Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve never lived in a state that didn’t have a border on water, but I think if you’re visiting a place that’s on a waterway it’s a good idea to get on the water if at all possible. River tours of Paris and London and canal tours of Venice and Amsterdam are de rigueur – so why not a river tour of Portland, Oregon?
Portland’s Willamette River cuts through the city on its way to the Columbia, and there’s more than one way to explore the city from the river. There are lunch/dinner cruises and sightseeing cruises on various boats run by the Portland Spirit, but for my money there’s no more exciting way to spend an hour or two on the river than on a jetboat.
Willlamette Jetboat runs one-hour and two-hour tours of the river from roughly May-September, and the tours are a great combination of heart-pumping speedboat fun and educational (and still interesting) history/nature excursions. They’re fun for all ages, and kids usually get an especially big kick out of the fact that it’s quite likely you’ll get at least a little wet during the course of the tour.
The two-hour tour begins by heading north from downtown to give you an up-close-and-personal look at Portland’s shipyards as well as a chance to see the city center and all its bridges from a different perspective. The boats turn around near the Fremont Bridge and then head south all the way to the Willamette Falls in Oregon City. This part of the tour is far more nature-focused, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to see the waterfall at its gushing peak.
The 1-hour tour only explores the river from downtown to the north, going past the 2-hour tour’s turnaround point and going all the way past Swan Island. You won’t get to see the waterfall, but there’s still plenty of natural beauty in this part of the river once you get past the shipyards.
Willamette Jetboat’s drivers are enthusiastic tour guides and story tellers, and yes – they do tend to cut corners sharply whenever possible in order to splash as many passengers as possible. It’s not a bad idea to bring a towel and a change of clothes along for after your trip. Also note that since weather in Portland is on the unpredictable side – even in summer – you should be prepared to bundle up if necessary. Getting splashed on a hot day is fun – getting doused when it’s on the chilly side is not.
Willamette Jetboat Tour Information:
- Tour season – Generally the two-hour tours run from early May through late September and the one-hour tours run from mid-June through early September, but dates vary by year.
- Departure times – Depending on the date, there are either two departures per day (11:45 am and 2:45 pm) or only one (2:45 pm). Check the current season’s tour information to find out more.
- Tour prices – The two-hour tour is $37 for adults and $24 for kids ages 4 to 11 (3 and under are free). The one-hour tour is $27 for adults and $19 for kids ages 4 to 11.
- Reservations – Reserving a ticket ahead of time isn’t required, but it’s recommended (unless you’ve got lots of free time over a few days don’t mind checking back). Find out about making reservations here.
- Safety – There are life jackets available on board in several sizes, and although no one of any age is required to wear a life jacket there are always life jackets on the boat for every passenger.
>> An added bonus of Willamette Jetboat’s launch location is that it’s right next to the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI), which is an excellent kid-friendly museum full of hands-on exhibits, a planetarium, and an IMAX theatre.
Photos courtesy of Willamette Jetboat.
Jessica Spiegel is a Portland-based freelance writer and social-media consultant.