Willamette canoeing trip guide

TRIP GUIDE

Directions:

Put in at the Buena Vista Park, a Polk County park, off of Buena Vista Road. Via roads, Buena Vista is about 7 miles south of Independence. Via river, it's 10 miles. Follow signs to the ferry. The park is just upstream, south on Park Street. If you have a driver, have them meet you at Riverview Park in Independence in three or four hours.

River mile 107 to 105

-- In the summer months, stay to the right of Wells Island, the mile-long island that starts immediately after the ferry. There are trails on the island, and you can camp -- it's an undeveloped county park. More developed is the American Bottom campground. You will see the sign on the left, after Wells Island. It usually has bathrooms, picnic tables and fire pits.

Miles 104 to 100

-- Generally, it's a safe bet to stay right of the islands you come upon, because most of the time you are on a long, slow east-then-west bend in the river around American Bottom.

Mile 99

-- The one exception to the "stay right" rule is the fourth island, the last island before the bridge at mile 96, Independence. Both channels were fine, but the left channel was faster and deeper.

Mile 95.5

-- Take your canoe out at Independence Riverview Park.

Accommodations:

Buena Vista Park and Riverview Park have bathrooms, picnic tables, shade, boat ramps, docks and more. In addition, camping and picnic facilities are available along the way, although the parks are mostly undeveloped. Wells Island, American Bottom, DSL Island and Judson Rocks have primitive camping areas or better. Bathrooms are scarce. Picnic tables and fire pits are available in some camp sites.

Access:

Buena Vista and Riverview parks are accessible by car, truck or bike. Launch and takeout is easy. This is an easy trip in the summer -- one suited for any age, but not for non-swimmers. Families will enjoy this.

Water depth/temperature:

The Willamette is cool but not cold. It is shallow in places. Mossy weeds grow along the slower channels. Depth in the channels can be as shallow as a foot or two. Tubing the entire 10 miles is not recommended, however. Tubing can be slow and cold.

Trip Hazards

I highly recommend to any boaters, experienced or not, the "Willamette River Water Trail Guide," available at www.willamettewatertrail.org or by calling Willamette Riverkeeper at 503-223-6418. The guides are free online, or $15 for both, if you want a printed guide that describes and maps the river mile by mile from Eugene to Portland. It is full of helps and hints, descriptions of wildlife, notes about water quality and paddling safety. Among the notes in this excellent guide:

* Wear your lifejacket! It's not just a great cushion for those hard canoe seats. It can also save your life if it's on your body.

Per state law, "No person shall operate a boat on Oregon waters with a child age 12 and under unless the child is wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device/life jacket of the appropriate size while the boat is underway. Children on an open deck or cockpit of sailboats, motorized and non-motorized vessels (canoes, kayaks, rafts) underway must wear a life jacket at all times.

* Currents and water levels are unpredictable, so don't be fooled by calm-looking water. Gravel bars, common in the summer, can pose a serious risk to unwary paddlers, tipping canoes and contents into the river. Also watch for overhanging branches, snags and stumps -- called "strainers" for their ability to strain you right out of your boat.

* Watch for power boats and Jet Skis. It's best to stay to one side or the other while canoeing, but if you have to cross, watch out for these occasional motorists.

* Sunburns and hydration -- Protect your skin and your eyes. Take water or juice. Don't drink from the Willamette. Stay alert by not drinking alcohol.

* Plan your trip, leave no trace, respect private property and be sure someone else knows your tentative plans before you leave. Don't go alone.

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