Kayaking the Columbia Slough in a Pool Toy

For the best guide to the slough click here

As the pandemic took hold in 2020, I needed to find activities that were closer to home. I was of the mindset that I could be spreading covid-19 to smaller more isolated communities that were the least prepared for it, so most travel was off the table. As time progressed we all learned that these very communities are the ones that give the least of a fuck about any type of precaution, intervention, or restriction meant to fight the virus. They paid dearly for it in the Delta wave.

Anyhow, I decided to test out my packraft on Portlands nastiest and most notorious waterway: The Columbia Slough. Over the course of 2020 and 2021 I’d complete the entire length from East to West in several sections. While some sections were disgusting, most other parts were serene and full of wildlife.

At some point in 2019 I balked at buying a packraft at the REI garage sale for $150 (marked down from $300). At the next garage sale, the same raft was there for only $45 and needed a minor repair so I picked it up. After a quick trip to Walmart for a paddle, and an order to Amazon for a PFD, I was off to start the rafting the Slough.

Airport Way Dock

The Slough starts in the town of Fairview, at the mouth of Fairview Lake. The first section I did started here, and ended at the boat ramp near Airport way and 166th. This part was the most difficult. A thick mat of aquatic macrophytes made paddling difficult, it felt more like I was paddling on a wet marshy field than a flowing waterway. It took a lot of effort to essentially drag the raft over the macrophytes. Large amounts of vegetation would get caught on my paddles, making them very heavy and requiring constant maintenence. In a few places I was able to find a line with less vegetation and even a flow. When I climbed out at the boat dock on Airport Way I was pretty tired.

Thick macrophytes made for very slow and difficult paddling

A few days later I put in at this spot, hoping for some better conditions to paddle in. This stretch was much better. From the dock on Airport Way l easily floated pass herons, kingfishers, ducks, and giant homeless towns on the banks. There were whole ass towns back there, just tucked away. After I passed under NE 122nd, there was a portage around a giant sewer pipe (not pictured). The banks were choked with briars and dense vegetation up very steep embankments. It was impossible for me to get around. My only option was to climb up the embankment and make my exit right by the entrance to Inverness Jail.

Areas near bridges are often choked with trash

For my 3rd Section, I put in using the boat dock off of NE Simpson St. This part was also mostly easy paddling until I came to the tunnel under 82nd avenue. On the map it states that its usually passable, but it was completely choked off with garbage and a big mattress. I had to portage up and over 82nd avenue. This stretch had some more pretty areas, including a derelict rail bridge. I ended this section at Whitaker Ponds Park, which has a decent dock to exit from.

Control Dam

I wouldnt come back again till February 2021, but my fourth section took me from Whitaker Ponds to the NE Elrod Street boat dock at the big levee. This was a pretty short stretch, but it goes past a nice golf course and I encountered a guy in a kayak collecting golf balls from the marshy areas to resell. However, no matter where you are on the Slough east of the Elrod Street Dam, you’ll come across trash islands, a floating needle every now and then, propane tanks, etc. It could use a facelift.

Easy paddling in 2021

On the West side of the Elrod Street levee/dam, the slough flows freely all the way to the Willamette River at Kelley Point Park in St Johns. On this stretch in late September 2021, I timed my paddle to go out with the tide. Even this far inland, there is a significant tidal effect. I saw a coyote, dozens of heron, salmon breaching, and even a beaver family. This is the best section in my opinion, there’s plenty of water, a good tidal flow, lots of wildlife, and no major obstructions in the water. You’ll see more kayakers the closer you get to Kelly Point Park. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions!

Swallow nests are under many of the bridges

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