Kayaking Around Ross Island // Portland, Oregon


My #1 hiking companion, Colin headed to Colorado this weekend and convinced I would be working on Monday despite Labor Day, and that I had off-site work duties in Oregon City on Saturday, I was like “Yeah! Go! Have fun!”… And then it turns out I do have Labor Day off, and my extra work event didn’t work out.

So I’m making it a point to enjoy my solo long weekend to its fullest! For starters, I’ve been craving a kayak session. I used to go once in a while with my mom back in my high school days, so yeah, it’s been a hot minute. While I was browsing around the area for a lake with kayak rentals, I stumbled on Outbound Collective’s recommendation for a paddling trip around Ross Island. When my boss said I could have a half day of work yesterday, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for an in-town adventure!

I headed to Portland Kayak Company in the SW, located right next to Willamette Park. If you’re looking to get out on the water but don’t own a kayak and don’t want to travel too far out of the city, this is your spot. It’s $12 per hour (with a 2 hour minimum) for a single kayak, which is a bit pricier than I expected. But it’s pretty close to the water and the staff there both enthusiastic and nice!

I say pretty close, because you do have to lug your kayak – don’t worry, it’s fairly easy thanks to this handy set of wheels they supply you with – around the corner, down the street, onto the bike path, and to the boat launch in Willamette Park. It’s roughly a block all together. I did feel a little silly rolling this kayak down the sidewalk past pedestrians!

After a surprisingly smooth load-in (I really envisioned myself getting at least a little wet), I followed the Portland Kayak Company employee’s suggested route, coincidentally the same as Outbound Collective’s, and headed around Ross Island beginning at its foot.

I obviously had to have a little selfie action...

I obviously had to have a little selfie action…

With our hot and dry summer, water levels have been especially low, so it was important to pay attention to your surroundings; in the beginning of my trip, the areas close to Ross Island were too shallow, so I stayed on the opposite side – close to a lineup of “floating homes,” which were very unique and fun to look at. They were the epitome of an Air B ‘n’ B’ dream!

On the East side of Ross Island is a no wake zone, which made for nice, easy paddling. I picked up a pack of the new Sierra Nevada/Crux collaboration beer, Paddle Trail Ale, beforehand and brought along one for the ride, since I figured it suited my activity well.


Paddle Trail Ale also benefits the Bend Whitewater Park in Bend, Oregon, which will create a safe and fun environment for paddlers and floaters, and even includes a whitewater play area. Needless to say, the park will be a welcomed asset to the already outdoorsy town.

The Portland Kayak Company employee said the Ross sIsland Lagoon was algae-ridden and not as great as it usually is, so I just poked in – I mean, the word “lagoon” invokes images of mermaids sooo – but it was somewhat uneventul. I took a good look and continued around the island.

My favorite part was rounding around the head of the island, and getting a great view of the structures that earn Portland its nickname of “Bridgetown.” When I think of kayaking, I imagine peaceful paddling on a semi-isolated lake, surrounded by wilderness, so it was especially cool to be breaking the mold with this urban setting.

Despite hearing the Labor Day weekend traffic above, it was comparably serene. When I wasn’t surrounded by other kayakers or boats, I enjoyed pulling my oar up, sitting back, and relishing the moment. Maybe it was the thought-provoking tranquility or perhaps the numerous tent cities pitched up on the shoreline, but I took a deep breath and felt truly grateful. I thought about how lucky I was to be able to want to kayak, and then be able to just do it. I thought about how I had an eye appointment today and how lucky I was to be able to have my eyes checked out by a doctor and have the means to accurate vision. Sometimes I feel like I need to escape Portland to come to these realizations, and here I was, underneath the busy, bustling Ross Island Bridge…

The trip, taken leisurely, rounds out to 2 hours. I definitely want to do it again; not sure if there’s a “kayak season” in Oregon, since snow is a rarity, but Portland Kayak Company does offer a nice frequent renter program that charges $90 for 10 hours ($9 per hour, versus $12).

It was great to get outdoors, and even better to be mixing it up with kayaking!

Besides hiking, what other outdoor activities are you into?


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