At The Independence Hotel, the river is “ever present”! While enjoying the view is nice, there is nothing like getting out on the river. We are lucky that our Room’s Division Manager, Sam Diaz (SD) also happens to be an avid Kayaker and can give us all the “pro tips” for paddling our stretch of river.

Can you tell us about your experience kayaking and exploring the waters of Oregon?

SD: I love to be on the water and out in nature, which is why I love to Kayak. Most of my experiences in Oregon have been on the Luckiamute River and the Willamette River (these two locations are closest to home) but whether you’re new to Kayaking or have been doing it for years, the Willamette Valley and its waters are some of the most breath taking there is. There’s nothing better than paddling down river while watching the Bald eagles and Osprey raise their young and teach them how to hunt. Even when the waters remain the same, there is always something new and exciting to experience.

What’s your favorite thing about Kayaking? If different, what’s your favorite thing about kayaking in Oregon specifically? ​

SD: My favorite thing about Kayaking would have to be the freedom from the perpetual momentum in the cities. It’s so relaxing to just get out in the middle of nowhere and escape the noise, allowing the river to take control so that you can just enjoy the ride.

Do you prefer rides that are more focused on an adrenaline rush, or those that are peaceful and meditative?  ​

SD: When I am on my own,​I love peaceful and meditative rides and being able to take the time to fish and just go with the flow (pun intended ), but taking on the battle of currents and obstacles can be so fun when you’re with the right kind of people, especially out in Eastern Oregon.

When not on the river, Sam is The Independence Hotel’s, Rooms Division Manager. Here he is with his son (perhaps a future kayaker?).

Sam by the Willamette River in front of The Hotel

What place is on your bucket list to kayak?​

SD: My bucket list destination would have to be Glacier Bay National park in Alaska, even though the water can be calm you never know when or if a section of the glacier will fall and being able to paddle right next to Orcas or humped back whales just seems perfect.

What’s your favorite spot on the Willamette River?​

SD: My favorite Spot on the Willamette would have to be right where the Santiam and the Luckiamute dump into the Willamette. It’s a great spot for fishing and taking a lunch break when on some of my longer trips.

In whatever detail works for you and your time budget, can you plan an exploratory itinerary for me? Let’s say I’m a guest at the hotel for two or three days, what should I make sure to see or do? 

SD: I love a long trip, so I always recommend my guess start in Buena Vista and paddle down to the hotel. On average it takes 4 hours and it’s so peaceful. I also really like Turner Lake as it’s not very big, but it’s great for beginners and is close to two amazing wineries!

Not only for kayakers, the stretch of river that goes by The Independence Hotel is popular among canoers and SUPers as well as floaters.

SD: Option two is more of a commitment, with this stretch extending 11.5 miles, so make sure you bring plenty of sun block with you. This float passes by several small gravel islands, which are perfect for stopping at to snack, sun bathe, or cool off with an ice cold beverage from your cooler. You enter the river at Buena Vista, and exit (wait for it…) right at The Independence Hotel!

Can you share with us any insider tips? (Ex. Make sure to pack this and that.) ​

SD: Don’t bring anything on the water with you that you mind losing. I can’t tell you the number of things that have accidently dropped and will never be seen again. 

What advice do you have for beginner kayakers? ​

SD: Always have someone that you can text or call if things go wrong, bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and above all else make sure to wear a life vest because you never know when you’re going to need it.

Do you have a favorite kayaking movie, quote, or fact? ​

SD: Kayaking is an Inuit creation from over 4000 years ago and kayaks were originally made from sealskins for their water resistance.

If you could make a playlist to bring with you on the river, what song would start it? 

SD: Depending on the trip type I would say “Dock of the Bay” for a calm trim in flat or slow-moving waters, or “Thunderstruck” for whitewater.

What is one thing that has surprised you about Kayaking? 

​SD: How freeing it is. You can kayak in almost any body of water and anyone can do it!


For more information about getting on the Willamette River for recreation, check out the Willamette Water Trail’s website. It has a detailed digital map that includes every boat ramp and river access point, as well as the distance between each of them. And if you want to explore the river but aren’t game for kayaking, check out our post on floating!

*Pics near Independence in this post shared by the Oregon State Marine Board, also a great resource for water safety information.