Amid the larger national struggle in U.S. public lands conservation, many smaller municipalities are re-envisioning water and land use on a local level. The idea is simple: The closer and more accessible the natural spaces, the more people will experience and build relationships with them — and when the time comes, protect those places.
The city of Corvallis, Oregon, recognizes the economic, social, and environmental benefits of building access to and recreational opportunities on their local waterway. The Willamette River flows 187 miles through the Willamette Valley, between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains, northward to its confluence with the Columbia River in Portland. The Willamette River Water Trail, a nationally recognized water trail, links existing public lands, providing the public with opportunities to reconnect with the river and its communities. Like many rivers flowing through big cities, the recreational value of the Willamette River was overlooked. But not anymore. In recent years, independent organizations, local municipalities, businesses, governments, residents, and visitors have come to realize its true potential as a recreational waterway.
Protecting, maintaining, and improving a natural resource has many benefits, more so when those natural spaces are nearby hip urban areas. In Corvallis, for example, paddlers can look forward not only to an abundance of outdoor opportunities, both on and off the river, but also to full bellies and frothy beers from some unique and accessible stops along the water. Here's what you can expect from a river journey in and/or through Corvallis.
If you're looking to get your feet wet on a day trip on the Willamette River, you can either shuttle south to Peoria for a 12-mile float to Corvallis, or put your boat in at the two river-access points in Corvallis for a 12-mile float to Albany. Either way, you'll want to grab a coffee at Tried and True Coffee, located close to the river, to fuel up for your paddle. If you're looking for more than coffee and pastries to start your day, the Broken Yoke Cafe will be sure to fill you up for the long day ahead. Unless you brought two cars and love the logistics of river travel, you will need some shuttling or rental support from Peak Sports in Corvallis. At the very least, you'll need to acquire an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) permit from any outfitter before hitting the water. On the river, you'll flow through scenic stretches, calm waters, and forest-fringed farmland.
"You may hear the occasional car or a tractor, but the river offers a lot of solitude. The Willamette is a beautiful compromise between urban and wilderness," explains Travis Williams, Executive Director of Willamette Riverkeeper, a nonprofit working to protect, restore and enjoy the Willamette River.
For the canoe/kayak camping enthusiast, the Willamette provides endless opportunities for multi-day trips. With over 45 campsites stretched across nearly 200 miles of river, it may be tempting to take a week or two and float from Springfield to Portland, stopping in cities and towns along the way. If you just have the weekend to explore a section of the Willamette, paddle the 24-mile stretch from Corvallis to Independence and make sure to stop in Albany for a farm-to-table lunch at Sybaris (right off of the river in downtown) before paddling 6 more miles to set up camp on the island at river Mile 113. On your second day, 'hop' off the river for a beer tasting and tour at Chatoe Rogue Hop Farm, before finishing your journey in Independence. Shuttle back to Corvallis for a victory beer and dinner at Sky High Brewing & Pub before crashing in a cozy bed at the Holiday Inn and Suites, located on the Willamette River in downtown Corvallis.
Paddle Oregon, an annual event put on by Willamette Riverkeepers, is a five-day float on the river, fully catered with local foods and wine tastings. They even transport all of your gear from one campsite to the next!
Cascadia Expeditions, based in Corvallis, provides tours called Paddle for Pinot, a paddling day led by local naturalists that ends at one of the local vineyards for artisan wine tasting and a delicious riverside meal.
If you're looking to fall in love with a place, look no further than the Willamette River in Corvallis, Ore. Diverse groups are working hard to provide better signage, maps, amenities on public lands, and easy accessibility to improve your experience on and off the water. Exercise your right to public lands, and pristine wilderness on the Willamette River. Show the government we need these lands. We use these lands. Take a stance, and have a heck of a good time while you're doing it.
More of North America’s (Next) Best Paddling Towns:
— Watch harbor seals on the first nationally designated saltwater paddling trail in Poulsbo, Wash.
— 37 Miles of water trail on the New River near Pembroke, VA.
— Explore the country's second largest delta near Mobile, Ala.
— Lively access to the Kansas River National Water Trail in Lawrence, Kan.
— Paddle downstream, both ways, on the Waccamaw River in Conway, S.C.
— bayou tour through Cajun country in Breaux Bridge, La.
— Mid-Atlantic rivers and bays in Snow Hill, Maryland
— A range of paddling options along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Check Out C&K’s full list of North America’s Top Paddling Towns