It was threatening rain when we donned our “dry suits” at eNRG Kayaking in historic Oregon City. We were there as part of a press tour of the Portland area. Our guides helped us with life jackets and gave a safety briefing.

Discovering Willamette River Falls

We were fortunate to have as our guide, Sam Drevo, a former member of the US Canoe and Kayak Team. Sam excelled in wildwater, slalom, freestyle, ocean surfing and extreme racing winning the Gorge Games in 2001. But our adventure was to be a bit more laid back. Sam’s Dog hopped aboard his kayak and then it was out to the water for our falls adventure.

Willamette River Kayak Adventure

The guides made sure we were comfortable before heading out to the open river.
Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

First let me tell you a bit about Willamette Falls in Oregon City. Not everyone thinks of visiting Willamette Falls when coming to Oregon but it is impressive. Willamette Falls is the largest waterfall in the American Pacific Northwest by volume, and the seventeenth widest in the world. It’s a natural falls. Local tribes built villages there because of the excellent salmon fishing. And then the Europeans came. John McLoughlin established a land claim at the falls for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1829.

Because of the recent industrial nature of the area, people just don’t think of checking out the fall’s natural beauty. But it is there… and, of course the history.

Willamette River Locks

We explored the old locks and saw a heron. The paddling was easy crossing the Willamette to this side.
Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

Our group paddled their way past the noisy sea lions and out onto the river. There was a strong current but easy flat-water paddling. We kept together, passed fishermen hoping to catch their limit in salmon and crossed the river to see the old locks. The historic Willamette Falls Locks were built in the early 1870s to facilitate river traffic around the 40-foot horseshoe-shaped basalt ridge between Oregon City and West Linn. Before the locks, cargo had to be unloaded and portaged by horse and wagon.

As we paddled and explored the old locks, Sam told us that there was much interest in creating a whitewater park where park users surf, compete, and navigate down whitewater rapids… somewhat like the white water park on the Deschutes River in Bend.

eNRG Kayaking in historic Oregon City offers tours to Willamette Falls.

Sam, as his dog dozed, explained to us that there were big plans to restore the habitat of the area and build a whitewater park. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

Long-term plans include a public river walk along the edge of the Willamette River and a thriving, connected, downtown Oregon City with room for housing, public spaces, habitat restoration, education and employment.

The 90-minute tour takes you a mile upstream to see the falls up close. You’ll probably encounter river birds like herons and osprey. In the summer the trip can even be done on a stand up paddleboard.

Willamette Falls

Sam points out a fisherman hauling in a salmon on the way to the falls. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

eNRG also offers tours on the Santiam and Clackamas Rivers and even kayak fishing, in season. But the Willamette Falls tour is an easy, informative tour… great for first-timers and families. You’ll have fun seeing the river from the on-water perspective and thrill at the falls as you get close enough for some great photos.

Oregon City Brewing Sign

After our kayak adventure it was time for a little refreshment. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

The Craft Brew Scene in Oregon City

Oregon City is home to some new breweries so you might want to head over after your kayaking adventure and try the offerings at Oregon City Brewing. Their sign says, “Free Beer” but read the fine print! For non beer drinkers, check out their sodas. I had an amazing house-made Marionberry Soda. (how Oregon can you get?) It’s even available in a growler.

Marionberry Soda

Marionberries are an Oregon specialty. Oregon City Brewing makes this luscious soda. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

In Oregon City, there’s also Coin Toss Brewing Co., Bent Shovel Brewing and Feckin Irish Brewing Co. What a great way to spend a summer evening after time on the river.

Oregon City Breweries

Oregon City is fast becoming a craft brew town. Photo by: Elizabeth R. Rose

More Information

Willamette Falls Whitewater Park
Willamette Falls Legacy Project

This experience was part of a tour hosted by Travel Portland, Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory and the Washington County Visitors Association – Tualatin Valley. While this has not influenced this content, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.


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