Just 40 minutes up the road from Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is home to a trove of whitewater goods, much of it on the Washington side. There you’ll find the White Salmon, which offers something for everyone, plus the (almost) brainless boof at 10-foot Husum Falls. Move one drainage west to test your mettle on the Northwest’s Class V rite of passage, the Little White Salmon. “From the aired Class II-III Klickitat River, to the full offering of class I-V on White Salmon, you are never far from whitewater,” says Sam Drevo of eNRG Kayaking. With classics like the Wind River and Rock Creek tumbling down its walls, the Gorge is creeking country. Players stay closer to the PDX, where Bob’s Hole on the Clackamas serves cartwheels, blunts and loops. Beta: The Kayak Shed, 877.725-2925; www.kayakshed.com and Alder Creek Hood River, 541.387.0122, www.aldercreek.com; both in downtown Hood River.
Columbia and the Coast
What do you want, because Oregon has it. For classic urban flatwater, try the Willamette River in downtown Portland—especially at night, when lights from the city’s 11 bridges cast an otherworldly glow. Prefer quiet water and wildlife? The sloughs around Bachelor Island across the Columbia in Vancouver, Wash., deliver that and a view of Mt. Hood on clear days. The Columbia itself is a step up, offering miles of exploring and challenging surf when the wind kicks up, as it usually does. If you want a true test of skill and nerve, drive an hour west to the coast, where the big Pacific swell pummels wide beaches, exposed headlands and sea caves. Just know what you’re getting into. “The surf is like a gatekeeper,” says Portland sea kayaker Jonathan Walpole. “On big days it will pitch-pole you backwards.” Beta: Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe, (503) 285-0464; www.aldercreek.com.
For a taste of Oregon’s world-class surf, head to Indian Beach at Ecola State Park, a broad strand nestled between rocky crags and hammered by the burly Pacific swell. Start your surf mojo pumping on the relatively protected north end, where a reliable rip makes paddling out a cinch. Then step it up in the mouth of the bay, where layers of stacked breakers arrive every few seconds. If you don’t like the shape of Indian Beach’s surf, try Pacific City a few miles south. Surf kayaks are at home here, but anything will do. Sea kayaks coax long, soulful rides in the rollers, while whitewater playboats shred in the surf and soup. Just check the surf report before you go. “It can be pretty variable,” says Alder Creek instructor Paul Kuthe. “Today the swell is 16 feet.” Beta: Pacific Wave Kayaks in Warrenton, Ore., (888) 223.9794; www.pacwave.net.
Great beer abounds in the cradle of the microbrew revolution, but PBR is the brew of choice at the Paddler’s Pint, Thursday nights at the Morrison Street Bar & Grill. This is one of America’s best boater rendezvous, starring the crew from PDXkayaker.org with guest appearances by errant pro boaters. The Rose City also boasts the liveliest indie music scene between Seattle and San Francisco. Drop into the good-and-gritty Roseland Theatre for authentic Northwest rock, or try the eclectic Aladdin in Sellwood, where name acts range from Nada Surf to Taj Mahal. Oregon also means year-round boating, and your shot at the rare boat-and-boards double, with world class skiing and snowboarding on nearby Mt. Hood.