Linn County, in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley, offers great boating opportunities for nearly every kind of fresh-water craft, from high-end white-water kayaking on our mountain rivers to plenty of more placid water for houseboaters and canoeists who aren’t necessarily looking to get soaked, but who want to enjoy our beautiful lakes and rivers.
Our lakes include: 3,600-acre Detroit, located about 45 miles southeast of Salem on the county’s northern border; 3,720-acre Green Peter, located on the Middle Fork of the Santiam River nine miles east of Sweet Home; 1,220-acre Foster, located at the junction of the Middle Fork and the South Fork of the Santiam River, directly at the east end of the city of Sweet Home; and Clear Lake, in the mountains along Highway 126 between Tombstone and Santiam passes. Our rivers include the Willamette, the North and South Santiam, the Calapooia and, in the north county, Roaring River, which is unusual in that it empties into Crabtree Creek near the Larwood Covered Bridge, the only river in the U.S. to flow into a creek –an oddity in U. S. geography that was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Access to the rivers and larger lakes is easy, as Linn County Parks and Recreation Department offers boat ramps to the Willamette River, Green Peter Lake, the North and South Santiam rivers and Foster Lake.
Motorized boats are not permitted at Clear Lake, but rowboats, kayaks and canoes are welcome and there is an boat ramp area at which most boaters put in.
Put-in is easy at Foster Lake with Sunnyside Park, Gedney Creek and Caulkins boat ramps, and a dock is available at Lewis Creek Park.
At Green Peter Reservoir, boat ramps are available at Thistle Creek and Whitcomb Creek Park.
Detroit Lake Marina offers boating access to the largest lake in the county.
Ramps to the North Santiam River are John Neal Memorial Park and Lyons/Mehama Boat Ramp in Lyons and Stayton Bridge Boat Ramp and Buell Miller Boat Ramp in the Scio area. At the Santiam Rest Area off I-5 there is a hand launch ramp.
South Santiam River ramps are at Waterloo Park in Lebanon and River Bend Park east of Foster.
Willamette River boat ramps are McCartney and Harrisburg Park boat ramps in the Harrisburg area, Peoria Boat Ramp on Peoria Road in Shedd, Bowman Park in Albany and Takena River Landing across the river.
Boat ramps for the Roaring River are at Roaring River Park and Larwood Wayside, both near Scio.
Although there are no actual boat ramps for the Calapooia River, McKercher Park and the Crawfordsville Covered Bridge Wayside in and near Crawfordsville, and McClun Wayside south of Holley offer good access to the river.
For more on boat access points, visit www.co.linn.or.us/parks/parks/a-ramplist.html
Kayaking and Canoeing
East of Sweet Home, Linn County offers great adventures for white-water enthusiasts, as well as plenty of opportunities for those just interested in getting their craft into the water for some peaceful paddling. The upper South Santiam is a magnificent run of nearly 20 miles after a substantial rain or snowmelt. North of Green Peter Lake, Quartzville Creek has some challenging runs, including some class 5 waterfalls above Galena Creek. The Middle Santiam River above Green Peter offers the only Cascade wilderness run, accessed from the Upper Soda area, with class 3 and 4 rapids spicing things up. Below Green Peter Dam is a two-mile run to Foster Lake that offers some of the best white-water summer action in the area.
For the really serious adventurer, Canyon Creek offers a challenging run during rainy season above the junction with the South Santiam River, along Highway 20. Wiley Creek, a tributary that flows into the South Santiam at Foster, just below the dam, offers class 3 and 4 rapids on a beautiful run that flows through a moss-covered canyon.
Kayaking the Soda Fork of the South Santiam River
The first known kayaking descent on the Soda Fork was made in 1988. Both upper and lower are short but packed with fun rapids and are often paired with a trip down the Canyon Creek, Oregon run to provide for an exciting day-trip. Lower Soda Fork is Class 3 and 4 rapids. This .88 mile ride is best run at higher water levels with non-stop bedrock slides and ledges up to 8 feet tall.
A half-mile section of steep rapids on the Upper Soda Fork are super fun, a low-stress roller coaster ride down a series of non-stop slides and ledges up to 8 feet tall. The creek is wide and scenic; a beautiful accompaniment to the naturally created water ride. This ride is too short for a single trip and is usually combined with nearby runs on the South Santiam River.
