West Coast Sailing Destinations: Portland

When it comes to water sports and boating, there are few places in Oregon that top Clatsop County. There's an ocean to the west and a large river on the north, with lots of small, freshwater lakes, streams and rivers in between. Boating in the winter is a little rough-going, but the spring, summer and early fall provide prime weather for the casual boater, sailor, canoeist or kayaker.

Modern and sophisticated Portland provides plenty of opportunities for sailors, as well as attractions such as Waterfront Park and the Old Town/Chinatown district, both along the Willamette. Only two marinas line the Willamette where it cuts through downtown Portland, and one of those is purely for houseboats. Downtown Portland Riverplace Marina offers short term and overnight transient moorings.

Coos Bay-North Bend-Lakeside

Coos Bay, the largest town on Oregon's coast, features a number of downtown attractions, including a boardwalk, live theater, restaurants and an international port. The Coos Bay Municipal Dock offers free mooring during the day for visiting sailors, although a fee is charged for overnight docking. Sunset Bay State Park, about 12 miles southwest of Coos Bay, features a bay that is partially enclosed by steep sandstone bluffs and provides a narrow passageway to the Pacific. A boat launch is at the north end of the park's beach. Tugman State Park, less than two miles north of Lakeside, lies on the shores of Eel Lake, which is noted for its prime sailing conditions. The park has a boat launch adjacent to the campground near the lake's southwest corner.


Located where Yaquina Bay and the Yaquina River meet the Pacific, Newport has a long history of being a sailing town. The bustling Bayfront district in Newport features restaurants, shops and galleries, as well as the nearby U.S. Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay. The town also is home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Oregon Coast History Center, plus two famed lighthouses, Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head, that are a focus of many sailing trips.


Astoria's narrow downtown parallels the waterfront and consists of about 20 blocks of practical shops (chandlers, hardware, groceries) mixed with trendy restaurants, coffee and wine bars, Gold Rush themed T-shirt stores, and bike rentals. Dozens of Victorian mansions climb the steep, pine-clad hills behind the waterfront.

Located just west of the Astoria-Megler Bridge at mile 14 on the Columbia River, the Port of Astoria’s West Basin Marina offers boaters a unique array of sights, services and berthing options. With accommodations, restaurants and shops on-site, the West Basin is well-suited to recreational boat moorage, but is also home to fishing boats, guide boats and other commercial vessels. The Port also provides a number of transient slips on a first-come, first-served basis.

Government Island

Government Island State Recreation Area encompasses three islands in the Columbia River north of Portland, and is accessible only by boat. The largest and most developed is 1,760-acre Government Island. The area also includes Lemon and McGuire Islands.

The main island has 15 miles of shoreline with two docks and a floating tie-up on the north side. Camping is permitted below the vegetation line around the perimeter; there are no designated campsites. Pit toilets and picnic tables with barbecue grills are located throughout the perimeter.

The interior of the island contains protected natural areas, such as Jewett Lake, and is accessible only by permit through the Port of Portland. The islands feature freshwater wetlands that support a variety of wildlife species, including several species of salmon, salamanders, bats, turtles, and birds.

Lemon Island, the westernmost island, is densely vegetated and hard to navigate. It is a popular spot for boaters to stop and stretch their legs along the shore. The island is seasonally connected to Government Island. 

McGuire Island is closest to land, southeast of the main park across from Chinook Landing Marine Park.

Columbia River Bar

The Columbia River is considered one of the world's most challenging and beautiful rivers to navigate by wind. There are about a hundred miles of winding river between Portland and the Columbia River bar, and every one can surprise you with navigational challenges, ship and barge traffic, and diverse scenery.

The river bar is a broad patch of breaking shoals between North Jetty's Cape Disappointment Light and South Jetty's Clatsop Spit. The ocean continually rearranges the shoals of river sediments. The deepest zigzag path safely across the bar changes from day to day, and the mixing of fresh- and saltwater adds to the turbulence. To help vessels safely cross the bar, the Coast Guard and NOAA employ 24/7 data from dozens of buoys placed offshore, in the bar and upriver; from pilot boats working on the bar and upriver; and from drones. 

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is known as one of the most scenic drives in North America, and it’s even better by boat! Just 14 miles upstream from Portland, the river narrows creating a beautiful gorge packed with waterfalls, cliffs and unique geological formations. The town of Cascade Locks offers a marina to dock and explore dining, shopping and historical exhibits. The trip can be done in a weekend or as a stepping stone to exploring points further upstream on the Columbia.

To get to Cascade Locks means going through the Bonneville locks. The trip will add a new element to boating
and will open up the Columbia River to even more scenic sections. Preparation is the key to making the trip as
smooth as possible.

St. Helens

St. Helens is only about 25 miles from downtown Portland, so many residents commute to work — some by boat. Several full-service marinas and yacht clubs line the shore, including clusters of houseboats, and they all have dramatic views northeast across the river of snow-capped Mount St. Helens.

Leave a Comment