- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The experience of floating the Willamette River near Salem, Oregon’s capital city, is not for those seeking thrills.

The stream is wide enough to be a small lake in places and moves with a pace of a tortoise - slow and steady but always arriving at its destination.

Despite the lack of whitewater, I’ve grown to enjoy floating the Willamette during the summertime, especially with first-time boaters and younger children.

The lack of rapids gives my 6- and 9-year-old nephews the chance to learn how to pilot an inflatable kayak without many consequences, and the close-to-home location means we’re not stuck in the car for hours.

Part of what has surprised me is that the Willamette, despite flowing through Oregon’s largest population centers, is quite peaceful for much of its journey.

The river’s edges are forested, and the sound of birds is more common than cars in many stretches of the river.

Getting started is a breeze. The Willamette Water Trail website has one of the best digital maps I’ve seen. You can view every boat ramp, campsite and river access point, along with the distance between them. By looking at the map, it’s simple to pick two places for put-in and take-out and the river mileage between them.

This is no small thing when traveling with children, where you’ll always want to err on the side of a shorter trip.

You can float the lazy Willamette in just about anything, but always wear a life jacket and stay away from downed trees and rocks.

Here are a few of my favorite stretches of the Willamette in the Salem area. Each section requires two cars for a shuttle. Since most of the area has good cellphone reception, you can use a Google Maps app on your smartphone to make sure you don’t miss your take-out.

EASY AND QUICK

Independence to Emil Marx Park, 4.5 mile

Put in: Independence’s Riverview Park

Take out: Emil Marx/Lloyd Strange Fishing Hole

This stretch of river is about as simple as you can get.

From Independence’s Riverview Park, the river moves at a good pace through generally pleasant scenery. The only downside is occasional motorboats.

A pair of gravel bars make good places for snacking and swimming on a trip that only takes about two and a half hours total (including setting up the shuttle).

Spring Valley Greenway to Grand Island Access, 4 miles

Put in: Spring Valley (just across from Western Mennonite School)

Take out: Grand Island Access

This pretty stretch of river takes you past Willamette Mission State Park, across the Wheatland Ferry’s path and into the forested channel of Grand Island.

The river remains scenic throughout, and considering the short distance of the trip, stopping for a swim here and there is encouraged.

Two elements make this a float where you’ll have to pay attention. After floating past the Wheatland Ferry, make sure to paddle left, out of the main current and navigate into the left channel of Grand Island. Otherwise, you’ll miss your take-out point.

The put-in and take-out spots also are tricky. At Spring Valley, you must make your way down a steep embankment to get to the river. It’s not too hard for adults but can be tricky for kids. At Grand Island, you must carry your boat about 100 yards to the car.

SCENIC AND LONGER

Keizer Rapids Park to Wheatland Ferry, 8 miles

Put in: Keizer Rapids Park

Take out: Wheatland Ferry boat landing

This quiet and pretty stretch of river might be my favorite stretch on the Willamette near Salem.

Once you get paddling, the roads feel a long way away and the riparian forest of the greenways in West Salem take center stage. The trip ends at the Wheatland boat landing and will take a full day.

You can float a shorter version of this trip as well by taking out at Spring Valley (see above). That trip is about 5.5 mile, but can be a hassle to set up a shuttle. Even so, with younger kids, the shorter option often is a good bet.

Independence to Wallace Marine, 11.5 miles

Put in: Independence’s Riverview Park

Take out: Wallace Marine Park

This stretch of river has always been a little too long, slow and urbanized for my taste, but it’s still worth mentioning given its proximity to Salem.

The first half is nice, but once the river hits the edge of Highway 22, the float isn’t nearly as enjoyable.

Even so, this stretch is worth doing during the annual Great Willamette River Raft Race, Aug. 8 (willametteriverrace.com).

Buena Vista to Independence, 11.5 miles

Put in: Buena Vista County Park

Take out: Independence’s Riverview Park

I haven’t had time to run this stretch of river yet, but according to those who know, this long day trip or overnight adventure might be the best float near Salem.

The river curves past multiple islands, Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge and seven riverside camping spots. The best camping spot, about 2.5 miles into the trip, is American Bottom. It has a fire ring, seasonal toilet and picnic table.

Check the Willamette Water Trail website for more campsites and details to make this longer trip worthwhile.

Willamette Water Trail

What it is: A guide to boating the Willamette River

Where to find it:willamettewatertrail.org

What you’ll find: The location of river access points, boat launches, campsites, picnic areas, river hazards and other helpful information

What you’ll need: A boat, life jacket, paddle, two cars to set up a shuttle

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The original story can be found on the Statesman Journal’s website: https://stjr.nl/1SRRyy4

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Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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