Located up 25 miles east of Sweet Home on Hwy 20 at Upper Soda, turn north just before the bridge across the Soda Fork Creek. Travel up the road along the Soda Fork for .88 miles until you reach a bridge. Put in here. To take out you must travel past Upper Soda and take out on the South Santiam River. Driving to take out, on Highway 20 about 200 yards west of the bridge until you see a nearly invisible road going into the woods on the south; this leads to a meadow with a couple of nice fisherman trails down to the river.
Upper Soda Fork is 1.37 miles of Class 5 rapids. The put-in for the Upper Soda Fork is deceptively placid and loggy; however, a few hundred yards downstream the creek tilts on edge and changes instantly from a sleepy little stream to a foaming pile of huge stone-congested white water. The narrow, powerful rapids are jam-packed with boulder gardens covered in moss and interspersed with fallen trees. Scouting or portaging the rapids is easiest on the right side of the river but difficult on the left, so stop well upstream and plan accordingly.
The scenery is nice with large mossy boulders and lots of trees but the creek will probably have your full attention! Downstream, the gradient cools off slightly but the rapids are still really good. Much too short for a single trip, this section is usually combined with a run down nearby Canyon Creek.
To get to the put-in, turn north just before the bridge across the Soda Fork Creek on Highway 20 and travel 2.25 miles to the second bridge. Put in at this bridge. While there, be sure to check out the gigantic 6-plus-foot diameter old-growth Douglas fir. Take out at the first bridge 1.37 miles down steam unless water is high enough to continue down to the Lower Soda Fork takeout site.
Kayaking on Canyon Creek
Canyon Creek is a seven mile ride through extraordinary scenery that has earned quite a reputation with kayaking aficionados. The upper two miles provide some of the best class 5 rapids in the state and should only be attempted by highly experienced and zealous paddlers.
While the upper run is vicious and merciless; the lower five miles are undemanding and hospitable as they glide over ledges and slides in one of nature’s best water theme parks.
Many paddlers choose to pair the lower five-mile ride with the Lower Soda Fork class 3 and 4 rapids.
If you are beginning with the Canyon Creed run, travel on Hwy 20 east of Sweet Home; the turn off for Canyon Creek is just past milepost 43; turn south and put-in at Black Creek Bridge (approximately 4.9 miles). This run has year-round approachability and a trail provides relatively easy access.
Right out of the gate, the first significant drop is directly downstream of the put-in and around a bend to the left where it drops out of sight. The long stretches of tranquil water between drops allow for plenty of recovery time and are ideal for intermediate creekers. About 1⁄4 mile in is ‘Osprey’, the most difficult torrent on the lower five. Even strong paddlers need to be cautious because this hole is more difficult than it looks, especially at high water.
Below Osprey, the creek mellows out significantly; rapids are farther apart and the creek is wider and less limited which provides the opportunity for paddlers to observe the wider, sunnier nature of the canyon. Kayakers should not let this distract them from the upcoming ‘Constrictor’ which should only be attempted by fearless, talented and/or lucky paddlers.
Just downstream of the Constrictor is the final stretch leading up to the confluence of Canyon Creek and the South Santiam River. Emerald waters rush between vertical rock walls lined with old-growth Douglas fir to create one of the most beautiful stream scenes in Oregon. The final mile or two is the highlight of the trip down lower Canyon Creek.
Paddlers can take out at the bridge over Canyon Creek just above the confluence or continue downstream. The float of an additional mile on the South Santiam River, through Hobbit Gorge, to Cascadia State Park is breathtaking and worth the experience.
The upper Calapooia River above Holley provides some great runs with class 3 rapids during the rainy season.
The upper North Santiam offers some great year-round kayaking, including the five-mile “Niagara” run from Big Cliff dam to Packsaddle Park. This run is particularly good in the early fall, as dam operators begin releasing more water from Detroit Lake in anticipation of winter rain.
For kayakers looking for a more leisurely paddle, the lower North and South Santiam rivers, the Willamette River and Green Peter and Foster lakes are terrific for wildlife and scenery, with lots of put-ins and take-out locations. Below McKercher Park on Highway 228, between Albany and Sweet Home, the Calapooia flattens out and provides a serene, gorgeous run as it winds through the valley farmlands, past brush-covered banks – perfect for a meandering canoe or kayak float.
The North Santiam is one of the best whitewater rafting rivers in Northwestern Oregon, from Detroit Lake to the Willamette River. Below Stayton the river offers a slower pace to the Willamette. During the spring and early summer flows on the South Santiam are high enough to offer some good raft runs (see Kayaking, below), including some “relaxing” stretches from Foster Dam to the Willamette.
For canoers, look no further than the lakes – Foster, Green Peter, Clear Lake – for miles of great paddling.