bridge slough
Image: Mark Gamba

One of the many bridges that crosses the slough.

Explore the Slough

Big Four Corners

One of the most spectacular natural areas of the Columbia Slough, this two-mile stretch is edged by cottonwood forests and wetland meadows, and culminates at Fairview Lake, whose shores are ringed by large homes. Once you’ve put your boat in, head in the direction of the bridge. Soon you’ll be paddling a narrow channel, where the chorus of Bullock’s orioles is interrupted only by the whoosh of the occasional plane cruising overhead. (Launch: Enter at 16550 NE Airport Way. Across from NE 166th Avenue, look for the 40-Mile Loop sign and pull into the parking area; the trail to the dock is on the southeast side of the lot.)

Middle Reach

While it wouldn’t be considered “pretty,” what with the warehouses and chain-link fences, this stretch of the slough takes you into North Portland’s urban underbelly. But the middle reach isn’t all concrete and steel: You’ll inevitably spot great blue herons, kingfishers, and other creatures that make the slough their home. For a quick urban tour, launch from the Whitaker Ponds (you’ll find the path leading down to the slough on the left-hand side of the parking lot) and head toward the bridge. After 2.5 miles or so, you’ll reach the headquarters of the Multnomah County Drainage District (and one of the dams it manages—your cue to turn your boat around). (Launch: Whitaker Ponds, 7040 NE 47th Ave. Park along NE 47th Avenue.)
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Lower Reach

It’s a bit of an adventure just finding the boat launch for this trip, which takes you from the junkyards of North Portland all the way to the Willamette River. (Across from Chimney Park on N Columbia Boulevard, you’ll have to locate the unmarked old St. Johns Landfill Road, cross the railroad tracks, and just before the locked gate, bear left on a gravel road.) The slough passes the landfill, now capped and covered with grass, and also connects to the signed North Slough, which is worth a side trip—the ash bottomland forest it winds through is often teeming with birds. Head all the way into the Willamette River (not recommended for novice paddlers) and you’ll be next to Terminal 5, where hulking cargo ships get their fill of grain. (Launch: 9363 N Columbia Blvd)

GET INVOLVED: To print out a paddler’s map of the slough, or to join regular paddle trips and volunteer cleanups (held the second Saturday of each month), go to the Columbia Slough Watershed Council website.