Best Management Practices - Willamette River Water Trail


Trail Mission Statement

Connecting communities and visitors to Oregon’s celebrated Willamette River; an accessible adventure in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.


Recreation Opportunities

The trail provides a wonderful mostly flatwater experience as it flows north from the Oregon Coastal Range, through its backcountry and rural landscapes, past Corvallis and Eugene, through the urban Portland area and into the Columbia River. The water trail is great for both short day trips and multi-day explorations. The Willamette River is 187 miles long, but the water trail also incorporates the Coast Fork Willamette, Middle Fork Willamette, and the McKenzie River, making the Willamette Water Trail 216 miles long. It connects its many camping and picnicking areas to developed and undeveloped parks.

The Willamette River Water Trail has two guides to help paddlers find campsites, track river features, and local historical places. The guides are available in print as a waterproof, bound map, or online, as a digital version of the map provides links for information about access to the 45 campsites on the main stem of the river. The website is a key resource to aid in trip planning, updating river hazard information and more.

Many of the communities the trail flows through host river festivals and other events related to the trail. With a host of parks and natural areas, especially Willamette Greenway Sites, administered by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Water Trail maintains a host of opportunities to access the Willamette River.



Although there are no specific Willamette River Water Trail education programs, many of the partnership organizations do provide paddling and water safety skills education, like the Willamette River Waterkeeper and local park and recreation districts.

Paddle Oregon is a premier event that is held on the Willamette every year. It provides an opportunity to learn about the natural and cultural heritage along the river.

The Willamette River Water Trail guide also provides a myriad of information about the natural and cultural history of the trail, safety information, and outdoor ethics information.



The Willamette River Water Trail works to identify and reach conservation goals that include potential for restoration stewardship, in a few different ways:

1) The impetus for the water trail was to get people interested in the river; the effort was spearheaded by many area conservation groups.

2) Of polls that were conducted along the river of area residents, organizations, businesses, etc., the water trail was identified as the best way to start increasing awareness of the conservation issues along the river.

3) A comprehensive inventory of the water trail, surrounding land, access sites, etc. helped identify sensitive sites. The water trail was then designed to accommodate those sites, providing a stewardship message or directing access so that sensitive sites were left unimpaired.

4) The Willamette River Water Trail Plan identifies and includes conservation goals.


Community Support

The water trail has broad community support. Part of the reason for its existence is that surveys of households along the river showed that 78% of those polled said they wanted a water trail.

Currently, 42 organizations make up the partnership for the water trail; with an emphasis on organizations with existing missions that married nicely to the mission of the trail so that they could incorporate stewardship of the trail as part of what they do. The water trail began in 2004 when multiple partners came together to develop the first map. Some of the key partners included the City of Salem, the City of Keizer, the US Bureau of Land Management (American Heritage Rivers Program), the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program, Marion County, Oregon State Parks and Recreation, and Willamette Riverkeeper.

With a solid start, the project has grown over the years. Based on great collaboration and a commitment to low-impact recreation along the Willamette, there are now two maps covering more than 200 miles of river. Today, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program, Willamette Riverkeeper and a host of other partners up and down the Willamette Valley contribute in a variety of ways to support the Water Trail. Some Water Trail partners offer a City or County Park, while others place signage on their property to help guide people to the right camp spots.

The Willamette River Water Trail is a true collaboration, and is building and improving based on the commitment, and interest of these great partners!


Public Information

Willamette River Water Trail’s waterproof, bound map details access along the 216-mile water trail, and the map is the key introduction to the trail. Online, a digital version of the map adds links for information about access.

The Willamette Water Trail reconstructed the online content of in 2013 with help from a grant from Travel Oregon. The new website provides links to river level, hazard information, and detailed trip planning. The guide also provides information on natural and cultural history.


Trail Maintenance

Community, NGO, and government partners are key to the success of the Willamette River Water Trail, in its creation, management, and maintenance. The partnership for the trail meets regularly, at least two times every year to help collectively decide a plan for the next 6 months, to discuss common issues, and to complete management planning. The partnership is convened by Oregon State Parks who coordinate the meetings, while the other primary partner, Willamette Riverkeeper, maintains the public information, including the website, guides, and funding for signage and small grants.

In addition, 42 partners from city park and recreation departments, etc. manage their own access sites, with input from the collective partnership.



The Willamette River Water Trail Plan provides general recommendations for the trail, with a focus on the conservation, access, and site inventory.


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This website provides access to the National Recreation Trail (NRT) database, a collection of information on the various trails which have been designated as NRT's. These trails are located throughout the United States and U.S. territories. The amount of information may vary from trail to trail. If you need more information than is available on this site, please use the contact(s) listed for that trail. (If no contacts, are listed, you may request help from American Trails at

Application instructions can be found on the NWTS site, which provides information and documents required for new applications. You may use this as a checklist to gather data for the online application. Basic information is entered on the application website, and supporting materials (maps, photos, etc.) can be uploaded but must be in standard electronic formats.

This application process is for trails on state, local, or private land, OR on federal land (outside the US Department of Agriculture). If your water trail is on National Forest, National Grassland, or other land managed by the Department of Agriculture, you should contact the US Forest Service National Recreation Trails Program.

This online application and the NRT database are hosted and maintained by American Trails.