Canoeing the entire Columbia River

-- Last Updated: Jul-05-14 3:18 PM EST --

So I've recently acquired a canoe after not being in one since my teens. I've made a couple trips on rivers in Western WA. I'm planning several more trips this summer including a 60 mile trip down the Skagit River. Next year I plan on making a couple trips to sections of the Columbia and doing at least one week long paddle.

I purchased The Wilderness Paddlers Handbook by Alan Kesselheim several years ago and read about some of his journeys in Canada and other places. I stumbled across this link a year or two ago and have had this crazy idea of floating the entire Columbia ever since.

I plan on purchasing Voyage Of A Summer Sun by Robin Cody about his trip down the Columbia in the early 90s.

I am just wondering if there is anyone here who has made a long journey on the Columbia. I know there will be several portages around the dams. I'm planning this trip two or three years out at best and plan on several shorter trips in different sections of the river to become more familiar with it. There doesn't seem to be a lot of information about a full length trip down the Columbia so I'm searching for any experiences and input that people have. I imagine scheduling at least 90 days minimum for the trip. I have lived in Eastern WA and I'm aware of the climate and hazzards associated with it.

Any info would be appreciated.

done final stretch
I did the final stretches (Bonneville dam to ocean) in kayaks a few years back. That was 170 miles and we did it in some 9 days. Nice stretch. Should be doable in a canoe.

Columbia R
I used to spend a lot of time around the Columbia. I did one paddlewheeler trip from Astoria to Lewiston, ID.

There is a lot of ship and barge traffic. The wind can be overwhelming in the afternoon especially in places like the Gorge. The water is cold. It is big water and you need to perfect your self-rescue skills and dress for immersion. Start early and get off the river in the early afternoon to avoid the worst of the wind.

I would want a large, brightly colored boat and a group to paddle with. Carry an air horn, radar relflector, flares, etc. Good luck.

I have friends who have canoed
up the Columbia on their two year journey across the US by canoe… They exited at the Snake however.

If you wish I could put them in contact with you.

Canoeing the entire Columbia River
Thank you for the offer. If they dont mind you could have them contact me at my email below. I would enjoy hearing their experiences and any suggestions they have.

Dhopkin27 at gmail and the dot and com

Thanks for the response and advice. I’ve worked on self rescue with an empty boat. A friend and I are going to work on that and learning some different strokes with a fully loaded boat at local lakes until we’re confident enough to do the Skagit trip later this summer.

I’ve thought about buying a trip canoe but I might build a long cedar strip canoe for this trip with some decent sized waterproof hatches at each end for dry storage and buoyancy. It wouldn’t be my first stripper that I’ve worked on and would allow customization to exactly what I’d like. Not sure which way I’ll go yet. Strippers are a huge amount of work. I’ll have a partner in the canoe but I don’t really plan on a group for this trip. I’ll be ordering a custom North Water spray deck for it which are available in bright red. Perhaps a bright yellow paint job on the outside of the canoe.

I hadn’t thought of a radar reflector but it seems like a great idea. I’m a ham radio operator and I’ll have a couple tiny, waterproof morse code transceivers I’m currently building along with a marine VHF radio.

I’m not really sure what to expect when it comes time to cross the border. I’ve lived near Canada my entire life and I’ve never actually been there.

A google search brings in a ton of info as well as a ton of wind.

Look in Trips at West Coast Paddler. Alex has a trip report where we worked out a weather system advisement for the Gorge.

Oregon and Washington guidebooks have short section information. Sea Kayaker Magazine has several reports in back issues.

Take a good look at the Columbia as a series of lakes not as a river.

Always camp at…what’s that name again ? Squawkcoma ?

The Google
Thanks for the response. I had not run across West Coast Paddler. While I can’t find any trips about the Columbia there are a bunch of interesting looking trips on that site!

There is quite a bit of information about paddling sections of the lower river. I’ve found a couple “water trails” one for the lower Columbia and another that follows the Columbia and then heads up the Snake. Quite a bit of info on the second half of the river. Less so on the upper half but I have found some interesting reads about it.

I do plan on making some shorter trips in different sections of the river. I will be checking out sections that I can’t find as much information about. A little reconnaissance before heading on the full length trip.

The first article I find in a search on the Sea Kayaker Magazine site is about the Gorge and called “Playing in the Wind Factory”. On a river trip last week in a stiff head wind and against an incoming tide my buddy paddling(all power no finesse) in the stern asks me why the boat turns so easily one way and not the other. “I don’t know man but it sure is windy huh?” :slight_smile:

Squawkcoma sounds very familiar. I can’t find anything searching a few different spellings on Google. I’m sure I’ll run across it as I map out camping sites along the way.

Sounds like a great trip
Sorry, I can’t really give you any advice because I haven’t been anywhere near the Columbia.

However, you might enjoy reading the “Last Voyageur” the story of Amos Burg. One of the chapters in the book is about his descent of the Columbia in the '20s.

"The Last Voyageur. Amos Burg and
the Rivers of the West. By Vince Welch, 2012.

Guy did the Columbia, rowing a Prospector.

Burg did the Columbia in…
the “Song O’Winds” a 17 foot Old Town canoe.

Alex Sidles

the search mechanism is somewhat thickheaded, not always responsive, requiring several tries. Persevere as the info quality is very good, extremely competent kayakers.

While there search for Phillip.AK in the author box or Philip.AK

I confused the OT with the Prospector
he used later in Canada.

Amos Burg
I had never heard of him. I’ll be ordering The Last Voyageur along with Voyage of A Summer Sun next week.

“Burg is considered to be the only person known to have run all major Western rivers from source to mouth”

Could build a lifetime of amazing trips trying to match that distinction. There doesn’t seem to be a Wikipedia article on him which is surprising due to the amount of information about him on the web.

Looks like it will be a nice read. Thanks for the info!

I think if you google the “Rediscovery Expedition” from last year…runner up in the Canoe & Kayak Magazine Adventure of the year. They paddled birchbark canoe UP the columbia from the ocean to the source.

Also a friend of mine did the whole river. will let him know so he can respond here.

The dams will be tough

I am the author of the Columbia River trip report Datakoll very kindly mentioned above. I’ve done the lower Columbia below Bonneville and the river’s Hanford Reach in eastern Washington. I think you’ll have no trouble with this trip except for the dams. The dams will be a big obstacle. They have exclusion zones above and below them, so you’ll be portaging your boat a fair distance to get past these. Damns also tend to be in the narrowest, steepest parts of the river for obvious reasons, and that can mean that, even once you get past the exclusion zone, you may have to walk even further to find a put-in.

I do think the dams are a surmountable challenge. Bring a large, robust cart, one capable of easily handling your boat with all your gear inside, and you should be fine. The one good thing about dams is that they all have roads around them, so you won’t be carting your boat cross-country.

Best of luck!


PS I have also done the Skagit River, which you said you are thinking about. That is an awesome trip. Trip report link:

Mighty Columbia

I would consider a deck cover for a trip like that. It would help in the rain, and keep the spray out of your boat when the wind picks up. It might take awhile to get to shore in rough conditions. It would add a measure of safety and comfort for a long trip. Make it yellow so the commercial boats can see you better.