Canoeing Columbia River Kayaking

Columbia RiverAs part of an occasional series, we will be looking at rivers throughout the United States that are known for their beauty and popularity as canoeing destinations. The first in the series is the Columbia River, which runs from high in the Canadian Rockies through the state of Washington, then becoming the border between Washington and Oregon. After 1,243 miles, the river empties into the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Ore.

It is the fourth-longest river in the United States, and has more than 60 major tributaries. Needless to say, that makes the entire Columbia River basin (which covers more than 258,000 square miles) a rich environment for canoeing. But it is important to understand where and where not to go. The lower part of the Columbia, around Portland, Ore., provides opportunities for a good mixture of skill levels.

For beginners, several areas are excellent opportunities to canoe on the Columbia. Get a good Columbia River map as well. One example is a 12-mile round-trip circuit near Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, which is an excellent exploration of those inland seaports. It is a trip that goes around Tomahawk and Hayden islands, past a mix of anchored cargo ships, cranes, islands, marinas, houseboat communities, bridges and even Portland International Airport.

used canoe for saleAnother good trip for beginners is along a portion of the Multnomah Channel, a 20-mile waterway connecting the Multnomah River with the Columbia. The 10-mile run along Sauvie Island has boat ramps at each end, and offers beautiful scenery along the way.

Intermediate to advanced paddlers will get more of a challenge in the last 20 miles of the Columbia. While parts of the Columbia upriver are more crowded, there tend to be fewer canoes and kayaks in the lower part of the river. It is an extensive area of marshes and sand flats, with geese and other waterfowl everywhere, and there is no shortage of places to go. It can be hazardous if you go too far downriver, toward the Columbia Bar. It is a three-mile wide area where the river runs into the Pacific Ocean; as a result, large waves are the rule. It is traditionally known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, which is a good enough reason for even the most experienced paddler to stay far away.

A little less dangerous, but equally challenging, is an area near Astoria called Tongue Point. A five-hour trip passes through sea lion habitats and along the Astoria waterfront. But neither of those two trips are for beginners; they require a great deal of skill and stamina.

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