Temperatures are up and that can only mean one thing: summer is here! Luckily, there are several fun-in-the-sun adventures just a stone’s throw away from The Independence. Our personal favorite though is without a doubt floating down the Willamette River via inner tubes. With a drop-off spot right in front of the hotel, get ready for the easiest trip you can imagine. (When a group of us from the hotel went together, one person fell asleep for the majority of the ride. That’s how calm it is on this portion of the river.)

Floating the Willamette River is accessible for all ages and equally fun for the whole family.  Pick up whatever raft calls to you at your local Fred Meyer, or check out local places to rent from, and get ready to bask in the sun as the Willamette’s current does all the work. Feel those worries melt off like sunscreen and float downstream.

The view down river from Independence

Floaters enjoy the River’s lazy current

Your options: Two nearby stretches are available to you. The one we recommend for the whole family starts at the hotel and ends at Social Security Fishing Hole. It’s about a two to three-hour float, depending on stops. The river is calm (no rapids) but the current is consistent enough that you don’t have to worry about paddling. Note: There are boats and other watercrafts (jet skis, kayaks, etc.) using the same stretch of the river, but they know to avoid tubers and with very little cover over the water, people are easy to spot. (What a great excuse to get a bright pink flamingo or unicorn raft!) Both edges of the river are forested, providing a lovely sense of being hugged in by green.

A paddler with The Independence Hotel in the distance. Visions of a glass of Pinot, or a cold Parallel 45 brew, on Territory’s (The Hotel’s Restaurant’s) patio.

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!

How it works: For those of you who have never been inner tubing down a river before, we are going to break down everything you need to know. First off, you need two cars so now is the time to make friends with your table neighbors at dinner. Both cars drive to the final pull out spot (where you will finish). Leaving car #2 there with towels in the back seat, drive back up to the starting point where you can inflate your tubes. Enter the river and have the time of your life! When you reach the pull out point, your second car will be waiting to bring you back to your original destination.

 Insider tips from a pro floater:

  • Bring sunscreen. Even if it’s a cool or cloudy day, the sun is stronger than you think. If you get out of your raft to swim (and we recommend that you do) make sure to reapply before re-starting the float.
  • When you drop off your second car at the final pull out point, make a note of something you’ll be able to identify from the river. It might be a strange looking tree, a bright colored house, fallen log, etc. Anything that’ll ensure you’ll know when you’ve reached the correct location to exit.
  • If your inner tube doesn’t come with a paddle (as most don’t) flip-flops make excellent paddle substitutes. Use them to steer, pull over to the side for a break, or spin around to face your friends.
  • When purchasing an inner tube, we recommend one with netting in the center (give your abs a break!) and an inflatable headrest. That’ll help provide the most relaxing experience.
  • While there are plenty of manual pumps to inflate your tubes, electric pumps that plug into your car (and some that are even battery powered) will definitely speed up the process.
  • If you’re bringing a lot of snacks, you can also purchase an inflatable cooler to tow behind your raft.
  • Many inner tubes come with rope to tie together. This is really fun if you’re with a bigger group because it’ll ensure you stay close together. With that said, inner tubes are easier to steer when separated. So if you find yourself drifting to the shore or stuck on a gravel island, untie yourselves from each other until your back in the current. You can always re-tie up later on.
  • Bring a hat and water!
  • Make sure the drivers of both cars keep their keys with them during the float so both cars remain accessible. (You can keep each license in the glove compartment.)
  • Many tubers bring waterproof speakers to play music, just be mindful that the river is a shared space.
  • Have fun!!!

If you’re craving more information about this float, check out the Willamette Water Trail’s website. It has a thorough 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 are unsure if you’re comfortable inner tubing, keep an eye out for our future blog post on kayaking the Willamette!