When it comes to Portland summer activities, river floating has become something of a tradition. While the Big Float has taken its final voyage, groups of locals regularly lug their kayaks, paddleboards, inflatables, and rafts to drop points on the Willamette, Clackamas, and Sandy rivers, spending their days soaking up sun, exploring, and riding mellow rapids. If floating for the first time without a seasoned guide, it’s best to check out one of the many online beginner’s guides to river floating before hitting the water — not to mention the state’s. But here at Eater Portland, we’re focused on more important things: What to eat once you’re there. Sure, you can grab a tin of Pringles and some trail mix and call it a day, but why would you do that in a city with so many incredible bakeries and sandwich shops?
Here, we’ll give you a crash-course in canoe cuisine, plus a few ideas of spots to stop post-float. For more outdoor Eater guides, check out our post-hike map.
How to Pack
When it comes to packing, you’ll want a dry bag, a tupperware for your snack (so it doesn’t get smooshed), and maybe a few ice packs, to be safe. To be extra food safe (and allow for more involved picnic options, like an Italian grinder or a cheese box), you can splurge on an Icemule, a backpack-style cooler dry bag, or choose from a wide range of floating coolers to order online.
Snacks from Portland Bakeries and Restaurants
The idea here is to get something reasonably shelf-stable (or at least something that won’t obviously get gross or dangerous, like a tuna sandwich), hand-held, and filling, in case things move more slowly than you expect. In general, pastries fit the bill here, as well as bagels, meatless sandwiches, focaccia, and granola. This list focuses on businesses that open early, so you can grab something before you get on the water — generally, bakeries fit the bill. When ordering, think about asking to omit things that will get soggy or dangerous at warmer temperatures, like mayo.
Decently Shelf Stable (could go in a dry bag and be fine)
- Continental from Little T American Baker (it’s bread and butter with jam; you’re fine)
- Avocado bagel from Bentley’s Bagels (dairy-free, baby)
- Focaccia from Sebastiano’s
- Granola from Ken’s Artisan Bakery
- Matcha almonds from Jinju Patisserie
- Edamame butter roll from Oyatsupan Bakers
- Any salami from Olympia Provisions (They don’t love you keeping them unrefrigerated, but they’re technically shelf stable. Who knew?)
For The Cooler (still probably fine, but would throw it in the cooler if you have one)
- Everything Bagel from Bernstein’s Bagels
- Carrot lox bagel from Ben & Esther’s
- Brie and marionberry jam sandwich at Cheese and Crack
- Red Bean Bao from An Xuyen Bakery
Stores to Visit for Snack Shopping
- World Foods for international chips, candies, and deli items
- Providore for luxurious charcuterie and cheese options, tinned fish, and candies
- Lily Market for Thai chips, Southeast Asian snacks, and salad rolls
- Namaste Bazaar for chaat, Indian chips, and pakora to eat on the way there
Drinks to Pack
A note on booze: In Oregon, you cannot operate a boat (including one you paddle) with a blood-alcohol level of above .08. Currently there is no open container law on a boat or float, but a beer can is often a red flag for marine law enforcement and probable cause for a stop.
- Sodas and Sparkling Water: Hotlips may be a pizzeria first, but its soda line is the real draw; the marionberry, raspberry, and lemon are all fun things to stick in a cooler, and are now available in many Portland grocery stores. Caldera’s root beer is a fun, sweet accompaniment to any summer float, as is its ginger ale. When it comes to CBD sodas or sparkling waters, Ablis, Wyld, and Aprch all offer fun flavors.
- Kombucha: Canned kombucha > bottled kombucha on a boat, so opt for things like Lionheart, Brew Dr., and Camellia Grove cans to pack in the cooler. Brew Dr.’s Uplift line, caffeinated with yerba mate, is a particularly fun choice on early mornings.
- Water: Be sure to pack at least a full water bottle, because you will get dehydrated otherwise.
Where to Refuel Post-Float
- Near the Sandy: Sugarpine Drive-In for ice cream and sandwiches
- Near Sellwood Riverfront Park: Piknik Park food cart pod for Hmong fare and a post-float beer
- Near the Willamette Narrows: Nacheaux food cart for crunch wraps and fried chicken burritos
- Near the Clackamas: Mestizo Fresh Mexican Grill food cart in Carver for elotes and burritos