MORE THAN 114,000 MILES OF RIVER cut across Oregon’s landscape—plunging and meandering through arid desertscapes, fortresses of prehistoric basalt, and verdant canyons bursting with cedars and firs—all bound, eventually, for the Pacific. Some of our twelve thousand waterways are shadowed by highway blacktop; others are escorted by little more than the whisper of wind through sagebrush; and fifty-five of them are accorded the promise of protection by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Like national parks, Wild and Scenic rivers are safeguarded to preserve the country’s most outstanding free-flowing waterways—rivers, or parts of rivers, that must be shielded from overdevelopment because they are culturally significant, recreationally important, or simply too beautiful to neglect. Only eight rivers in the country (one in Oregon) were anointed with the title when the designation was adopted by Congress in 1968. Today, Oregon has more federally designated Wild and Scenic segments of river than any other state.
Exploring all fifty-five rivers could take a lifetime, so we’ve culled the list to an essential six. Our criteria? Natural splendor, of course, but also the quality of the experience, whether paddling, hiking, mountain biking, or fishing. Each of these gems is a world-class destination for one, if not several, of these pursuits—and each is accessible to all kinds of adventurers, even if your only river equipment is a pair of water wings. Most can be easily enjoyed on guided float trips or riverside trails, two can be traveled by jet boat, and one can even be reached by airplane. Our aim, after all, is to get every Portlander out of the city—and into the water.