- Radford Bean
Willamette River Overnight Paddle Trip
I escorted a group of four paddlers on an overnight trip down a section of the Willamette River beginning at Grand Island and ending at Rogers Landing in Newberg.
The weather was sunny and hot—in the low 90s—making it necessary for us to seek shelter from time to time in the shade.
The low water level of the Willamette River created stretches of the river peppered with riffles and swift currents. These proved to be fun little areas for us to play in, adding a measure of excitement to the trip that at most times was casual and slow.
Along the way, I pointed out to the paddlers a couple of juvenile bald eagles. We spotted several bald eagles during the trip’s first day.
Originally, the plan was for us to explore part of Lambert Slough that surrounds Grand Island. However, the heat was so intense during our first day on the river that exploration of the slough was cut short for safety reasons and in favor of finding shade. The heat was especially hard on my frequent four-legged paddling companion, Chloe.
After paddling 10 miles on day one, we made camp on the northern tip of Five Islands. The island’s name is a little misleading—there aren’t five islands but just one. Five Islands is an ideal spot for small groups of paddlers to rest and camp after a day of paddling.
The only shade Five Islands provides is on the back channel side. However, the bank is steep and doesn’t provide an adequate place to land a boat or pitch a tent. There are also swampy areas on the backside. Much of the island’s vegetation is low and brushy, which affords little protection from the sun’s rays.
As evening approached, we increased in size as two women paddlers who had set out earlier in the morning from Wallace Marine Park in Salem asked if they could join us for the night. Paddlers are a welcoming, friendly bunch, and we graciously laid down the welcome mat.
Breakfast on day two was quick, and by 8:30 a.m. we were on our way downriver, minus the two women paddlers who had set out earlier. An overcast sky and cooler temperature were a welcome relief from the 90-plus temperature the day before. The clouds provided a good opportunity to get some bass fishing in while lazily paddling the last 11 miles. I managed to catch two smallmouth bass during the day.
The trip wasn’t without mishap. On the backside of an island, two people became grounded in a shallow section of the back channel and had to walk their boats to deeper water.
Three small airplanes provided the paddlers with some excitement as they buzzed low overhead and then proceeded to land on a small, thin strip of beach on an island. We decided to rest from our paddling to watch as the planes took off, wondering if the planes would have enough lift to clear the water. The pilots seemed to take pleasure touching their planes’ wheels on the water as they flew along the river. Clearly the paddlers were observing some very skilled pilots.
We had to exercise caution as we approached the back channel between Ash Island and the riverbank. Several rows of pilings extended nearly the entire width of the back channel, and while most were visible, some were still just below the surface of the water. It was here earlier in the year where a kayak got high-centered during a Kayak Portland trip, requiring help from other paddlers to extricate the hapless kayaker. Back then the water was higher and most of the pilings laid hidden.
The trip ended with us pulling into Rogers Landing in Newberg. We all had a wonderful time despite the heat the day before.
The stretch of the Willamette River between Grand Island and Newberg is a must for any paddler looking to spend a couple of days on the river.
You can leave a vehicle at the small state park at Grand Island and a shuttle vehicle at Rogers Landing. Just be aware that the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department closes the park gate at 10 p.m. It is probably a good idea to contact the park manager at Willamette Mission State Park, who has jurisdiction over the park on Grand Island, to let him know you’ll be leaving a vehicle in the park.