park in Eugene. A bit more scenic than the Willamette River nearby, this portion of the river is home to river otters, waterfowl and blackberries for picking. Be warned—the drop-in site requires a parking permit, and permits are not available on-site, so plan ahead.


River Route: Bates Bridge to Waterloo Park
Access: No permit needed

Hop in the South Santiam River at Bates Bridge outside Sweet Home and exit at Waterloo Park, just south of Lebanon. This calm and low-watered float is popular among locals in the area, but not overly crowded. Located in the Willamette National Forest, the South Santiam is lined by lush greenery and frequently visited by fishermen seeking out steelhead trout.

Willamette River

Routes: Peoria Park to Crystal Lake, Ross Island Loop and more
Access: No permit needed

The Willamette River, spanning Interstate 5 from Eugene to Portland, grants many opportunities for floating in the Willamette Valley. For a long but calm 9-mile stretch, start at Peoria Park and finish at Crystal Lake in Corvallis. Closer to Portland? Loop around Ross Island, starting and ending at Sellwood Riverfront Park for a total of 5 miles. In fact, Portland hosts The Big Float each July, at which hundreds of people float from Tom McCall Bowl to Waterfront Park, clad in crazy costumes.

What to Bring

Innertube, air mattress or other floatation device
Two cars (one for putting in, the other for shuttling back to the start)
A waterproof bag of some sort, if you plan to bring electronics
Life jacket, just in case