How to Float the River With Your Family

When it comes to summertime fun on the water near Portland, river floating is where it’s at.

Courtesy of Kate Hagan

And my family is a water family! We recently explored the Clackamas River, getting in at Milo McIver State Park. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely float, cruising down some small rapids, or a day-long adventure down the river, there’s something for everyone at the family-friendly spot. Here’s how to have a fun and safe float with the family.

Know Before You Go

Courtesy of Kate Hagan

McIver State Park is considered one of the prime drop-in locations for floaters. Located less than an hour from Portland, the state park is accessible for day-use, and camping too. All ages can float and swim throughout the area, but there are two significant factors you need to consider before you float the Clackamas as a family:

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1. How comfortable is each family member in moving water (i.e. rapids, currents, floating for more than an hour)?
2. Do you have transportation back to your car?

There are multiple areas of the Clackamas that you can float, so understanding the logistics matters. All floaters should wear life jackets on the river. There are loaner life jackets at many launches, but for safety and a proper fit, it’s best to bring your own.

Transportation

In past years, there has been a shuttle that helped floaters return from long floats and get their tubes back to the parked cars. But, in 2023, that is not always a guarantee. Check out potential shuttles online and call head. Be prepared to instead to take two cars (leaving one at the entrance, and one at the exit), team up with a friend with a vehicle, or call a Lyft/Uber. Some people do use a bike to shuttle between float entry and exit, but this may not be the easiest for families with young kids. In addition, parking at McIver State Park is $5/day, and park closure times are strictly enforced.

Floating Routes

Courtesy of Kate Hagan

There area lot of fun options My husband and our 7-year-old son (pictured above), jumped in the water at the milder spots and enjoyed the scenery at the rest. While my son is a solid swimmer for his age and not afraid of the water, he’s still rather timid when it comes to deep water and currents. For us, the milder floating options were the best choice. For those a little braver (or older), there is abundant adventure.
Pro tip: Oregon River Rentals has a great map of these routes with some handy tips for your visit, too.

Clackamas Lake Float

This route isn’t a true river float, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy bringing your own inflatables or renting a kayak and paddling around on the flat water. 

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Time: As long as you rent or wish to stay on the water.
Rapids: None

Upper to Lower McIver Float

There is a floating route from the Upper McIver Ramp to the Lower McIver Ramp. The upper ramp is easily accessible, with paved parking and a restroom near the popular lake. Entry at the upper ramp is a quick drop into deep water with some class I rapids which I overheard nearby kayakers describing as “a couple spots of ripples.”

Time: 45 minutes
Rapids: Class I ripples

Lower McIver to Barton Float

Courtesy of Kate Hagan

The Lower McIver Ramp feels more rural than the upper location and is reached via a gravel road. There are many picnic spots near the disc golf course, but limited restrooms or other amenities. The lower ramp is a great spot for families and young children to enjoy, as the water stays shallow and walkable for an extended area (consider water shoes for sensitive feet). 

We floated for over an hour back and forth on the river, but my kiddo declined to go all the way down to the next stop. He at first said, “it’s cold” meaning the water is colder than a pool, but swiftly acclimated and started looking for sticks to paddle his tube like a boat.

We found the water to be very gentle in this section, a sentiment backed by fellow float enthusiasts. We even saw a group of fellow floaters preparing a floating charcuterie board to enjoy and share across tubes during their trip.

Time: 4-5 hours
Rapids: Gentle — and charcuterie-friendly!

Barton to Carver Float

Barton to Carver is considered a more crowded and probably more teen or young-adult-forward location in part, due to its closer proximity to Portland. We didn’t float this area after reading that it can become quite the party spot, but I’m sure we would have enjoyed it in our 20s. This section of the river is once again considered quite mild, but more difficult to park and launch due to frequent use.

Time: 3-4 hours
Rapids: Class I (and possible rowdy young adults)

Looking for more ways to keep cool with your kiddos? Check out our round up of pools, waterparks and swimming holes, and our handy splash pad list!

Kate Hagan Gallup
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