Portland's new, improved waterfront is worth a walk―or paddle

Karl Samson

With a raucous squawk, the great blue heron launches itselfskyward as two sea kayakers paddle silently past the banks of theWillamette River. As they watch the bird fly off down the river,their gaze takes in not only the steel-and-glass skyscrapers ofdowntown Portland but a riverside forest of cottonwood trees, ahistoric paddle-wheeler, and even a submarine.

"Paddling here is a unique urban experience," says Mike McKoane,co-owner of Portland River Company, a kayak rental and tour companydowntown. "There aren't too many cities of this size in the worldwhere you can see a fisherman fighting a salmon, bald eagles ontheir nest, and a heron rookery, then come back to the cityskyline."

Even if you don't feel like wedging yourself into a kayak, thereare plenty of other ways to appreciate the Willamette River on itscourse through the heart of Oregon's largest city. You can take aboat tour, stroll the riverfront walkways through vital wildlifehabitat, or shop for crafts along the water. You can even eat at afloating restaurant.

The 1 1/2-mile Eastbank Esplanade, which opened last year, hasmade the biggest splash on the waterfront, but at the south end ofGov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, there's also now a publicperennial garden. It's even possible to get a rose-petal scrub oran ayurvedic massage at the luxurious new Avalon Hotel & Spa,on the water in the John's Landing area south of downtown.

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