Picture it: You find yourself at The Independence Hotel on a beautiful summer day. The sun is out, the river is glistening, Osprey dive for nearby fish and you have left your work commitments at home. While you love nearby winetasting and cycling around Independence, there is something about summer that draws you to the water. Perhaps it’s the limited swimming season of the PNW, or perhaps it’s the idea of a refreshing splash to cool down the otherwise warm day. Regardless, there are countless ways to explore the Willamette. Today, however, we want to share with you one of our favorite options, and that’s adventuring on the river via kayak.

As the blog writer, I was lucky enough to have Rooms Division Manager Samuel Diaz take me for a trip. We started directly in front of the hotel (it literally couldn’t be any more convenient) and kayaked towards Salem, ending at Emil Mark Lloyd Fishing Hole (also known as Social Security Hole). There are multiple different trips you can take down the Willamette depending on how much time you have and your personal experience level, but for the purpose of this post I’m going to focus on this particular stretch. What’s great about this section is that it’s accessible for all levels, so no need to fear if you’re new to kayaking (jut make sure you can swim). But even if you’ve kayaked for years, there is nothing uninviting about a relaxing stretch, taking in the sights of the lazy Willamette.

It’s paddle time!

As I do not own my own kayak, Sam was kind enough to arrange for one to be delivered in front of the hotel. You do not have to be an Independence Hotel employee to make this happen though. All you need to do is contact Independence Kayak Rentals. This family-owned business will bring the kayaks to whatever spot you choose to begin. Each kayak is equipped with a dry bag and backrest, and founder McKenzie kindly offers water and sunscreen to anyone in need. When your kayaking adventure is close to an end, call the rental company to tell them where you’re exiting the river, and they will be there when you arrive to pick up your kayak for the most hassle-free experience possible.  Independence Kayak Rentals offers full and half-day options, making both shorter and longer trips available, but the Independence Hotel to Emil Mark Lloyd Fishing Hole leg takes about 2(ish) hours.

Your tour guide, Samual Diaz (Rooms Division Manger in addition to River Guide)

Your blog writer, Lucy Brush with Dame Judy Dench (the dog)!

Sam and I headed out on the river from the hotel and the day couldn’t have been any more beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the warm sun counteracted the sometimes-cooler water. Most of my own prior personal experience kayaking had been on the ocean, so it was a delight to discover that with river water (specifically calm rivers like this segment of the Willamette) you do not have to struggle against any waves or conflicting currents, so you can drift facing forwards, backwards, turning in circles or facing your friends, allowing for a 360 degree view of the outdoors throughout your trip. Paddle to pick up speed, or sit back and relax, allowing the river’s gentle current to do the work for you.

Since this is a shorter trip, my recommendation is to bring some snacks and stop a few times. There are several beaches, sandbars, or shallow spots to rest and sunbathe, swim, walk your doggos if you’re traveling with your four-legged family members, or enjoy a picnic. A guide is not required for this portion of the river as the exit point is well marked with a parking lot. With that said, if you get the chance to kayak with Sam, he is an absolute delight and will give you all the best trivia about the area from the different kayaking adventure options to where you should stop for a beer at the end. One of my favorite tidbits he shared with me was the tendency of Blue Herons to follow kayakers down the river, almost as if they’re watching to ensure that you make it to your destination safely. And surely enough, not long after he said that, a Blue Heron appeared and indeed stayed just ahead of us on the bank of the river for the remainder of the trip. (He also knows the story behind the nickname ‘social security hole,’ but I’ll let him share that with you.)

The water is looking pretty calm, it’s a leisurely ride, great for beginning kayakers!

Kayak rentals for this trip were provided by Independence Kayak Rentals!

Some insider tips! I recommend bringing your phone to take pictures! (This is where the dry bags come in handy.) Plus if you’re renting with Independence Kayak Rentals, you’ll want a way to contact them before you reach your destination. I would also recommend packing sunscreen, water, a hat, a long sleeve shirt in case the sun grows warmer than you like, snacks, and a leash/poop bags if you’re bringing your dog along. And if you own water shoes, those can be helpful as the river sometimes has a rocky bottom which can be sensitive on bare feet.  If you are not driving your own car back, you may also want to bring a towel so as not to get someone else’s car wet. If not, leave your towel in whatever car you are leaving at the exit point.

It’s also important to note that while Independence Kayak Rentals will drop off and pick up your kayaks at the destinations of your choice, it is up to you to provide your own transportation. This can mean leaving a car at your exit point before beginning the trip, or calling a ride share or a friend to pick you up once you’re out of the water. Good news is the drive from The Independence Hotel to Emil Mark Lloyd Fishing Hole is under 10 minutes. That also means this kayaking trip is possible even if you have other activities planned in the area earlier or later that day.

Kayaking is fun throughout the summer, but if you get a chance to go during the week, the river will have less activity, allowing you to feel more wonderfully lost in nature. But you can’t go wrong on any day with such a beautiful spot, so what’re you waiting for? If you haven’t already, book your room at The Independence today, and get ready to see the Willamette as you only can from the water!