The Pacific Northwest is famous for its countless outdoor attributes, but endless sunshine isn’t one of them. That’s why we Oregonians are all the more determined to get out during the summer and explore nearby rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. Luckily, Mckenzie Hailwood has made summer aquatic adventures even more accessible thanks to his convenient and stress-free rental kayak company: Independence Kayak Rentals. Mckenzie has always been a lover of nature and a kayaking enthusiast, and he realized a few summers back that if the inability to get hold of a kayak is what kept some people from exploring the river, he had the power to change that. Check out our interview with Mckenzie below to find out the best tips for kayaking in Independence. We’d love to host you here at the hotel for all of your summer adventures!

Mckenzie Hailwood turned his love for kayaking into a service to share the experience of kayaking with others!

Enjoy a Lifetime Angler “sit-on-top” fishing kayak, great to use for beginners and more advanced kayakers.

Independence Hotel (IH):  What about running Independence Kayak Rentals brings you the most joy?

Mckenzie Hailwood (MH):  I would say the biggest thing that brings me joy is meeting tons of new people and having the opportunity to rent them some kayaks. Then talking to some of them after their trip about all the stuff they saw and how much fun they had. It really brings me joy knowing that they had a great time on the river!

IH:  As a family-owned business, who is involved?

MH:  As a family-run business, my parents and I are the ones involved. I’m truly grateful for the amount of help they have given me throughout this whole adventure. They continue to help me with preparing kayaks for customers and giving me helpful advice/tips for different things regarding the business.


The stretch of river that passes The Independence Hotel is relatively calm, making it a great trail for beginning kayakers.

IH:  Is kayaking something that requires a lesson before trying on one’s own?

MH:  The thing that I love about our stretch of the Willamette River near Independence is that it’s really nice and calm for beginner kayakers and more advanced kayakers alike. We do a brief safety lesson about the river with our customers and explain some basic things about kayaking to new kayakers as well. That’s the thing I love about kayaking…  just about everyone can have a great time first time on the water. 

IH:  What should you bring with you when you kayak?

MH:  We recommend you bring clothing that you’re willing to get wet. We also recommend bringing water, sunglasses, sunscreen, and of course some kayak snacks, and a speaker for music on your kayaking adventure! Something I love about the kayaks we use is that it has tons of room for people’s items with storage in the front and back of the kayak. Another thing to note is that we provide dry bags for all of our kayaks at no extra charge for our customers so they can keep their valuable items (such as your phone and wallet) dry even if the kayak gets drenched. 

IH:  What might you see kayaking on the Willamette Valley?

MH:  When kayaking down the Willamette there are many different things you may see such as fish jumping out the water, bald eagles, blue herons, beavers and some really great scenery. One of my personal favorite memories on the Willamette River is when I saw a bald eagle fly down and catch a fish when I was kayaking near Independence!

The wildlife viewing on the river is incredible, from beavers to eagles and numerous bird species.

IH:  What is the best way to transport the kayak(s) to and from the river?

MH:  There are many great ways to get kayaks to the Willamette. Some choose our drop off and pick up option where we drop off the kayaks at your depart location and then pick them for you at your exit location on the river. Another great way is to have a car at your entry point and exit point so that when you’re done kayaking you can just drive your second car back to the entry point.

IH:  Can you tell us about the HERO discount?

MH:  Our HERO discount was made as a small thank you to our heroes that work/worked as a Veteran, Firefighter, Doctor, Nurse, Police, Sheriff, etc. I was always really thankful for what these people did for us on the daily and when making this business I wanted to implement something for them. If you happen to work/worked in any of those careers I want you to use the code ” HERO” when booking for 15% off your rental as a small thank you for all that you do. 

IH:  What is something that has surprised you about kayaking?

MH:  I would say something that has surprised me is all the different things you can do when kayaking, like going on a general relaxing kayaking trip, white water kayaking, fishing on your kayak, and even going on overnight trips. Kayaking can introduce you to many new different adventures.  

IH:  If people could know one thing about kayaking, what would you want it to be?

MH:  If I could let people know one thing about kayaking it would be that it is for everyone. It’s really easy for beginners to do and you can get the hang of it real quick. For some people it can seem intimidating at first but once they get out there and kayak for a little bit they start to really enjoy it out on the water and wish they’d have started sooner. Just know that everyone has a first time at everything!

IH:  How long is the kayaking season?

MH:  Kayaking season is usually from June 1st to near the end of September, but it all really depends on weather. My favorite time to go kayaking would be in July when it’s nice and warm outside!

Mckenzie teaching the world to kayak one rental at a time!

There is so much to explore on the Willamette in your kayak!

Mckenzie and team really go the extra mile to ensure their customers have a memorable kayaking experiencing.

IH:  What is one of the local establishments you’d recommend checking out in Independence for food and/or drinks after the kayaking adventure is complete?

MH:  After your kayaking adventure in Independence there are many different great places to eat and shop at. For food and drink, I would recommend the Territory Restaurant at The Independence Hotel. It has an amazing view right next to the river. I would recommend the triple pig burger with ground pork, sweet and spicy bacon, and Tillamook sharp white cheddar. Another great place to eat is Arena Sports Bar and Grill for some really good chicken wings and drinks. There’s also Gilgamesh Brewing that has a really cool back seating area and some great homemade pizzas. There’s a lot of amazing food in Independence so it’s hard to choose just a few spots! Independence also has many places to shop or get ice cream and fresh chocolates right next to the riverfront. 

Gilgamesh Brewery, located downtown Independence, is known (and loved) for its beer and pizza!

Local favorite: Arena Bar is walkable from rivrefront park

Restore those energy reserves with a hearty sandwich from Territory!

Territory’s riverfront patio is perfect for an after paddle meal.

IH:  What is one fun fact about you?

MH:  One fun fact about me besides kayaking is I really love to go out mountain biking. Something I like about Oregon is that there are many different places to explore. A place that I really like near Independence is Black Rock over in Falls City, about a 30-minute drive from Independence. It has many different jumps, courses, and some really breathtaking scenery. Something I really like about mountain biking is just like kayaking, the people are really great to talk to and is a great experience overall. 

IH:  Is there anything else you’d like to mention that I haven’t asked about?

MH:  I really appreciate having the opportunity to talk a little bit about me and Independence Kayak! Just remember that kayaking is for everyone. Come on down and see how much of a blast it can be!

What are you waiting for! Time to hit the river!